Consumer Fin. Prot. Bureau v. Navient Corp., 3:17-CV-101

Decision Date04 August 2017
Docket Number3:17-CV-101
PartiesCONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU, Plaintiff, v. NAVIENT CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania

(JUDGE MARIANI)

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case requires the Court to resolve several issues of statutory interpretation with respect to Title X of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act as well as address whether the structure of the independent executive agency created by the Act, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, offends the Constitution. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds (1) the Bureau was within its statutory authority to bring an enforcement action without first engaging in rulemaking, (2) there are no constitutional defects with the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and (3) the Bureau's Complaint against Navient is adequately pleaded.

I. INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ("CFPB" or "Bureau"), filed a Complaint in the above captioned action on January 18, 2017. (Doc. 1). The eleven count Complaint alleges that Defendants, Navient Corporation, Navient Solutions, Inc., and Pioneer Credit Recovery, Inc., (collectively "Navient"), committed various violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act ("CFP Act" or "Act"), 12 U.S.C. §§ 5531, 5536 (Counts I-VIII), the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692e (Counts IX-X), and Regulation V of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 12 C.F.R. §1022.42 (Count XI). (Doc. 1). On March 24, 2017, Navient filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, for a More Definite Statement. (Doc. 28). Specifically, Navient raised the following arguments: (1) Counts I-VIII should be dismissed because the Bureau lacks authority to bring suit under the CFP Act without first engaging in rulemaking to declare specific acts or practices unfair, deceptive, or abusive; (2) the entire Complaint should be dismissed because the structure of the CFPB is unconstitutional and therefore the Director of the Bureau was acting without authority when he authorized the present suit; (3) Counts I-IV and Counts VII-X fail to state a claim for which relief can be granted; and (4) Count VI is so vague that Navient is unable to respond to it by way of an answer. (Doc. 29). For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Navient's Motion in its entirety.

II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

Plaintiff's Complaint alleges the following facts which this Court accepts as true for the purposes of this Motion:

Navient Corporation is a company specializing in loan management, loan servicing, and asset recovery. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 18). In that role, Navient Corporation holds contracts with the U.S. Department of Education for the servicing of over six million federal student loans.(Id. at ¶¶ 2, 21-23). In turn, Navient Solutions (formerly Sallie Mae) and Pioneer Credit Recovery are both wholly-owned subsidiaries of Navient Corporation. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17). As relevant to this action, Navient Solutions services federal and private student loans while Pioneer Credit Recovery performs debt collection activities on delinquent and defaulted student loans. (Id.).

As a loan servicer, Navient Solutions is responsible for managing student loan borrowers' accounts, which includes activities such as processing monthly payments and communicating with borrowers about repayment of their loans. (Id. at ¶ 3). Navient Solutions has repeatedly encouraged those borrowers who are having trouble paying their monthly bill to contact Navient Solutions. (Id. at ¶ 38). For example, Navient Solutions' webpage contained the following statement: "If you're experiencing problems making your loans payments, please contact us. Our representatives can help you by identifying options and solutions, so you can make the right decision for your situation." (Id.). The U.S. Department of Education's webpage has similarly encouraged financially troubled borrowers to contact their loan servicer for help. (Id. at ¶ 37).

Most federal loan borrowers experiencing financial difficulties have several options to address unaffordable monthly payments. (Id. at ¶ 27). One such option is forbearance. (Id. at ¶ 33). Although forbearance allows a borrower to stop making payments temporarily, interest continues to accrue and will eventually capitalize on the principal of the loan. (Id. at ¶¶ 33, 35). Thus, a borrower who places his or her loan in forbearance for a long period oftime is likely to see a significant increase in the total amount he or she must ultimately pay back and, upon resuming repayment, may be required to make a larger monthly payment than was required before entering forbearance. (Id. at ¶ 35). As a result, forbearance is not a good option for those experiencing long-term financial hardship. (Id.).

