A U.S. district court has dismissed a class-action lawsuit filed in February 2014 against the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) by student loan debtor Neil Silver. 

Silver received auto-dialed collection calls from PHEAA in January 2014. He filed a lawsuit a month later, claiming the calls were made without his consent and therefore violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. He sought class-action status to represent other debtors called by an automatic dialing system in the 2010-2014 timeframe.

More than a year after the lawsuit was filed, Congress passed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 2016, which amended the TCPA to provide an exemption for calls made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States. That led PHEAA, arguing the amended law barred Silver’s claim, to file a motion for summary judgment. 

Silver countered that it would be an unfair retroactive application of a statute but the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California rejected Silver’s argument.

The decision means the case can be used as an authority in other TCPA cases filed against a U.S.-backed student loan collection agency. Also, while Congress has directed the Federal Communications Commission to issue regulations regarding the new statute, the Silver case makes clear that the statute applies now even though the FCC regulations have yet to be issued.

The court, in deciding the case and whether Silver’s claim was barred, determined that the TCPA amendment did not increase anyone’s liability for past conduct, but actually decreased it. Rather than imposing new duties on completed transactions, it eliminated some duties. 

Silver claimed that the amendment impaired his right to bring the lawsuit but the court determined that it is not a sufficient basis to bar retroactive application of the statute. 

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