In Muhammad v. Reese Law Group, APC, 2017 WL 4557194, at *5 (S.D.Cal., 2017), Judge Anello held that alleged mispresentations made in a debt collection complaint were barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Here, the Court finds Plaintiff’s misrepresentation and over-collection claim is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Plaintiff argues she “does not challenge the validity of the 2001 money judgment,” thus Rooker-Feldman is inapplicable. Doc. No. 57 at 15. However, Plaintiff expressly asserts Defendant is collecting “an amount larger than what Plaintiff owed” on the money judgment. Doc. No. 57 at 6. Plaintiff admits “the parties dispute the validity of the amounts represented on the various documents[.]” Id. at 10. Plaintiff claims she has been injured as a result of Defendant collecting more money than owed. Moreover, though not expressly stated in her prayer for relief, Plaintiff seeks a ruling from this Court that the “Defendant improperly calculated the alleged debt owed by Plaintiff and attempted to collect more than Plaintiff owed[.]” Doc. No. 57 at 9. Thus, in essence, Plaintiff alleges a legal error by the state court and seeks relief from 2015 Writ of Execution issued by the state court. A challenge to the amounts garnished based on the 2015 Writ of Execution necessarily requires this Court to examine the accuracy of the amount approved and issued by the state court. Because adjudication of this claim would undercut the state court’s judgment, Plaintiff claim is a de facto appeal barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See Kougasian, 359 F.3d at 1142 (noting a plaintiff brings a de facto appeal when the plaintiff alleges legal error by the state court and seeks relief from the state court’s judgment); Balogun v. Winn Law Group, A.P.C., 2017 WL 2984075, at *5 (C.D. Cal. July 12, 2017) (“Should this Court rule on the merits of Plaintiff’s claim, the Court would need to determine the correct interest rate on Plaintiff’s debt in order to determine whether Defendants misrepresented the amount of debt. This would require review and possible reversal of the state court rulings,” which is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine); Fleming, 723 F. Supp. 2d at 1223 (“[T]here is no question that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars a district court from reviewing an FDCPA claim that challenges the validity of a debt authorized by a state court judgment.”). Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Defendant’s motion as to Plaintiff’s misrepresentation and over-collection claim and DISMISSES such claim because the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over it.
Judge Anello also found no liability under Plaintiff’s “wrong venue” claim filed under the FDCPA.
Plaintiff alleges Defendant caused a “ ‘Writ of Execution’ to collect a money judgment to be issued against [Plaintiff] in a county where the original contract upon which the money judgment was issued was not entered and where Plaintiff does not reside[.]” Complaint ¶ 1. Further, Plaintiff contends Defendant caused an “ ‘Earnings Withholding Order’ to be issued in a county in which Plaintiff does not reside or work and in a county in which the original contract upon which the money judgment is based was not entered, directing the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office to garnish Plaintiff’s wages [.]” Complaint ¶ 2. In Defendant’s reply brief, Defendant admits there are no facts in dispute regarding Plaintiff’s venue claim. Specifically, Defendant concedes it “garnished Plaintiff’s wages outside of the county where she resided or signed the contract.” Doc. No. 58 at 7. Defendant, however, argues that the FDCPA’s venue provision does not apply because wage garnishment procedures in California do not qualify as actions “against any consumer,” as the phrase is defined by the statute. . . Defendant argues that the Ninth Circuit in Fox did not take the next step and address the “against any consumer” element also found in 15 U.S.C. § 1692i(a). Defendant relies on several post-Fox decisions by circuit courts for the proposition that a garnishment action flowing from a writ of execution, even though a legal action on a debt, is not an action against a consumer. . . Here, Plaintiff does not claim Defendant obtained the underlying judgment in an improper venue. In fact, Plaintiff acknowledges Defendant obtained the judgment in Orange County—the county where Plaintiff resides. Doc. No. 57 at 6 (“Defendant sued Plaintiff on behalf of Ford and obtained a judgment in Orange County”). As such, this Court finds persuasive the district court’s reasoning in Cole, in addition to the reasoning of the First, Seventh, Eighth and Eleventh Circuits. Thus, the Court proceeds by looking to California’s wage garnishment scheme to determine whether a wage-deduction proceeding is truly “against any consumer,” or rather, the employer. . . Upon review of California’s garnishment scheme, the Court finds FDCPA’s venue provision does not apply to post-judgment garnishment proceedings under California law. . . Additionally, “[u]pon delivery of the writ of execution to the levying officer to whom the writ is directed, together with the written instructions of the judgment creditor, the levying officer shall execute the writ in the manner prescribed by law.” Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 699.530(a). The judgment creditor then applies for an earnings withholding order, which the levying officer serves upon the employer.4 See Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §§ 706.021, 706.103 (emphasis added). Once served, the employer has a duty to deliver a copy of the relevant documents to the judgment debtor. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 706.104(a) (emphasis added). The judgment debtor, however, has an opportunity to claim an exemption or object to the garnishment amount. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 706.105(e). The employer is required to respond to the earnings withholding order by first-class mail to the levying officer within fifteen (15) days from the date of service. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 706.104(b) (emphasis). The employer is required to withhold earnings and pay the levying officer. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 706.022(b) (emphasis added). Finally, if an employer fails to withhold or to pay over the amount the employer is required to withhold, “the judgment creditor may bring a civil action against the employer to recover such amount.” Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 706.154 (emphasis added). Thus, it is quite evident that in California the process is fundamentally an action against the employer—not the consumer. Therefore, Plaintiff’s FDCPA venue claim fails as a matter of law.