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Johnson v. Trans Union LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

March 22, 2018

MATTHEW JOHNSON
v.
TRANS UNION, LLC and DEFENSE FINANCE AND ACCOUNTING SERVICE

          HORNSBY MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          ELIZABETH ERNY FOOTE UNITED UNITED DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a motion to dismiss, filed by Defendant Defense Finance and Accounting Service ("DFAS"). See Record Document 21. Arguing a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, DFAS seeks dismissal of Matthew Johnson's ("Johnson") claims against it pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Johnson has filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss, Record Document 23, to which DFAS has replied, Record Document 24. For the reasons that follow, DFAS's motion to dismiss shall be DENIED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         According to Johnson's complaint, he was a member of the Texas National Guard in 2007. He was scheduled to attend drill in August 2007. The August drill was cancelled, and Johnson attended drill in November 2007 instead. DFAS, a federal agency, paid Johnson for the August drill he did not attend, but did not pay him for the November drill that he did attend. Therefore, Johnson was ultimately paid the correct amount for the number of drills he attended.

         In 2014, Johnson received a letter from DFAS seeking reimbursement of the payment for the August 2007 drill he did not attend. Johnson has repeatedly sought to explain the circumstances to DFAS, that is, that he was not overpaid at all. Nonetheless, DFAS reported the debt to Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax, all of which are credit reporting agencies. The debt was noted as a "derogatory, charged off debt." In October 2015, Johnson disputed Trans Union's inclusion of the debt on his credit report, thus requiring Trans Union to perform a reasonable investigation of the dispute under the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. Johnson then brought suit under the FCRA, alleging that both Trans Union and DFAS violated multiple provisions of that Act which require reasonable investigations be conducted into both the debt and the dispute. As a result of the alleged failure to comply with the FCRA, coupled with the fact that the debt has remained on his credit report, Johnson seeks damages under the FCRA.

         DFAS, a federal government agency within the Department of Defense, filed the instant motion to dismiss, arguing that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Johnson's claims because the United States has not waived sovereign immunity for FCRA claims. The Court disagrees.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         I. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure l2(b)(1).

         Motions filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) allow a party to challenge the subject matter jurisdiction of the district court to hear a case. "Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be found in any one of three instances: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001). The burden of proof for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss is on the party asserting jurisdiction. See Id. In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, "the district court is empowered to consider matters of fact which may be in dispute." Id. "Ultimately, a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction should be granted only if it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle plaintiff to relief." Id.

         "A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case." Home Builders Ass'n, Inc. v. City of Madison, Miss., 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998) (quoting Nowak v. Ironworkers Local 6 Pension Fund, 81 F.3d 1182, 1187 (2d Cir. 1996)). If sovereign immunity is not expressly waived under the FCRA, this Court is deprived of subject matter jurisdiction over Johnson's claims against DFAS. See Waastaff v. U.S. Dep't of Educ, 509 F.3d 661, 664 (5th Cir. 2007) (holding that the absence of a waiver of sovereign immunity is a jurisdictional defect).

         II. Sovereign Immunity.

         "In order to hale the federal government into a court proceeding, a plaintiff must show that there has been a valid waiver of sovereign immunity." Id. (quoting Lewis v. Hunt, 492 F.3d 565, 570 (5th Cir. 2007)). "Sovereign immunity shields the United States from suit absent a consent to be sued that is 'unequivocally expressed.'" United States v. Bormes, 568 U.S. 6, 9-10 (2012) (quoting United States v. Nordic Village, Inc., 503 U.S. 30, 33-34 (1992)). A waiver of sovereign immunity will not be implied; rather, it must be unequivocally expressed in statutory text. Waastaff, 509 F.3d at 664. A waiver is ...


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