Seven borrower defense applicants (“plaintiffs”) 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 plaintiffs later added a claim to their complaint that the Department’s form notices denying borrower defense applications, issued between December 2019 and October 2020, were unlawful. The lawsuit challenges the Department’s refusal to make final decisions on borrower defense applications and its issuance of unlawful form denial notices. Please note that the case does not address whether the Department must cancel the loans of any specific applicants.
The case is Sweet v. Cardona, No. 19-cv-3674 (formerly Sweet v. DeVos), in the Northern District of California.
The seven plaintiffs bringing the Sweet case all had pending borrower defense applications at the time the lawsuit was filed. Some of them received form denial notices in 2020. They bring the case on behalf of every person who—like them—is either waiting for the Department of Education to make a decision on their borrower defense application, or received a form denial notice. 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.).
In their supplemental complaint, the plaintiffs asked the court to recognize a subset of the class who had received form denial notices since the date that the court approved the original class.
If the student loan borrowers win, the Department of Education will have to make a decision on all pending borrower defense claims in a reasonable amount of time, and will have to issue new, lawful decisions for anyone who previously received a form denial notice. The case will not force the Department of Education to grant specific claims or groups of claims. Additionally, this case does not involve damages, because damages are not available under the law invoked in this case.
Questions About Class Membership
Questions About the 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, or received a form denial in or after December 2019, you are a member of either the Sweet v. Cardona or the Calvillo Manriquez v. Cardona lawsuits. You may have previously read on this website that the cut-off to be a member of the class was April 7, 2020. However, recent developments in this case have made it such that all borrowers with pending applications (or denials after December 2019) are members of the class. You do not need to do anything to join these cases, you are a member if you fit the definition. You cannot opt out of the class.
You are a member of the class in Sweet v. Cardona if:
- You submitted a borrower defense application about any school and have not received a decision, or received a form denial in or after December 2019, 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 that case).
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. Cardona case includes students from all schools who submitted a borrower defense application and have not received a decision, or received a form denial notice in or after December 2019. If you meet the conditions above, you are a member of the class, no matter which school you attended. 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 present borrower defense applicants with reasoned decisions on the merits of their applications. In October 2020, following a court hearing, the Department of Education agreed that it would not issue any more form denials, and would keep all class members’ loans in forbearance, until the litigation ends – either by a Court-approved settlement or after Summary Judgment, when the Court decides the merits of the case.
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?
After the plaintiffs sought an injunction from the court, the Department of Education agreed, as of October 30, 2020, to stop issuing borrower defense denials until the case concludes. The Department is free to grant borrower defense applications at any time, and the new administration has announced some new borrower defense grants in 2021.
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 lawful decisions on borrower defense applications and to rescind the previously issued form denial notices.
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 and its issuance of unlawful denial notices. This case 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. What will happen to Sweet class members when the Covid-19 payment pause ends?
If you have submitted a borrower defense application and either (i) have not received a decision, or (ii) received notice that your borrower defense was granted but have not yet received your relief, or (iii) received a form denial notice in or after December 2019, you should not have to resume payments on your federal student loans when the Covid-19 payment pause ends on May 1, 2022. Please see the Department of Education's latest borrower defense update: https://studentaid.gov/announcements-events/borrower-defense-update. If you are in one of these categories and you do experience collection activity, or if you receive a demand for payment from your federal loan servicer, please get in touch with us.
18. Will interest accrue while my loan is in administrative forbearance and my borrower defense is pending?
If you are a member of the Sweet class, the Department of Education has committed to hold your federal student loans at 0% interest rate until a final judgment is reached in the Sweet case. If you receive information from your servicer saying that interest is accruing, please get in touch with us.
19. Do I need to continue making payments on my loans while this case is ongoing?
No, members of the Sweet class do not need to make any payments on their federal student loans while this case is ongoing. The Department of Education has committed to holding all class members' federal student loans in forbearance or stopped collection status until there is a final judgment in the Sweet case (including after the expiration of the Covid-19 payment pause). Please note that this forbearance does not apply to private loans. If you are a member of the class and you do experience collection activity on your federal student loans, or receive a demand for payment from your federal student loan servicer, please get in touch with us.
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.