Skip to main content
Menu Icon Menu Icon
Close

InfoBytes Blog

Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Filter

Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.

  • States file brief in support of Biden’s student loan debt-relief program

    Courts

    On January 11, a coalition of 22 state attorneys general from Massachusetts, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District Of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in two pending actions concerning challenges to the Department of Education’s student loan debt relief program. At the beginning of December, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Biden administration’s appeal of an injunction entered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that temporarily prohibits the Secretary of Education from discharging any federal loans under the agency’s student debt relief plan (covered by InfoBytes here). In a brief unsigned order, the Supreme Court deferred the Biden administration’s application to vacate, pending oral argument. Shortly after, the Supreme Court also granted a petition for certiorari in a challenge currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, announcing it will consider whether the respondents (individuals whose loans are ineligible for debt forgiveness under the plan) have Article III standing to bring the challenge, as well as whether the Department of Education’s debt relief plan is “statutorily authorized” and “adopted in a procedurally proper manner” (covered by InfoBytes here). Oral arguments in both cases are scheduled for February 28.

    The states first pointed out that under the Higher Education Act, Congress gave the Secretary “broad authority both to determine borrowers’ loan repayment obligations and to modify or discharge these obligations in myriad circumstances.” The Secretary was also later granted statutory authority under the HEROES Act to take action in times of national emergency, which includes allowing “the Secretary to ‘waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs’ if the Secretary ‘deems’ such actions ‘necessary’ to ensure that borrowers affected by a national emergency ‘are not placed in a worse position financially’ with respect to their student loans.” The states stressed that while “the magnitude of the national emergency necessitating this relief is unprecedented, the relief offered to borrowers falls squarely within the authority Congress gave the Secretary to address such emergencies and is similar in kind to relief granted pursuant to other important federal student loan policies that have concomitantly advanced our state interests.”

    The states went on to explain that the Secretary tailored the limited debt relief using income thresholds to ensure that “the borrowers at greatest risk of pandemic-related defaults receive critical relief, either by eliminating their loan obligations or reducing them to a more manageable level,” thus meeting the express goal of the HEROES Act to “prevent[] affected borrowers from being placed in a worse position because of a national emergency.” The states also stressed that the Secretary reasonably concluded that targeted relief is necessary to address the impending rise in pandemic-related defaults once repayment restarts. The HEROES Act expressly permits the Secretary to “exercise his modification and waiver authority ‘notwithstanding any other provision of law, unless enacted with specific reference to [20 U.S.C. § 1098bb(a)(1)],” the states asserted, noting that “relevant statutory and regulatory provisions related to student loan repayment and cancellation contain no such express limiting language.”

    Secretary Miguel Cardona issued the following statement in response to the filing of more than a dozen amicus curiae briefs: “The broad array of organizations and experts—representing diverse communities and different perspectives—supporting our case before the Supreme Court today reflects the strength of our legal positions versus the fundamentally flawed lawsuits aimed at denying millions of working and middle-class borrowers debt relief.” A summary of the briefs can be accessed here.

    Courts State Issues State Attorney General Department of Education Student Lending Debt Relief Consumer Finance U.S. Supreme Court Biden Covid-19 HEROES Act Higher Education Act Appellate Fifth Circuit Eighth Circuit

    Share page with AddThis
  • Education Dept. releases IDR proposal

    Federal Issues

    On January 10, the Department of Education (DOE) announced a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to reduce the cost of federal student loan payments. According to the DOE, the regulations fulfill President Biden’s plan to provide student debt relief for approximately 40 million borrowers and to make the student loan system more manageable for student borrowers. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the three-part debt relief plan was announced in August to provide, among other things, up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the DOE, and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients for borrowers making less than $125,000 a year or less than $250,000 for married couples. Plaintiffs, whose loans are ineligible for debt forgiveness under the program, sued the DOE and the DOE secretary claiming the agency violated the Administrative Procedure Act’s notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures and arbitrarily decided the program’s eligibility criteria. Plaintiffs further contended that the DOE secretary does not have the authority under the HEROES Act to implement the program. Specifically, the NPRM would establish that those making less than $30,577 as an individual or a family of four making less than $62,437 would have their monthly payments reduced to $0.

    According to the NPRM, the DOE is proposing to amend the regulations governing income-contingent repayment plans by amending the Revised Pay as You Earn (REPAYE) repayment plan. The NPRM noted that the DOE is looking to restructure and rename the repayment plan regulations under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, including combining the Income Contingent Repayment (ICR) and the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plans under the umbrella term of IDR plans. The NPRM would ensure that a borrower’s balance would not grow due to accumulation of unpaid interest if the borrowers otherwise make their monthly payments. Additionally, the NPRM would also establish that for individuals who borrow $12,000 or less, loan forgiveness can occur after making the equivalent of 10 years of payments. That period increases by one year for each additional $1,000 that is borrowed. The DOE released a Fact Sheet on increasing college accountability, which clarifies information on identifying the lowest-financial-value programs, protecting students and delivering value through greater accountability, increasing collaboration with accreditors, and building a record of action.

