Sweet v. DeVos

Information for Class Members

To learn if you are a member of the class, and to find out more information for class members, click the link below.

Overview

Who Is Involved In This Case?

Named Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit in June 2019 on behalf of themselves and all other former students whose claims for loan cancellation have stalled. Immediately after filing the lawsuit, the students asked the court to let them represent all the students, with a motion for class certification. The motion included more than 900 affidavits from students describing the harm that the Department’s inaction has caused – with 96% saying their lives were worse than before they attended school. In October 2019, the court certified the class of over 200,000 borrowers with pending claims.

What Is This Case About?

Over the past several decades, millions of students borrowed federal student loans to attend various for-profit colleges, including ITT Technical Institute, Corinthian Colleges, the Art Institutes, Salter College, Brooks Institute of Photography, and more. The schools falsely promised students high-paying jobs, state-of-the-art vocational training, and long and fulfilling careers.

Between 2015 and 2019, over 200,000 of these former students have asserted their right under federal law to discharge their federal student loans due to their schools’ misconduct. As it was legally obligated to do, the Department of Education started to adjudicate these borrower defenses, approving nearly 28,000 borrower defenses in the six-month period before January 20, 2017.

Then, under Secretary DeVos, the Department of Education halted all processing of borrower defense claims, refused to adjudicate any borrower defense from any student for well over a year, and ordered the office of Federal Student Aid to stop processing borrower defense applications. As of 2019, more than 200,000 students had a borrower defense pending, many of them have been unresolved for over four years.

The Department of Education’s decision to keep these students in limbo has further destroyed students’ credit and limited their access to federal student aid. For students who have defaulted on their loans, the Department of Education has invoked its extraordinary powers to garnish their wages or seize their tax refunds (for many, their Earned Income Tax Credit).

With this lawsuit, the plaintiffs are demanding that the Department do its job and start adjudicating their borrower defenses immediately.

 

Where and When Was This Case Filed?

This case was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in the San Francisco Bay Area on Tuesday, June 25, 2019.

 

“This has put my whole life on hold. I can’t sign for home, a car, anything because I don’t know what’s going to happen to this debt. It’s extremely stressful and impacts my whole family. It’s beyond disappointing. The Department of Education did nothing to stop these schools from doing this in the first place and now they are ignoring those of us who were cheated on their watch."

Jessica Jacobson, former NEIA student

"Students defrauded by for-profit colleges should not face financial ruin armed with only a hollow degree blessed by a passive Education Department. If Secretary DeVos believes there’s no urgency in granting these students the relief they are entitled to, then our legal system must fill the void. Every single day that this financial burden rests on students’ shoulders is another day of justice deferred."

Congressman Joe Kennedy III

Why this case?

The law is clear: students who experienced fraud should not be required to pay back federal loans that should never have been made by the Department in the first place. Since Betsy DeVos continues to ignore these students’ legal rights, the only way they can have their voices heard is through the courts.

This lawsuit builds on past legal efforts to hold the Department of Education accountable and stand up for students through court action, which has become one of the only ways for defrauded students to assert their rights. In the case of Williams v. King, students fought back against having their tax refunds stolen by the Department of Education, and won. In the case of Calvillo Manriquez v. DeVos, students preliminarily stopped the Department from limiting the relief it provided to students who it had already decided were entitled to full relief. And in Bauer v. DeVos, a judge forced the Department  of Education to implement the 2016 Borrower Defense rule. In August 2019, Secretary DeVos issued a new borrower defense rule imposing near-impossible standards for student borrowers. in February 2020, the Project challenged the new rule in court. 

Supporting Statements

To read statements in support of our case, click below.

Student Testimony

To read testimony submitted by defrauded former for-profit college students, click below.

Case Updates

Student Borrowers Ask Court to Allow Deposition of Betsy DeVos on Borrower Defense | Press Release

Student borrowers today moved to depose former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in the class action lawsuit Sweet v. DeVos. The borrowers want DeVos to explain the reasoning for delays in processing the borrower defense claims.

2020: The Year Students Were Heard | Blog

2020 has been a year like no other. Despite the pandemic, we’re closing out the year with significant wins for defrauded student borrowers and optimism for our clients under a new Biden-Harris administration. Here’s a recap of our progress over the last year, as we look forward to 2021.   Student borrowers spoke out and…

Judge Orders That Department of Education Cannot Resume Issuing Borrower Defense Denials Without Notifying Court and Borrowers | Press Release

A federal judge has ordered Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the U.S Department of Education to notify the court two weeks before it denies any more borrower defense claims from student loan borrowers cheated by their school.

Case Documents

Order Denying Settlement & For Discovery

The court denied the settlement and ordered discovery on the Department of Education’s explanations of its process for deciding claims, and will consider enjoining the use of the form denial notices.

Joint Motion for Preliminary Settlement Approval

Both parties filed a motion for preliminary approval of a settlement agreement.

Order Granting Sweet Class Certification

Order Granting Motion For Class Certification

Coverage

Judge: By Resigning, DeVos Opens Door to Deposition on Student Debt Relief | Courthouse News Service

As a cabinet official, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was virtually immune to demands that she be grilled about long delays and mass denials of student debt relief claims in a pending lawsuit. When she resigned from office last week, that changed.

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In Victory For Borrowers, DeVos Agrees To Stop Issuing Mass Denials Of Loan Forgiveness Applications | Forbes

Student loan borrowers scored a victory in court this week against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, as litigation continues over mass denials of student loan forgiveness applications. The case, Sweet v. DeVos, concerns the troubled Borrower Defense to Repayment program.

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Four Years of the Trump Administration in Court. One Word Stuck in My Head. | The New York Times

During four years struggling to keep up with the flood of court cases challenging the refusal by various Trump administration officials to follow the law, a word ​has come to mind so often that I can’t shake it. It’s the word “mean.​” There’s a meanness to the ​man and to the policies issued from the sycophantic bubble that passes for his administration.

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