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Whalen v. Navient Solutions, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

March 9, 2018

MELISSA CAROL WHALEN, Plaintiff,
v.
NAVIENT SOLUTIONS, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Navient Solutions, LLC's (“Navient”) Motion to Dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Filing No. 11). After receiving multiple unwanted telephone calls on her cellular telephone, Plaintiff Melissa Whalen (“Whalen”) filed her Complaint against Navient, asserting claims under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227 (“TCPA”), and the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, Ind. Code § 24-5-0.5 (“IDCSA”) (Filing No. 1). Whalen alleges that Navient continued to call her regarding her student loan debt even after she asked Navient to stop calling her. Navient filed its Motion to Dismiss, asserting that a TCPA exemption permits telephone calls to be made to collect debts guaranteed by the United States. As the servicer for Whalen's federally-guaranteed loans, Navient asserts that its calls to Whalen fall within the TCPA exemption, thereby barring her claims. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Navient's Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as required when reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all factual allegations in the Complaint and draws all inferences in favor of Whalen as the non-moving party. See Bielanski v. County of Kane, 550 F.3d 632, 633 (7th Cir. 2008).

         Navient is the largest servicer of student loans in the United States. It is based out of Delaware. It is in the business of collecting and attempting to collect student loans that are owed to others by using the mail and telephone (Filing No. 1 at 2). Whalen is an Indiana resident who, approximately six years before filing her Complaint, entered into an obligation for a student loan in order to further her education. Id.

         After experiencing financial hardship because of health challenges, Whalen could not stay current on her student loan repayment obligations. In approximately January 2017, after she had defaulted on her student loan, Whalen began receiving telephone calls from Navient on her cellular phone. Id. at 2-3. When answering Navient's phone calls, Whalen would be greeted by a prerecorded message or experience a silent pause before she was connected to a live representative. Because she lacked the ability to pay Navient, Whalen demanded that it stop calling her cellular phone, and Navient's representative told her that she would make a note of her request in Navient's system. Id. at 3.

         Despite Whalen's request to stop the phone calls, Navient continued to call her cellular phone multiple times during the same day up until she filed her Complaint. Whalen has asked Navient to stop calling her on multiple occasions, but Navient continued calling Whalen at least twenty-five times after she told Navient to stop. On one occasion, Whalen asked Navient to stop calling her, and the representative responded, “I can call you whenever I want.” (Filing No. 1 at 3-4.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint that has failed to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draws all inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Bielanski, 550 F.3d at 633. However, courts “are not obliged to accept as true legal conclusions or unsupported conclusions of fact.” Hickey v. O'Bannon, 287 F.3d 656, 658 (7th Cir. 2002).

         The complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the Supreme Court explained that the complaint must allege facts that are “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not required, mere “labels, ” “conclusions, ” or “formulaic recitation[s] of the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient. Id.; see also Bissessur v. Ind. Univ. Bd. of Trs., 581 F.3d 599, 603 (7th Cir. 2009) (“it is not enough to give a threadbare recitation of the elements of a claim without factual support”). The allegations must “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Stated differently, the complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation and quotation marks omitted). To be facially plausible, the complaint must allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The TCPA prohibits any person from “mak[ing] any call (other than a call made for emergency purposes or made with the prior express consent of the called party) using any automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice . . . to any telephone number assigned to a . . . cellular telephone service . . . .” 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). Whalen filed this action against Navient based on this general prohibition against using an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice to make telephone calls to cellular phones.

         However, on November 2, 2015, Congress amended this section of the TCPA as part of its enactment of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, Pub. L. No. 114-74 (“Budget Act”). Section 301 of the Budget Act amended the TCPA to include the language, “unless such call is made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.” 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). Based on this exemption from the TCPA, Navient filed its Motion to Dismiss, asserting that Whalen's claims fall outside the reach of the TCPA's prohibition against calls to cellular phones.

         Navient explains that autodialed phone calls are now exempt from the TCPA's prior express consent requirement when the calls are made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States. Navient points to a decision ...


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