    The DOE also released a request for information (RFI) to solicit comments on identifying the best ways to calculate the metrics that may be used to identify low-financial-value programs and inform technical considerations. Finally, the DOE released a Fact Sheet on transforming IDR. Among other things, the Fact Sheet discusses decreasing undergraduate loan payments, stopping unpaid interest accumulation, and lowering the number of monthly payments required to receive forgiveness for borrowers with smaller loan balances. Comments are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Department of Education Student Lending Income-Driven Repayment Federal Register Administrative Procedure Act HEROES Act Consumer Finance

    Share page with AddThis
  • Supreme Court agrees to hear second appeal over student debt relief plan

    Courts

    On December 12, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a petition for certiorari in a student debt relief challenge currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the DOJ filed an application on behalf of the Department of Education (DOE) asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stay a judgment entered by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas concerning whether the agency’s student debt relief plan violated the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures. In a brief unsigned order, the Supreme Court deferred the DOE’s application for a stay, pending oral argument. The Supreme Court said it will treat the application as a “petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment,” and announced a briefing schedule will be established to allow the case to be argued in the February 2023 argument session to resolve the legality of the program. Oral arguments are scheduled for February 28, 2023.

    The Supreme Court said it will consider whether the respondents (individuals whose loans are ineligible for debt forgiveness under the plan, as covered by InfoBytes here) have Article III standing to bring the challenge. The Supreme Court will also consider whether the DOE’s plan is “statutorily authorized” and “adopted in a procedurally proper manner.”

    This is the second case concerning the Biden administration’s student debt relief plan that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear. On December 1, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Biden administration’s appeal of an injunction entered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which temporarily prohibits the Secretary of Education from discharging any federal loans under the DOE’s student debt relief plan. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

    Courts Department of Education Consumer Finance Student Lending Debt Relief U.S. Supreme Court Appellate Fifth Circuit Eighth Circuit DOJ HEROES Act Administrative Procedure Act

    Share page with AddThis
  • Supreme Court asked to stay judgment holding that HEROES Act does not authorize the creation of the DOE’s student debt relief plan

    Courts

    Recently, the DOJ filed an application on behalf of the Department of Education (DOE) asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stay a judgment entered by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in an action related to whether the agency’s student debt relief plan violated the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the district court held that while the HEROES Act expressly exempts the APA’s notice-and-comment obligations, the district court stressed that the HEROES Act “does not provide the executive branch clear congressional authorization to create a $400 billion student loan forgiveness program,” and, moreover, does not mention loan forgiveness. On December 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied the DOE’s motion for stay pending appeal.

    In its application, the DOE argued that the plaintiffs never asserted that the debt relief plan exceeded the education secretary’s statutory authority. Instead, the DOE argued, the plaintiffs alleged only that they were improperly denied the opportunity to comment on the plan, stressing that while the district court recognized that the HEROES Act expressly exempts the APA’s notice-and-comment obligations, it went further by holding that the plan went beyond the secretary’s authority. “The district court profoundly erred by raising and deciding a claim that respondents did not assert and could not have asserted,” the DOE stressed, further adding that the plaintiffs did not claim that providing debt relief to other borrowers would inflict injury on them. Beyond this, the secretary’s plan “falls squarely within the plain text of his statutory authority,” the DOE asserted. The DOE requested that the Supreme Court stay the district court’s judgment, or in the alternative, defer the application pending oral argument and treat it as a petition for certiorari before judgment, grant the petition, and hear the case along with a second separate action, discussed below, involving a challenge to an injunction that temporarily prohibits the Secretary of Education from discharging any federal loans under the agency’s student debt relief plan.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, on December 1, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Biden administration’s appeal of an injunction entered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The 8th Circuit held that “the equities strongly favor an injunction considering the irreversible impact the Secretary’s debt forgiveness action would have as compared to the lack of harm an injunction would presently impose,” and pointed to the fact that the collection of student loan payments and the accrual of interest have both been suspended. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The 8th Circuit’s opinion followed a ruling issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, which dismissed an action filed by state attorneys general from Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, and South Carolina for lack of Article III standing after concluding that the states—which attempted “to assert a threat of imminent harm in the form of lost tax revenue in the future”— failed to establish imminent and non-speculative harm sufficient to confer standing. In an unsigned order, the Supreme Court deferred the Biden administration’s application to vacate, pending oral argument. Oral arguments are scheduled for February 28, 2023.

    Courts Student Lending DOJ Department of Education Administrative Procedure Act Debt Relief Consumer Finance U.S. Supreme Court Appellate Fifth Circuit Eighth Circuit HEROES Act

    Share page with AddThis
  • Supreme Court to fast-track review of student debt relief program

    Courts

    On December 1, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Biden administration’s appeal of an injunction entered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that temporarily prohibits the Secretary of Education from discharging any federal loans under the agency’s student debt relief plan (announced in August and covered by InfoBytes here). In a brief unsigned order, the Supreme Court deferred the Biden administration’s application to vacate, pending oral argument. The Supreme Court said it will treat the Biden administration’s application as a “petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment,” and announced a briefing schedule will be established to allow the case to be argued in the February 2023 argument session to resolve the legality of the program.

