Job Announcement: Clinical Fellow, Federal Tax Clinic

The Federal Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center seeks to hire a clinical fellow for a two-year appointment commencing in summer 2017.  The position represents a unique opportunity to join Harvard Law School’s clinical program, to work in a dynamic public interest and clinical teaching law office, to work on cutting-edge tax law issues, and to develop lawyering and clinical teaching skills. For more information, please see the posting here.

Project on Predatory Student Lending Statement on Proposed Sale of EDMC to Dream Center Foundation

Last Friday, for-profit college giant Education Management Corporation (EDMC) announced the sale of many of its campuses to the Dream Center Foundation. The acquisition would convert three of the corporation’s chains—the Art Institutes, Argosy University, and South University—into nonprofits. EDMC will retain ownership of the Brown Mackie chain, which is shutting down most of its campuses, and the 19 Art Institute campuses the corporation is in the process of shutting down.

EDMC’s conversion to nonprofit status raises critical questions, including how the corporation intends to ensure positive student outcomes once it is no longer subject to gainful employment regulations. EDMC has more than 130 programs that the federal government has found to burden graduates with unmanageable student loan debt—programs that will be subject to even less federal oversight once they have been sold to a nonprofit. EDMC’s compliance with federal requirements attached to the receipt of federal Title IV funds will be even more critical once the corporation is no longer subject to the “90-10 rule,” which prevents for-profit colleges from receiving more than 90 percent of their revenues from such funds.

Like the last-ditch sale of many Corinthian campuses as that company failed, this sale leaves failing schools with EDMC, while selling off assets that may still have value to a new entity that may disclaim liability for the acts of its predecessors. This type of transaction leaves former students struggling with unmanageable debt even more completely without recourse.

Less than a year ago, EDMC tried to sell the New England Institute of Art, an Art Institutes campus in Brookline, Massachusetts, to a university based in India. The deal was scuttled after the corporations failed to obtain state approval. As EDMC’s equity holders continue to try to divest themselves of these assets, regulators should demand assurances that whoever owns the schools will operate them in the interests of students.

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The Project on Predatory Student Lending represents a group of former students who attended the EDMC-owned New England Institute of Art. In September, these former students demanded that the companies remedy the harms they had caused to students and their families. The Project and Public Justice are currently challenging the federal government’s refusal to provide documents shedding light on EDMC’s recruiting practices.

Project on Predatory Student Lending Sues Federal Government For Withholding For-Profit College Corporation’s Recruitment Records

On February 14, the Project on Predatory Student Lending of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, challenging the government’s refusal to provide documents shedding light on for-profit college giant Education Management Corporation (EDMC)’s recruitment practices.

Months ago, the Project filed a FOIA request with the Department of Justice (DOJ), seeking access to these documents. DOJ claimed that it couldn’t release the documents (in part) because it said there was a court order preventing it from doing so. The Project disagreed. So, together with Public Justice, we asked the court that issued the order to clarify that the order does not, in fact, prevent DOJ from releasing the documents.

Soon after we asked the court for clarification, however, DOJ changed its tune entirely. It now claims that the public has no right to access these documents, even though they were produced to the government by a corporation the government alleged defrauded it of billions of dollars, and would enable the public to evaluate the government’s decision to settle its claims for less than one percent of what it had originally said they were worth.

The lawsuit challenges the government’s assertion that the public has no right to these important documents.

Two Federal Lawsuits, Still No Documents

Federal regulations allow student loan borrowers to seek cancellation of their federal student loans by showing that their school violated state law. Former students of the Art Institutes and other EDMC-owned chains thus want the documents to help prove that they were defrauded, and are entitled to relief on their student loans. Because these documents have been kept secret—and because EDMC uses forced arbitration clauses to drive students out of the public court system—borrowers seeking debt relief often have little but their own personal experiences to support their claims of misconduct.

The Attorney General of Minnesota—one of the states that participated in the case—expressed support for the Project’s efforts, stating that the information requested by the Project “could aid students in their efforts to obtain loan forgiveness from the United States Department of Education, which would unburden them from thousands of dollars of debt.”

The Project has made a significant effort to obtain these documents—filing a freedom of information request, litigating the government’s denial of that request, and moving to intervene to challenge the government and EDMC’s efforts to keep the documents secret—because the documents are critical to the Project’s advocacy on behalf of low-income student loan borrowers. The documents will help the Project seek relief for former students of EDMC-owned schools; inform the public about the practices of for-profit education companies and the government’s oversight of those companies; and advocate for policies that will protect low-income student loan borrowers.

