Update for Sweet v. DeVos Class Members

The October 1 hearing will not be held in person but will proceed by telephone. You should consult the website for the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, https://www.cand.uscourts.gov/, for specific directions on how to attend and comment on the proposed settlement by phone.

Information for Sweet v. DeVos Class Members

Seven borrower defense applicants sued the U.S. Department of Education because it did not issue a final decision on any borrower defense application from June 2018 until December 2019. The lawsuit ONLY challenges the Department’s refusal to make final decisions on borrower defense applications for over a year, NOT whether the Department must cancel the loans of any specific applicants.

The case is Sweet v. DeVos, No. 19-cv-3674, in the Northern District of California.

The seven people (“plaintiffs”) bringing the Sweet case all have pending borrower defense applications. They bring the case on behalf of every person who—like them—is waiting for the Department of Education to make a decision on their borrower defense application.  On October 30, 2019, the judge agreed that the lawsuit could continue on behalf of a group of people (the “class”), defined as:

All people who borrowed a Direct Loan or FFEL loan to pay for a program of higher education, who have asserted a borrower defense to repayment to the U.S. Department of Education, whose borrower defense has not been granted or denied on the merits, and who is not a class member in Calvillo Manriquez v. DeVos, No. 17-cv-7210 (N.D. Cal.).

If the student loan borrowers win, the Department of Education will have to make a decision on borrower defense claims in a reasonable amount of time. The case will not force the Department of Education to grant any claims. Additionally, this case does not involve damages, because damages are not available under the law invoked in this case.

Questions about Class Membership

1. Am I a member of the class? Do I need to do anything to be a class member?

If you submitted a borrower defense application and have not received a decision, you are automatically a member of either the Sweet v. DeVos or the Calvillo Manriquez v. DeVos lawsuits. You do not need to do anything to join these cases. Additionally, you cannot opt out of the class.

You are a member of the class in Sweet v. DeVos if:

  • You have a pending borrower defense application (about any school), and
  • You are not a class member in Calvillo Manriquez v. DeVos(see below—only certain borrowers who attended Corinthian, Heald, Everest, and Wyotech schools are class members in this case).

You are a member of the class in Calvillo Manriquez v. DeVos if:

  • You have a pending borrower defense application, and
  • You borrowed to attend specific programs at Heald College, Everest Institute, and WyoTech campuses during specific periods of time. You can determine whether your campus, program, and dates are included in this class using this tool.

If you are a member of the class in either case, you don’t need to sign up or join—you are a member because you meet the definition.

If you’re not sure whether you submitted a borrower defense application, call the Department of Education’s Borrower Defense Hotline at 1-855-279-6207 between 8 AM and 8 PM eastern time.

2. I don’t see my school listed. Am I still a class member?

The Sweet v. DeVos case includes students from all schools who submitted a borrower defense. If you meet the conditions above, you are a member of the class. You do not need to do anything further.

3. What does it mean to be a class member?

If you are a class member in this lawsuit, your rights can be affected by the outcome even if you do not participate directly in the case. The lawsuit can help you get a faster decision on your borrower defense application.

This case does not stop you from challenging the Department’s decision on your borrower defense application.

4. How can I check whether I submitted a Borrower Defense? How can I check the current status of my Borrower Defense?

Call the Department of Education’s Borrower Defense Hotline at 1-855-279-6207 between 8AM and 8PM eastern time.

5. How can I tell if I have federal student loans?

If you are not sure if you have Federal Student Loans, you can look up this information at the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) website or by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID. There is also a separate section of the Department’s web site on servicing and collections.

You can follow these steps to get a copy of your NSLDS loan summary information:

1. Go to the Federal Student Aid Website: studentaid.gov

2. Click “Log In”

3. You are now on the Login page. Input your FSA ID Username and Password and then click Log In.

4. If you have an FSA ID, skip to step number 6. If you do not have a FSA ID, click create an account.

5. You are now on the Create an FSA ID page. Fill out the form and click Continue. This will take you through a series of steps to set up the security of your profile.

6. Once you have accessed your account, you will be directed to the Account Dashboard page.

7. You will see “My Aid” to the left above the blue and green circle(s) with your loan and/or grant amounts. Click “View Details” to right of the circles.

8. You will now be at the “Aid Summary” screen.

  • Scroll toward the bottom of the “Aid Summary” page to “Loan Types”
  • Expand each Loan Type to see how many and what kind of loans you have.

Questions about the Case

6. Where can I see the case documents?

Important filings, including the complaint and the order certifying the class, are posted on our case document page.

7. Has the court decided who is right?

No. The case is ongoing. Class members will receive a notice about the outcome of the case, and we will post updates here.

8. What will happen next?

The students have asked the court to order the Department of Education to grant or deny all pending borrower defense applications within a set period of time. The Department of Education denies that students are entitled to this relief.

9. Does this case affect my private student loans?

No. This case is only about the Department of Education’s failure to decide federal borrower defense applications.

10. When will this case be decided?

We do not know—litigation can take a long time. We will post updates on this website. You will also receive a notice via email or postal mail when the case ends.

11. How can I help in this lawsuit?

Right now, we do not need additional information from class members. However, please bookmark this page—when we do need your help, we will post updates here.

12. Can the Department of Education decide borrower defenses even as this case is ongoing?

Yes. The Department can decide borrower defense applications at any time.

13. If students win this case, will the Department of Education give me money?

No. If students win, the court will order the Department to make decisions on borrower defense applications.

14. If students win in this case, will the Department of Education grant my borrower defense?

Not necessarily. This case is only about the Department’s failure to issue  decisions: it will not determine which borrower defense applications are granted or denied.

15. Who are the lawyers representing the class? How can I contact them?

The class is represented by two non-profit legal services organizations that provide free legal services, the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School and Housing & Economic Rights Advocates.

