Just Under the Wire: Court Enforces Government-Backed Debt Exemption to TCPA Despite Imminent SCOTUS Decision
What happens when you default on a government-backed student loan and allege that both the servicer and guarantor are hounding you for payment in violation of the TCPA? Well, the Supreme Court will let us know the answer to this important question shortly as its recent eventful term comes to an end and it hands down its decision in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants Inc. But, for now, it seems that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has decided not to wait for its bosses to chime in.
In Tillman v. Navient Sols., LLC, No. 18-CV-04625, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104533 (N.D. Ill. June 15, 2020), a pro se plaintiff took out a series of student loans to fund his education. Some of the plaintiff’s loans were later forgiven due to him being a teacher, others were consolidated into a single loan. After ten years, plaintiff defaulted on his consolidated loan. Plaintiff disputed the default for various reasons, including fraud. But those reasons are not relevant to TCPAWorld. What is relevant is that plaintiff used the TCPA to sue Navient Solutions, LLC, his loan servicer, and United Student Aid Funds, the guarantee agency, for attempting to collect on that loan.
Plaintiff sued these defendants, asking the Court to “[i]magine [defendants] calling you everyday[,] taking turns threatening you[,] making phone calls harassing you everyday, [or] every other day for a year[.]” Though not exactly “allegations,” the Court construed those claims in plaintiffs’ favor and still dismissed his claim.
So far nothing special about this case, right? Wrong. The Court’s decision to dismiss plaintiff’s TCPA claim turned on the government-backed debt exception to the TCPA. Yes, you read that correctly – THE government-backed debt exemption that is currently the focus of a blockbuster Supreme Court case, the decision in which should be handed down any day now.
In a short analysis, the Court held that the “loans in question are guaranteed by the United States, which means that even if the defendants used an automatic dialing system or prerecorded or artificial voice in their attempts to collect on the plaintiff’s debt, those efforts were exempt from TCPA restrictions.”
That’s it. Plaintiff’s TCPA claims were dismissed “with prejudice,” without even so much as a shout-out to Barr, or any of the other court decisions that have invalidated and severed this portion of the TCPA.
Interestingly, the Court noted that there may have been evidence that the plaintiff forged some documents he had filed, but because the Court “dismiss[ed] [the] case with prejudice on the merits,” the Court saw no need to “examine [those allegations] in the context of a sanctions hearing.” Could this have been a motivating factor in the Court’s decision to enforce an almost certainly unconstitutional provision of the TCPA in the shadow of an imminent Supreme Court ruling on the issue? Who knows – but it is an odd decision, nonetheless.
Stay tuned to see if the Court jumped the gun here.