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Edward M. Seamans v. Temple University

October 25, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dalzell, J.


Plaintiff Edward M. Seamans ("Seamans") sues defendant Temple University ("Temple") for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1681s-2(b). Temple filed a motion for summary judgment. As Temple's motion requires the little construed intersection of the Higher Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., with the FCRA, we necessarily must write at some length.

I. Factual Background

The parties do not dispute that in 1989 Seamans received a $1,180.00 Perkins student loan from Temple. Stip. Facts (docket entry # 13) ¶ 1. Seamans stopped attending Temple, Stip. Facts ¶ 2, and his first Perkins loan payment was due on January 20, 1992, with a payment schedule of fourteen quarterly payments of $90.00 and one final quarterly payment of $40.71. Stip. Facts ¶¶ 3-4. Seamans did not make any payment on January 20, 1992. Stip. Facts ¶ 5.

In or about 2010, Seamans applied for financial aid from Drexel University, and Drexel told him it would not provide him with such aid until he paid the balance of his Perkins loan to Temple. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. ("Def.'s MSJ") (docket entry # 14) Undisputed Material Facts ("UMF") ¶ 8; Pl.'s Resp. (docket entry # 16) ¶ 8. On April 28, 2011, Seamans paid his Perkins loan in full to Temple. Stip Facts ¶ 6. The loan was thus outstanding and unpaid for over twenty years.

On May 17 and May 20, 2011, Seamans disputed with TransUnion the reporting of the Temple Perkins loan on his credit file. TransUnion notified Temple of the dispute. Stip. Facts ¶¶ 7-8. He wrote:

Loan defaulted 1992. Temple didn't report in a decade, and charged off long ago. I paid Temple on 4/30, they retroactively reported years of 120d late payments, but it had been co'd. Nothing from Temple was on my report until I fully paid to close account. Why does report show two years of late payments?

May 17, 2011 TransUnion Dispute, Def.'s MSJ, Ex. 10. In responding to the May 17 and May 20 disputes, Temple verified the information it was reporting about the Perkins loan, Stip. Facts ¶ 9, and it did not modify that information.

Temple reported that "(a) Plaintiff had been over 180 days late for at least twenty-four (24) months prior to the time the Perkins loan was paid in full; (b) the Account Status was reporting as 'Current; Paid or Paying as Agreed;' (c) the Balance was reporting as '$0;' (d) the High Balance was reporting as '$1180;' (e) the Terms was reporting as '120 Monthly $30;' (f) the Date Open was reporting as '10/1991;' and (g) the Date Closed was reporting as '04/2011.'" Def.'s Mot. UMF ¶ 16 (citing Ex. 6, Deposition of David Glezerman dated April 12, 2012 at 113:15-117:5, 123:11-124:9; Ex. 14, Deposition of Jane Sana dated April 30, 2012 at 23:2-29:3, 29:23-36:1, 41:3-41:21, 43:23-47:6, 49:15-58:18, 60:8-70:5; Ex. 15, Deposition of Shelly Hawkins dated April 19, 2012 at 17:5-18:12, 23:23-29:6; and Ex. 16, Plaintiff's Consumer Report dated May 21, 2011).

Seamans does not challenge the veracity of Temple's response. Instead, he avers that Temple failed to report the date of first delinquency for the loan and Temple does not in its motion for summary judgment or in its reply to Seamans's response dispute that contention.

On August 1, 2011, Seamans wrote TransUnion to dispute the reporting of the Temple University Perkins loan on his credit file. Stip. Facts ¶ 11. Seamans wrote:

In 1989 I received a Perkins Loan while attending Temple University. I defaulted on the loan and the loan went to collection. No activity occurred on the account for some time, and the account eventually came off my credit reports for all three of the reporting agencies. I recently began attending school again at Drexel University, and in order to qualify for financial aid, I had to settle the Perkins loan default. I walked into Temple's billing department and paid $2009 dollars on the spot, receiving a letter on Temple University letterhead that the debt was settled. Temple went on to retroactively report two years worth of 120-day late payments to the credit reporting agencies. It is important to note than [sic] there was no reporting on this account to the credit bureaus for many years, and then suddenly after the debt was paid, Temple reported two years worth of later payments all at once.

I previously disputed this online, and received a letter stating that the creditor has reviewed the account and wishes to make no further adjustments to my credit record.

To put it plainly, I want the Temple University account removed from my credit report. The account is closed, and well beyond the time limit imposed for the reporting of derogatory credit information. Therefore, it should not appear on my credit reports now. I have been a good consumer for years now, and the Temple reporting instantly negatively impacted my Trans Union score by approximately 80 points.

Def.'s MSJ UMF ¶ 20; Pl.'s Resp. Counter-Statement of Material Facts ("CSMF") ¶ 10.

