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STUDENT LOAN GIANT NAVIENT SOLUTIONS, INC. IS ONCE AGAIN IN BOILING HOT WATER OVER ITS DEBT COLLECTION PRACTICES.

  • Jared Hartman, Esq.
  • Posted on April 17th, 2016

 

On April 6, 2016, in the case of McCaskill v. Navient Solutions, Inc. in the US District Court, Middle District of Florida, Case No. 15-cv-1559, the Court granted a motion for partial summary judgment as to liability in favor of the consumer-plaintiff based on Navient calling his cell phone with an automatic telephone dialing system upwards of 727 times.

As we all know, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) prohibits a company from placing calls to a cell phone by using equipment that has the capacity to store and generate numbers to be dialed at random, and also if the calls are placed with robotic or pre-recorded voice messages. The only way for a company to not be found in violation of the TCPA for these calls is if the calls were placed for emergency purposes, or with the consumer’s prior express consent.

Because these calls were placed for purpose of debt collection, they were not for an emergency purpose. However, the issue in the lawsuit was with respect to prior express consent. Because Navient obtained the phone number through a public records search and did not get the number from Plaintiff voluntarily providing it to them, and because Navient failed to prove that she gave authority to another person to use her number for this Navient account, then Navient lost on summary judgment (meaning the evidence was so overwhelmingly in favor of the Plaintiff that Navient could not defend its case on liability in front of a jury).

Therefore, the Plaintiff in this case has now been awarded liability against Navient for upwards of 727 violations of the TCPA at $500 per call, for damages of $363,500.00. The motion for summary judgment left open for a jury to determine whether the violations by Navient were willful. If a jury does find the violations were willful, then the Court could impose triple damages in Plaintiff’s favor, thereby awarding her upwards of $1,090,500.00.

This court’s ruling can be read by clicking HERE.

Below are some very important points to be taken from the Court’s ruling:

  1. Defendants identify no facts suggesting that Plaintiff knowingly released her cell phone number to [Navient]. Indeed, Defendants point to no evidence that Plaintiff had any contact with Defendants prior to receiving their calls. Defendants instead argue that Plaintiff manifested her consent by allowing her phone to ring over 700 times without attempting to stop the calls. (Doc. # 97 at 12). The Court is not persuaded. The statute requires “express consent,” 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A), and Plaintiff’s silence in the face of 727 phone calls demonstrates, at best, presumed or implied consent, which is not sufficient under the statute. In the Matter of Rules & Regulations Implementing the Tel. Consumer Prot. Act of 1991, 30 FCC Rcd. 7961, 7991 (2015).1
  2. Defendants also suggest that there is a “significant question” about whether the -6140 number is exclusively Plaintiff’s to use, and thus whether it is a number for which Plaintiff may provide consent. (Doc. # 97 at 12). The TCPA requires prior express consent to be supplied by “the called party.” 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A). The Eleventh Circuit holds that “the called party” is the current subscriber of the cell phone, not the intended recipient of the call. Breslow v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 755 F.3d 1265, 1267 (11th Cir. 2014)Osorio v. State Farm Bank, F.S.B., 746 F.3d 1242, 1251–52 (11th Cir. 2014). More specifically, the subscriber is “the person who pays the bills or needs the line in order to receive other calls.” Osorio, 746 F.3d 1251. Similarly, the FCC recently defined “called party” as “the subscriber, i.e., the consumer assigned the telephone number dialed and billed for the call, or the non-subscriber customary user of a telephone number included in a family or business calling plan.” In the Matter of Rules & Regulations Implementing the Tel. Consumer Prot. Act of 1991, 30 FCC Rcd. at 8000-01.
  3. Defendants point out that Plaintiff used the -6140 number as her residential line for years and also listed it as the phone number for LFJ on her 1999 application to incorporate the church. (Doc. # 97 at 11-12). These facts, while undisputed, are not directly relevant to whether Plaintiff is the “subscriber,” that is, the person who pays the bills for the number or who is the customary user of the number. Osorio, 746 F.3d 1251; In the Matter of Rules & Regulations Implementing the Tel. Consumer Prot. Act of 1991, 30 FCC Rcd. at 8000-01.
  4. Plaintiff testified that the bill for the -6140 number goes to her daughter Melissa, because she is on a family plan, but that Plaintiff pays her part of the bill. (Pl. Dep. at 24). Plaintiff also testified that she uses the phone both for herself and for LFJ, for which she is the pastor. (Id. at 43). Because Defendants cite no evidence indicating that another person pays the bills or is the customary user of the -6140 number, Defendants fail to create an issue of fact as to whether Plaintiff is “the called party” under 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A).
  5. Because there is no evidence that Plaintiff, herself, provided prior express consent, the remaining question is whether Newsome consented on Plaintiff’s behalf. In particular, Defendants must establish that Newsome had authority to consent on Plaintiff’s behalf, and that Newsome did, in fact, consent. Osorio, 746 F.3d at 1252. Defendants argue that disputed issues of material fact exist sufficient to preclude summary judgment in Plaintiff’s favor. The Court disagrees.
  6. Taking Defendants’ version of the facts as true, Newsome may have confirmed Plaintiff’s cell phone number to Sallie Mae (a point that Plaintiff vehemently disputes). Under Florida law, however, Newsome’s conduct is not sufficient to create an apparent agency relationship absent some evidence that Plaintiff tolerated, allowed, or acknowledged Newsome’s conduct.
  7. Accordingly, Defendants fail to establish a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether any of the 727 calls were made with Plaintiff’s prior express consent. As already noted, Defendants do not otherwise dispute that these 727 calls constitute violations of the TCPA. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Defendants’ liability on the TCPA claims (Counts I and III) is granted.

If you or a loved one is receiving calls from Navient to collect on a student loan, then please do not hesitate to contact us for a free and confidential consultation