Betskoff v. Enter. Rent a Car Co. of Baltimore, Civil Action No. ELH-11-2333

Decision Date04 January 2012
Docket NumberCivil Action No. ELH-11-2333
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

Kevin C. Betskoff, Sr.,1 the self-represented plaintiff, filed a Complaint (ECF 1) against Enterprise Rent A Car Company of Baltimore, LLC ("Enterprise"), defendant, arising out of alleged unauthorized charges to Betskoff's debit card made by Enterprise. Claiming that Enterprise improperly charged plaintiff's debit card in connection with his rental of a vehicle from Enterprise, Complaint ¶¶ 7-25, Mr. Betskoff asserts five counts against Enterprise: (1) a request for declaratory judgment, pronouncing that Enterprise acted as a "debt collector" without a license, as required by Maryland state law, along with a request for "compensatory damages" in the amount of $219.66; (2) violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692 et seq.; (3) violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act ("FTC Act"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 41 et seq.;2 (4) violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution; and (5) the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED").

Now pending is Enterprise's motion to dismiss ("Motion") (ECF 9), filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Motion has been fully briefed,3 and no hearing is necessary to resolve it. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I will grant Enterprise's Motion.

Factual Background

In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) (and, in some circumstances, under Rule 12(b)(1)), a court assumes the truth of the well pleaded facts alleged in the plaintiff's complaint, and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See, e.g., Kendall v. Balcerzak, 650 F.3d 515, 522 (4th Cir. 2011) (standard under Rule 12(b)(6)).4 Accordingly, the following factual allegations are drawn from plaintiff's Complaint.

In September 2008, Mr. Betskoff rented a 2008 Nissan Altima from Enterprise because his own vehicle, a 1999 Cadillac Sedan Deville, was undergoing repairs. Complaint ¶¶ 8-9. The "full cost of the rental" was the responsibility of an automobile insurer, State Farm Insurance Company. Id. ¶ 8.5 Although State Farm was responsible for the rental cost, Enterprise required Mr. Betskoff to pay a $100 "deposit" and provide a "major credit card or debit card." Id. ¶ 9.Betskoff provided his Visa debit card, issued by Wachovia Bank. Id. He was led "to believe this money would be refunded at the conclusion of the rental." Id.

Mr. Betskoff returned the Altima on or about September 26, 2008. Id. ¶ 10. On or about September 29, 2009, Enterprise informed plaintiff that the Altima had been returned with "'scrapes and paint on the passenger quarter panel wheel well.'" Id. ¶ 11 (quotation marks in original). Mr. Betskoff met with a representative of Enterprise on September 29, 2009, to "address Enterprise's concerns." Id. ¶ 12. At the meeting, Mr. Betskoff "did not deny that there may have been some damage to the car" because, in his view, he was "not financially responsible," in light of the fact that "the rental car was fully insured by State Farm Insurance Company for the duration of the rental." Id. The next day, September 30, 2008, "Enterprise debited $19.66 from Betskoff's Visa debit card with no explanation why and with no notice having been sent to Betskoff that this charge was being placed against him." Id. ¶ 14.

On or about November 14, 2008, "Enterprise sent Betskoff a letter" asserting that a "balance of $100.00 was due" in connection with the rental. Id. ¶ 15. On or about November 17, 2008, Betskoff called and wrote to Enterprise's "loss control administrator to dispute this claim of any money being owed by him to Enterprise." Id. ¶ 16. On or about December 1, 2008, Enterprise sent a notice to plaintiff, signed by "Freddie Sample," requesting payment. Complaint ¶ 17. Demand letters were also sent to plaintiff by Enterprise on December 15, 2008, and January 15, 2009, both of which were signed by "Enterprise Rent-A-Car." Complaint ¶¶ 18-19. Both letters advised plaintiff that his "account" was "seriously past due." Id. In addition, the letter of January 15, 2009, informed plaintiff that Enterprise intended to "pursue collection activity through a collection company or use an attorney to commence legal action."Id. ¶ 19. Although Betskoff disputed the validity of the alleged debt, he obtained no resolution of the issuefrom Enterprise. See Complaint ¶¶ 16-19.

On January 16, 2009, "Enterprise charged Betskoff's debit card $100," which was immediately debited from his Wachovia checking account. Id. ¶ 20. "This was done even though Betskoff had continually disputed the billing and charge with Enterprise and clearly was against Betskoff's wishes." Id. Betskoff avers that the "unauthorized and unexpected withdrawal" caused a disruption in his ability to pay his other bills, "given his meager funds and poor income earning capacity," and caused him to suffer "a great deal of stress, anxiety and emotional distress." Id. ¶ 21.

Betskoff "filed a dispute with his bank regarding the charge." Id. ¶ 22. His bank initially issued a provisional credit to his account, but later rescinded the credit and returned the disputed funds to Enterprise. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Mr. Betskoff again requested a refund from Enterprise in a letter dated May 15, 2009, in which he stated: "'I am going to ask you one more time to refund my money.' 'Otherwise, I am going to look into a more judicial way of recovering my money.'" Id. ¶ 24. Mr. Betskoff received no response to his letter. Id. ¶ 25. Subsequently, on August 22, 2011, Mr. Betskoff filed suit in this Court.

A. Standard of Review

Enterprise purports to base its Motion on both Rule 12(b)(6), which permits dismissal of a complaint that fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted," and Rule 12(b)(1), which permits dismissal for "lack of subject-matter jurisdiction." As I shall explain in more detail in the discussion, the Court possesses subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims. Enterprise's arguments are more appropriately addressed in the context of Rule 12(b)(6).

The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is "'to test the sufficiency of a complaint.'" McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, 'to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A court decides whether this standard is met by separating the legal conclusions from the factual allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining whether those allegations allow the court to reasonably infer" that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. A Society Without A Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2011). Dismissal "is inappropriate unless, accepting as true the well-pled facts in the complaint and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the plaintiff is unable to 'state a claim to relief.'" Brockington v. Boykins, 637 F.3d 503, 505-06 (4th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted).

B. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and "may not exercise jurisdiction absent a statutory basis." Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005). Plaintiff asserts that the Court possesses subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, the federal question jurisdiction statute, which grants federal district courts "original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." See Complaint ¶ 2. Counts Two, Three, and Four of the Complaint assert claims under federal law. Therefore, they come within federal question jurisdiction (although, as I shall explain, none of them states a claim upon which relief can be granted).

Counts One and Five of plaintiff's Complaint allege claims under state law, not federal law. However, although plaintiff does not cite it, 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) grants district courts"supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within [the courts'] original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution." Thus, the Court has authority to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Counts One and Five. Nevertheless, supplemental jurisdiction is discretionary, and a court may decline to exercise it for a variety of reasons. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) (enumerating bases for declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction). These reasons include the fact that a state law claim "raises a novel or complex issue of State law," § 1367(c)(1); that the state law "claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over which the district court has original jurisdiction," § 1367(c)(2); that the "district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction," § 1367(c)(3); and "in exceptional circumstances, [that] there are other compelling reasons for declining jurisdiction." § 1367(c)(4).

Diversity jurisdiction provides another avenue for federal courts to hear claims under state law. Diversity jurisdiction is established by 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), which grants federal district courts "original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different States." However, in his Complaint, plaintiff did not assert jurisdiction on the basis of diversity. As noted, he asserted federal question jurisdiction under § 1331, and I agree that...

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