NYLAG v. U.S. Department of Education

15 Civ. 1230 (S.D.N.Y.)

 

On May 18, 2015, the New York Legal Assistance Group filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, to compel the Department to release documents outlining how students who have been harmed and misled by unscrupulous institutions of higher education can assert their rights to have their federal student loans cancelled.

NYLAG submitted a FOIA request to the Department on December 5, 2014, seeking disclosure of records related to student borrower options for seeking debt relief, and related documents. Initially, the Department denied NYLAG’s request for a fee waiver in connection with its FOIA request, but after NYLAG filed an administrative appeal, the Department granted that request.

 

More than five months after NYLAG submitted its FOIA request, the Department had not produced any records. This is despite the fact that 20 years ago, Congress had directed the Department of Education to establish policies and procedures for student loan borrowers to seek to have their federal loan debt canceled based on the misconduct of the schools they attended.

 

Only after NYLAG filed its FOIA lawsuit in federal court, the Department began to produce some records. Through extensive negotiation, NYLAG secured the release of waves of additional documents, but the Department continued to withhold and redact many documents responsive to the request.

 

In late 2016, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment concerning the Department’s withheld material. On July 12, 2017, the district court granted in part NYLAG’s summary judgment motion seeking the production of some of the withheld documents and material.  Among other findings, the court rejected the Department’s claim it could shield its debt collection activities as “law enforcement.”  The decision creates a strong precedent in favor of transparency by the government more widely than just this context.

 

After the Department made additional productions as directed by the summary judgment decision, the parties agreed to resolve the remainder of the action. The documents produced as a result of the lawsuit are all posted below for use by the public.

 

NYLAG attorneys:  Jane Greengold Stevens, Danielle Tarantolo, Thalia Julme

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