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Gavin v. Department of Air Force

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 15, 2018




         In 2017, Plaintiff Patricia Gavin, proceeding pro se, filed this lawsuit to seek various forms of relief related to her student loans. This Opinion concerns four issues: (1) whether the doctrine of state sovereign immunity bars Gavin's claims against the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (“ISAC”); (2) Gavin's motion to amend her complaint (ECF No. 62); (3) Gavin's motion to “stay” a change in her disability status that was apparently made by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) (ECF No. 55); and (4) Gavin's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 54). For the reasons explained below, Gavin's claims against ISAC will be dismissed, and all three motions will be denied. In addition, the Court will order Nelnet, Inc. to file its motion for judgment on the pleadings by June 14, 2018.

         I. Factual Background

         It is difficult to discern a coherent narrative from Gavin's various filings in this case.[1]Nonetheless, taking as true Gavin's allegations for purposes of this Opinion, she appears to describe a series of unfortunate circumstances that led her to take on student loans she has been unable to repay. She appears to have made some of the same allegations in previous litigation. See Gavin v. Prudential Office of Servicemen's Grp. Life Ins. Co., 72 F.Supp.3d 332 (D.D.C. 2014), aff'd, No. 15-7007, 2016 WL 4098810 (D.C. Cir. July 18, 2016).

         Gavin served in the Air Force from 1985 to 1992, and then in the Air Force Reserve from 1995 to 1998. Reinstatement Mot. ¶ 9. Her ex-husband also served in the Air Force until his retirement in 1999. See Proposed Am. Compl., Ex. B. They divorced in 2003. See SJ Mot. ¶ 1. According to Gavin, after the divorce, members of her ex-husband's family hid marital assets from her and ginned up false charges of assault against her to separate her from her children. See Compl. ¶¶ 17-18, 23-25, 31-32. These false charges also allegedly prevented Gavin from being employed. See Id. ¶ 25. Finding herself without a job, Gavin pursued an MBA program offered by Defendant Keller Graduate School of Management (“Keller”), causing her to take on student loans. Id. ¶ 35; Reinstatement Mot. ¶¶ 62-63. She claims that Keller's “false advertising” and “deceptive trade practices” induced her to take on these loans. Proposed Am. Comp. at 2.

         Gavin also alleges that, starting in 2006, she became the victim of a fraud perpetrated by her divorce attorney, who worked for the law firm Godwin Gruber. Compl. ¶¶ 8-9, 19. The lawyer allegedly abused a power of attorney to obtain social security benefits in Gavin's name that were never passed on to her. See Id. ¶ 26; Pl.'s ISAC Br. ¶ 22, 48. The attorney also allegedly engaged in other misconduct while representing Gavin in lawsuits in Texas and Louisiana. See Compl. ¶¶ 19-22; Pl.'s ISAC Br. ¶¶ 20-22; Reinstatement Mot. ¶¶ 37, 39, 73. This misconduct allegedly deprived her of income, requiring her to take on additional student loans. See Mot. for Inj. ¶ 8.

         Gavin's ex-husband came out of retirement in 2009. See Pl.'s ISAC Br. ¶ 6. As a result, Gavin no longer received a share of his retirement benefits, causing her to fall behind on her loan payments. See id.; Change of Address ¶ 10; Reinstatement Mot. ¶ 57; SJ Mot. ¶ 1; Stay Mot. ¶ 4. Around the same time, someone allegedly forged Gavin's signature on a form waiving her right to her survivor benefits in the event of her husband's death. Mot. for Inj. ¶ 12. Gavin attributes this forgery to family members, see Id. ¶ 15, and also asserts that the federal government was responsible for it, see Id. ¶ 16, apparently on the theory that the military was negligent in failing to spot the forgery, see Change of Address ¶¶ 4-5. Gavin claims that the forgery enabled her husband's return to the Air Force and thereby caused her to lose her share of his retirement benefits, although it is unclear how. See Id. ¶ 3; Pl.'s ISAC Br. ¶ 26.

         In 2012, Gavin's ex-husband and his second wife were found dead in their home in Louisiana. See Compl. ¶¶ 4-5; Pl.'s ISAC Br. ¶ 10. In Gavin's telling, the deaths brought to light the forgery of Gavin's purported waiver of her survivor benefits, and the Air Force corrected the forgery by restoring those benefits to Gavin. Compl. ¶ 7. Gavin subsequently engaged in litigation with Defendant Prudential Office of Servicemen's Group Life Insurance Company (“Prudential”), seeking proceeds from her ex-husband's life insurance. See Id. ¶ 15. Gavin claims that her prior lawsuit was dismissed due to an unspecified “fraud upon the courts and Plaintiff.” Id.

         Gavin incurred additional tuition obligations when she enrolled in a master of legal studies program at the University of Oklahoma. Id. ¶ 2. Gavin claims that, because several of the Defendants improperly kept her prior student loans in default status, she ultimately had to withdraw from the program. See Reinstatement Mot. ¶¶ 28-29, 31; Proposed Am. Compl. at 5.

         II. Procedural Background

         Gavin filed her complaint in April 2017 against the following Defendants: the Department of Education, Department of the Air Force, and Department of the Interior (the “Federal Agency Defendants”); Donald Godwin and Michael Gruber (the “Attorney Defendants”); ISAC;[2] American Education Services, Inc. (“AES”); Navient Solutions, LLC and Sallie Mae Bank (the “Sallie Mae Defendants”);[3] Nelnet, Inc. (“Nelnet”); Prudential; and Keller.[4] Compl. at 1-3. She did not clearly assert any particular cause of action, but did request relief under the Tucker Act. See Id. at 3. The relief that Plaintiff seeks appears primarily to relate to her student loans, and includes a discharge of her loans and an order ending the garnishment of her income by ISAC. See Id. ¶ 1.

         Except for Nelnet (which answered Gavin's complaint) and ISAC (which has not appeared), the Defendants filed motions to dismiss over the next few months. The Defendants argued as follows:

• The Federal Agency Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and also for failure to state a claim on the ground that Gavin failed to describe any misconduct by the government or to assert any recognized cause of action. See ECF No. 39-1 at 4-7.
• The Attorney Defendants, who had been name partners at Godwin Gruber (the since-disbanded law firm that employed Gavin's divorce attorney), argued that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Gavin's claims against them; that the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over them, because they are not residents of the District of Columbia and because all of Gavin's claims against them arose from conduct in Texas and Louisiana; that Gavin failed to state a claim against them; and that she failed to plead her fraud allegations with particularity. See ECF No. 10 at 3-12; ECF No. 20 at 3-12.
• The Sallie Mae Defendants moved to dismiss on the ground that Gavin's complaint described no conduct they had committed and thus failed to state a claim against them. See ECF No. 7 at 4-5.
• AES moved to dismiss on the ground that Gavin had failed to state a claim for relief against it, because it is merely a loan servicer and does not itself hold any debt against Gavin; AES also argued Gavin had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies under federal education law for any claim that she is entitled to a discharge of her student loans. See ECF No. 14-1 at 6-8.
• Prudential argued that Gavin had failed to state a claim against it; that it had not been properly served; and that res judicata barred Gavin's claims, which she had previously litigated in this District. See ECF ...

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