Peek v. SunTrust Bank

Decision Date24 March 2020
Docket NumberCase No. 19-cv-658 (CRC)
PartiesCHRISTOPHER EARL PEEK, Pro se Plaintiff, v. SUNTRUST BANK, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Christopher Earl Peek has been trying since 2014 to thwart SunTrust Bank ("SunTrust") from foreclosing on his home. Peek first sued SunTrust in 2016 over his defaulted mortgage and unsuccessful loan modification request. That suit was dismissed by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. See Peek v. SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. ("Peek I"), No. 16-cv-1415, 2017 WL 3258729, at *5 (E.D. Va. Feb. 15, 2017), aff'd, 693 F. App'x 231, 232 (4th Cir. 2017) (per curiam). He then brought the same suit in this Court, which was rebuffed under res judicata. See Peek v. SunTrust Bank, Inc. ("Peek II"), 313 F. Supp. 3d 201, 205 (D.D.C. 2018) (Cooper, J.). Back again, Peek challenges SunTrust's failure to accommodate a new loan modification request. Seeing no basis for relief, the Court will grant the bank's motion to dismiss, deny Peek's motion to amend his complaint as futile, and close the case.

I. Background

In 2008, Mr. Peek obtained a mortgage loan from SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. secured by his residence in Washington, D.C. Prop. Am. Compl. ¶ I.1.1 He defaulted on the loan in March2014. Id. Peek later applied for a modification of the loan, which he thought SunTrust had approved in January 2016. Id. ¶ I.2. However, SunTrust allegedly changed course and initiated a foreclosure proceeding in District of Columbia Superior Court ("Superior Court Action"). Id. That matter is currently pending. See Def. Mot. to Dismiss, Exh. A.

In November 2016, Peek filed suit against SunTrust in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ("Virginia Action"). The suit raised various federal and state law challenges to the pending foreclosure and the bank's response to Peek's loan modification request. Judge Brinkema dismissed Peek's challenges to the pending foreclosure as barred by the Younger abstention doctrine and his challenges to SunTrust's denial of his loan modification request for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Peek I, 2017 WL 3258729, at *2-4.

Peek then sued SunTrust in this Court in November 2017 raising the same claims that he had brought in the Virginia Action. On June 20, 2018, the Court granted SunTrust's motion to dismiss the suit as barred by res judicata. See Peek II, 313 F. Supp. 3d at 205. Peek's subsequent appeal was dismissed for lack of prosecution. See Peek v. SunTrust Bank, Inc., No. 18-7117 (D.C. Cir. Mar. 11, 2019).

That same week, Mr. Peek initiated the present matter. He maintains that this suit is "entirely different" from the earlier actions because it pertains to "an entirely new fact set based on new credit applications in 2018 and related activities between the Parties subsequent to the prior litigation." Prop. Am. Compl. ¶ I.4. Specifically, Peek claims that he filed a new loan modification request with SunTrust in July 2018, id. ¶¶ 12-13, 31, 33, 48-49, to which SunTrust"either didn't reply, didn't reply timely, or provided alternate reasons for its credit decision verbally that was not documented in writing," id. ¶ II.1. SunTrust also allegedly "added new items to the application process [and] deleted documents submitted by Peek that would have qualified him for credit approval." Id. ¶ II.3. Peek further contends that SunTrust employees notified him that the foreclosure process would be "stayed, suspended, or withdrawn while he had an active application for modification, but continued to pursue foreclosure and litigation contrary to its written and verbal assurances." Id. ¶ II.4. He demands declaratory relief, compensatory damages of at least $250,000, and statutory damages. See id., Prayer for Relief, ¶¶ 1-6. SunTrust moves to dismiss.

II. Legal Standards

In order to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In deciding such a motion, the Court is limited to considering the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents attached to or incorporated in the complaint, matters of which a court may take judicial notice, and matters of public record. See Kaempe v. Myers, 367 F.3d 958, 965 (D.C. Cir. 2004); EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F. 3d 621, 624-25 (D.C. Cir. 1997).

Peek has also filed a motion for leave to amend his complaint. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), leave to amend "should be freely given in the absence of undue delay, bad faith, undue prejudice to the opposing party, repeated failures to cure deficiencies, or futility." Richardson v. United States, 193 F.3d 545, 548-49 (D.C. Cir. 1999). An amended complaint would be futile if "the proposed claim would not survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6)]." James Madison Ltd. by Hecht v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085, 1099 (D.C. Cir. 1996).

