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Ingram v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

June 9, 2017

KRYSTAL M. INGRAM PLAINTIFF
v.
EXPERIAN INFORMATION SOLUTIONS, INC.; TRANS UNION, LLC; EQUIFAX INFORMATION SERVICES, LLC; UNITED STUDENT AID FUNDS, INC.; NAVIENT SOLUTIONS, INC., fka SALLIE MAE, INC.; and UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NEAL B. BIGGERS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Presently before the court is a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction filed by Defendant United States Department of Education (“USDE”). Upon due consideration of the motion, response, and applicable authority, the court is ready to rule.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         At the motion to dismiss stage, the court takes the factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true. The plaintiff, Krystal Ingram, is a victim of identity theft. Without her knowledge or consent, the thief obtained multiple student loans in Ingram's name and later failed to make timely payments.

         USDE, a provider for one of the aforementioned loans, reported the derogatory payment history to the consumer reporting agencies (“CRAs”), Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. Consequently, Ingram's credit report reflected the loan debt, causing her credit rating to take a significant hit. As a result, she suffered “multiple adverse actions and denials of credit.” Ingram disputed the fraudulent loan debt to the CRAs on multiple occasions and requested that the debt be deleted from her credit reports. The CRAs then forwarded Ingram's disputes to the furnishers of information, including USDE. Ingram's efforts to resolve the issue, however, proved unsuccessful.

         Ingram subsequently filed the instant suit against the CRAs and furnishers of information for alleged violations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. §1681 et seq.. Defendant USDE filed the instant motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

         Standard of Review

         “Motions filed under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow a party to challenge the subject matter jurisdiction of the court to hear a case.” Ramming v. U.S., 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001). The burden of proof for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss is on the party asserting jurisdiction. Id. “Accordingly, the plaintiff constantly bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist.” Id. The court may properly dismiss a claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction if it determines that it lacks either the statutory or constitutional authority to adjudicate the claim. Home Builders Ass'n, Inc. v. City of Madison, Miss., 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998).

         Analysis

         USDE contends that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the FCRA contains no clear and unambiguous waiver of the United States' sovereign immunity. USDE additionally argues that Ingram failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. Sovereign Immunity “It is axiomatic that the United States may not be sued without its consent and that the existence of consent is a prerequisite for jurisdiction.” United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983). The United States may waive its sovereign immunity by statute but such a waiver “must be unequivocally expressed in statutory text.” Lane v. Pena, 518 U.S. 187, 192 (1996).

         “[T]he Government's consent to be sued must be construed strictly in favor of the sovereign, and not enlarged beyond what the statute requires.” United States v. Nordic Vill. Inc., 503 U.S. 30, 34 (1992)(citations omitted). Thus, a waiver of immunity cannot be implied and any ambiguities are to be resolved in the United States' favor. Id.

         The FCRA defines “person” to include “any . . . government or governmental subdivision or agency.” 15 U.S.C. §1681a(b). The statute imposes duties upon furnishers of information, like USDE, by requiring “the person that provided the information in dispute . . . [to] conduct an investigation . . . [and] review all relevant information provided . . . .” 15 U.S.C. §1681s-2(a)(8)(E)(emphasis added). The FCRA further provides that “any person” who either willfully or negligently fails to comply “with any requirement under this subchapter with respect to any consumer” may be held liable for monetary damages. See 15 U.S.C. §1681n; 15 U.S.C. §1681o (emphasis added).

         Ingram asserts that the FCRA's definition of “person” contains an unequivocal waiver of sovereign immunity. Neither the Supreme Court nor the Fifth Circuit has determined whether the FCRA waives sovereign immunity. See United States v. Bormes, 133 S.Ct. 12, 20 (2012) (“We do not decide whether FCRA itself waives the Federal Government's immunity to damages.”); Bormes v. United States, 759 F.3d 793, 795 (7th Cir. 2014) (“As far as we can tell, this is the First appellate decision on the issue.”).

         The court begins by noting that the only circuit court to have addressed the issue has found that the FCRA does contain an unequivocal waiver of the United States' sovereign immunity. See Bormes, 759 F.3d 793. In Bormes, the Seventh Circuit began by looking to the FCRA's definition of “person” and the remedial provisions subjecting any “person” to civil liability for any statutory violations. Id. at 795. The court went on to reason that “[t]he United States is a government, ...


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