Another option for borrowers with certain eligible federal loans is to enter into one of several different types of income-driven repayment plans that calculate a borrower's monthly payment based on his or her income and family size and result in an affordable monthly payment that can be as low as $0 per month. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-30). For some borrowers, income-driven repayment plans offer several secondary benefits as well, including (1) an interest subsidy where the government pays off the unpaid accruing interest, preventing it from being added to the principal, and (2) treating low payments as "qualifying payments" for certain programs that forgive the balance of the loan after a borrower makes a certain number of qualifying payments. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32). Because of these benefits, income-driven repayment plans are usually the best option for those borrowers experiencing long-term financial hardship. (Id. at ¶ 36).

Nevertheless, entering a borrower into an income-driven repayment plan is more time-intensive and expensive for Navient Solutions then putting a borrower's loan into forbearance. (Id. at ¶¶ 47-49). While a Navient Solutions customer service representative can put a borrower's loan into forbearance quickly over the phone, generally without filling out any paperwork, entering a borrower into an income-driven repayment plan involveslengthy conversations about different plans, helping a borrower fill out the initial application, and possessing both the initial and annual renewal paperwork. (Id. at ¶¶ 42-45, 48). Thus, Navient Solutions has had to increase its staff size—and overall operating costs—as the number of borrowers entering income-driven repayment plans has increased. (Id. at ¶ 46). Additionally, taking the time to enter a borrower into an income-driven repayment plan is less appealing to Navient Solutions' customer service representatives because they are compensated, in part, based on how short they can keep their average call. (Id. at ¶ 43). As a result, Navient Solutions, through its customer service representatives, routinely entered financially distressed borrowers into forbearance without adequately discussing—or sometimes discussing at all—the option of income-driven repayment plans. (Id. at ¶¶ 40-41, 49, 51). As a consequence of guiding borrowers—including those borrowers who had demonstrated long-term financial difficulties—into forbearance and even multiple consecutive forbearances, Navient Solutions routinely had more borrowers with loans in forbearance then in income-driven repayment plans. (Id. at ¶¶ 50-53). This has imposed significant monetary costs on those borrowers who qualified for an income-driven repayment plan but whose loans were placed in forbearance. (Id. at ¶ 54).

For those borrowers who did enroll in an income-driven repayment plan, Navient Solutions was obligated to send a written notice with the requirements for annual renewal of the plan. (Id. at ¶ 60). Unless a borrower properly recertified his or her income and family size once a year, the borrower would automatically be removed from the income-drivenrepayment plan. (Id. at ¶ 55). Even temporary removal from the plan would result in one or more of the following negative consequences for borrowers: (1) an immediate increase in his or her monthly payment; (2) the addition of any unpaid, accrued interest onto the principal; and (3) the loss of an interest subsidy. (Id. at ¶¶ 56-57).

From mid-2010 to March of 2015, for those borrowers who had consented to receiving electronic communication, Navient Solutions sent borrowers an email with the subject line of either "Your Sallie Mae Account Information" or "New Document Ready to View," when the borrower's annual renewal notice was available. (Id. at ¶¶ 66-67, 69). Upon opening the email, a borrower would be instructed that "a new education loan document is available. Please log in to your account to view it." (Id. at ¶ 70). The email would also contain a hyperlink to Navient Solutions' website, where a borrower could log in to his or her account and view the renewal notice. (Id. at ¶ 68). Upon changing both the subject line and body of the email in March of 2015 to contain more descriptive information concerning which specific document was available, renewal rates for borrowers more than doubled. (Id. at ¶¶ 75-76).

For those borrowers who had not consented to receiving electronic communication, Navient Solutions would send the annual renewal notice through the mail. (Id. at ¶ 61). From January of 2010 until December of 2012, the mailed notice stated that the borrower's participation in an income-driven repayment plan would "expire in approximately 90 days" and that the "renewal process may take at least 30 days." (Id. at ¶ 62). It further toldborrowers to fill out the renewal forms completely and that if a borrower "provid[ed] incorrect or incomplete information the [renewal] process will be delayed." (Id. at ¶ 64). The renewal notice, however, did not (1) provide any specific date for which a borrower's participation in an income-driven repayment plan would expire, (2) specify that submitting an incomplete or inaccurate...

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