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Blackhall v. Access Group

September 22, 2010

VICTORIYA BLACKHALL, INDIVIDUALLY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ACCESS GROUP; THE KENTUCKY HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENT LOAN CORPORATION, (A/K/A "THE STUDENT LOAN PEOPLE"); AND PNC FINANCIAL SERVICES GROUP, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.

AMENDED OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Access Group, The Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation, and PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.'s motions to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). There was no oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motions are GRANTED and Plaintiff's claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Victoriya Blackhall's complaint arises out of loan agreements with Defendants for loans she took out to fund her law school education. Between 1998 and 2001, Plaintiff Blackhall, an New Jersey resident, entered into seven private loans ("the Loans") with Defendant Access Group, Inc. ("Access Group") for her law school education and bar examination. (Compl. ¶ 19.) The Loans had variable interest rates which were adjusted periodically. (Compl. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff asserts that the promissory notes that she signed contained a standard repayment method of amortizing the loans through monthly payments. (Compl. ¶ 24-28.) In 2003, prior to the start of the Repayment Period, plaintiff received a letter ("the March 2003 Letter") from the defendants requesting that she select one of three repayment plans. (Compl. ¶ 29-30.) Plaintiff chose Easy Pay 3 Step, which consists of two years of interest only payments, three years of partial interest-partial principal payments, and finally equal payments of interest and principal for the duration of the loan. (Compl. ¶ 33.)

Plaintiff claims that Defendants instituted a "Frozen Interest Rate Policy" to calculate her monthly payments. (Compl. ¶ 37.) Using the variable rate on the first day of the payment period, Defendants calculated the monthly payments for the duration of the two to three year payment period. (Compl. ¶ 36-40.) Defendants, however, still made quarterly adjustments to the actual interest charged on the Loans. Id. This policy was used to calculate Plaintiff's payments for both the interest only period and partial interest-partial principal period. (Compl. ¶ 37, 35.)

As a result of this policy, Plaintiff made the same monthly payments for the duration of each payment period despite multiple upward adjustments to the actual interest rate. (Compl. ¶ 45.) This caused Plaintiff to incur almost $10,000 in unpaid interest. Id. Plaintiff asserts that she received no notice or disclosure about the payment plan or the interest rates. (Compl. ¶ 41.)

In May 2008, after the beginning of the Final Payment Period, Plaintiff received a letter ("the May 2008 Letter") notifying her that her loans had been reevaluated and her payments would be increased as a result of her balance of unpaid interest. (Compl. ¶ 49-50.) Plaintiff contends that it was not until receipt of the May 2008 Letter that she became aware of her balance of unpaid interest, contacted the defendants and subsequently filed this suit. (Compl. ¶ 60.) Defendants Access Group, PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. ("PNC"), and Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation ("KHESLC") then filed motions to dismiss.*fn1

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated, Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005), and dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the complaint as true,*fn2 the plaintiff has failed to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see also Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). The factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiff's right to relief above a speculative level, see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, such that the court may "draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Furthermore, the Plaintiff must "provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief,'" which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement' ... it asks for more than a sheer possibility..." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (2009).

In considering a motion to dismiss, the court generally relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may also consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] document[s]." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir.1993). Moreover, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Coll. Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's ten-count complaint asserts the following causes of action: (1) violation of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA); (2) violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA); (3) Breach of Contract for placing Plaintiff in a different repayment plan; (4) Breach of Contract for failing to administer Plaintiff's loans consistent with the new repayment plan; (5) violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act; (6) Conversion; (7) Unjust Enrichment; (8) Fraud; (9) Civil Conspiracy; and (10) Punitive Damages. Plaintiff concedes that her FDCPA claim may be dismissed as she cannot show that Defendants are "debt collectors" as defined under the statute. All other claims are dismissed for the reasons set forth below.

A. Choice of Law

The original promissory notes for the Loans include a provision stating that Ohio law governs the provisions of the loan agreement. (Compl., Ex. B ยง N.4.) Plaintiff argues that the original promissory notes are no longer in force, rendering the Ohio law provision inapplicable. She instead requests that New Jersey law be applied since she is currently a New Jersey resident. However, since the underlying issues have no ties to New Jersey and Plaintiff's residency at all ...


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