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Major Victory: One Month After Student Defense Client Passes Away from Cancer, Federal Court Rules on his Behalf, Denies DeVos Motion to Dismiss

WASHINGTON, DC – In a case challenging the unfair denial of loan relief to a student who recently passed away, a federal district court ruled against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and opened the door to a full refund for the borrower’s widow. Rob Armour sued Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education in 2019, for unlawfully denying him a closed school loan discharge after his school closed while he was on leave receiving treatment for cancer. The ruling by Judge Timothy Kelly found that Armour, and all borrowers, have a due process right to a closed school discharge.

A transcript of the court’s oral ruling is available here. The court explained during the hearing that it does not plan to issue a written opinion.

“Rob Armour spent the last years of his life fighting—with courage and conviction—both cancer and Betsy DeVos,” said Student Defense Senior Counsel and cofounder Alex Elson. “Time and again, DeVos had the opportunity to get this right, yet each time she dug her heels in deeper to fight him. Rob always knew that he was on the right side of justice, and he never gave up hope. Although Rob is no longer with us, he would be proud to know that his efforts established an important precedent for others who have been wrongfully denied relief.”

Under the Higher Education Act, students attending a school within 120 days of its closure, or who are on an approved leave of absence, are entitled to a full discharge of their federal loans. Rob met all of the necessary criteria for such a discharge when Argosy University closed in December 2018, while he was receiving treatment for stage IV colon cancer. After his application for a discharge was denied without explanation or any opportunity for appeal, Student Defense sued the Department of Education on his behalf. Rob Armour died on October 5, 2020, and Student Defense continued the litigation on behalf of his widow, who is owed a refund of over $34,000, the amount Rob had already paid off on his federal loans.

Rob’s story was twice featured in the Washington Post (here and here) and in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He also appears in a video interview conducted by filmmaker Alex Shebanow

In its November 5 ruling, the court found that Rob had successfully alleged that the denial was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act, and that he stated a valid claim under the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution.

Improper denials of closed school discharge applications have been cited by members of Congress, state attorneys general, and in widespread media reports. The court’s decision provides an important precedent for other deserving borrowers who have been unfairly shut out by the Department.

More information about the case, and related documents, can be found here: Armour v. DeVos