Robinson v. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency et al

Filing 66

MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge George Jarrod Hazel on 4/3/2017. (aos, Deputy Clerk)

Download PDF
IN TilE UNITED STATES I)JSTRICT COURT FOR HIE I)JSTRICT OF MARYLAND SOllt"erll Di"isioll ANTIIONY IWHINSON, II: * Plaintiff, * Case No.: G,JII-IS-1I1179 \'. * PENNSYLVANIA HIGHER EDUCATION ASSISTANO: AGENCY, l'f al.• * * Defl'lHlants. * * * * * * * * * MEMORANDUM Plaintiff Anthony Rohinson ("Plaintiff' Pennsylvania Iligher Education Assistance Department of Education ("USDE"). In!llrlnation Solutions. U.s.e. * * * * OPINION or "Rohinson") hrings suit against Defendants Agency d/h/a Fed Loan Servicing. the United States Equifax in!lmnation Services. LLe. and Experian Ine,,1 alleging claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). ~ 16XI el self .. and common la\\' dclamation. Dismiss !llr Lack ofJurisdietion 15 Defendant US DE has tiled a Motion to under Fed. R. Civ. 1'. 12(h)( I). lOCI' No. 41. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2(16). For the fl)llo\\'ing reasons. Defendant's Dismiss is granted and USDE is dismissed I. * Motion to from this action. BACKGROUND At the motion to dismiss stage. the Court takes the allegations Complaint in Plaintiffs as true. Some time prior to Novemher 2011. Rohinson "discovered J\mended that there \\'ere Direct Loan student loan accounts being repol1ed to his Experian. Equi!ilx. and Trans Union I Ikfe-ndallt Trans Union. LI.C was terminated from suit on September 2. 2015. ECF No . ...f9;ECF No. 50. ECF No. 3X 'i X. Robinson had not authorizcd crcdit rcports'" 'i 9. opcncd in his namc. Id accounts with Expcrian. 201 I. Robinson bcgan disputing thc Dircct l.oan Equil~lX. and Trans Union (collectively. PlaintitTstatcd 10. PlaintilTalso disputcs to FLS tlH additional a dcscription Id invcstigation. in support of his disputcs. Id an Amcnded 'i 'i 12. In April II. into thesc 2014. Plaintiff allcgcs that hc 14. Complaint in this Court on Junc 3. 2015. EC.T No. 3R. USDE on Junc 12. 2015. ECF No. 41. Plaintiff liled to thc Motion to Dismiss. Eel' No. 46. and USDE liled a Rcply. lOCI' No. 4X:' STANDARD OF RF:VIEW .. It is wcll cstablished that betllrc a federal court can dccidc thc mcrits ofa claim. thc e1aim must in\"()ke thc jurisdiction of the court'" AliI/I!!" \'. 2(06). Fcdcral Rule of Civi I Proccdurc mallcr jurisdiction. See KholllY ~ According. to Plaintiffs ("PIIEAi\") is a student operations invcstigations liccnse. a copy of his crcdit rcports. and othcr tilcd its Motion to Dismiss IlH Lack ofJurisdiction an Opposition ofthc CRAs states that upon inti.lI"Illation and belie!: the CRAs tlll"\vardcd his providcd a policc report. a copy of his drivcr's PlaintitTlilcd In his Dircct Loan to perfi.mll a crcdit chcck. not to opcn a loan account in his namc. Id '111. Plaintiffrcqucstcd disputcs.ld', 'i 10. that the Direct Loan accounts wcrc .. ti-audulcntiy opcncd in his namc'" and that hc had only authorizcd documents thc "crcdit rcporting agcncics" as wcll as with FcdLoan Scrvicing and Dircct l.oans dircctly." Id or "CRAs"). disputes. In Novcmbcr a studcnt loan account to bc Alllcnd~d Complain!. comrner<.:ially as AIllCric<Hl 'i 3. Education 462 F.3d 312. 316 (4th Cir. 12(b)( 1) govcrns motions to dismiss tl)r lack of subjcct \". ,\Iesl!!"\"(,. 10<1nservicing company. flrtlll"l7. 26X F. Supp. 2d 000. 