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Gaddy v. United States Dep't of Education

March 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, United States District Judge


Plaintiff Stanley Gaddy brought this pro se action seeking, inter alia, review of the defendant United States Department of Education's administrative garnishment of his wages to satisfy an outstanding student loan. Defendant moves to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

I. Background

On August 7, 1972, plaintiff signed a promissory note for three federal Stafford educational loans totaling $2,150. (Decl. of Alberto Francisco, Senior Loan Analyst, in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss ("Decl.")Ex. 1, at 1.) The interest rate for these loans varied between 7% and 7.5%. (Id.) In December 1973, plaintiff defaulted on his loan repayments with $1,669.72 still remaining in outstanding principal. (Id. at 2; see also id. Ex. 4, at 2.) On or about October 25, 1993, defendant took assignment of these loans from their previous guarantor. (Id. at 2.) Following unsuccessful efforts to secure repayment from plaintiff, defendant brought an action against him in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York ("E.D.N.Y."). See generally United States v. Gaddy, No. 98-CV-4048 (DGT)(JLC) (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 9, 1999). The case was dismissed without prejudice for failure to prosecute on November 9, 1999; the record does not indicate the reason behind this failure. Id.

On December 11, 2007, defendant began a new attempt to collect the debt owed by plaintiff, this time via administrative wage garnishment pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1095a.*fn1 Plaintiff was notified of his right to a hearing in order to contest this action. (See generally Decl. Ex. 5.) His response was to send defendant a copy of the 1999 order dismissing defendant's previous action from the E.D.N.Y. (See Decl. Ex. 4, at 5--8.) On January 17, 2008, after confirming that plaintiff was employed and making over $10,000 per year, a Hearing Official for the U.S. Department of Education's Borrower Services rendered an administrative decision that plaintiff's wages were subject to 15% garnishment until his debt was satisfied.*fn2 Pursuant to this decision, defendant began garnishing 15% of plaintiff's disposable pay on March 24, 2008. (Decl. at 4.) The record does not indicate the balance of plaintiff's outstanding debt as of the date of this Order.

On February 7, 2008, plaintiff filed this action pro se, and was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis on February 22, 2008.*fn3 Liberally construed, plaintiff's hand-written complaint requested appointment of counsel and review of defendant's administrative garnishment of his wages. (See Compl. at 1.) Plaintiff also complained about the "excessive interest rates" applied to his loans, although he did not specify the relief sought for this alleged harm. (Id.) On August 22, 2008, defendant moved to dismiss the action, or, alternatively, for summary judgment, on the grounds that the administrative decision to garnish plaintiff's wages was "neither arbitrary, capricious, nor an abuse of discretion." (Mot. to Dismiss at 1.)

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standards

A pro se complaint should be held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980). Furthermore, such complaints should be interpreted to "raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Pabon v. Wright, 459 F.3d 241, 248 (2d Cir. 2006). A district court must nevertheless dismiss an in forma pauperis action when it fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) (1996).

When material outside the complaint is "presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment . . . and all parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(d). For the purposes of this rule, the complaint is deemed to include writings and documents attached to it, referenced in it, or integral to it. See Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152--53 (2d Cir. 2002); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 10(c). A document is "integral" to the complaint if "the complaint relies heavily upon its terms and effects." Chambers, 282 F.3d at 153 (citation omitted). "[A] plaintiff's reliance on the terms and effect of a document in drafting the complaint is a necessary prerequisite to the court's consideration of the document on a dismissal motion; mere notice or possession is not enough." Id. Here, the court's analysis turns heavily on the administrative record submitted by defendant. As such, the motion is treated as one for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).

Summary judgment is appropriate "where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, but "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). In order to defeat a summary judgment motion, the non-moving party carries only "a limited burden of production," but "must demonstrate more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, and come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Powell v. Nat'l Bd. of Med. Exam'rs, 364 F.3d 79, 84 (2d Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Those specific facts must be more than "conclusory statements, conjecture, or speculation." Opals on Ice Lingerie v. Body Lines, Inc., 320 F.3d 362, 370 n.3 (2d Cir. 2003). The court must weigh the evidence presented by the non-moving party before allowing that evidence to be used to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). Evidence presented by the non-moving party that is "blatantly contradicted by the record" should not be accepted by the court for purposes of defeating a motion for summary judgment. Id. at380.

B. Plaintiff's Request for Counsel

"While a court may request counsel for an indigent litigant in civil cases, it cannot appoint counsel." Avent v. Solfaro, 223 F.R.D. 184, 186 (S.D.N.Y. 2004); see also 28 U.S.C.A. § 1915(e)(1) (1996). The court has "broad discretion" in ruling on motions of this nature. Hodge v. Police Officers, 802 F.2d 58, 60 (2d Cir. 1986). In exercising this discretion, a court should be mindful that requests for civil counsel "are not to be granted routinely, because 'every assignment of a volunteer lawyer to an undeserving client deprives society of a volunteer lawyer available for a deserving cause.'" Barnes v. Nuttail, 2009 WL 87207, at *1 (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 9, 2009) (quoting Cooper v. A. Sargenti Co., Inc., 877 F.2d 170, 172 (2d Cir. 1989)). The threshold determination is "whether the litigant is able to afford or otherwise obtain counsel." Terminate Control Corp. v. Horowitz, 28 F.3d 1335, 1341 (2d Cir. 1994). Assuming the litigant is indigent, a court should then: consider the indigent's ability to investigate the crucial facts, whether conflicting evidence implicating the ...

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