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Russick v. Wells Fargo, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 7, 2017



          Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Presently before the Court is the April 7, 2017, Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 18) filed by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage[1] ("Defendant") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defendant seeks dismissal of all claims alleged at Counts I and II of Plaintiff Rosanne Russick's March 27, 2017, Amended Complaint. (Docket No. 17). Plaintiff alleges therein that Defendant violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1691, et seq. ("ECOA"), and the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq. ("FHA"), as a result of age, gender, marital status, and disability-based discrimination, when it failed to approve a mortgage assignment. This Court exercises subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss will be GRANTED.

         II. Factual & Procedural Background

         In December 2003, Ricky Gay ("Ricky") and his sister, Joanna Gay ("Joanna"), purchased a residence ("Subject Property") in New Castle, Pennsylvania. (Docket No. 17 ¶10). They secured a mortgage on the Subject Property for $38, 083.00 from FirstMerit Mortgage Corporation ("FirstMerit"). (Id. ¶¶ 11 - 12). Plaintiff thereafter came to live with Ricky and Joanna in the Subject Property. (Id. ¶ 13 - 14).

         At that time, Plaintiff was 60 years of age and was the primary caretaker for Ricky. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 3). Ricky was disabled at birth, suffering cognitive defects and a low IQ. (Id.¶4). In spite of his impairments, Ricky managed to work at a neighborhood grocery store as a shelf packer for over ten (10) years. (Id.). Plaintiff, Ricky, and Joanna all contributed to payment of the mortgage. (Id. ¶ 14). Eventually, the mortgage was assigned by FirstMerit to Defendant. (Id. ¶ 15).

         On April 30, 2016, Joanna married and moved from the Subject Property to live with her husband. (Id. ¶¶ 16 - 17). However, when Joanna and her husband attempted to buy a new home, Joanna could not obtain a mortgage with her husband because she was still a signatory on the mortgage of the Subject Property. (Id. ¶ 19). Thus, Joanna sought to deed her interest in the Subject Property to Plaintiff and Ricky, and assign her obligations under the mortgage to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 20). Plaintiff was amenable to this arrangement in order to ensure that Ricky would have a home in the future. (Id. ¶ 5).

         Plaintiff and Ricky applied to Defendant for an assumption agreement. (Id. ¶ 21). They were subsequently informed that Plaintiff would need a co-signor with assets and a high credit rating to assume the mortgage, despite the mortgage being current and over ten (10) years old. (Id. ¶ 23). Richard J. Orloski ("Richard"), Plaintiffs 69-year-old cousin, agreed to co-sign. (Id. ¶¶ 24 - 25). Richard's credit score was in the high 800's, and he had both earned and non-earned income far above the debt secured by the mortgage. An attorney, Richard also owned three properties free and clear of any liens or encumbrances: his law office; his residence; and one rental property. (Id. ¶¶ 27 - 28). During discussions about the assignment, representatives of Defendant indicated that Richard was an ideal co-signor, and even suggested that he buy the mortgage from Defendant. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 29). Ultimately, Plaintiff was informed that "if the financial information concerning Richard J. Orlaski was true, the assumption would be approved." (Id. ¶ 26).

         Nonetheless, Defendant changed its position not long after Plaintiff secured Richard as a co-signor, and indicated that Plaintiff would also personally need to meet the company's financial strength requirements, irrespective of the co-signor's finances and contrary to what she was previously led to believe. (Id. ¶ 33 - 37). Plaintiff could not, alone, meet the requirements. (Id. ¶ 23). Ultimately, the assignment was never approved, and due to financial losses as well as issues that consequently arose within the family, Plaintiff and Ricky lost[2] the Subject Property. (M¶40).

         On August 25, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendant in the Court of Common Pleas of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, claiming discrimination under the provisions of the ECOA and FHA on account of Plaintiffs and Richard's ages. (Docket No. 1-3). Defendant removed the action to the United States District Court on February 2, 2017. (Docket No. 1). Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (Docket No. 17)[3] on March 27, 2017, claiming that Defendant violated the ECOA and FHA as a result of age, gender, marital status, and disability-based discrimination when it failed to approve assignment of the mortgage on the Subject Property. Defendant filed its Motion to Dismiss and Brief in support (Docket Nos. 18 -19) on April 7, 2017. Plaintiffs Response (Docket No. 20) was filed on April 21, 2017. A Reply (Docket No. 22) was filed May 3, 2017. Following hearing and oral argument on said Motion on May 15, 2017 (Docket Nos. 30 and 31), the matter is now ripe for disposition.

         III. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain a short and plain statement of a claim, and show that the pleader is entitled to relief. Dismissal of a complaint or portion of a complaint is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) when a claimant fails to sufficiently state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Avoiding dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) requires a pleading party's complaint to provide "enough factual matter" to allow the case to move beyond the pleading stage of litigation; the pleader must '"nudge his or her claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'" Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 - 35 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atlantic Co. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 570(2007)).

         In assessing the merits of a claim subject to a motion to dismiss, a court must engage in a two-part analysis. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). First, factual and legal elements of a claim must be distinguished. Id. Second, it must be determined whether the facts as alleged support a "plausible claim for relief." Id. In making the latter determination, the court must be mindful that the matter pleaded need not include "detailed factual allegations, " Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), and the court must construe all alleged facts, and draw all inferences gleaned therefrom, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. at 228 (citing Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003)). Moreover, a pleading party need only "put forth allegations that 'raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s].'" Fowler, 578 F.3d at 213 (quoting Graff v. Subbiah Cardiology Assoc, Ltd., 2008 WL 2312671 (W.D. Pa. June 4, 2008)). A well-pleaded complaint, even when "it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of... facts is improbable, " will not be dismissed as long as the pleader demonstrates that his or her claim is plausible. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 -56).

         Nevertheless, the facts provided do need to raise the expectation of relief above a purely speculative level, and must include more than "labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231 - 32 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554 - 56). Rule 8(a)(2) "requires a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Id. at 232. "[T]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere ...

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