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Williams v. Tennessee Student Assistance Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division

November 21, 2016

MARK WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
TENNESSEE STUDENT ASSISTANCE CORPORATION and RUSS DEATON, in his official capacity as Executive Director, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LEON JORDAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [doc. 22], Plaintiff's Brief in Support of the Motion [doc. 24], and Defendants' Response in Opposition [doc. 28]. For the reasons herein, the Court will deny the motion.

         I. Background

         A former student at the University of Tennessee, [Student Enrollment History, doc. 29, at 18-19], Plaintiff Mark Williams (“Mr. Williams”) completed an application and promissory note to enter into the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation's Tennessee Consolidation Loan Program, [Appl. & Promissory Note, doc. 29, at 6], seeking to consolidate three of his student loans, [id.; Jane Pennington Aff., doc. 30-1, ¶ 4]. At the time, Defendant Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (“TSAC”), which is “the designated guaranty agency for loans made under the Federal Family Education Loan Program (“FEELP”) within the State of Tennessee, ” [Jane Pennington Aff. ¶ 3], was the guarantor of the consolidated loan, [id. ¶ 4; see Appl. & Promissory Note at 6]. Mr. Williams, however, later defaulted on the consolidated loan and TSAC then became the holder of the loan. [Jane Pennington Aff. ¶¶ 6-7]. TSAC, through its contractor, Automated Collection Services, Inc. (“ACSI”), attempted to collect debts on the defaulted loan for roughly a year but without success. [ACSI Aff., doc. 29, ¶¶ 3-6]. ACSI maintains that it eventually mailed a letter to Mr. Williams entitled “Notice Prior to Wage Withholding, ” in which it notified him of its intent to garnish his wages. [Id. ¶¶ 5-10]. According to ACSI, this letter contained instructions about how Mr. Williams could not only avoid garnishment but also request a hearing to object to it. [Id. ¶ 10]. ACSI, however, attests that Mr. Williams did not request a hearing “in the manner proscribed by” the letter, [id. ¶ 11], so it proceeded to garnish Mr. Williams' wages, [id. ¶ 12].

         In response, Mr. Williams, a pro se plaintiff, brought this action against TSAC and Russ Deaton (“Defendants”) in his official capacity, claiming they deprived him of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by garnishing his wages (Count I) and by committing a constructive conversion of his interest in the promissory note (Count II). [Compl., doc. 1, at 8-10]. The Court has dismissed Count I to the extent that Mr. Williams pursues monetary damages and has dismissed Count II in its entirety. [Order, doc. 15, at 1-2]. Count I remains pending to the extent that Mr. Williams seeks injunctive relief. [Id.]. Mr. Williams now moves for summary judgment. [Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 1-2].

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party shows, or “point[s] out to the district court, ” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986), that the record-the admissions, affidavits, answers to interrogatories, declarations, depositions, or other materials-is without a genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c). The moving party has the initial burden of identifying the basis for summary judgment and the portions of the record that lack genuine issues of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party discharges that burden by showing “an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's” claim or defense, id. at 325, at which point the nonmoving party, to withstand summary judgment, must identify facts in the record that create a genuine issue of material fact, id. at 324.

         Not just any factual dispute will defeat a motion for summary judgment-the requirement is “that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if it may affect the outcome of the case under the applicable substantive law, id., and an issue is “genuine” if the evidence is “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. In short, the inquiry is whether the record contains evidence that “presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52. When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). “[T]he judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         III. Analysis

         Mr. Williams appears to make three arguments that he believes entitle him to summary judgment. First, he claims that TSAC violated 20 U.S.C. § 1095a by garnishing his wages without “a warrant or court order, ” a phrase that he presumably uses to mean a hearing. [Pl.'s Br. at 2, 5]. Second, he contends that Defendants lack “existing jurisdiction” to continue to garnish his wages “pending decision from a hearing in accordance with 5 U.S. Code [§ 556(d)].” [Id. at 5]. Third, he maintains that Defendants have not showed that they possess a “wet-ink-signature promissory note indorsed by Plaintiff, as is required by 34 C.F.R. § 682.515(a)(3)(ii)” and are therefore “gaming the court in hopes of securing continued garnishment of Plaintiff's wages.” [Id. at 8].

         A. Section 1095a

         The import of Mr. Williams argument is that Defendants should have afforded him a hearing before garnishing his wages. Defendants claim, however, that Mr. Williams never met the statutory criteria for a hearing under § 1095a. [Defs.' Br. at 4-6]. Under 20 U.S.C. § 1095a(a), a guaranty agency has authority to “garnish the disposable pay of an individual . . . if he or she is not currently making required repayment . . . with the guaranty agency holding the loan.” An administrative hearing is a prerequisite to the garnishment of wages only if an individual satisfies certain conditions:

A hearing described in subsection (a)(5) of this section shall be provided prior to issuance of a garnishment order if the individual, on or before the 15th day following the mailing of the notice described in subsection (a)(2) of this section, and in accordance with such procedures as the Secretary or the head of the guaranty agency, as appropriate, may prescribe, files a petition requesting such a hearing. If the individual does not file a petition requesting a hearing prior to such date, the Secretary or the guaranty agency, as appropriate, shall provide the individual a hearing under subsection (a)(5) of this section upon request, but such hearing need not be provided prior to issuance of a garnishment order.

20 U.S.C. § 1095a(b). As the movant on a motion for summary judgment, Mr. Williams, even as a pro se plaintiff, carries the burden of showing that no evidence in the record controverts his claim that Defendants violated § 1095a by failing to provide him with a hearing. Cf. Black v. ...


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