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Johnson v. Duncan

October 29, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


Joseph Johnson, Jr. seeks the discharge of his federally guaranteed student loans. He filed this suit against Arne Duncan, Secretary of the Department of Education, and ACS Education Solutions, LLC, ("ACS") the loan service provider. Because Mr. Johnson already filed, and lost, a case raising these same issues, this case will be dismissed pursuant to the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. See Johnson v. Dep't of Educ., 580 F. Supp. 2d 154 (D.D.C. 2008), aff'd without op., No. 08-5468 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 10, 2009).


The background facts were explained in Mr. Johnson's prior suit. Mr. Johnson was indicted for burglary and larceny on February 16, 1993. Johnson, 580 F. Supp. 2d at 155. He was given a suspended sentence on April 21, 1993. In the fall of that same year, he enrolled at the University of Maryland University College ("UMUC"). Over the course of the next few years, Mr. Johnson obtained federally guaranteed loans, including Federal Family Education Loans for Fall 1993, Spring 1994, Fall 1994, Spring 1995, and Spring 1996. The loan application form did not ask about Mr. Johnson's criminal history. During his time at UMUC, Mr. Johnson took several courses offered by UMUC's paralegal studies program. Id.

On April 29, 1996, Mr. Johnson withdrew from UMUC because he was incarcerated for forgery. In 2004, after he was released from prison, Mr. Johnson consolidated his loans under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. Two years later Mr. Johnson demanded the discharge of his student loans, arguing that UMUC falsely certified his loan application because, as a convicted felon, he was unable to meet the requirements of the occupation for which he was trained.*fn1 Id. Mr. Johnson contended that his criminal record precluded any possibility of his admission to the bar and, because he could never be licensed to possess a firearm, his record precluded his employment in law enforcement. The Secretary rejected the loan discharge application.

Mr. Johnson repeatedly reapplied for discharge of the loans and made several appeals to the Secretary, each of which was rejected. Id. at 155-56. Subsequently, he brought suit in federal district court under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. § 706, and the Higher Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1087, seeking to compel the Secretary and loan service provider to discharge the loans. Johnson, 580 F. Supp. 2d at 155. The district court held that the agency's action was not arbitrary and capricious, that the decision was supported by the record and consistent with the regulations because Mr. Johnson was not enrolled in a training program in which the school proposed to train the student for an occupation with specific requirements for employment. Id. at 158. The court explained:

While enrolled, Johnson took several classes offered by UMUC's "Paralegal Studies" concentration. UMUC's 1998-1999 brochure describes this program as preparing students "for challenging and responsible work in the legal environment . . . [and] to apply their acquired knowledge and skills in a wide variety of legal settings," including "law firms, government agencies, legal services offices, corporations, professional and trade associations, publishing companies, and other public and private sector businesses." . . . Johnson may have intended to pursue a specialization in "Paralegal Studies," but he has not shown that the Secretary's determination that this program did not specifically and exclusively train students to be paralegals was arbitrary and capricious.

Id. at 157 (citations omitted) (emphasis added). Accordingly, on September 30, 2008, the court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants.

Mr. Johnson appealed. Mr. Johnson then filed a motion asking the Circuit to remand the case for consideration of material that had not been considered previously. The Circuit denied the appeal and the request for remand, affirming the district court's decision on April 10, 2009. Johnson v. Dep't of Educ., Civ. No. 07-2183(JR) (D.D.C.), Mandate [Dkt. # 39]. On October 29, 2009, Mr. Johnson filed in the district court a motion for relief from judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(2). See id., Mot. for Relief from J. [Dkt. # 41]. The district court denied the motion because it was made more than one year after the entry of the September 30, 2008 judgment. Id., Order [Dkt. # 40]. Mr. Johnson filed a second motion to remand in the Circuit on November 9, 2009, making the same arguments that he made in his Rule 60(b) motion. On February 17, 2010, the Circuit denied the second motion to remand, noting that Mr. Johnson sought the very same relief that he had sought in his prior motion to remand. Id., Order [Dkt. # 48].*fn2

Mr. Johnson filed this suit on July 9, 2010, seeking the same relief that he sought in his 2007 suit. He filed a First Amended Complaint on September 13, 2010, and then a Second Amended Complaint on September 22, 2010. The Second Amended Complaint consists of four Counts. Count I alleges that Defendants violated the Higher Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1087(c), by failing to discharge Mr. Johnson's loans based on false certification disqualifying status as required by 20 U.S.C. § 2087(a). 2d Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 18] ¶¶ 36-41. Count II alleges that Defendants violated Mr. Johnson's right of due process under the Fifth Amendment. Id. ¶¶ 42-44. In a September 6, 2007 letter denying discharge of the loans, the Secretary indicated that "there are no records that indicate you were enrolled in a training program that specifically and exclusively prepared you for employment in law enforcement or as a paralegal, nor were you enrolled in law school." Id. ¶ 42. Mr. Johnson asserts that his right to due process was violated because he was not given the opportunity to submit records to prove his case. Count III alleges that Defendant's refusal to discharge the student loans was arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion. Id. ¶¶ 45-47. This Count impliedly alleges a claim under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706.

Finally, Count IV alleges that Defendants violated §1087(a) of the Higher Education Act and the Fifth Amendment by imposing additional criteria for obtaining a false certification discharge, restrictions that are not set forth in 34 C.F.R. § 685.215(a)(1)(iii). Id. ¶¶ 48-55. The Second Amended Complaint also seeks a writ of mandamus against the Secretary pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1361. See 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 2 & Prayer for Relief.

Defendants move to dismiss, and Mr. Johnson opposes.


A. Motion to Dismiss Based on ...

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