State AGs ask court to vacate Department of Education’s 2019 “Institutional Accountability” regulations
On July 15, a coalition of state attorneys general from 22 states and the District of Columbia filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education, asking the court to vacate the Department’s 2019 final Institutional Accountability regulations (2019 Rule). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 2019 Rule—which took effect July 1, 2020—revises protections for student borrowers who were significantly misled or defrauded by their higher education institutions, and establishes standards for “adjudicating borrower defenses to repayment claims for Federal student loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2020.” Loans disbursed prior to July 1, 2020 remain subject to defenses under prior regulations issued in 2016 (2016 Rule). Earlier this year, H.J. Res. 76, which provided for congressional disapproval of the 2019 Rule (covered by InfoBytes here), was vetoed by President Trump.
The AGs allege in their complaint that the Department’s 2019 Rule, among other things, “completely eliminate[s] violations of applicable state consumer protection law as a viable defense to repayment of federal student loans” and “impose[s] additional requirements on a viable misrepresentation defense that are so onerous that they make this defense impossible for a student borrower to assert successfully.” Moreover, the AGs contend that the Department has “failed to meet its congressional mandate to specify actual borrower defenses” by promulgating a rule that serves only to prevent borrowers from obtaining relief. On these grounds, the AGs claim the 2019 Rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
The AGs highlight several aspects of the 2019 Rule that support its claims, including that the elimination of the 2016 Rule’s limitations on the use of class action waivers and mandatory predispute arbitration agreements is arbitrary and capricious. According to the AGs, the Department’s “conclusion that requiring schools to disclose their use of mandatory predispute arbitration agreements and class action waivers will adequately protect borrowers is also contrary to substantial evidence and [the Department’s] own prior conclusions.”