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Meza v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

December 13, 2019

NOREENA MEZA, Plaintiff,
v.
EXPERIAN INFORMATION SOLUTIONS, INC.; TRANSUNION CORP.; and EQUIFAX, INC.; Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT EQUIFAX INC.'S MOTION TO DISMISS (DOC. NO. 14)

         INTRODUCTION

         Pro se Plaintiff Noreena Meza brought an action in Fresno Superior Court alleging various common law claims and claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) against Experian Information Solutions, Inc. (“Experian”), Transunion Corp. (“Transunion”) and Equifax, Inc. (“Equifax”) (together, “Defendants”). That action was removed to this Court by Transunion, and Equifax now seeks dismissal of all claims against it pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Equifax's motion to dismiss in its entirety, with leave to amend.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In June 2019, Meza requested “three credit reports” through “creditreport.com” and discovered “almost 12-14 accounts … on his credit report without his knowledge.” Doc. No. 1-3 at 2:18-20. On June 27, 2019, Meza wrote to “three credit report companies”- Experian, Transunion and Equifax- requesting an investigation into the accounts. Id. at 2:20-22. Meza also wrote to the “financial institution” associated with each of the accounts “requesting an internal investigation” and information on “how, when and where these accounts were opened and established.” Id. at 2:21-24. Each Defendant responded to Meza's inquiry on or about July 31, 2019. Id. at 2:23-26. According to Meza, however, the Defendants failed to “investigate this matter and continue to report negative information that should not be reported.” Id. at 2:27 -3:2. Further, Meza alleges that “Defendants failed to follow reasonable procedures to assure the maximum possible accuracy of information in [Meza's] consumer report, ” id. at 4:12-14, and that the Defendants incorrectly reported that Meza was “severely delinquent in paying on his account and had an outstanding balance” even though they “knew the statements were false or had no factual basis for making the statements.” Id. at 4:26-28. This conduct adversely affected Meza's credit, prevented him from purchasing an automobile, and damaged his reputation. Id. at 4.

         Based on this alleged wrongdoing, Meza brings the following claims against all three Defendants: (i) “Violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act”; (ii) “Loss of Opportunity”; (iii) “Defamation”; (iv) “Negligence”; (v) “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress”; and (vi) “Intentional Infliction of Willful Misconduct.” Doc. No. 1-3 at 4:6-7:4.

         DEFENDANT'S MOTION

         Equifax argues that the claims against it should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for four reasons. First, Equifax argues that Meza has “sued the wrong party” because Equifax “is not a consumer reporting agency” (“CRA”) subject to the FCRA. Doc. No. 1-3, Arguments and Authorities, Part I. Second, Equifax contends that the Complaint is insufficient under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because Meza “does not explain … what he contends was inaccurate on his credit file, what Equifax [] allegedly did or didn't do with respect to [his] dispute, how Equifax [] acted willfully or negligently, or any detail sufficient for Equifax [] to respond to the Complaint.” Id., Argument and Authorities, Part II. Third, Equifax argues that the FCRA preempts the causes of action that arise under state law and common law. Id., Arguments and Authorities, Part III. And finally, Equifax argues that the Complaint fails to set forth allegations showing that Equifax's alleged wrongdoing was “willful” under the FCRA. Id., Arguments and Authorities, Part IV. Meza has not filed an opposition to Equifax's motion to dismiss.

         Legal Standard

         Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief … in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the … claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)) (internal quotations omitted).

         A court may grant a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure where the plaintiff fails to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or on the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal claim. Mollett v. Netflix, Inc., 795 F.3d 1062, 1065 (9th Cir.2015).

         To avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal for a lack of facts, “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) (citation omitted); Mollett, 795 F.3d at 1065. Rule 12(b)(6)'s plausibility standard “is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). A claim is plausible “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.

