Oliphant v. Midland Funding LLC, No. 4:19 CV 1204 RWS

CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
PartiesCARL OLIPHANT and MOHAMMED JABER, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. MIDLAND FUNDING LLC, Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. 4:19 CV 1204 RWS
Decision Date20 February 2020

individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,

No. 4:19 CV 1204 RWS


February 20, 2020


Plaintiffs Carl Oliphant and Mohammed Jaber are consumers against whom Defendant Midland Funding, LLC (Midland) obtained default judgments in state court actions. Oliphant alleges that Midland's use of the default judgment to obtain an order of garnishment against him violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Jaber alleges that Midland's conduct violated the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act. Oliphant and Jaber jointly allege that Midland is liable to them for unjust enrichment.

Oliphant originally filed this case in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri on March 29, 2019. Oliphant and Jaber filed an amended complaint, adding Jaber's claims, on May 6, 2019, while the case was still before the circuit court. On May 8, 2019, Midland removed this case to the United States

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District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, because the complaint alleges Midland violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq.

This case is presently before me on Plaintiffs' motion to remand the case to state court and Defendant's motion to dismiss. For the reasons below, I will dismiss Oliphant's FDCPA count and remand the remaining counts in the complaint to the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri.

I. Background1

Midland filed a lawsuit against Oliphant in state court on June 24, 2014, alleging that Oliphant owed a credit card debt to which Midland obtained all rights, title, and interest. In that lawsuit, Midland filed a request to appoint special process servers to serve Oliphant in that court action. The court or court clerk never signed the request approving Midland's request for the process server appointment. Midland also did not file a return of service, but it requested that the court enter default judgment against Oliphant on August 11, 2014. The court entered default judgment against Oliphant for $782.19 plus court costs. On April 6, 2018, Midland filed a garnishment application with the court to collect on the default judgment, which the clerk later issued.

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Oliphant does not allege that he directly challenged or moved to set aside the default judgment or the garnishment action before filing this suit.

II. Legal Standard

a. Motion to Dismiss

In ruling on a motion to dismiss brought under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), I must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Kohl v. Casson, 5 F.3d 1141, 1148 (8th Cir. 1993). "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, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. While a court must accept factual allegations as true, it is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Carton v. Gen. Motor Acceptance Corp., 611 F.3d 451, 454 (8th Cir. 2010) (internal citations omitted). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal citations omitted).

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b. Motion to Remand

A plaintiff may move to remand "any time before final judgment if it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C. § 1447. "[T]he case must be remanded if it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction." Bumpus v. United Conveyor Corp., No. 1:09-CV-171, 2010 WL 431794, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Feb. 2, 2010). The defendant bears the burden of proof in establishing that the federal court has subject matter jurisdiction. Id. "All doubts about federal jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of remand to state court." Id. (citing Wilkinson v. Shackelford, 478 F.3d 957, 963 (8th Cir. 2007)).

III. Analysis

In this lawsuit, Plaintiffs seek monetary damages, injunctive relief, and invalidation of the default judgments Midland obtained against them. In the motion to remand, they argue that the Court does not have jurisdiction over this case under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, because they argue that I cannot rule on their claims without also ruling on the propriety of the state court default judgments in Midland's original collection actions. Midland moves to dismiss on the grounds that it followed the proper rules of service in the state court debt collection action and that its efforts to enforce outstanding judgments, entered by a state court, did not violate the FDCPA.

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a. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

Plaintiffs contend that this Court does not have jurisdiction to hear this case under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. "The Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over actions seeking review of, or relief from, state court judgments." Hageman v. Barton, 817 F.3d 611, 614 (8th Cir. 2016)). Rooker-Feldman can sometimes require federal district courts to abstain in cases arising under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. See Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 291 (2005) ("[Rooker-Feldman] precludes a United States district court from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction in an action it would otherwise be empowered to adjudicate under a congressional grant of authority, e.g., . . . § 1331"). However, "the doctrine is limited in scope and does not bar jurisdiction over actions alleging independent claims arising from conduct in underlying state...

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