TransUnion informed Temple of the complaint. Stip. Facts ¶ 12. In response to that complaint, Temple modified Seamans's account status from "current" to "closed". It also changed the payment rating from nothing to "6", and the MOP code from "01" to "05". Temple further changed the Remarks Code from nothing to "CLOSED", the date of Account Information from "04-01-2011" to "08-08-2011", the Date Closed from "04-01-2011" to "04-30-2011", and the date of last payment from nothing to "04-28-2011." Def.'s Mot. 6 (citing Stipulated Facts at ¶ 14; Ex. 6 at 113:15-117:5, 123:11-124:9, Ex. 14 at 23:2-29:3, 29:23-36:1, 41:3-41:21, 43;23-47:6, 49:15-58:18, 60:8-70:5; Ex. 15 at 17:5-18:12, 23:23-29:6, Ex. 20). See also Stip. Facts ¶ 14. On or about August 1, 2011, Seamans also lodged much the same dispute with Equifax, who informed Temple of the dispute. Stip. Facts

¶16-17. In response to the Equifax dispute, Temple modified the Account Status, Remarks Code, Date Verified, and Date Closed. Stip. Facts ¶ 18.

Again, Seamans does not challenge the accuracy of Temple's statements. He again notes, and Temple does not in its motion for summary judgment or reply contest, that Temple continued to fail to report the date of first delinquency, failed to report that the account was disputed, and failed to include a payment rating that would have advised the credit reporting agencies that the account was in collection.

The parties disagree on the timing of Temple's reporting of the defaulted 1989 Perkins loan to TransUnion and Equifax. Temple maintains that it reported the debt consistently to the three consumer reporting agencies from when it arose until Seamans at last paid it over two decades after receiving Temple's loan. Def.'s MSJ 16. Temple points in support to the deposition testimony of one of its representatives. In his deposition, David R. Glezerman, Temple University's Assistant Vice- President/Bursar, testified:

Q: Does Temple have its own set of procedures for how information should be reported to credit reporting agencies?

A: Again, in accordance with the Higher Education Act and the accompanying regulations, that we report on a monthly basis to three credit reporting agencies.

Def.'s MSJ, Exh. 6, 80:5-11.

Seamans contends that "Temple began reporting the account at issue to the CRAs Experian, Equifax and TransUnion on or after April 28, 2011." Pl.'s Resp. to Temple's Statement of UMF ¶ 10.

This factual dispute, however, is not relevant to our determination of liability because Seamans does not argue that Temple's compliance with § 1681s-2(b) depended on the date on which Temple reported the information, but instead depended on the nature of the information Temple reported:

Plaintiff is not disputing the fact that Temple was not reporting the account until after Plaintiff's [sic] paid off the loan. Plaintiff disputes [sic] clearly reflect that Plaintiff believed the account was far too old to be reporting any longer on his credit report, which speaks directly to the fact that Temple was misreporting the account status, date of first delinquency and payment history, which would have otherwise alerted the CRAs that the account should be aged off of Plaintiff's credit reports.

Pl.'s Resp. at 22. Because the only issue on which Seamans and Temple have a factual dispute --- the date on which Temple reported the trade line (that is, the description of the account) -- is not relevant to a determination of liability, the only remaining disputes are legal in nature, and the case is therefore ripe for summary judgment disposition.

II. Analysis

A. Introduction

As noted, Seamans sues under the FCRA, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1681x. The FCRA imposes an obligation to investigate on those who furnish information to credit reporting agencies ("furnishers") that gives rise to a private right of action under § 1681s-2(b). It also provides for civil liability through two provisions -- §§ 1681n and 1681o -- the former imposing civil liability for willful noncompliance and the latter for liability for negligence. In evaluating Temple's motion for summary judgment, we will draw all reasonable inferences in favor of Seamans as the nonmoving party, and summary judgment will be appropriate only if he has failed to sustain an element of a claim of either a negligent or willful violation of FCRA § 1681s-2(b).

Seamans claims that Temple violated § 1681s-2(b) by erroneously reporting the account status code, the date of first delinquency, and the payment history profile for his account. Pl.'s Resp. CSMF ¶ 13. Seamans further challenges the reasonableness of the procedures Temple used to investigate the dispute, Pl.'s Resp. 16. Finally, he argues that Temple is liable under § 1681s-2(b) for failing to mark the account as disputed. Pl.'s Resp., CSMF ¶ 33. Seamans alleges that as a result of Temple's actions the trade line remained on his account after it should have aged off, negatively affecting his credit score. Pl.'s Resp., CSMF ¶ 35.

As we discuss below, the HEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., applied to the loan, and because the HEA modifies the statute of limitations established in the FCRA for reporting delinquent accounts, Temple properly continued to report the Perkins loan. If the trade line should have been removed under § 1087cc(c)(3), it was the obligation of the consumer reporting agencies, and not of Temple, to remove it. Seamans has failed to show a causal link between Temple's conduct and his claimed injury, and he has therefore failed to sustain a claim for a negligent violation of the FCRA. Furthermore, ...

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