In our view, the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing 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. In such a situation, there can be "no genuine issue as to any material fact," since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party is "entitled to a judgment as a matter of law" because the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof."
Id., at 322-323 (emphasis added). Therefore, in order to survive a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must make a sufficient showing that she will be able to prove the essential elements of her claim(s).
The alleged payment in full of Ms. Foster's loans is an essential element of plaintiff's claims within the meaning of Celotex. If plaintiff cannot show that she has paid off her loan in full, then she cannot show that the Department has maintained errors in her file, and hence cannot recover under the Privacy Act. Likewise, without proof that she did not owe the Department a debt, plaintiff cannot show that her 1986 tax return was improperly offset (plaintiff's statute of limitations arguments are discussed below), and cannot recover under the Tucker Act. Finally, without proof that the Department's records evidencing plaintiff's unpaid debt are false, plaintiff cannot force the Department to discontinue distributing its reports to outside credit bureaus or force the Department to expunge all prior reports, pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Even after viewing the evidence presented to the Court in the light most favorable to Ms. Foster,
we find that she has failed to make a showing sufficient to establish that her FISL debt was ever paid in full. Plaintiff has repeatedly protested to the Department, and repeatedly maintains in her submissions to this Court that "to the best of [her] information and belief" the balance of her FISL loan was paid in full by her ex-husband, Mr. Hubert Foster. See Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment at p.2. Despite defendants' requests for proof of this payment, however, and despite the length and painstaking detail of plaintiff's filings before this Court, plaintiff has never produced any evidence to support her claims. Her claims of payment are merely conclusory without factual basis.
Defendants, on the other hand, have offered proof to the Court that Ms. Foster's debt was never paid in full, and that her theory of full payment by her ex-husband, no matter how sincerely believed by Ms. Foster, is simply not credible. Defendants have submitted in affidavit form a Certificate of Indebtedness prepared by a Supervisory Paralegal Specialist in the Research Branch of the Litigation Section of the Department that shows total payments received from Ms. Foster of $ 1,641.91. See Defense Exhibit A. They have also submitted an affidavit by the Acting Chief of the Research, Litigation & Support Branch of the Department which confirms an outstanding debt as of February 5, 1992 of $ 328.90 of principal plus $ 2,227.98 interest (which has since continued to accrue at a rate of 7% per annum). See Defense Exhibit I.
Defendants have submitted an additional affidavit executed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Claire M. Whitaker recounting her separate telephone conversations with Mr. Hubert Foster and Mr. Malcomb L. Stephens, Jr., Esq., the son of Malcomb L. Stephens, Esq., now deceased, who was the attorney who handled the Foster's divorce in St. Augustine, Florida in 1975. See Defense Exhibit F. The Whitaker Affidavit quotes Mr. Hubert Foster declaring by phone "I didn't pay and didn't agree to pay any student loans" for Ms. Foster. The Whitaker Affidavit further declares that Mr. Stephens, Jr., Esq., stated that in response to a previous request by plaintiff he had reviewed the file compiled by his father on the Foster divorce and that he had found no document or other evidence indicating any agreement that Mr. Foster was to repay Ms. Foster's student loans.
Upon considering plaintiff's lack of evidence that her FISL loan was paid in full, in contrast with defendants' proffered evidence of nonpayment, we hold that plaintiff has failed to make a sufficient showing on this essential element of her claims under Celotex. Accordingly, defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. "One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses," Celotex, at 323-324. Accordingly, this Court feels that it is appropriate that Ms. Foster's unsupported claims be disposed of at this time.
B. Plaintiff's statute of limitations argument must fail under 20 U.S.C. § 1091a.
In addition, plaintiff argues in her Motion for Summary Judgment that defendants acted improperly in offsetting her 1986 tax refund because this action violated the ten year statute of limitations for administrative offsets contained in 31 U.S.C. § 3716(c)(1) (1983). Plaintiff overlooks, however, the advent of Section 3 of the Higher Education Technical Amendments Act, P.L. 102-26, enacted April 9, 1991, and codified at 20 U.S.C. 1091a (1992), ("the Act"). This Act eliminated the bar of any statute of limitations on government collection of student loans financed by the Department of Education.
The Act is very clear. Specifically, 20 U.S.C. § 1091a provides:
(1) It is the purpose of this subsection to ensure that obligations to repay loans . . . are enforced without regard to any Federal or State statutory, regulatory, or administrative limitation on the period within which debts may be enforced.
(2) Notwithstanding any other provision of statute, regulation or administrative limitation, no limitation shall terminate the period within which suit may be filed, a judgment may be enforced, or an offset, garnishment, or other action initiated or taken . . ."
Furthermore, the law expressly provides that this new authority shall apply to any actions pending at the time of its passage, April 9, 1991, and to actions brought before November 15, 1992. Pub. L. 102-26 § 3(c). Accordingly, this law properly applies to the offset of plaintiff's 1986 tax return by defendants,
and to defendants' counterclaim against plaintiff for the outstanding balance of the loans
which had previously been written off as uncollectible. In neither instance can the government be said to be in violation of a statute of limitations since Congress has specifically exempted these actions from any such statutes.
Therefore, pursuant to the above discussion, and upon consideration of the entire record herein, we grant defendants' motion for summary judgment. An Order consistent with the above is entered on this date.
JOHN H. PRATT
United States District Judge
Date 27 Jan 93
It is this 27th day of January, 1993, hereby
ORDERED pursuant to this Court's Memorandum Opinion filed on this date, that plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be denied and that defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted; and it is
ORDERED that a judgment for the defendants be entered in the amount of $ 2,556.88 ($ 328.90 principal, plus $ 2,227.98 interest), plus prejudgment interest from February 6, 1992 to the date of the judgment calculated at a rate of 7% per annum in accordance with the terms of plaintiff's outstanding loans, plus postjudgment interest at a rate of 3.67% as prescribed by 28 U.S.C. § 1961, plus administrative and court costs; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that a surcharge of 10% of the total amount of the debt is imposed in favor of defendants and against the plaintiff, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 3011.
JOHN H. PRATT
United States District Judge