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Kelly v. Wells Fargo Bank, National Association (Inc.)

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

May 23, 2019




         After a Hertz associate told the Chattanooga Police Department that Plaintiff stole its rental car, Plaintiff Anthony Kelly spent 16 days in jail for allegedly bringing stolen property into the state of Georgia. Except, he didn't do it.

         Apparently, the Hertz associate concluded that Plaintiff must have stolen the rental car because an unknown Wells Fargo representative told him that the name on the credit card Plaintiff gave as payment to Hertz did not match the name on the bank's records for that account. After more than two weeks in the Houston County Jail, Wells Fargo determined that Plaintiff was the rightful owner of the credit card. This jail time prompted Plaintiff to file this lawsuit against Defendants Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and The Hertz Corporation, asserting claims for gross negligence, malicious prosecution, punitive damages, and attorney's fees, [Doc. 1 at pp. 4-5], all of which Wells Fargo seeks to dismiss [Doc. 9].


         The Court takes the following recitation of facts from Plaintiff's Complaint, unless otherwise noted, and assumes them to be true for the purposes of ruling on Wells Fargo's Motion. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007).

         Although Plaintiff legally resides in Maryland, at the time of the events giving rise to this case, he lived and worked in Juneau, Alaska. [Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 1, 7]. On July 31, 2018, Plaintiff was on medical leave from his job, and he took a flight from Juneau, Alaska, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he rented a car from Hertz for travel back to his home state of Georgia to undergo physical therapy. [Id. at ¶¶ 7-8]. The rental car “was to be returned” one week later, on August 7, 2018, and as payment for the rental, Plaintiff used his Wells Fargo credit card. [Id. at ¶ 9]; see also [Doc. 1-1 at p. 4]. However, because Plaintiff “kept the rental car for just over five weeks, ” Hertz attempted to charge Plaintiff's credit card, but the transaction failed. [Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 9-10]; see also [Doc. 1-1 at p. 4]. With an unreturned rental car and an inability to charge its customer's credit card for the extended possession of the rental, Hertz “began investigating the issue” for fraudulent activity. [Doc. 1-1 at p. 4].

         Following this failed charge attempt, Dale Kendle, a Hertz associate, successfully contacted Wells Fargo, the issuing bank for Plaintiff's credit card, who told him that the owner of the credit card account did not match the name of Hertz's renter. [Doc. 1 at ¶ 11]. It was then Mr. Kendle reported both his inability to charge the credit card and Plaintiff's purported theft of the rental car to the Chattanooga Police Department. [Id. at ¶¶ 10-12]. However, despite Hertz's success in charging Plaintiff's credit card the very next day, he was arrested in Warner Robins, Georgia, for bringing stolen property into the state. [Id. at ¶¶ 10, 14-15]. Upon his arrival to the jail, Plaintiff was able to contact and explain the situation to a Wells Fargo representative who stated that it would take two weeks for Plaintiff to receive the bank's documentation to legitimize the charged credit card. [Id. at ¶¶ 15, 18]. After 16 days in jail, Hertz told an investigating officer, “they have confirmed with Wells Fargo that the account . . . used to obtain the vehicle was an account that did belong to [Plaintiff], ” and the charges against him were dismissed. [Id. at ¶ 20-22 (emphasis in original)].


         A. Standard of Review

         Wells Fargo seeks to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against it for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, district courts must accept the facts set forth in the complaint as true. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (2007). A complaint survives a motion to dismiss only if it alleges sufficient factual matter (accepted as true) that states a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. McCullough v. Finley, 907 F.3d 1324, 1333 (11th Cir. 2018) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009)). In fact, a well-pled complaint “may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (citations omitted).

         Although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, it does require “more than [ ] unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation[s].” McCullough, 907 F.3d at 1333 (citation omitted). To decide whether a complaint survives a motion to dismiss, district courts are instructed to use a two-step framework. Id. The first step is to identify the allegations that are “no more than mere conclusions.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). “Conclusory allegations are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. (citation omitted). After disregarding the conclusory allegations, the second step is to “assume any remaining factual allegations are true and determine whether those factual allegations ‘plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         Furthermore, a complaint attacked by a 12(b)(6) motion is subject to dismissal when it fails to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “A plaintiff must plead more than labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” McCullough, 907 F.3d at 1333 (internal quotations omitted); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “To be sure, a plaintiff may use legal conclusions to structure his complaint, but legal conclusions ‘must be supported by factual allegations.'” McCullough, 907 F.3d at 1333 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). While courts, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true; they are not bound to accept a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Courts must “identify conclusory allegations and then discard them-not ‘on the ground that they are unrealistic or nonsensical' but because their conclusory nature ‘disentitles them to the presumption of truth.'” McCullough, 907 F.3d at 1333 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681).

         The issue to be decided when considering a motion to dismiss is not whether the claimant will ultimately prevail, but “whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.” Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Davis v. Scheuer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984). The factual allegations in a complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and cannot “merely create[] a suspicion of a legally cognizable right of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545, 555. Finally, complaints that tender “‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement'” will not survive against a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (alteration in original). Stated differently, the complaint must allege enough facts “to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” supporting a claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. With the foregoing standard in mind, and taking the facts asserted in Plaintiff's Complaint as true, the Court rules on Wells Fargo's Motion to Dismiss.

         B. Wells Fargo's Motion to ...

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