Guillermety v. Secretary of Educ. of U.S.

Decision Date27 September 2002
Docket NumberNo. 01-CV-74904-DT.,01-CV-74904-DT.
Citation241 F.Supp.2d 727
PartiesLivia I. GUILLERMETY, Glenn D. Edgmon and Fiore Botta, Plaintiffs, v. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION OF THE UNITED STATES and Secretary of Treasury of the United States, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan

Jennifer L. Hartke, Pontiac, MI, Michael Tankersley, Washington, DC, Deanne Loonin, Boston, MA, for plaintiffs.

Jacqulyn Hotz, Detroit, MI, for defendants.

ORDER (1) GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT WITH RESPECT TO PLAINTIFF EDGMON AND DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT WITH RESPECT TO PLAINTIFF GUILLERMETY; AND (2) GRANTING,

SUA SPONTE,

SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF DEFENDANTS WITH RESPECT TO PLAINTIFF GUILLERMETY'S CLAIMS

BORMAN, District Judge.

This is a case concerning the administrative offset of Plaintiffs' Social Security benefits by the Secretary of Treasury, pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 3716, to collect outstanding student loan balances owed to the United States. The Court, by order dated March 28, 2002, granted in part and denied in part Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction.1 Now before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. The motion, like the motion for preliminary injunction, presents an issue of first impression in the federal courts—the Court must decide whether the Secretary of Treasury may offset a recipient's Social Security benefits in order to collect student loans owed to the United States which allegedly have been outstanding for more than ten years. In doing so, the Court must reconcile an apparent conflict between three statutes: (1) 42 U.S.C. § 407; (2) 31 U.S.C. § 3716; and (3) 20 U.S.C. § 1091a.

The Court heard oral argument on July 30, 2002. Having considered the entire record, and for the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. Specifically, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion with respect to Plaintiff Edgmon, and DENIES Plaintiffs' motion with respect to Plaintiff Guillermety.2 Furthermore, the Court, sua sponte, GRANTS summary judgment in favor of Defendants with respect to Plaintiff Guillermety's claims. Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that the Secretary of Treasury of the United States is hereby PERMANENTLY RESTRAINED and ENJOINED from offsetting Plaintiff Edgmon's Social Security benefits to collect his outstanding and delinquent Federal Perkins Loan.

FACTS

On March 28, 2002, the Court granted in part and denied in part Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction. See Guillermety v. Secretary of Education, No. 01-74904 (E.D.Mich. Mar.28, 2002) (attached as Appendix A). The facts, which were largely uncontested at that time, are adequately documented in the Court's prior order. The Government has, however, provided supplemental information, further documenting the Plaintiffs' outstanding and delinquent loans.

Plaintiff Guillermety currently has five outstanding and delinquent student loans.

                                             Loan       Reinsurance       Assigned
                Loan Type Date Amount Paid to Educ
                Perkins          10/31/88   $ 750      Not Applicable     8/31/97
                Perkins          1/7/91     $ 935      Not Applicable     8/31/97
                Federal Stafford 12/2/85    $2,500          5/5/93        1/12/96
                Federal Stafford 10/26/88   $2,500          9/23/92      12/25/96
                Federal Stafford 9/4/90     $3,276          9/24/93      12/25/96
                

Plaintiff Edgmon currently has one outstanding and delinquent student loan—a Federal Perkins loan (original principal totaled $2,590) distributed to Plaintiff at various times during the years 1976 and 1977. The loan was assigned to the Department of Education on February 1,1990.

ANALYSIS
A. Standard of Review

Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party against whom a claim, counterclaim, or cross-claim is asserted may "at any time, move with or without supporting affidavits, for a summary judgment in the party's favor as to all or any part thereof." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(b). Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of an essential element of the non moving party's case on which the non moving party would bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

Of course, [the moving party] always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any," which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548; Gutierrez v. Lynch, 826 F.2d 1534, 1536 (6th Cir.1987).

