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Dawson v. Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

February 3, 2016

MEREDITH D. DAWSON, Plaintiff,
v.
GREAT LAKES EDUCATIONAL LOAN SERVICES, INC., GREAT LAKES HIGHER EDUCATION CORPORATION, JILL LEITL, DAVID LENTZ, MICHAEL WALKER, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION and ARNE DUNCAN, in his official capacity as United States Secretary of Education, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

BARBARA B. CRABB DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Meredith D. Dawson took out student loans owned by defendant United States Department of Education and serviced by defendant Great Lakes Higher Educational Loan Services, Inc. She contends that defendant Great Lakes Higher Educational Loan Services violated both the terms of her loan agreements and federal regulations governing the administration of her loans when it capitalized interest that accrued during a particular type of administrative forbearance period. She asserts that once this interest was capitalized it began to accrue further interest at the rate of approximately $51.00 per week that she should not have to pay. She seeks to hold the Great Lakes defendants-Great Lakes Higher Educational Loan Services, its parent corporation and certain Great Lakes executives-liable for negligence, negligent misrepresentation and violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1964. She also contends that the Great Lakes defendants’ improper capitalization of interest supports a breach of contract claim against the government defendants-the United States of America, the United States Department of Education and United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Presently before the court are three motions: the first is the government defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s breach of contract claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) on the ground that the federal government is entitled to sovereign immunity with respect to this claim. I agree with the government defendants on this point. Neither the Little Tucker Act nor the Higher Education Act expressly waives the federal government’s sovereign immunity with respect to claims for injunctive or declaratory relief, which are the only types of relief plaintiff is seeking. I am not persuaded by plaintiff’s characterization of her claim as one for monetary relief for which the government has waived its sovereign immunity.

Second, defendant Duncan has moved for dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) on the ground that plaintiff’s complaint does not contain any allegations that Duncan was personally involved in the misconduct at issue. I am denying this motion as moot because the federal government’s sovereign immunity extends to both agencies and federal officers sued in their official capacity, such as defendant Duncan.

Third, plaintiff has moved to dismiss the Great Lakes defendants’ counterclaim on the ground that they have not stated a proper claim under the Declaratory Judgment Act. Plaintiff asserts that the counterclaim merely seeks a declaration that these defendants did not engage in the misconduct alleged by plaintiff in her complaint. In other words, the Great Lakes defendants’ counterclaim is merely the flip side of the allegations in the complaint. I agree with plaintiff that the Great Lakes defendants’ counterclaim is improper. However, rather than dismissing it in its entirety, I will construe the allegations set forth therein as part of Great Lakes’ answer, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(c)(2).

Plaintiff alleges the follows facts in her complaint, which I accept as true for the sole purpose of deciding the parties’ pending motions.

ALLEGATIONS OF FACT

In 1965, Congress passed the Higher Education Act. In addition to insuring certain student loans issued by private sector lenders, the Higher Education Act contains four programs designed to assist borrowers with their repayment obligations. These programs include an income-driven repayment program, a loan deferment program, a loan forbearance program and a program that allows borrowers to consolidate their various student loans so that they make a single monthly payment rather than separate payments for each of their loans. Borrowers can apply for these programs at any time during the life of their loan by completing an application and submitting it to their loan servicer.

When a borrower applies for any one of these four programs, Department of Education regulations require lenders and loan servicers to place the borrower’s loans in an “administrative forbearance” status while the borrower’s eligibility is assessed and their paperwork is processed. (This type of administrative forbearance is commonly referred to as a “B-9 Forbearance”). Pursuant to Department of Education regulations, interest that accrues during a B-9 Forbearance period is not capitalized. 34 C.F.R. § 682.11(f); 34 C.F.R. § 685.2015(b). Borrowers’ Master Promissory Notes-the contracts setting forth the loan terms-similarly provide that interest accrued during a B-9 Forbearance is not to be capitalized.

Sometime between 2006 and 2012, plaintiff borrowed loans that were serviced by defendant Great Lakes Educational Loan Services. On October 3, 2013, plaintiff applied to be placed in an income-driven repayment plan. In connection with her application, plaintiff’s loans were placed in B-9 Forbearance status while her paperwork was processed.

Approximately two months after the application was submitted, Great Lakes approved it and placed plaintiff in an income-driven repayment plan. On November 28, 2013, the B-9 Forbearance period was terminated and plaintiff’s loan status was updated to indicate that she was again in a “repayment” period.

During plaintiff’s B-9 Forbearance period, her loans accrued approximately $819.65 in interest. This interest was then capitalized, allegedly in violation of both the governing federal regulations and the terms of plaintiff’s Master Promissory Note, both of which prohibit the capitalization of B-9 Forbearance interest. The improper capitalization of this interest has improperly increased the amount of interest accruing on plaintiff’s loans by approximately 14 cents per day ($51 per year).

OPINION

A. Motion to Dismiss Breach of Contract Claim against ...


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