006 (D. Md. 2003). afr"- R5 F. Defendant Pennsylvania Iligher Education Assistance Agency ECF o.38'i 3. PHEAA conducts its ~tlldcnt loan servicing Services ("AES") and for federally-owned loans as FcdLoan of Education ("Direct Loans")./d ; Additionally. following a joint Motion to Stay, the proceedings in this case were stayed 011 June J 9, 1015 pending appeals in two controlling cases. unrelated to the legal issue discussed in this Opinion. before the Fourth Circuit. ECF No. 40; ECF No. 42. Alter the F01ll1h Circuit issued its tkcisions in those C<lses. Plaintiff filed a Motion to Lin Stay on December 23. 2015. but Defendant PH EAA opposed pending writ ({certiorari pl..'titions to the Supreme Court. ECF No. 51: ECF No. 52. The parties conferred about proceeding to discovery whik the casc was stayed as 10 ()ct'endant PIIEAA. but Dcfendant USDE objected because of the pending Motion to Dismiss. EeF No. 55. Servicing r"FLS"). It!. FLS services loans for the U.S. Department App'x 960 (4th Cir. 2(04), Oncc a challengc is madc to subjcct matter jurisdiction. bears thc burden ChildrclI's 0 I' Jlrovi ng that subject mattcr j urisd ict ion ex ists, Scc Fadill1ll7d -/J({\'CllpOrl Gllild. 742 F, Supp, 2d 772. 777 (D, Md, 2010) (citing Pi/Icy RIIII/'rcs. 'Comm'rs olCarml1 thc Plaintiff Ass 'II I'. I', ('1.1'. Cty .. Md.. 523 F.3d 453. 459 (4th Cir. 2008)), The Court should grant a Rule 12(b)( 1) motion "only if the materialjurisdictionallacts arc not in dispute and thc moving party is entitled to prcvail as a matter of law," 1:'1'<111.\' I'. IJ.F !'akills ('0 .. a /Jil'. o/Slcll1dcx /111 Corl'" 'I 166 F,3d 642. 647 (4th Cir. 1999). III, ANAL YSIS A, The Fair Credit Reporting "Congress eftlciency Act cnacted FCRA in 1970 to ensure lair and accuratc crcdit reporting. promote in the banking system. and protcct consumer privacy," Salllldas alld Tl'1Isl Co. o/Ta .. 526 F.3d 142. 147 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing Sa/i'co/lls. 551 U,S, 47. 52 (2007)). The Act imposes civilliahility comply with any requirement Co. o/Am. ~ 16810, The Act delincs "pcrson" to mcan "any individual. corporation. trust. estatc. cooperative. of"person" fails to ~ partnership. or governmental agency. or other entity," ~ 1681 a( b). The parties dispute whether "government or agcncy" in the detlnition Bllrr, imposed undcr this subchapter," government I'. with respcct to any consumer," 1681n. or who "is negligent in 111ilingto comply with any requirement subdivision !Jrallch !Jallkill}!. on "any pcrson" who "willfully imposed under this subehapter association. I'. includes the Department subdivision or or governmental of Education. which is a federal agency. B, So\'Crcign Immunity The doctrine of"[sJovereign immunity shields the United States li'om suit abscnt a consent to be sucd that is 'unequivocally expressed, ... Ullilcd Slolcs \', Bonllcs, 133 S.C!. 12. 16 3 (2012) (quoting Government's Uniled Slales \'. Nordic ViiI., Inc.. 503 U.S. 30. 33 (I (92)). "[Tlhe consent to be sued must be construed enlarged A waiver of so\'ereign immunity 1.4 (1969). and "all ambiguities" cannot be implied. see Uniled Slales \'. King. 395 U.S. are to be "resolved Uniled Slales. No. 8:09-CV-00905. in favor of the Government," 20()() WL 4505877, Nordic /'ill .. 503 U.S. at 34 ). II' sovereign immunity DePhillips \'. at *2 (D. Md. Nov. 24. 200')) (citing has not been waived. federal courts lack over the claim. DePhillips. 2009 WI. 4505877 subject matter jurisdiction and not Nordic /'ill .. 503 U.S. at 34 (internal quotations beyond what the statute requires," omitted). strictly in I[l\'or of the sovereign. at *2 (citing /',.,.Iinden B. I'. \'. Cenl. Bank ofNig .. 461 U.S. 480. 485 n.5 ( 1(83)): McLean \'. Uniled ""lales. 566 F.3d 391. 