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Government Benefit: Navient Wins Summary Judgment Based on Finding That Calls to Collect Government-Backed Debt are Exempted Under the TCPA

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A great decision for Navient Solutions came down yesterday out of the Northern District of Alabama in Green v. Solutions, No. 1:17-CV-1453-VEH, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 201906 (N.D. Ala. Nov. 29, 2018).  Navient Solutions had its motion for summary judgment granted on the basis that it was calling the plaintiff regarding a debt she owed on a government-backed student loan and thus, its calls were exempt from the TCPA.

In October 2005, plaintiff obtained a Federal Consolidation Loan (“Loan”) under the Federal Family Education Loan Program. Id. at *5.  Under that program, the United States Department of Education guarantees the Loan against default. Ibid.  After making seventeen payments on the Loan, plaintiff defaulted and the calls from Navient began. Id. at *5-6.  Plaintiff alleged that she told Navient’s representatives to stop calling her multiple times until the calls finally ceased.  She then filed this lawsuit for violation of the TCPA. Id. at *7.

In its motion for summary judgment, Navient argued that it did not violate the TCPA because its calls were made to collect the money owed on an outstanding Loan that is and was guaranteed by the United States Department of Education.  Therefore, the TCPA’s prior express consent requirement did not apply.

In response, plaintiff argued that the August 2016 FCC Report and Order—which proposed regulations allowing consumers to revoke consent—and case law “have clarified that callers who are attempting to collect a debt guaranteed by the United States only have consent to call as a matter of law until consent is revoked by the consumer.” Id. at *8.  Thus, plaintiff argued, Navient violated the TCPA because it continued calling her after she repeatedly told Navient to stop calling her. Id. at *8-9.  Navient countered plaintiff’s arguments by noting that the FCC’s proposed regulations that plaintiff’s arguments rely on never actually became effective (kind of a minor detail).  Thus, regardless of any alleged revocation of consent, Navient did not violate the TCPA.

The court agreed with Navient.  It found that, based on the TCPA’s text, and because Navient made its calls solely to collect a debt guaranteed by the United States, Navient’s calls were exempt from the TCPA.  Also, the court agreed with Navient with respect to the August 2016 FCC Report and Order, finding that it never went into effect and thus, has no legal effect.  In so deciding, the court also recognized that the courts in Schneider (see our prior post on that case here), and Sanford (prior post here) had reached the very same conclusion.

Given the prior decisions in Schneider and Sanford, the court’s ruling in Green doesn’t exactly come as a surprise.  But it’s nice to see some consistency for once in TCPAland.

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