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 Was This Case Filed?

The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

When Was This Case Filed?

This case was filed on Tuesday, June 25, 2019.

 

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.

“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

Case Updates

In New Ruling, Judge Denies Borrower Defense Settlement Over Department of Education’s “Perfunctory, Alarmingly-Curt Denials” | Press Release

A federal court issued a new ruling in the borrower defense case Sweet v. DeVos that shuts down a proposed settlement, raises the possibility of an injunction against the Department’s blanket borrower defense denials, and takes the unusual step of allowing plaintiffs to take depositions of officials from the Department of Education.

Student Borrowers Speak Out in Unprecedented 500-Person Court Hearing on Borrower Defense | Blog

During a time when people have been more isolated than ever, student borrowers came together from across the country, gathering on Zoom for a remote hearing. They were there to share their views with the court about the proposed settlement in the borrower defense class action lawsuit, Sweet v. DeVos, in which the Department of Education agreed to decide on the more than 100,000 pending borrower defense applications within 18 months.

Student Borrowers to Judge: Department of Education Can’t be Trusted to Process Borrower Defense Claims Fairly | Press Release

A federal judge today heard from student borrowers at a fairness hearing on the proposed settlement between students and the United States Department of Education that forces the Department to process all pending borrower defense claims.

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

On April 10, 2020, both parties filed a motion for preliminary approval of a settlement agreement.

Order Granting Sweet Class Certification

Order Granting Motion For Class Certification

Coverage

Scammed Student-Loan Borrowers Accuse Betsy DeVos of Illegally Stalling on Debt-Cancellation Claims | MarketWatch

After working as a bartender for years, Alicia Davis decided in 2006 that she wanted to take steps towards starting a career in law enforcement by getting her bachelor’s degree. It’s a decision that’s haunted her ever since. Davis, now 36, enrolled in the online criminal justice program at Florida Metropolitan University.

Read More

Education Dept. Left Social Security Numbers of Thousands of Borrowers Exposed for Months | Washington Post

The Education Department left the Social Security numbers of tens of thousands of people seeking student debt relief unprotected and susceptible to a data breach for at least six months, according to people familiar with the matter. Angela Morabito, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, acknowledged the error but called it “nonevent.” The data was “was on the department’s secure, internal server, and there is no indication anyone outside the department could have had access to it,” she said. “There is also no indication anyone inside the department handled this file improperly.”

Read More

People are Suing Betsy DeVos Over Student Loans they Say Should Have Been Forgiven | Fast Company

A group of former for-profit college students filed a potential class action against the Department of Education and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Tuesday, saying they and nearly 160,000 others are waiting on the department to rule on whether they should have federal loans forgiven due to “their school’s misconduct.”

Read More