         When considering a motion to dismiss, all well-pleaded allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Faulkner v. ADT Sec. Servs., 706 F.3d 1017, 1019 (9th Cir.2013); see also, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A court, however, is not “bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Nor is a court obliged to credit conclusory allegations, allegations contradicted by exhibits attached to the complaint or matters properly subject to judicial notice, unwarranted deductions of fact or unreasonable inferences. Daniels-Hall v. National Educ. Ass'n, 629 F.3d 992, 998 (9th Cir.2010); see also, Epstein v. Wash. Energy Co., 83 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir.1996) (stating that “unwarranted inferences” are “insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim”).

         In short, the Ninth Circuit has distilled the following principles for motions under Rule 12(b)(6):

First, to be entitled to the presumption of truth, allegations in a complaint or counterclaim may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively. Second, the factual allegations that are taken as true must plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation.

Levitt v. Yelp! Inc., 765 F.3d 1123, 1135 (9th Cir.2014) (citation omitted).

         When evaluating a pro se complaint, the pleadings are “to be liberally construed, and … however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). However, the court still may not “accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory.” In re Gilead Scis. Sec. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir.2008).

         Under Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, leave to amend “shall be freely granted when justice so requires, ” bearing in mind “the underlying purpose of Rule 15 to facilitate decisions on the merits, rather than on the pleadings or technicalities.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir.2000) (en banc) (ellipses omitted). A court may, however, “exercise its discretion to deny leave to amend due to ‘undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party ..., [and] futility of amendment.'” Carvalho v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 629 F.3d 876, 892-93 (9th Cir.2010) (alterations in original) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)); see also, Garmon v. County of L.A., 828 F.3d 837, 842 (9th Cir.2016).

         ANALYSIS

         The Court first addresses Equifax's arguments for dismissal of Meza's claims under the FCRA, and then addresses Equifax's arguments for dismissal of claims arising under common law.

         I. Fair Credit Reporting Act Claims

         The Court begins by ascertaining what claims Meza is bringing against Equifax under the FCRA, applying the forgiving standards of construction applicable to pro se complaints. See Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (2007).

         Meza alleges that the Defendants in this action “provid[e] credit information and risk management services to businesses and consumers.” Doc. No. 1-3 at 1:20-25. Further, he refers to Defendants collectively as the “three Credit report agencies” and the “three Credit borough[s], ” while distinguishing them from “financial institutions” that allegedly furnished information to the Defendants. Id. at 2:18-26. He also alleges that the Defendants have collectively engaged in “incorrect negative reporting.” Id. at 2:26-28. The Court, therefore, understands that Meza is suing the Defendants (including Equifax) as “consumer reporting agencies”-the term for “credit reporting agencies” in the FCRA-even though the Complaint contains various references to obligations on the part of “furnisher[s] of credit information” under the FCRA.[1] See, e.g., id. at 3:23-26.

         As to Meza's claims against the Defendants under the FCRA, the Complaint makes express reference to 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681i(a), 1681n, 1681o and 1681s-2. See Doc. No. 1-3 at 3:8-15, 5:7-9. As stated in the Complaint, itself, 15 U.S.C. § 1681s-2 pertains to furnishers of information who have failed to perform certain duties upon valid notice of a credit reporting dispute. Doc. No. 1-3 at 3:10-12; see 15 U.S.C. § 1681s-2 (entitled “Responsibilities of furnishers of information to consumer reporting agencies”). Since Meza is suing Equifax and the other Defendants as CRAs, as opposed to furnishers of information, 15 U.S.C. § 1681s-2 does not appear to be relevant to this action and will not be addressed in this Order.

         In addition to referencing the aforementioned FCRA provisions, the Complaint alleges “negligent noncompliance [] and willful failure to reinvestigate disputed entries.” Doc. No. 1-3 at 5:7-9. It also states that Defendants “failed to investigate” the reporting inaccuracies at issue in this case, “report[ed] negative information that should not be reported, ” id. at 3:1-2, and “failed to follow reasonable procedures to assure the maximum possible accuracy of information in [Meza's] consumer report.” Id. at 4:12-14.

         15 U.S.C. § 1681i-entitled “Procedure in case of disputed accuracy”-governs “[r]einvestigations of ...


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