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Johnson v. U.S. Department of Education

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 13, 2018



          Richard D. Bennett, United States District Judge.

         Pro se Plaintiff Charles W. Johnson, Jr. ("Plaintiff' or "Johnson") brings this action against Defendant United States Department of Education ("Defendant" or "Department") seeking judicial review of the Department's decision to deny his request to discharge his student loan debt on the basis of identity theft. (ECF No. 1.) Currently pending before this Court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 12.) This Court previously mailed a Rule 12/56 letter to Plaintiff Johnson notifying him of Defendant's pending Motion for Summary Judgment and his right to file a response within seventeen (17) days before the Court may enter judgment against him without further notice. (ECF No. 13.) After granting Plaintiffs Motion for Extension of Time, Plaintiff had until February 7, 2018 to file a response to Defendant's Motion. (ECF No. 15.) Plaintiff has not filed a response to the Defendant's Motion. The Motion has been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12) is GRANTED.


         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, this Court reviews the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); see also Hardwick ex rel. Hardwick v. Heyward, 711 F.3d 426, 433 (4th Cir. 2013). Further, as Plaintiff proceeds pro se, this Court has "liberally construed" the pleadings and held them to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Alley v. Yadkin County Sheriff Dept., 698 Fed.Appx. 141 (4th Cir. Oct. 5, 2017).

         I. Student Loan History

         The facts of this case are established in large part by the Department's Administrative Appeal Record. (Exhibit B, ECF No. 11-2.)[1] On March 5, 1980, Charles W. Johnson, Jr.[2]signed a Student Loan Application ("Application") requesting $2, 494 dollars to attend Baltimore City Community College. (Id. at 2.) About two weeks later, Johnson signed a Promissory Note ("Original Note") agreeing to repay the loan in the future. (Id. at 3.) However, after filing for bankruptcy in 1999, [3] Johnson proceeded to sign a new Promissory Note ("Consolidation Note") on September 26, 2001, consolidating his student loans.[4] (Id. at 7.)

         II. Discharge of Student Loan Debt

         On June 12, 2017, Plaintiff Johnson completed a Certification/Agreement of Cooperation of Identity Theft Claims ("Discharge Form") seeking an administrative discharge of his student loan debt due to False Certification. (Id. at 18-20.) The Discharge Form, certified under the penalty of perjury, instructed Johnson to submit, among other things, "[a] court judgment that conclusively finds that you were a victim of identity theft and identifies the name(s) of the individual(s) who committed the crime." (Id. at 18.) Along with the Discharge Form, Johnson proceeded to submit a photocopy of an expired drivers' license, a Social Security card and a hand-written statement[5] claiming he "[did] not know anything about a student loan" and that "so[me]one else [was] using [his] identity." (Id. at 19-20.) Johnson also claimed that "about the same year . . . someone with the same name and all most [sic] the same social security number used [his] identity for child support payments." (Id. at 20.) Specifically, Johnson stated that, in 2001, the year in which he signed the Consolidation Note, he "was working as a long distance truck driver" and has now "been driving a truck for 32 years." (Id.) However, Johnson failed to include a copy of a court judgment finding that he was a victim of identity theft nor did he identify the name of die individual who allegedly committed such a crime. (Id.)

         III. The Department Denies Plaintiff's Request and Plaintiff Files Suit

         On June 28, 2017, the Department wrote to Plaintiff Johnson, explaining:

Unfortunately, you do not qualify for a discharge of your loans due to False Certification. The loans obtained to Baltimore City Community College were consolidated. The consolidation of your debt serves as official ratification of that debt. As a result, you are still responsible for the repayment of the debt and any interest and/or fees associated with the debt.

(Agency Determination Letter, ECF No. 11-2 at 21.)[6] The letter further explained to the Plaintiff: "If you disagree with this decision, you may file a lawsuit in U.S. Federal District Court." (Id.) On July 26, 2017, Johnson filed this Complaint, alleging that he still "do[es] not know anything about a student loan," and that "someone else is using [his] identity." (ECF No. 1 at 6.) Johnson also argues that he "[d]id not [at]tend a community college." (Id.)


         A motion for summary judgment is generally governed by Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that, "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) ("[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment. . . against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial."). "If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may . . . consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion . . . ." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). In other words, "[i]n the face of the defendant's properly supported motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff [cannot] rest on his allegations . . . without 'any significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint.'" Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986) (quoting First National Bank of Arizona v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 290 (1968)). As the Supreme Court has emphasized, "[b]y its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson,477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). On those issues for which the nonmoving party will have the burden of proof, it is the responsibility of the nonmoving party to confront the motion for summary judgment with evidence in order to show the existence of a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256; Celotex ...

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