401-02 (4th Cir. 2(09)). In its Motion to Dismiss. that the FCRA does not waive sovereign immunity the Court does not ha\'e subject matter jurisdiction. Neither the Supreme FCRA waives sovereign actions under ~ 168In"): BOl'lnes \'. UniledSlales. decision Oil $10.000 in amount. ofthc laJny ... I(Jlll1ded ... immunity to damages 759 F.3d 793. 795 (7th Cir. 2014) ("As l[lraS the issue."). In Uniled Slales \'. Borllles. the Court hcld that the Little Tucker Act. 28 LJ.S.c. ~ 1346(a)(2). Federal Claims, of ... and therel(lI'e that ECF No. 41-1 at 4-144 the Federal Government's "ltJhe district courts shall have original jurisdiction, immunity for the federal government See Uniled Slales \'. /Jorllles. 133 S. Ct. 12.20 (2012) ("We FCRA itsclfwaives we can tell. this is the first appellate Supreme USDE urges the Court to lind Court nor the Fourth Circuit has squarcly ruled upon whether thc immunity. do not decide here \\hether Defendant concurrent which provides that with the United States Court of civil action or claim against the United States. not exceeding upon ... any Act of Congress," United States with respect to violations I Pin cites to doculllenLs tiled on the COllrt"S electronic by that systelll. docs not waive sovereign of the FCRA./Jorllles. filing system (CM/ECF) 4 133 S. Ct. at 15. refer to the page numbers generated Howcver. thc Supremc Court did not dccidc whcthcr thc FCRA itsclfwaivcs immunity. and instcad rcmanded Suprcmc Court instructcd that qucstion that "[s]incc can dcterminc whcthcr thc damagcs Govcrnmcnt." Id at 19 (cmphasis sovcrcign hack to thc Scvcnth Circuit. It!. at 20. Thc FCRA is a dctailed rcmcdial schcmc. only i/s (}Imtcxt liahility Congrcss cralicd cxtends to thc Fcdcral in original), On rcmand. thc Scvcnth Circuit held that thc FCRA wai\'cd sovcrcign immunity. /1orllles ", Ullited S/a/L'S. 759 F.3d 793. 795. In so holding. thc Sc\'cnth Circuit relicd on thc plain languagc of thc dclinition "pcrson:' history of thc FCRA. noting that while Scction J against consumcr amcndcd rcporting liahility to all "pcrsons:' interacted agcncics. Id Ilowc\'cr. with thc cxisting dclinition Congrcss 6X In. as originally thc Icgislativc of"pcrson" Scction cnactcd in 1970. applicd only 16XIn in 1996. cxpanding in ~ 16Xla(h). which cncompasscs in 8onlles. It))' thc purposcs damages liahility undcr ~ 1681n to also apply to thc fedcral govcrnmcnt. rcspondcd. Act's suhstanti\'C "[bJut ifthc Un itcd States is a 'person' rcquircmcnts. Congrcss did not intcnd Ii))' Thc Sc\'cnth Circuit undcr ~ 16Xla(b) for the purposc of duties. It!. at 795. It concludcd how can it lIot he one li)r the purposc of remedies'?" "Section "any.,. argucd that whilc it was a "pcrson" ofthc accordingly. 1681 a( h) docs what it has donc sincc 1970. no mal1cr what happcns to othcr scctions. , [it! waive[sj sovcrcign immunity authorizcs against any 'pcrson: clTcctual." liJr all rcquirements Thc Sc\'Cnth Circuit's on thc subjcct. Congrcss and rcmedics that anothcr scction Id at 796, opinions thc history did not discuss how this cxpansion It!. at 795. Thc Unitcd States. as defcndant go\'crnmcnt:' Id Thc court rcfercnccd which includcs "go\'crnmcnt:' dccision For cxamplc need not add 'wc rcally mcan it" to makc statutes in 80rllles conflictcd in S/ellick \', 5 u.s with a numbcr of district court !Jel' '/ olEduc,. No, II-CV -0730 ,, PJS/JJG. 2013 WL 673856. at * 1 (I). Minn. Feb. 25. 2(13). the court held that although "person" in ~ 168Ia(b) includes "government." this does not constitute Congress's "unequivocal expression"" ol"consent to be sued. Scc Slcllick, 2013 WL 673856, at *3. The court reasoned that when the FCRA was enacted in 1970. its remedial pnn-isions, to "persons" but to consumer-reporting not acting as a consumer ~~ 168 In and 168 I IJ, applied not agencies. 