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Third Circuit Affirms Dismissal of TCPA Lawsuit Against Student Loan Server Navient

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Phone call from unknown number late at night. Scam, fraud or phishing with smartphone concept. Prank caller, scammer or stranger. Man answering to incoming call. Hoax person with fake identity.

On Tuesday, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion affirming the district court’s dismissal of a case that claimed that student loan server Navient violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA).

According to the opinion, the present litigation commenced when the plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against Navient Solutions, LLC claiming that Navient violated the TCPA by calling their cell phones without their consent using an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS). 

The court states that Navient was the student loan server for the plaintiffs’ relative and both of the plaintiffs and their cell phone numbers were listed on their relative’s loan applications. Their relative eventually became delinquent on his student loans and stopped responding to Navient and in response Navient began calling the plaintiffs’ cell phones. 

The opinion states that Navient used a dialing software to place robo calls to numbers that Navient has stored in a server. The opinion further states that Navient’s server would categorize numbers it stored based on specific attributes such as loan type or stage of delinquency and then send numbers to the software to make calls based on a particular calling campaign. 

The plaintiffs argued that Navient’s dialing software and server was an ATDS under the TCPA because it was capable of producing and calling random phone numbers using a number generator. The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief and statutory damages under section 227(b)(3) of the TCPA as well as an award of attorney’s fees and costs.

However, Navient was granted summary judgment by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania which held that Navient did not use an ATDS because the dialing software alone was not capable of generating and calling random numbers. The plaintiffs timely appealed the district court’s judgment leading to the present opinion. 

In the opinion, Judge Rendell stated that the district court erred by separating the dialing software and server and failing to consider whether Navient’s dialing “equipment” as a whole qualified as an ATDS. However, the court ultimately never decided whether the “equipment” as a whole qualified as an ATDS, but instead held that Navient did not use an ATDS in violation of the TCPA when it called the plaintiffs.

The opinion states that when Navient called the plaintiffs’ cell phone numbers, it pulled them from an internal list that stored the numbers from their relative’s application. Thus, even if the “equipment” is classified as an ATDS, Navient did not use it to call the plaintiffs. Further, the court stated that the plaintiffs failed to identify any evidence that suggests Navient called them in anything but a targeted manner to discuss the delinquent loans. Thus, the court affirmed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to Navient. 

The plaintiffs/appellants are represented by Francis Mailman Soumilas, PC, and Navient is represented by Myers Brier & Kelly LLP and Greenberg Traurig, LLP.

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