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Steiner v. Asset Acceptance, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

August 19, 2019

TERRY STEINER, Plaintiff,
v.
ASSET ACCEPTANCE, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          RICARDO S. MARTINEZ CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Asset Acceptance, LLC's Motion to Dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), Dkt. #18. Plaintiff Terry Steiner opposes Defendant's Motion in entirety. Dkt. #24. The Court finds oral argument unnecessary to resolve the underlying issues. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss with prejudice.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff brings this action against Defendant for violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. (“FDCPA”), and the Washington Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”), RCW 19.16.

         On June 18, 2004, Defendant obtained a judgment against Plaintiff's brother, Mr. David Steiner, in Whatcom Superior Court, and duly recorded the judgment on June 30, 2004. Dkt. #1 at ¶¶ 15-16. The judgment totaled $6, 802.76 with an interest rate of twelve percent. Dkt. #1-1 at 1. Nearly ten years later, on April 11, 2014, Defendant obtained an order granting a petition for renewal of judgment for the total amount of $13, 529.09. Dkt. #1-2 at 2. Defendant duly recorded the order on May 22, 2015. Dkt. #1 at ¶ 16. On January 2, 2018, Mr. Steiner passed away intestate and Plaintiff Terry Steiner was appointed administrator of his estate. Id. at ¶¶ 17-18.

         On or about September 4, 2018, Plaintiff sold Mr. Steiner's property. Id. at ¶¶ 20-21. Because of Defendant's judgment lien against Mr. Steiner's estate, the Chicago Title Company of Washington (“Chicago Title”) withheld $28, 000 of the proceeds from the sale of Mr. Steiner's former home. Dkt. #1-7 at 1. Plaintiff claims that she offered Defendant $5, 000 to release the lien on Mr. Steiner's estate. In response, Defendant sent Plaintiff a letter dated September 21, 2018 stating that a higher dollar amount was required to release the lien and that it needed to receive the funds by October 18, 2018 to begin the release process. Dkt. #1-8.

         After Defendant rejected Plaintiff's offer to pay $5, 000 for release of the lien, Plaintiff's counsel provided a letter to Defendant stating that the judgment could not be lawfully executed against the proceeds from the sale of Mr. Steiner's former home. Dkt. #1-9. Plaintiff's counsel continued to request release of the lien on the basis that because of Washington's homestead laws, Defendant never possessed a judgment lien on Mr. Steiner's property. See Dkt. #1 at ¶¶ 22-31. On February 25, 2019, after unsuccessful attempts by Plaintiff's counsel to obtain release of the lien, Plaintiff filed this action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. Plaintiff claims that by attempting to collect on its judgment through the proceeds from the sale of Mr. Steiner's home, Defendant violated both the FDCPA and the CPA. Dkt. #1 at 9-12.

         On May 29, 2019, Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint with prejudice under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) on the basis that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard under Rule 12(b)(6)

         In making a 12(b)(6) assessment, the court accepts all facts alleged in the complaint as true and makes all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Baker v. Riverside County Office of Educ., 584 F.3d 821, 824 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). However, the court is not required to accept as true a “legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 678. This requirement is met when the plaintiff “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The complaint need not include detailed allegations, but it must have “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Absent facial plausibility, a plaintiff's claims must be dismissed. Id. at 570.

         Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claims under the FDCPA and the CPA on several grounds: (1) As a matter of law, the Washington homestead exemption does not apply to proceeds from the sale of Mr. Steiner's estate; (2) even if the exemption applied, the homestead was presumed abandoned and can no longer claim the exemption; (3) Defendant has not enforced the judgment, and third-party Chicago Title-not Defendant-maintains control over the sale proceeds; (4) Defendant has not engaged in any “collection activity” as defined under the FDCPA or the CPA; and (5) Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations for the FDCPA and the CPA. The Court finds that as a matter of law, the homestead exemption does not apply to proceeds from the sale of Mr. Steiner's estate. Because Plaintiff's inability to claim Washington's homestead exemption is a dispositive issue, it is unnecessary for the Court to address the remaining four grounds for dismissal.

         B. The Washington State ...


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