Sweet v. Cardona

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.

The Latest

On June 22, 2022, the parties in this case filed a proposed settlement agreement with the court. The court will hold a hearing on whether to grant preliminary approval to that settlement on July 28, 2022. If preliminary approval is granted, the Department of Education will send individual notice to all class members with additional information. Class members will have an opportunity to comment on the agreement.

The proposed settlement sets out procedures for resolving the borrower defense applications of everyone who had an application pending as of June 22, 2022. In short, class members who took out loans for attendance at certain schools will automatically receive loan discharge, refunds, and credit report adjustments. Class members who attended other schools will receive decisions on their borrower defense applications within a set timeline, depending on how long their applications have been pending. The Department will rescind all of the denial notices it issued between December 2019 and October 2020. For more details, please see the settlement FAQs here.


Who Is Involved In This Case?

Named Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit in June 2019 on behalf of themselves and all other federal student loan borrowers whose claims for loan cancellation (“Borrower Defense applications”) had been ignored by the Department of Education. Immediately after filing the lawsuit, the students asked the court to let them represent all borrowers in the same situation, with a motion for class certification. The motion included more than 900 affidavits from students describing the harm that the Department’s inaction had 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.

Starting in December 2019, the Department began issuing form denial notices to tens of thousands of borrowers who had applied for loan cancellation. These notices did not contain any real information about why the applications had been denied. In March 2021, Plaintiffs supplemented their complaint to add a claim on behalf of all borrowers who had received form denial notices. In June 2022, the parties filed a joint proposed settlement agreement with the court. A hearing on the preliminary settlement agreement will be held on July 28, 2022.


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, and parents who borrowed on their children’s behalf, 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 and refused to adjudicate any borrower defense from any student. As of 2019, more than 200,000 students had a borrower defense application pending. Many of them had been unresolved for nearly four years.

The Department of Education’s decision to keep these students in limbo further destroyed students’ credit and limited their access to federal student aid. For students who defaulted on their loans, the Department of Education 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 demanded that the Department do its job and start adjudicating their borrower defenses immediately.

After the first proposed settlement agreement was filed in spring of 2020, the Department of Education sent out tens of thousands of blanket denials of borrower defense claims. Many of these form letters denied relief due to a “lack of evidence,” despite the extensive evidence submitted, even in cases where other government enforcement agencies had found fraud. After a historic hearing held on Zoom and attended by over 500 student borrowers in fall of 2020, the judge found the Department of Education was not acting in good faith by sending out blanket denials and rejected the proposed settlement.

The judge also ordered discovery, allowing lawyers for the student borrowers in this case to obtain documents and to depose officials at the Department of Education. A review of these documents and depositions revealed alarming evidence that the U.S. Department of Education created a sham process designed to deny borrowers debt relief regardless of evidence. In March 2021, student borrowers filed a supplemental complaint citing this new evidence and challenging the blanket denials.

In spring 2022, the court ordered the parties to proceed to summary judgment (a process to decide the case based on existing evidence). Plaintiffs filed their brief  in support of summary judgment on June 9, 2022. Shortly thereafter, on June 22, 2022, the parties filed a proposed settlement agreement. The court will hold a hearing on whether to grant preliminary approval to that settlement on July 28, 2022. If preliminary approval is granted, the Department of Education will send individual notice to all class members, and class members will have an opportunity to comment on the agreement. Following the comment period, the court will hold a fairness hearing to decide whether to give final approval to the settlement. More information about that hearing will be posted here when it is available.

The proposed settlement sets out procedures for resolving the borrower defense applications of everyone who had an application pending as of June 22, 2022. Full details about the proposed settlement are available in the settlement FAQs here.


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.

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 repeatedly ignored these students’ legal rights, the only way they could have their voices heard was through the courts. The students in this case continue to press the current administration to recognize their established rights.

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. 

"I believe the work that is being done by the Project on Predatory Student Lending has helped bring light to a very dark corner of our education system. On a more personal level, the Project has given me the courage to speak about this issue. There can be a lot of fear and shame associated with being victims of education fraud. But the Project’s work has helped show me, and millions of other students who were cheated, that there is nothing to be ashamed of and that if we speak up and stand together we can make a difference."

- Theresa Sweet, the lead plaintiff in Sweet v. Cardona

"I would want [the Department of Education] to understand that we were promised the world and were handed dirt. I wanted to be a productive member of society. I wanted a 401(k), I wanted a career. Instead, I got a bogus degree and a bunch of debt. I was trying to lift myself up by the bootstrap, but I got cement shoes instead, and I’ve been drowning ever since. It’s not fair. I’m not the only person dealing with this issue. There are so many of us out there, and I don’t know how that’s not enough to make people realize that something needs to be done."

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

My Journey to Sweet Relief: “Know Your Rights, and Never Stop Fighting for Them.” | Blog

As the named plaintiff in Sweet v. Cardona, Theresa Sweet has been in the fight for justice since the very beginning. Upon learning about our proposed settlement with the Department of Education, she had a lot to say. Read about Theresa’s journey to #sweetrelief. 

Landmark Borrower Defense Settlement to Cancel Over $6 Billion in Student Loans for 200,000 Borrowers | Release

Student borrowers filed a joint motion for approval of a settlement with the US Department of Education in the class action lawsuit Sweet v. Cardona.

The Biden Administration’s DOJ Continues to Shield DeVos in Borrower Defense Proceeding | Press Release

Student borrowers in the lawsuit Sweet v. Cardona (formerly Sweet v. DeVos) on Monday filed a response to a court request asking whether the issue of deposing former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos should be reheard “en banc” in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. If granted, a panel of judges in the Ninth Circuit would reconsider whether Plaintiffs will be allowed to depose former Secretary DeVos about her knowledge surrounding the Department of Education’s long-delayed borrower defense process.

Case Documents

Supplemental Complaint

Plaintiffs' filed an Amended Complaint citing new evidence that the U.S. Department of Education not only illegally delayed processing borrower defense claims, but created a sham process designed to deny borrowers debt relief regardless of evidence.

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.

Order Granting Sweet Class Certification

Order Granting Motion For Class Certification


Feds Forgive Loans of Thousands More Defrauded Student Borrowers | US News and World Report

Nearly 16,000 federal student loan borrowers will receive $415 million in relief, according to an announcement Wednesday by the Education Department that provided new details of fraud by several for-profit schools, including those who attended DeVry University.

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The Education Department will wipe out loans for students defrauded by DeVry University | The New York Times

The Education Department will cancel federal student loans for at least 1,800 students who attended DeVry University, once one of the nation’s largest for-profit college chains, because it fraudulently lured in applicants for years with vastly inflated claims about their career prospects.

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DeVry University misled students. Now, the federal government is erasing their debt | NPR

Nearly 16,000 federal student loan borrowers who were misled by for-profit colleges will have $415 million in debts erased, according to the U.S. Department of Education. These borrowers — who attended DeVry University, ITT Technical Institute and other schools — will receive relief through a legal provision known as borrower defense, which promises loan relief for defrauded borrowers.

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