16. How can I contact the attorneys representing the class?

You should complete the form below. If you cannot fill out the form, you may call 617-390-2574, but please be advised that we may not be able to respond quickly.

Please note, we cannot provide individual legal advice. We receive a large number of calls and emails, and our response may be delayed.

17. Will interest accrue while my loan is in administrative forbearance and my borrower defense is pending?

Please see the Borrower Defense FAQ Question 5.

18. Do I need to continue making payments on my loans while this case is ongoing?

Please see the Borrower Defense FAQ Question 3 for information about payment options while your borrower defense is pending.

Questions about the Settlement

19. I got an email or letter from the Department of Education about this case. What does it mean?

Starting on May 29, 2020, the Department notified all borrowers who have pending borrower defense applications that they may be impacted by the settlement proposed in this case. The notice explains the terms of the settlement, and the borrower’s right to object.

20. What are the terms of the settlement?

The settlement accomplishes what we brought this case to do: it guarantees that all borrowers will receive a timely decision from the Department of Education on their borrower defense decision. Under the law that requires government agencies to make timely decisions, we could only require the Department to make the decisions it failed to make; we could not ask for additional damages or tell them to grant specific individuals’ borrower defenses. The settlement designates consequences for the Department if it fails to live up to its obligations under the agreement (called “breaching” the agreement). In exchange for the settlement, plaintiffs and class members waive the ability to pursue the claims asserted in the complaint. The full text of the proposed settlement is here.

The settlement only covers individuals who had a pending borrower defense as of April 7, 2020. People who had already received a decision from the Department before April 7 are no longer class members in the lawsuit.

Settlement Relief Terms: All individuals who submitted a borrower defense, but were still waiting for the Department to decide their borrower defense as of April 7, 2020 will receive the following relief under the settlement if it is approved by the Court:

  • Within 18 months of final approval from the Court, the Department will resolve all outstanding borrower defense applications pending as of April 7, 2020;
  • Within 21 months of final approval from the Court, the Department will discharge some or all of the debt of individuals who the Department determines are eligible for relief;
  • For individuals the Department has already decided are eligible to receive borrower defense relief, the Department will provide the borrower with a written decision within three months and provide relief within six months.
  • The Department will provide Plaintiffs’ Counsel with reports they will post on this website stating
    • How many borrower defense decisions the Department has made;
    • How many borrowers the Department has effectuated relief for;
    • What relief methodologies the Department is using to determine how much of a borrower’s loan it will discharge when it grants a borrower defense;
    • How many decisions the Department has made regarding schools that have received large numbers of borrower defenses;
    • The names of schools the Department has made borrower defense findings for;
  • The Department has also represented that it will:
    • Provide written decisions to borrowers;
    • Not put borrowers into involuntary collections while their borrower defense is pending, and
    • Provide borrowers with an interest credit to discharge the interest that accrued on borrowers’ loans while their borrower defenses were pending.

Breach Terms: If the Department fails to fulfill its decision-making obligations under the settlement agreement, the Department will do the following:

  • Discharge 30% of an affected borrower’s borrower defense debt for each month it fails to issue a decision or effectuate relief
  • Discharge 80% of an affected borrower’s borrower defense debt if the Department certifies a borrower for involuntary collections (like wage garnishment or tax refund offset)

If the Department is stopped by a Court from applying its relief methodologies to determine how much debt should be discharged for borrowers whose borrower defenses were granted, the Department will still send written decisions to borrowers to let them know if their application was granted or denied.

21. Is the settlement in effect now?

No. The court must grant final approval of the settlement before it can go into effect.

22. How long will it take for the court to determine whether it will approve or reject the settlement?

The court granted preliminary approval of the settlement agreement on May 29, 2020, and ordered the Department to notify class members about the settlement and their opportunity to object. Class members have until August 20, 2020 to object to the settlement. Lawyers from both sides of the case will have an opportunity to respond to any objections.

After the period for class members to object to the settlement has ended, on August 20, 2020, the court will hold a final “fairness hearing” that is open to the public. Class members may participate. After that hearing, the Court will grant or deny final approval of the settlement.

The hearing will be held on October 1, 2020, beginning at 8am, at the following address:

United States District Court

Northern District of California

450 Golden Gate Avenue, Courtroom 12, 19th Floor

San Francisco, California 94102

After the hearing, if the court grants final approval, the settlement will go into effect.

23. Do I need to write to the court if I agree with the settlement?

No. You do not need to do anything if you agree with the settlement.

24. Can I object to the settlement?

You can submit written objections or comments to the court or request to speak at the fairness hearing. You can send objections or comments or requests to speak to:

Clerk of the Court

United States District Court

Northern District of California

450 Golden Gate Avenue

San Francisco, California 94102

Your written comments or requests to speak at the fairness hearing must be received by the court by August 20,2020. The Clerk will provide copies of the written comments to all of the lawyers on both sides, and the lawyers will have an opportunity to respond to objections before the final hearing.

Questions about Loans and Borrower Defenses

We do not have information about what the Department of Education is doing with individual borrower defense applications or what is going on with your loans. For all questions about the individual status of your borrower defense, you should call the Department of Education’s Borrower Defense Hotline to ask about the status of your application at 1-855-279-6207 between 8 AM and 8 PM eastern time.

Our Borrower Defense FAQ provides information about what to do while you are waiting for a borrower defense decision, credit reporting, repayment options, and more.

If you have questions that are not answered by this webpage or by our Borrower Defense FAQ webpage please use the form below. Please note, we can only respond to questions about this case and will not respond to requests for individual legal or repayment advice. We receive a large number of calls and emails, and our response may be delayed.

 

You Can Contact Us By Filling Out This Form