Background: Government Lawsuit Against EDMC

EDMC, a corporation that has been closely associated with Goldman Sachs for years, runs four large chains of for-profit schools, including the beleaguered Art Institutes. In 2011, the federal government, along with several states, sued EDMC, alleging that it violated state and federal law and then lied about it to get government funding. The government claimed that, to maximize enrollments, EDMC illegally paid its “admissions employees” based on the number of students they could enroll; “created a ‘boiler room’ style sales culture,” the “relentless and exclusive focus” of which was “the number of new students” each recruiter could sign up; taught its recruiters to exploit prospective students’ vulnerabilities; and rewarded those who recruited the most students with bonuses, extra time off, vacations, and gifts.

The lawsuit eventually settled in 2015 for $95.5 million, less than one percent of the more than $11 billion in taxpayer-funded federal student grants and loans that the government alleged EDMC received between July 2003 and the suit’s filing. The settlement did not relieve students of any of the federal student loan debt they took on to attend EDMC-owned schools.

Documents Related to This Case

  • Freedom of Information Act Requests, Appeal, and Complaint:
  • Intervention (Dec. 2016):

About the Project on Predatory Student Lending

The Project on Predatory Student Lending fights for low-income borrowers, representing students and families who have experienced unfair, deceptive, and illegal conduct at the hands of for-profit colleges. In addition to litigating on behalf of its clients, the Project has advocated for policy reforms to increase accountability in the for-profit industry.

About Public Justice

Public Justice pursues high impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice, protect the Earth’s sustainability, and challenge predatory corporate conduct and government abuses. For two decades, Public Justice has been exposing and preventing excessive secrecy in our nation’s courts. Public Justice has unsealed evidence of dangers to public health and safety, helped injury victims oppose over-broad protective orders, and educated the public about the dangers of litigation conducted behind closed doors.

Job Announcement: Attorney Position, Veterans Legal Clinic

The Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School is pleased to announce that we are adding a new Clinic Attorney to our team in the Veterans Legal Clinic.  With a focus on advocating for veterans with mental health needs and other underserved veteran populations, the Clinic Attorney will provide representation in a variety of case types, including discharge upgrade cases and veterans benefit appeals that require or include a character of service determination. The docket for this position will include, but not be limited to, representation of veterans with less-than-honorable discharges, LGBTQ veterans, and survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).  The Clinic Attorney will also conduct community outreach and trainings for service providers.

The position represents a unique opportunity to work in a dynamic public interest law office within Harvard Law School’s clinical program.  To learn more about the position, please review the posting here:

Clinic Attorney Job Posting — Harvard Law School Veterans Legal Clinic

Applications must be submitted via Harvard’s Human Resources website. Applicants should apply for the position designated as Clinic Attorney, Harvard Law School (ID # 41848BR).

National Association of Consumer Advocates elects Bertling to serve as co-chairman of the Massachusetts NACA chapter

The Board of Directors of the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) recently announced that it had elected Roger Bertling, Director of the Predatory Lending and Consumer Protection Clinic of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law school,  to serve as co-chairman of the Massachusetts NACA chapter.

NACA is a nonprofit association of more than 1,500 attorneys and consumer advocates committed to representing consumers’ interests. Its members are private and public sector attorneys, legal services attorneys, law professors, and law students whose primary focus is the protection and representation of consumers. They have represented hundreds of thousands of consumers victimized by fraudulent, abusive, and predatory business practices. As a national organization fully committed to promoting justice for consumers, NACA’s members and their clients are actively engaged in promoting a fair and open marketplace that forcefully protects the rights of consumers, particularly those of modest means.

The Massachusetts chapter of NACA is one of the largest and most active in the country.

For more information on NACA, please visit: http://www.consumeradvocates.org/about-naca

For more information on the Predatory Lending and Consumer Protection Clinic, please visit: http://www.legalservicescenter.org/about-the-legal-services-center/our-clinics/

Update: January 30th ITT Bankruptcy Hearing

On Monday, January 30, the judge in ITT’s bankruptcy granted former ITT students’ request that they be recognized as having filed a group claim despite the trustee’s objection, and recognized the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School as students’ counsel for this initial stage of their case. Former ITT students requested this group recognition as part of their initial filing on January 3. Although the trustee for ITT’s estate filed a vigorous objection to the former students’ request, Judge Carr agreed with the former students that it was unquestionably appropriate to permit former students to file their claims as a group, rather than individually.  The judge ordered the trustee to meet with the students’ lawyers to begin discussing the issue of class certification in students’ adversary proceeding against ITT’s estate.