    The Biden administration filed its application last month asking the Supreme Court to vacate, or at minimum narrow, the 8th Circuit’s injunction. Among other things, the Biden administration claimed that the 8th Circuit failed to “analyze the merits of the respondents’ claims, much less determine they are likely to succeed” when it granted an emergency motion for injunction pending appeal filed by state attorney generals from Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, and South Carolina. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 8th Circuit determined that “the equities strongly favor an injunction considering the irreversible impact the Secretary’s debt forgiveness action would have as compared to the lack of harm an injunction would presently impose,” and pointed to the fact that the collection of student loan payments and the accrual of interest have both been suspended.

    The appellate court’s “erroneous injunction leaves millions of economically vulnerable borrowers in limbo, uncertain about the size of their debt and unable to make financial decisions with an accurate understanding of their future repayment obligations,” the Biden administration said, adding that if the Supreme Court “declines to vacate the injunction, it may wish to construe this application as a petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment, grant the petition, and set the case for expedited briefing and argument this Term to avoid prolonging this uncertainty for the millions of affected borrowers.”

    In its application, the Biden administration argued that the universal injunction was overbroad. The application further argued that the states lack standing because the debt relief plan “does not require respondents to do anything, forbid them from doing anything, or harm them in any other way.” Moreover, the Secretary of Education was acting within the bounds of the HEROES Act when he put together the debt relief plan, the application contended. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a ‘national emergency declared by the President of the United States,’” the application said. “Both the Trump and Biden Administrations previously invoked the HEROES Act to categorically suspend payments and interest accrual on all Department-held loans in light of the pandemic.” The application further argued that the states “have not disputed that those actions were lawful,” and that the Secretary of Education “reasonably ‘deem[ed]’ relief ‘necessary to ensure’ that a subset of these affected individuals—namely, those with lower incomes—‘are not placed in a worse position’ in relation to their student-loan obligations ‘because of their status as affected individuals.’”

    Meanwhile, on December 1, the 5th Circuit denied the Department of Education’s (DOE) opposed motion for stay pending appeal, following a ruling issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas related to whether the agency’s student debt relief plan violated the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the district court determined that while the HEROES Act expressly exempts the APA’s notice-and-comment obligations, the court stressed that the HEROES Act “does not provide the executive branch clear congressional authorization to create a $400 billion student loan forgiveness program,” and, moreover, does not mention loan forgiveness.

    Earlier, on November 22, the Department of Education (DOE) extended the pause on student loan repayments, interest, and collections in an effort to alleviate uncertainty for borrowers. Saying “it would be deeply unfair to ask borrowers to pay a debt that they wouldn’t have to pay,” the DOE stated that payments will resume 60 days after it is allowed to implement the debt relief plan or the litigation is resolved, explaining that this will give the Supreme Court time to resolve the case during its current term. However, if the debt relief plan has not been implemented and litigation has not been resolved by June 30, 2023, borrowers’ payments will resume 60 days after that, the DOE explained.

    Courts Student Lending Department of Education HEROES Act Appellate Eighth Circuit Biden U.S. Supreme Court Covid-19 Consumer Finance Fifth Circuit

    Share page with AddThis
  • District Court blocks student loan forgiveness program

    Courts

    On November 10, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled that the Biden administration’s $400 billion student loan forgiveness program under the HEROES Act of 2003 is “an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’s legislative power.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the three-part debt relief plan was announced in August to provide, among other things, up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the Department of Education (DOE) and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients for borrowers making less than $125,000 a year or less than $250,000 for married couples. Plaintiffs, whose loans are ineligible for debt forgiveness under the program, sued the DOE and the DOE secretary claiming the agency violated the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures and arbitrarily decided the program’s eligibility criteria. Plaintiffs further contended that the DOE secretary does not have the authority under the HEROES Act to implement the program. Defendants countered that the plaintiffs lacked standing.

    The court entered summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs (rather than granting preliminary injunctive relief as requested) after determining it was appropriate to proceed to the merits of the case. Concerning defendants’ assertion regarding lack of standing to challenge the DOE’s program because it is conferring a benefit and therefore “nobody is harmed by the existence of that benefit,” (as the court characterized defendants’ argument), the court ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court has actually “recognized that a plaintiff has standing to challenge a government benefit in many cases.” The court next reviewed whether plaintiffs suffered a concrete injury based on the denial of their procedural rights under the APA by not being afforded the opportunity to provide meaningful input to protect their concrete interests. While the HEROES Act expressly exempts the APA’s notice-and-comment obligations, the court stressed that the HEROES Act “does not provide the executive branch clear congressional authorization to create a $400 billion student loan forgiveness program,” and, moreover, does not mention loan forgiveness. “If Congress provided clear congressional authorization for $400 billion in student loan forgiveness via the HEROES Act, it would have mentioned loan forgiveness,” the court wrote. Shortly after the ruling was issued, the DOJ filed a notice of appeal on behalf of the DOE with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona released a statement following the ruling expressing disappointment in the decision.

    Courts Student Lending Department of Education Administrative Procedure Act HEROES Act Consumer Finance

    Share page with AddThis