SW Legal studies in Business

Sovereign Immunity Must Be Clearly Waived
Description

Appeals court held that sovereign immunity must be clearly waived by the government for there to be a right to sue. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does not discuss waiver of immunity, so there is no right to sue a government agency for alleged violation of the Act.

Topic Court Procedure
Key Words

Sovereign Immunity; Jurisdiction; Fair Debt Collection Practices Act; Student Loans

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Wagstaff took out student loans while in college. She graduated in 1993 and has been employed since, but she never made any payments on her loans, which were guaranteed by the Department of Education (DoE). Because she was in default on the loans, DoE had to pay the lenders. It then began to attempt to collect the debt from Wagstaff, who challenged the validity of the loans and filed other procedural blocks. After those were rejected by the court, DoE moved to garnish Wagstaff’s wages. She then sued DoE claiming it violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The trial court dismissed the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Wagstaff appealed.

Decision

Affirmed. In order to sue the federal government, a plaintiff must show that there has been a waiver of sovereign immunity. That waiver must be clearly expressed in the text of the relevant statute, here the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. It will not be implied by the courts. Since the Act contained no discussion of such an immunity waiver, the government, the DoE, is immune from suit. That means the court does not have subject matter jurisdiction and must dismiss the suit.

Citation

Wagstaff v. U.S. Dept. of Education, 509 F.3d 661 (5th Cir., 2007)

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