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Tillery v. U.S. Department of Education

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 29, 2019

SARAH MAE TILLERY aka SARAH MAE SWANN, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paula Xinis, United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court are Defendants' motions to dismiss (ECF Nos. 6, 9, 18, 26) and Plaintiff's request for hearing or trial. ECF No. 24. The Clerk of the Court sent Plaintiff four letters explaining that failure to respond to these motions may result in the Court ruling without her response. ECF Nos. 8, 12, 19, 27. Plaintiff has responded in part. ECF Nos. 22, 24. The Court has carefully reviewed the pleadings and finds that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendants' motions to dismiss.

         I. Background

         In 2006, a person claiming to be Plaintiff's daughter applied for a student loan covering tuition at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (“the University”), and listed Plaintiff as co-signer on the loan. ECF No. 1-1 at 10, 20. Sallie Mae, now operating as Navient Solutions, LLC (“Navient”), approved the loan. Id. at 21. However, the loan became delinquent, and Navient referred the debt to Asset Recovery Solutions, LLC (“Asset Recovery”) and Allied Interstate, LLC (“Allied”) for collection. Id. at 14, 18, 36.

         By 2014, Plaintiff contacted a consumer reporting agency (“CRA”) to contest the loan as fraudulent. Id. at 8. The CRA communicated Plaintiff's contention to Navient, who investigated Plaintiff's claim and concluded that the loan was valid. Id. Plaintiff next contacted Navient directly to contest the loan. Id. at 9, 28. Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that she had been the victim of identity theft and submitted, at Navient's request, an affidavit affirming that she did not sign the loan application and that her identification documents were stolen. Id. at 30. Plaintiff also sent a police report summarizing the same. Id. at 35.

         On August 16, 2018, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed a 44-page Complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland against Defendants Navient, Asset Recovery, Allied, the University, and the United States Department of Education (“DOE”). Id. at 2. Navient is the lending institution that held the loan; Asset Recovery and Allied are the debt collectors hired by Navient; and the University accepted the funds from the loan. From the facts provided, it is unclear what role DOE played in this matter or why Plaintiff sued the agency.

         The Complaint characterizes the claims as sounding in “[f]raud as it relates to the Plaintiff's credit, finances and deformation of character, ” contending that the loan was obtained with “an unauthorized use of [Plaintiff's] signature” and contesting the validity of the loan as a debt on her credit report. Id. at 2-3. The Complaint attaches and incorporates as part of the claim the loan application, letters from Defendants to Plaintiff, a police report, and Plaintiff's affidavit concerning her identity theft. See Jeffrey M. Brown Assocs., Inc. v. Rockville Ctr., Inc., 7 Fed.Appx. 197, 202 (4th Cir. 2001) (“We also accept as true the facts set forth in the exhibits attached to the complaint.”) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c)). The Complaint seeks $2.5 million in damages. ECF No. 1-1 at 4.

         On October 19, 2018, Navient removed the action to this Court. ECF No. 1. Navient, Asset Recovery, Allied, and DOE have each moved to dismiss the Complaint. The University has not entered an appearance, and Plaintiff has not provided the Court with any proof of service.

         II. Standard of Review

         The DOE moves to dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Such motions, brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, challenge a court's authority to hear the matter. See Jones v. Calvert Group, Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300-01 (4th Cir.2009); Davis v. Thompson, 367 F.Supp.2d 792, 799 (D. Md. 2005). The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999). If “a claim fails to allege facts upon which the court may base jurisdiction, ” the court must dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Davis, 367 F.Supp.2d at 799.

         In determining whether jurisdiction exists, “the court may look beyond the pleadings and the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue.” Khoury v. Meserve, 268 F.Supp.2d 600, 606 (D. Md. 2003) (quoting Capitol Leasing Co. v. FDIC, 999 F.2d 188, 191 (7th Cir. 1993)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Where the defendant contends that the complaint “simply fails to allege facts upon which subject matter jurisdiction can be based, ” the Court construes the facts alleged in the complaint as true and most favorably to the plaintiff. Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982). Whether the Court retains subject matter jurisdiction must be decided before reaching the merits of the case. Jones v. Am. Postal Workers Union, 192 F.3d 417, 422 (4th Cir. 1999).

         The remaining Defendants challenge the Complaint as failing to state legally cognizable causes of action. A motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint. Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint need only satisfy the standard of Rule 8(a), which requires a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a ‘showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 n.3 (2007). That showing must consist of more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” or “naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations are accepted as true and viewed in the light most favorable to her. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The Court may also consider documents attached to the motion to dismiss when “integral to and explicitly relied on in the complaint, and when the [opposing parties] do not challenge the document[s'] authenticity.” Zak v. Chelsea Therapeutics, Int'l, Ltd., 780 F.3d 597, 606-07 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Am. Chiropractic Ass'n v. Trigon Healthcare, Inc., 367 F.3d 212, 234 (4th Cir. 2004)) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “[C]onclusory statements or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not [suffice].'” EEOC v. Performance Food Grp., Inc., 16 F.Supp.3d 584, 588 (D. Md. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “‘[N]aked assertions of wrongdoing necessitate some ‘factual enhancement' within the complaint to cross ‘the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Although pro se pleadings are construed liberally to allow for the development of a potentially meritorious case, Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980), courts cannot ignore a clear failure to allege facts setting forth a cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990) (“The ‘special judicial solicitude' with which a district court should view such pro se complaints does not transform the court into an advocate.”).

         III. ...


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