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Parchman v. SLM Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

July 20, 2018

Jeffrey Parchman and Nancy Carlin, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
SLM Corporation; Navient Corporation; Navient Solutions, Inc.; Sallie Mae Bank, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: March 16, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis. No. 2:15-cv-02819-John Thomas Fowlkes, Jr., District Judge.

         COUNSEL

         ARGUED:

          Benjamin J. Miller, THE HIGGINS FIRM, PLLC, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellants.

          Lisa M. Simonetti, VEDDER PRICE (CA), LLP, Los Angeles, California, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Benjamin J. Miller, THE HIGGINS FIRM, PLLC, Nashville, Tennessee, James A. Dunlap Jr., JAMES A. DUNLAP JR. & ASSOCIATES LLC, Atlanta, Georgia, for Appellants.

          Lisa M. Simonetti, VEDDER PRICE (CA), LLP, Los Angeles, California, Bryan K. Clark, VEDDER PRICE P.C., Chicago, Illinois, Odell Horton, Jr., WYATT TARRANT & COMBS, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellees.

          Before: BOGGS, CLAY, and LARSEN, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          CLAY, Circuit Judge.

          Plaintiffs Jeffrey Parchman ("Parchman") and Nancy Carlin ("Carlin"), individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, sued Defendants SLM Corporation ("SLM"), Navient Corporation ("Navient"), Navient Solutions Inc. f/k/a Sallie Mae, Inc. ("NSI"), and Sallie Mae Bank ("SMB") for negligent and knowing/willful violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA"), 47 U.S.C. § 227. Plaintiffs appeal from the judgment entered by the district court granting NSI's motion to sever and to dismiss, and denying Plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM in part and REVERSE in part the judgment of the district court and REMAND for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of alleged unauthorized autodialed and prerecorded message calls from Defendants to Plaintiffs. Defendants were in the business of servicing student loans. On December 22, 2015, Parchman, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, filed suit against SLM, Navient, and NSI for violating the TCPA. The TCPA prohibits a party from making a call "using any automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice," in the absence of an emergency or consent. 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A). On March 30, 2016, Parchman amended his complaint to add Carlin as a plaintiff and SMB as a defendant.[1]

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendants "negligently, knowingly and/or willfully contact[ed] Plaintiffs on Plaintiffs' cellular telephones without their prior express consent within the meaning of the [TCPA]." (R. 27, Amended Complaint, PageID # 97.) With regard to Parchman, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants repeatedly contacted him, even though he never gave them his cell phone number, never owed any debt to any of the Defendants, and told them to stop calling him. With regard to Carlin, Plaintiffs allege that, though Carlin took out a student loan in 2012, Defendants repeatedly contacted her, even after she demanded in writing that they stop calling her, starting on or about October 21, 2014. Plaintiffs brought the action on behalf of all other persons similarly situated. They requested monetary and injunctive relief, attorney's fees and costs, and Rule 23 class certification.

         On May 6, 2016, NSI filed a motion to sever and dismiss Carlin's claims. NSI argued that severing the actions was appropriate because the calls involved different companies and their respective calling practices. NSI argued that dismissal was appropriate because the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over NSI for Carlin's claims.

         On January 13, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a motion to amend the complaint. After Parchman died on May 25, 2016, Plaintiffs sought to amend their complaint to substitute Parchman's daughter for Parchman and to add his mother as a plaintiff.[2] On February 3, 2017, Defendants filed a motion to preclude class certification and in opposition to Plaintiffs' motion to amend. As part of the motion to preclude class certification, Defendants argued that the requisite elements of adequacy of class counsel and adequacy of class representatives were not met.

         On July 18, 2017, the district court granted NSI's motion to sever and dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and denied Plaintiffs' motion to amend. It did not rule on the motion to preclude class certification. The district court granted the motion to sever Carlin's claims because Carlin was not called by the same company that called Parchman. The district court granted the motion to dismiss Carlin's claims against NSI because it lacked personal jurisdiction over those claims. The court denied Plaintiffs' motion to amend, reasoning that TCPA claims do not survive a plaintiff's death, TCPA claims may not be assigned, and Parchman's daughter would not be a proper class representative. Finally, the district court expressed its "deep concerns about Plaintiffs' counsel's performance in this case" based on the delayed reporting of Parchman's death. (R. 91, Order, PageID # 679-78.)

         On August 16, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal. On appeal, Plaintiffs ask that this Court reverse the district court's grant of NSI's motion to sever and dismiss and the denial of Plaintiffs' motion to amend.

         DISCUSSION

         I. NSI's Motion to Sever and Dismiss

         A. Motion to Sever

         Standard of Review

         "We review the severance of joined claims for an abuse of discretion." Payne v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 194 F.3d 1313 (6th Cir. 1999) (unpublished table decision) (citing Michaels Bldg. Co. v. Ameritrust Co., N.A., 848 F.2d 674, 682 (6th Cir. 1988)). "The permissive language of Rule 21 permits the district court broad discretion in determining whether or not actions should be severed." Johnson v. Advanced Bionics, LLC, No. 2:08-CV-02376-JPM, 2011 WL 1323883, at *6 (W.D. Tenn. Apr. 4, 2011) (alteration omitted) (quoting Alvion Properties, Inc. v. Weber, No. 3:08-0866, 2009 WL 3060419, at *8 (M.D. Tenn. Sept. 23, 2009)).

         Analysis

         Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "[t]he court may . . . sever any claim against a party." Courts consider a number of factors when ...


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