III. Analysis

SunTrust moves to dismiss on the grounds that (1) Peek's suit is barred by res judicata; (2) the Court lacks jurisdiction under the Younger abstention doctrine; and (3) Peek fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Court considers each ground in turn.

A. Res judicata

As the Court explained in Peek II, "[r]es judicata (or claim preclusion) holds that 'a judgment on the merits in a prior suit bars a second suit involving the same parties . . . based on the same cause of action.'" Peek II, 313 F. Supp. 3d at 204 (quoting Drake v. FAA, 291 F.3d 59, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2002)). SunTrust argues that Peek's claims are again barred by res judicata. See Def. Mot. to Dismiss 8-9. This time around, however, SunTrust cannot succeed on this ground.

Res judicata only applies where "the two actions share the same nucleus of facts." Lauterbach v. Huerta, 817 F.3d 347, 351 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted). Peek's claims in the prior actions were based, in part, on SunTrust's failure to accommodate his January 2016 loan modification request. See Peek I, 2017 WL 3258729 at *1-3; Peek II, 313 F. Supp. 3d at 203, 206. By contrast, Peek's claims in this suit are premised on a subsequent loan modification request that he says he made in July 2018. See Prop. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12-13. Although related to the same underlying loan, SunTrust's response—or lack thereof—to that request, which purportedly came after the prior lawsuits concluded, present a different set of facts than those at issue in the prior actions. See, e.g., Sieverding v. DOJ, 847 F. Supp. 2d 75, 82 (D.D.C. 2012),) (declining to find Plaintiff's Privacy Act claim barred by res judicata where "[h]er current complaint and filings refer to documents she obtained . . . after final judgment was entered in [the prior suit]" (emphasis added)), aff'd, No. 13-5060, 2013 WL 6801184 (D.C. Cir. Dec. 11, 2013. Accordingly, the present suit is not barred under res judicata. See, e.g., Drake,291 F.3d at 66 (noting that res judicata only applies to prevent parties "from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised" in a prior action (quoting Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980)) (emphasis added)).

B. Younger Abstention

SunTrust also urges the Court to decline to exercise jurisdiction under the Younger abstention doctrine so as not to interfere with the mortgage foreclosure proceeding, which is still pending in D.C. Superior Court. See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 45 (1971) ("[T]he normal thing to do when federal courts are asked to enjoin pending proceedings in state courts is not to issue such injunctions."). The Court should stand down, SunTrust argues, because "there has been no impediment to the Plaintiff raising all issues and claims pertaining to the SunTrust mortgage in the [Superior Court Action]." Def. Mot. to Dismiss 8-9.

SunTrust cannot rely on Younger this time either.2 Younger announced a "policy forbidding federal courts [from] stay[ing] or enjoin[ing] pending state court proceedings except under special circumstances." 401 U.S. at 41. Unlike in the prior actions, Peek does not "seek[] to enjoin or void [the] . . . state court foreclosure action"; he challenges only SunTrust's failure to accommodate his renewed loan modification requests under federal and state law. Stoller v. Ocwen Fin. Corp., 140 F. Supp. 3d 80, 83 (D.D.C. 2015). Success on those claims would notentitle Peek to injunctive relief with respect to the pending Superior Court Action.3 See generally Sprint Commc'ns, Inc. v. Jacobs, 571 U.S. 69, 72 (2013) ("In the main, federal courts are obliged to decide cases within the scope of federal jurisdiction. Abstention is not in order simply because a pending state-court proceeding involves the same subject matter."). Younger therefore does not impede Peek's suit.

C. Failure to State a Claim

Assured of its jurisdiction, the Court turns to the merits of Peek's claims. Peek sues SunTrust under the federal Real Estate Settlement Practices Act ("RESPA"), Equal Credit Opportunity Act ("ECOA"), and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA") as well as state common law.4

1. Real Estate Settlement Practices Act

Congress enacted RESPA "to insure that consumers . . . are provided with greater and more timely information on the nature and costs of the [real estate] settlement process" and to protect them "from unnecessarily high settlement charges caused by certain abusive practices." 12 U.S.C. § 2601(a). To that end, RESPA imposes obligations on loan servicers to respond to qualified written requests for information. See id. § 2605(e). In addition to these specificobligations, the Dodd-Frank Act amended RESPA to generally prohibit servicers from "fail[ing] to take timely action to respond to a borrower's requests to correct errors relating to allocation of payments, final balances for...

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