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11th Circuit Rules For Student Defense Clients In Landmark Decision

WASHINGTON, DC – Student Defense Vice President and Chief Counsel Dan Zibel issued a statement regarding today’s unanimous decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Lawson-Ross v. Great Lakes, affirming the rights of states and individuals to sue loan servicers for deceptive conduct and misleading statements. In the lawsuit, student loan borrowers accused their loan servicer of providing false assurances that they were on-track to have their outstanding student loans discharged. 

“During this time of crisis more than ever, borrowers need to know that they are getting accurate information from their student loan servicers. Today’s decision puts those servicers on notice,” said Dan Zibel, who argued the case in the U.S. Court of Appeals. “The court unanimously rejected the argument, put forward by Great Lakes and the Trump Administration, that borrowers should be barred from seeking justice.”

The court vacated the decision by the lower court and remanded the case back to the district court. 

The position asserted by Great Lakes had support from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has attempted to insulate the loan servicers from state oversight and enforcement. In March 2018, the Department issued a Notice of Interpretation arguing that state regulation of federal student loan servicers is preempted by federal law. But since that time, at least seven federal courts have declined to follow that interpretation, including two different Courts of Appeal, and some have gone out of their way to find the interpretation unpersuasive. 


This case is about the ability of student loan borrowers to assert their rights under state consumer protection laws to remedy affirmative misstatements made by a student loan servicer. The named plaintiffs in this case, Amanda Lawson-Ross and Tristan Byrne, allege that Great Lakes, the servicer of their federal student loans, specifically and systematically made false statements that led them to believe that they were complying with the terms of Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which is a federal law designed to encourage individuals to seek and obtain higher education in order to pursue careers in public service.  

The court’s decision is available here

More information about the case is available here.

In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued a decision in a similar case also argued by Student Defense, Nelson v. Great Lakes, finding that borrowers and states are able to take student loan servicers to court to redress affirmative misrepresentations by those companies. More information about that decision is available here.

Tags   Litigation