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Drake v. United States Department of Education

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

February 17, 2015

EDNA DRAKE, Plaintiff,


DANIEL P. JORDAN, III, District Judge.

This student-loan-debt-collection action is before the Court on the United States Department of Education's motion [27] for summary judgment and pro se Plaintiff Edna Drake's motion [33] to vacate the Court's prior Order [32] denying her motions for summary judgment. The Court, having considered the submissions of the parties, along with the pertinent authorities, finds that Plaintiff's motion [33] should be denied and Defendant's motion [27] should be granted.

I. Facts and Procedural History

Plaintiff Edna Drake is currently indebted to the federal government for the balance owed on a student loan under the Federal Family Education Loan Program. The Department of Education is therefore garnishing Drake's wages to recover the amount due on the defaulted loan.

On January 15, 2014, Drake filed this suit against the Department of Education, essentially seeking review of a final administrative agency decision. Plaintiff claims that the Department is "erroneously seeking to collect student loans for monies already paid." Compl. [1] at 2. She also contends that the Department of Education did not comply with 31 C.F.R. § 901.9 and it failed to advise her that she qualified for Public Student Loan Forgiveness. See Pl.'s Reply [17]; Pl.'s Reply [29].

The Department of Education addressed each of these claims in its motion for summary judgment [27], and Plaintiff has responded in opposition. The Court has personal and subject-matter jurisdiction and, for the reasons explained below, finds that this action should be dismissed.

II. Applicable Standards

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. The nonmoving party must then "go beyond the pleadings" and "designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, "but only when... both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments have never constituted an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075; SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993).

B. Review of Agency Decision

Because the Department of Education instituted an administrative-wage-garnishment proceeding, Drake's challenge of its decision is considered an appeal of an agency decision. "Under the Administrative Procedures Act, the appropriate standard of review of an agency decision is whether the agency's decision was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.'" Aztec Gen. Agency v. F.D.I.C., No. 96-60218 111 F.3d 893, 1997 WL 157042, at *1 (5th Cir. 1997) (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A)) (per curiam). "The scope of review under the arbitrary and capricious' standard is narrow and a court is not to substitute its judgment for that of the agency. Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n of U.S., Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983). "The arbitrary or capricious standard is the least demanding form of judicial review of administrative action. When it is possible to offer a reasoned explanation, based on the evidence, for a particular outcome, that outcome is not arbitrary or capricious." Davis ex rel. Farmers Bank & Capital Trust Co. of Frankfort, Ky. v. Ky. Fin. Cos. Ret. Plan, 887 F.2d 689, 693 (6th Cir. 1989) (citing Pokratz v. Jones Dairy Farm, 771 F.2d 206, 209 (7th Cir. 1985)).

III. Analysis

Through her Complaint and subsequent filings, Drake alleged that the Department of Education failed to comply with 31 C.F.R. § 901.9, neglected to advise her of her eligibility for Public Student Loan Forgiveness, and erred in applying her payments to her student loan. Only her third claim-the dispute over the amount owed-was part of her administrative proceeding. ...

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