The judge also denied—for now—the trustee’s motion to hire a company as a “master servicer,” to supervise ongoing collections by UAS and FirstSource, and to begin collecting on more accounts. Former students objected to this request, arguing that, by undertaking a broad new debt collection campaign on fraudulently-incurred and otherwise poorly-documented debts, the trustee would confuse former students and expose ITT’s estate to liability for collecting bad debts. The Trustee disclosed that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had also warned that collecting on ITT’s accounts was likely to cause future legal problems, and acknowledged that many of the accounts were likely not collectible. The trustee argued that the estate should nonetheless be allowed to hire the firm as master servicer, but Judge Carr denied the request for now, ordering the lawyers for the trustee to meet with lawyers for former students to discuss their positions on continuing debt collection against former ITT students.

The court scheduled a status conference with former students and the Trustee on February 9 to discuss both of these topics.

For more information about students’ claims against ITT, click here.

New York Times Calls Former ITT Students’ Legal Action ‘Gratifying’

“It seems only right that victims of predatory for-profit education companies should have their student loans forgiven,” the article begins. It goes on to discuss the validity of students’ claims, their difficulty in getting debt relief, and the thousand of pages of “powerful testimony” submitted with the students’ complaint. As the article explains, the evidence shows “a pattern of practice that dispels any notion that bad behavior harmed just a handful of ITT students.”

Read the full article: Student Victims Seek to Become Creditors in ITT Bankruptcy

Challenge to Secrecy of Recruitment Records from For-Profit Education Company

The Project on Predatory Student Lending of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School and Public Justice asked a federal judge on Friday, December 16, for access to documents that are likely to reveal for-profit college giant Education Management Corporation (EDMC)’s recruitment practices.

A few years ago, the federal government, along with several states, sued EDMC, whose four large chains of for-profit schools include the beleaguered Art Institutes, alleging that it violated state and federal law and then lied about it to get government funding.  The government claimed that EDMC illegally paid its recruiters based on the number of students they could enroll, a practice prohibited by federal law.  EDMC, the government alleged, “created a ‘boiler room’ style sales culture,” the “relentless and exclusive focus” of which was “the number of new students” each recruiter could sign up. To maximize enrollments, the lawsuit alleged, EDMC taught its recruiters to exploit prospective students’ vulnerabilities, and rewarded those who recruited the most students with bonuses, extra time off, vacations, and gifts.

The lawsuit eventually settled in 2015 for $95.5 million, much less than the $1.47 billion the company received in taxpayer-funded federal student grants and loans in the 2014-2015 year alone.  But as part of discovery in the suit, EDMC produced a lot of documents that we believe will shed light on their recruitment practices. “The documents from this lawsuit are likely to strengthen claims for relief of hundreds, if not thousands, of former EDMC students,” said Amanda Savage, one of the attorneys representing the debtors.

Former students of the Art Institutes and other EDMC-owned chains want these documents to help prove that they were defrauded, and are entitled to relief on their student loans. Because these documents have so far been kept secret—and because EDMC uses forced arbitration clauses to drive students out of the public court system—borrowers seeking debt relief often have little but their own personal experiences to corroborate their claims of misconduct.

“While taxpayers spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding what the Department of Justice has called EDMC’s ‘recruitment mill,’ the borrowers who attended these schools have yet to obtain federal debt relief,” said Public Justice attorney Jennifer Bennett.

Before filing this lawsuit, the Project tried to get these documents showing EDMC’s predatory recruitment practices through federal and state freedom of information requests, but its request was denied in part because of a protective order in the case. The Project asked a federal judge to rule that the protective order does not shield the documents.

Documents Related to This Case

About the Project on Predatory Student Lending

The Project on Predatory Student Lending fights for low-income borrowers, representing students and families who have experienced unfair, deceptive, and illegal conduct at the hands of for-profit colleges. In addition to litigating on behalf of its clients, the Project has advocated for policy reforms to increase accountability in the for-profit industry.

About Public Justice

Public Justice pursues high impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice, protect the Earth’s sustainability, and challenge predatory corporate conduct and government abuses. For two decades, Public Justice has been exposing and preventing excessive secrecy in our nation’s courts. Public Justice has unsealed evidence of dangers to public health and safety, helped injury victims oppose over-broad protective orders, and educated the public about the dangers of litigation conducted behind closed doors.

Class of Former ITT Students File 7.3 Billion Dollar Claim in ITT Bankruptcy

On January 3, 2017, a group of former ITT Tech students moved to intervene in ITT’s bankruptcy proceedings in the Southern District of Indiana. They seek to act as representatives of hundreds of thousands who have been defrauded by ITT.

Along with legal documents, the students filed over a thousand pages of first-hand accounts from students who attended ITT, affidavits from several whistleblowers, and evidence developed from state and federal law enforcement investigations. The CFPB and multiple state attorneys general are also parties in the bankruptcy proceedings.

For more information on the student intervention, including all of the documents that were filed, background on ITT, and explanations of the legal actions taken today, click here.