A fact is "material" for purposes of a motion for summary judgment where proof of that fact "would have [the] effect of establishing or refuting one of the essential elements of a cause of action or defense asserted by the parties." Kendall v. Hoover Co., 751 F.2d 171, 174 (6th Cir. 1984) (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 881 (6th ed.1979)) (citations omitted). A dispute over a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Conversely, where a reasonable jury could not find for the non moving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact for trial. Id.; Feliciano v. City of Cleveland, 988 F.2d 649, 654 (6th Cir.1993). In making this evaluation, the court must examine the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Bender v. Southland Corp., 749 F.2d 1205, 1210-11 (6th Cir. 1984).

If this burden is met by the moving party, the non-moving party's failure to make a showing that is "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial" will mandate the entry of summary judgment. Celotex, 411 U.S. at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). The non-moving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but the response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in Rule 56, must set forth specific facts which demonstrate that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The rule requires the non-moving party to introduce "evidence of evidentiary quality" demonstrating the existence of a material fact. Bailey v. Floyd Cty. Bd. of Ed., 106 F.3d 135, 145 (6th Cir. 1997); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (holding that the non-moving party must produce more than a mere scintilla of evidence to survive summary judgment).

B. Law of the Case

Both parties acknowledge that there is no dispute concerning the underlying facts of this case. Moreover, as noted in the Court's prior order, the issues before the Court—issues of first impression—involve two abstract legal issues: (1) when does the statute of limitations contained in 31 U.S.C. § 3716(e)(1)"claim under this subchapter that has been outstanding for more than 10 years"—begin to run; and (2) can the Secretary of Treasury offset a recipient's Social Security benefits in order to collect student loans owed to the United States after the ten year period codified in section 3716(e)(1) has expired. The Court previously held that (a) the limitations period begins to run when the government's right to collect the debt first accrues, and (b) the government may not offset a recipient's Social Security benefits in order to collect student loans that have been outstanding for more than ten years from the date the government's right to collect the debt first accrues. See Guillermety v. Secretary of Education, 01-74904 (E.D.Mich. Mar. 28, 2002).

The same legal issues are now before the Court on Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. Because briefing for the motion for summary judgment was completed at approximately the same time that the Court issued its previous decision, the parties have not addressed the "law of the case" doctrine. However, because the legal issues are identical to those previously before the Court, the Court must determine whether law of the case is applicable in the instant case.

The "law of the case" doctrine is an amorphous concept. Wilcox v. United States, 888 F.2d 1111, 1113 (6th Cir.1989). The doctrine precludes a court from reconsidering "identical" issues. McKenzie v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 219 F.3d 508, 512 n. 3 (6th Cir.2000); Cohen v. Brotmi Univ., 101 F.3d 155, 167 (1st Cir.1996) ("The law of the case doctrine precludes relitigation of the legal issues presented in successive stages of a single case once those issues have been decided."). The doctrine serves to (1) prevent the continued litigation of settled issues; and (2) to assure compliance by inferior courts with the decisions of superior courts. E.E.O.C. v. United Ass'n of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing & Pipefitting Indus, of the United States and Canada, Local No. 120, 235 F.3d 244, 249 (6th Cir.2000) (quoting United States v. Todd, 920 F.2d 399, 403 (6th Cir.1990)).

However, a court must remember that the law of the case doctrine "is `directed to a court's common sense' and is not an `inexorable command.'" McKenzie, 219 F.3d at 512 n. 3; see also AM. Capen's Co. v. American Trading and Prod. Corp., 202 F.3d 469, 472 (1st Cir.2000) ("[T]he law of the case doctrine only directs our discretion; it does not limit our power."). A court may reconsider a ruling if: (1) substantially different evidence is raised on subsequent trial; (2) a subsequent contrary view of the law is decided by the controlling authority; or (3) the prior decision is clearly erroneous and would work a manifest injustice. McKenzie, 219 F.3d at 512 n. 3.

Moreover, as a general rule, a decision made on a party's motion for...

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