United States District Court, District of Columbia
KEVIN R. KEMPER, Plaintiff,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION et al., Defendants.
N. MCFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Kevin R. Kemper, appearing pro se, has sued the
Department of Education and current or former Department
employees for injunctive relief and monetary damages.
Plaintiff seeks to prevent the Department of Treasury from
garnishing his social security payments to satisfy a student
loan he alleges was paid in full in the mid-1980s. Pending
are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) [Dkt. #13], Plaintiff s
Motion for Preliminary Injunction/Temporary Restraining Order
[Dkt. #3], and Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. #
10]. For the reasons explained below, subject matter
jurisdiction is lacking. Consequently, Defendants' motion
to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) is GRANTED, Plaintiffs motions
are DENIED, and the case is DISMISSED without prejudice.
alleges that he was "introduced" to student loans
in 1974 while attending a local university in Sacramento,
California. Am. Compl. at 1 [Dkt. # 5]. "In the mid
1980's, " Plaintiff tendered what he believed to be
his "final loan payment of about $250" by way of
"a check endorsed 'cashing this check denotes that
the account is paid in full.'" Id. at 2.
Plaintiff did not receive a response from the Department of
Education (DOE), but he "presumed that was their
standard procedure." Id. Plaintiff surmises
that, "[b]eginning in the 1990's, " DOE
"felt they were not paid off entirely and instead of
communicating with the Plaintiff, sent a presumed bill. .. to
a local collection agency who sent their developed copy to
the Plaintiff." Id. Plaintiff "responded
immediately to the Collection Agency that there was no money
due [because] the debt was paid in total in the
1980's"; as a result, the collection notices stopped
coming to Plaintiff. Id. But a "few years
later, another notice came from another collection agency for
approximately $ 19, 000, " even though Plaintiffs debt
"never was higher than $3200.00." Id. at
February 3, 2017, the Treasury Department notified Plaintiff
that his debt to DOE was referred for collection action,
whereby 15 percent of Plaintiff s monthly Social Security
benefit payments would be withheld to satisfy the debt.
Compl. Attachment [Dkt. #1 at 5]. The withholding was to
begin no sooner than April 2017, but the notice also included
information about how "[t]o prevent this collection
action." Id. Plaintiff commenced this civil
action on March 20, 2017, to enjoin Treasury's proposed
action. The case was formally filed on April 17, 2017, after
the court's grant of Plaintiff s motion to proceed in
forma pauperis submitted with the original complaint.
SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only
that power authorized by Constitution and statute, " and
it is "presumed that a cause lies outside this limited
jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of
Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Because a federal court
is "forbidden . .. from acting beyond [its] authority,
" NetworkIP, LLC v. FCC, 548 F.3d 116, 120
(D.C. Cir. 2008), it has "an affirmative obligation
'to consider whether the constitutional and statutory
authority exist... to hear each dispute.'" James
Madison Ltd. ex rel. Hechtv. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085, 1092
(D.C. Cir. 1996) (quoting Herbert v. Nat'lAcad. of
Scis., 914 F.2dl92, 196 (D.C. Cir. 1992)). If not, the
case must be dismissed, A rbaugh v.Y&H Corp.,
546 U.S. 500, 506-07 (2006), and the court "can proceed
no further, " Simpkins v. District of Columbia
Gov't, 108 F.3d 366, 371 (D.C. Cir. 1997). See
Id. (noting that, in the absence of subject matter
jurisdiction, "the [district] court could no more rule
in favor of the government than against it").
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff has the
burden of demonstrating the court's subject matter
jurisdiction. KnappMed. Ctr. v. Hargan, 875 F.3d
1125, 1128 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (citing Lujan v. Defs. of
Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)). In deciding the
jurisdictional question, the court must construe the
complaint liberally, accept the factual allegations as true,
and "grant[ ] plaintiff the benefit of all inferences
that can be derived from the facts alleged[.]" Am.
Nat'llns. Co. v. FDIC, 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C.
Cir. 2011) (quoting Thomas v. Principi, 394 F.3d
970, 972 (D.C. Cir. 2005)). But the court need not accept
factually unsupported inferences drawn by the plaintiff or
legal conclusions cast as factual allegations. Browning
v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002).
Claim for Injunctive Relief
immunity "goes to the subject matter jurisdiction of the
court." Delta Foods Inc. v. Republic of Ghana,
265 F.3d 1068, 1071 (D.C. Cir. 2001). It bars lawsuits
against the United States, its agencies, and its employees
sued in their official capacities absent a specific waiver.
FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994); Wilson
v. Obama, 770 F.Supp.2d 188, 191 (D.D.C. 2011) (citing
Clark v. Library of Congress. 750 F.2d 89, 102-04 (D.C. Cir.
1984)) A waiver "must be unequivocally expressed in
statutory text, and [it cannot] be implied." Lane v.
Pena, 518 U.S. 187, 192 (1996) (citations omitted);
see Knapp Med. Ctr., 875 F.3d at 1128
('"Only Congress may determine a lower federal
court's subject-matter jurisdiction, ' and what the
Congress gives, the Congress may take away.") (quoting
Kontrick v. Ryan, 540 U.S. 443, 452 (2004)).
argue correctly that the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA)
bars Plaintiffs claim for injunctive relief. See
Defs.' Mem. at 6-7. The HEA authorizes lawsuits against
the Education Secretary,  but it specifically states: "[N]o
attachment, injunction, garnishment, or other similar
process, mesne or final, shall be issued against the
Secretary .. .." 20 U.S.C. § 1082(a)(2).
Consequently, Plaintiffs claim for injunctive relief must be
dismissed. See Thomas v. Bennett, 856 F.2d 1165,
1168 (8th Cir. 1988) (holding that § 1082(a)(2)
prohibits injunctive relief against the Secretary); Green
v. United States, 163 F.Supp.2d 593, 597 (W.D. N.C.
2000) (noting that "[a]n action that seeks to prohibit
the government from collecting a debt seeks injunctive
relief-a type of action over which this court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction because the government continues
to enjoy sovereign immunity from suit as to such claims in
accordance with ... the HEA").
Claim for Monetary Relief
seeks "general damages of $1900" and punitive
damages "in the amount of $19, 000, 000." Am.
Compl. at 6. From all indications, Plaintiff has sued the
individual Defendants in their official capacities as DOE
employees, which "generally represent[s] only another
way of pleading an action against an entity of which an
officer is an agent[.]" Kentucky v. Graham, 473
U.S. 159, 165 (1985). In contrast to a personal-capacity suit
where "an award of damages .. . can be executed only
against the official's personal assets, " an award
of damages in an official-capacity suit is recovered from
"the government entity ...