1<1. At that time. the I"ederal go\'ernment reponing agency, so it was "understandable ... why Congress did not think to include within the FCRA a provision explicitly preserving sovereign Thus, in eontrast to the Seventh Circuit's immunity."' lei. rcading 01"the legislative history, the Slcllick court did not read the history to express an unequivocal waiver 01"sovereign was waiver. Thc court I"urther reasoned that reading a immunity into the statute would impose punitive damages and criminal liability on the United States under ~ 168 In(a)(2) and ~ 1681'1, lei. at *4. This consequence. thc court's view, ""would be immense."' 1eI.:scc olsIJ Gillal \', 6080,2010 WL 3582945, at *3 (W.D, Ark, Sept. 7,2(10) waives sovereign governmental imlllunity by including in the delinition subdivision' 02211-ZLW-KLM Donicl \'. Nol'II'ork Roll'h \'. .. No. CIV, 08- ("'Plaintil"fs argument that the FCRA 01"'persons'. u.s. /lir the terms 'government or FIJrcc ,110m, No. 06-CV- .. 2007 WL 3232593. at *3 (D, Colo, Oct. 31. 2(07) (holding that ..the United States has not consented Additionally. is unconvincing."'): u.s. DCI"1 ofEcluc in to suit under [the FCRA ]"). even alier the Seventh Circuit's Scn' .. No. CV 16-1 8-BLG-SPW. decision in Horlllcs. the district court in 2016 WL 4401369, at *3 (D. Mont: f\Ug. 17. 2(16) decl ined to I"ollow suit. The Donicl court held. alier revie\Vin~ all rclevant authorities. that: ITJhe Court bclieves that the district court 0p111l0nS li'olll this circuit are morc persuasive than Horlllcs and linds that the FCRA does not contain an unequivocal waiver 01" sovereign immunity, The FCRA is ambiguous as to whether plaintil"I"s can recover 6 damages against government entities. as federal statutes waive sovereign immunity in dearer terms. Dalliel. 2016 WL 4401369. 'person' typically at *4. The court Ii.lrther Ii.llllld that "including the United Statcs as a every time the term is used in thc FCRA would lead to inconsistent potcntially !d at *5. absurd results:' In this casco the Court also declines to follow the Seventh Circuit's The Court starts with thc guiding principle that "I i It is axiomatic be sucd without its consent and that thc existence (filiI"" cxpressed 187, 192 (1996) (internal statutory language in statutory citations text ... omitted), waiving sovereign of consent is a prcrequisite lor money damages" employee 28 U.S.c. * is well-cquipped specilically 1346(b)(I). or collceted authorizes immunity "must be Lallr \". Prlla, 518 U.S. and able to construct The "claims against the Unitcd Statcs or wrongli.Ii act or omission Thc Tuckcr Act also authorizcs of any internal-revenue ... of any or unliquidated 1346(a)( I )-(2). No such language "civil aetionlsl against tax alleged to have becn erroncously under the internal-re~'enue or any Act of Congress States, or Ii.Jr liquidated Ii.)rjurisdiction:' and it has donc so in othcr instances. c1aiml s] against the United States, not exceeding Constitution, in lJo/lmr. while acting within the scopc of his lor hcr] oflicc or the Unitcd States Ii.)rthe rccovcry or illegally assessed Congress Ii.)r injuries "caused by the negligent of the Government cmploymcnt:' and will not bc implied:' immunity, Federal Tort Claims Act. Ii.,r example, decision that the United States may not SlaIn ". Alilchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983). A waiver of sovereign unequivocally usagc and laws" and "civil action/sl $10,000 in amount. or Ii.lllllded either upon the .. , or upon any express or implied contract with the Unitcd damages in cases not sounding is fi.llllld reading thc FCRA together. 