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Williams v. Equifax, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

August 5, 2019

BENTON WILLIAMS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
EQUIFAX, INC., Defendant.

          Dlott, J. Bowman, M.J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Stephanie K. Bowman United States Magistrate Judge.

         On July 26, 2019, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, paid the requisite filing fee and filed the above-captioned case. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned now recommends that this case be DISMISSED sua sponte for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, or alternatively, for failure to state any claim.

         I. Background

         Many pro se litigants seek to file their complaints in forma pauperis, or without payment of a filing fee. In such cases, Congress has authorized Courts to conduct an initial evaluation of the complaint prior to authorizing service on any defendant. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). Because Plaintiff paid the full filing fee, his complaint is not subject to statutory sua sponte screening under § 1915(e).[1] Nevertheless, this Court retains the authority to dismiss frivolous lawsuits under Apple v. Glenn, 183 F.3d 477, 479 (6th Cir. 1999). Moreover, a federal court has the obligation to dismiss a lawsuit at any time that it determines it is without subject matter jurisdiction.

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. In the complaint filed in this case, Plaintiff has invoked diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Doc. 1 at 3). Plaintiff alleges that he is a citizen of Ohio, and that the Defendant corporation is a citizen of Georgia. (Id. at 4). However, in order for diversity jurisdiction to arise under § 1332, the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000. In the “Relief” section of his complaint, Plaintiff specifically seeks $75 million dollars in damages as monetary damages.

         II. Plaintiff's Complaint Should be Dismissed

         A. Failure to Plausibly Assert the Requisite Amount in Controversy

         Generally, the amount in controversy alleged by a plaintiff in his complaint will suffice unless it appears to a legal certainty that the plaintiff in good faith cannot claim the jurisdictional amount. See Klepper v. First Am. Bank, 916 F.2d 337, 340 (6th Cir.1990). When determining whether the requisite amount in controversy has been satisfied, the complaint is examined at the time it was filed. Id.

         Examining Plaintiff's complaint, the undersigned concludes that Plaintiff has failed, in good faith, to allege any plausible claim that would exceed $75, 000. In his “Statement of Claim, ” Plaintiff refers to “attached” exhibits, but generally alleges that Equifax “has willingly, knowingly, intentionally, or voluntarily agreed and acquiesced through its non-response to the facts stated in the Conditional Acceptance/Affidavits sent, and is therefore in default under contract. Equifax has also admitted to the data breach which has affected and injured me personally.” (Id. at 4, emphasis added). In the following section of his complaint setting forth his claim for relief, Plaintiff states:

Plaintiff prays for relief as follows $75, 000, 000.000 agreed to and acquiesced…through the Plaintiff exhausting his private administrative remedy through proofs of claim, Equifax, Inc's subsequent non-response to the Notice of Fault and Opportunity to Cure and subsequent non-response and subsequent Default as a result of Equifax, Inc. willful failure to respond. Plaintiff also prays for triple damages, punitive damages and all court costs.

(Id. at 5). Plaintiff sets forth no basis for his claims other than alleging that the Defendant has failed to respond to prior “Notices” and/or demands made by Plaintiff for monetary damages, which Plaintiff appears (erroneously) to believe contractually bind Equifax to pay him $75 million dollars.

         The exhibits attached as part of Plaintiff's complaint offer little to further illuminate the basis for any claim. The first exhibit is a letter from Plaintiff to the CEO of Equifax dated April 17, 2019, and bearing the caption: “Conditional Acceptance (CA) - Request for Proof of Claim as to the Liability of Equifax, Inc. for the Fraudulent Breach of the Personal Data of 148 Million Americans Including Myself, the undersigned, as Reported on September 8, 2017 by Equifax, Inc.” (Id. at 7-8). In the April 2019 Conditional Acceptance of Claim letter, Plaintiff states that he is among the victims of the data breach reported by Equifax on September 8, 2017. Plaintiff asserts that he has been “personally, financially, socially and economically injured…in that I now DO NOT know who may have my personal data or where my data is being used as a result of the fraudulent data breach at Equifax, Inc. reported on September 8, 2017.” (Id. at 7, capitalization original).

         The second exhibit attached to Plaintiff's complaint is a similar letter from Plaintiff addressed to the CEO of Equifax, dated June 1, 2019. While bearing a similar caption to the first letter, “Re: Conditional Acceptance (CA) - Request for Proof of Claim…, ” the June letter contains a subheading captioned “Notice of Fault and Opportunity to Cure and Contest Acceptance.” (Id. at 9). In the June letter, Plaintiff informs Equifax that because it failed to respond to his first letter by providing numerous “proofs of claim, ” Equifax is “now in fault and …in agreement and have stipulated to the terms of the undersigned's dated presentment through your dishonor.” (Id.) Plaintiff's letter further informs Equifax of its “right to cure” ...


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