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Erdogan v. Preserve at Charleston Park Homeowners Association Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

June 21, 2018

Canan Erdogan, Rachel E. Lindman, Dana B. Rumer, Corey Truesdale, and Alexandra Statsenko on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
Preserve at Charleston Park Homeowners Association, Inc.; Hawthorne Ridge Homeowners' Association, Inc.; Pennington Square Homeowners Association, Inc.; Waccamaw Village Property Owners Association, Inc.; Cole Creek Homeowners Association, Inc., ; McCabe, Trotter & Beverly, P.C.; Simons & Dean, Attorneys At Law; McCutchen, Mumford, Vaught & Geddie, P.A.; Black, Slaughter & Black, P.A.; Southern Community Services, LLC; Hinson Management Inc.; IMC Charleston LLC, Sisbro Properties, LLC; and Red Rock Management Agency, LLC, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          Richard M. Gergel United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Preserve at Charleston Park Homeowners Association, Inc.; Hawthorne Ridge Homeowners' Association, Inc.; Pennington Square Homeowners Association, Inc; Waccamaw Village Property Owners Association, Inc.; McCabe, Trotter & Beverly, P.C.; Simons & Dean, Attorneys At Law; McCutchen, Mumford, Vaught & Geddie, P.A.; Black, Slaughter & Black, P.A.; Southern Community Services, LLC; Hinson Management Inc.; IMC Charleston LLC; Sisbro Properties, LLC (collectively, the "Moving Defendants") motion to dismiss (Dkt. Nos. 47 - 54.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion. The dismissal terminates all other pending motions.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs are seven owners of residential real estate in South Carolina and are each a member of a homeowners' association. (Dkt. No. 34 ¶¶ 1 - 8.) They purportedly represent all or nearly all owners in South Carolina whose property is subject to the control of a homeowners' association. (Dkt. No. 34 ¶ 1.) The Plaintiffs' property, as members of the homeowners' association, are subject to restrictive covenants mandating the payment of maintenance assessments for, among other things, the management and maintenance of common areas such as swimming pools, tennis courts, street lights, private streets, compliance with aesthetic requirements, the hiring of agents such as landscapers, and other similar services. (Dkt. No. 34 ¶ 51, Ex. B.) The restrictive covenants of the homeowners' associations state that they create a lien for these assessments, which states that it, if unpaid, the lien can be enforced against the owner as a personal obligation or through foreclosure on the lien. (Dkt. No. 34 ¶ 57, Ex. B; Dkt. No. 66 at 2 - 3.) As of the end of 2017, each of the Plaintiffs is subject to lien foreclosure actions in state court based on unpaid assessments. (Dkt. No. 34 ¶ 50.)

         Plaintiffs now bring this action against three groups of Defendants. The first, a group of seven homeowners' associations (Charleston Park Homeowners Association, Inc.; Hawthorne Ridge Homeowners' Association, Inc.; Pennington Square Homeowners Association, 5 Inc.; Waccamaw Village Property Owners Association, Inc.; Cole Creek Homeowners Association, Inc., Reedy Falls Homeowners Association, and Springhaven Homeowners, Association, Inc., collectively "HOA Defendants"), are the organizations that Plaintiffs are members of and who created the relevant restrictive covenants. (Dkt. No. 34 ¶¶ 16 - 17.) The second, a group of six management companies (Southern Community Services, LLC; Hinson Management, Inc.; IMC Charleston, LLC, Sisbro Properties, LLC; Red Rock Management Agency, LLC, William Douglas Management, Inc., MJS Inc., collectively "Management Defendants"), manage the restrictive covenants of the HOA Defendants, including collecting the assessments specified in the covenants. (Dkt. No. 34 ¶¶ 25 -33, 51.) The third, a group of four law firms (McCabe, Trotter & Beverly, P.C.; Simons & Dean, Attorneys At Law; McCutchen, Mumford, Vaught & Geddie, P.A.; and Black, Slaughter & Black, P.A., collectively "Law Firm Defendants"), ultimately file the notice of lien and pursue foreclosure actions for the HOA Defendants. (Dkt. No. 34 ¶¶ 24, 61, 63, 66.)

         Plaintiff filed this action on January 9, 2018, alleging that the Defendants violated the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA") and South Carolina state law in trying to enforce liens against Plaintiffs via foreclosure. (Dkt. No. 34 ¶¶ 83 - 99, 102-122.) Plaintiffs also seek a declaratory judgment from the Court on thirteen issues. (Dkt. No. 34 ¶¶ 101 - 102.) On January 1, 2018, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. (Dkt. Nos. 26 - 28.) On February 12, 2018, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint as a matter of right under Rule 15(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and pending motions to dismiss were denied as moot. (Dkt. Nos. 34, 39.) The Amended Complaint specified that the FDCPA claim was only against the Law Firm Defendants and added an additional claim for abuse of process under South Carolina law. (Dkt. No. 34.) On March 5, 2018, the Moving Defendants renewed their motion to dismiss, addressing the new arguments raised in the Amended Complaint. (Dkt. Nos. 47 - 54.) Defendants argue that filing notice of liens and foreclosing on them based on restrictive covenants is lawful in South Carolina and therefore the Plaintiffs' claims, which rely on the alleged illegality of that conduct, must fail. In the alternative, Defendants ask that the Court abstain from hearing Plaintiffs case based on the pending foreclosure actions in state court under the Younger and Colorado River abstention doctrines.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Rule 12(b)(6)

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits the dismissal of an action if the complaint fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Such a motion tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint and "does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of the claim, or the applicability of defenses.... Our inquiry then is limited to whether the allegations constitute 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (quotation marks and citation omitted). In a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court is obligated to "assume the truth of all facts alleged in the complaint and the existence of any fact that can be proved, consistent with the complaint's allegations." E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P 'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). However, while the Court must accept the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, it "need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Id.

         To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Although the requirement of plausibility does not impose a probability requirement at this stage, the complaint must show more than a "sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A complaint has "facial plausibility" where the pleading "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

         B. Declaratory Judgment Act

         Under the Declaratory Judgment Act, a district court, in a case or controversy otherwise within its jurisdiction, "may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or could be sought." 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a). The Supreme Court has "repeatedly characterized the Declaratory Judgment Act as 'an enabling Act, which confers a discretion on the courts rather than an absolute right upon the litigant.'" Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 287, 115 S.Ct. 2137, 132 L.Ed.2d 214 (1995) (quoting Pub. Serv. Comm'n of Utah v. Wycoff Co., 344 U.S. 237, 241, 73 S.Ct. 236, 97 L.Ed. 291 (1952)). "[A] declaratory judgment action is appropriate 'when the judgment will serve a useful purpose in clarifying and settling the legal relations in issue, and ... when it will terminate and afford relief from the uncertainty, insecurity, and controversy giving rise to the proceeding.'" Centennial Life Ins. Co. v. Poston, 88 F.3d 255, 256 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Quarles, 92 F.2d 321, 325 (4th Cir. 1937)).

         However, the Declaratory Judgment Act is "remedial only, and is not itself a basis for federal subject matter jurisdiction." Volvo GM Heavy Truck Corp. v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, 118 F.3d 205, 210 (4th Cir. 1997). Therefore, the Court only has jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' declaratory judgment action if a claim could be brought directly under the FDCPA. See COM, LLC v. BellSouth Telecomm., Inc., 664 F.3d 46, 55-56 (4th Cir.2011) ("[A] request for declaratory relief is barred to the same extent that the claim for substantive relief on which it is based would be barred.").

         III. ...


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