7 15 U .S.c. * in tort. ' :' 28 U.S,c. 1681 a( b) and ** 1681n-1681 * () of Additionally. damages a separate and unrelated section of the FCRA. 15 U.s.c. liability on "any agency or department consumer 1681u would be superl1uous purposes. to waive sO\"Creign immunity Moreover. "correetly u.s.. 134 S.Ct, BOlld \'. Illce. would cover a chemical awareness weapons ** when there is dissonance delinition," !d. at 209 I, Ilcre. sweeping Irom Congress."). between that ordinary the federal government * 16810. but punitive damages 1681 q ("any person who knowingly under on a consumer that Congress Coul1 were to accept the USDE's li'om a Ii.)r at *5. lor waiver are unavai ling. I'lainti ITasserts that ,,' i J f the interprctation. power under the FCRA to correct inaccurate then consumers and the Courts would have no ercdit reporting of the usnE," 8 * intended such a result abscnt a 2013 WL 673856. at *: DUlliel. 2016 WL 4401369. arguments liabil ity under shall be lined under Title 18. imprisoned not morc than 2 ycars. or both"). It is inconceivable rf s additional not only to actual * 1681 n and even criminal and will fully obtains inli.mnation agency under lalsc pretenses "In settling on a into cvery instance where the under Plainti .... mcaning and thc reach of the would expose the federal govcrnmcnt See Stellid. cannot mcaning of a deli ned te!'ln. liability on "persons" clear statement. * the Supreme Court would imposes reporting 1681n-16810 of certain presuppositions crime com milled in Australia. particularly consumer if (2014) (noting that even though a criminal statute. read on its Illir reading of a statute. it is not unusual to consider the ordinary damages Certainly for the United States. not apply the statute to sueh conduct "absent a plain statement FCRj\ 168Iu(j). into the FCRA. such language in within the FCRA. reading a statute 'demands 2077.2088 * discloses The Court linds that in light of clear expressions of waiver in other statutes and even other provisions be construed 15 U.S.c. wcre to be read wholesale and unnecessary. 1681u imposes of the United States" which unlawfully reports to the FBI for counterintelligence liability for the federal government * lOCI' No. 46 at I. Ilowever. PlaintilTmaintains administrative remedies to seek discharge of his student loan debt. See 34 C.F.R. ~ 685.214 ("[i]n order to qualifY for discharge ofa loan under this section. a borrower must submit to the Secretary asscrtions in thc statement must be true"): 4403 RRM .10. 2014 WL 4724707. Ilighcr Education Department Act ("IlEA"). of Education. ()gWlIIlOkllll at *4 (LD,N.Y, Sen's./I'IIEAA. No, 12.CV. Scpt. 23. 2014) (noting that "Iujnder the federally by the process" and discussing discharge or student loan dcbt on grounds then"). clear and unequivocal matter jurisdiction. waiver of sovereign and Defendant orthe immunity, FCRA cited by PlaintilTdo Accordingly. USDE shall be dismissed not contain a the Court is without subject Irom suit. CONCLUSION For the fi.1regoing reasons. separate Edllc. and the I~letual seeking cel1ain types of loan relief must normally avail In sum. the Court linds that the provisions IV. \'. Alii. which govcrils student loans guaranteed a bornJ\\w himscl f of thc administrati\'c of "identity a written request and sworn statement. Delendant's Motion to Dismiss. ECF No, 41. is grantcd. A Order shall issue. Date: April d;?- '2 . 2017 GEORGE.I. HAZEL United States District Judge ')

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?