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DE LA MOTA v. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

August 29, 2003

MARISOL DE LA MOTA, FROEBEL CHUNGATA, AND OREN DORON, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF A CLASS OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS, -AGAINST- THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; DR. RODERICK R. PAIGE, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; NEW YORK LAW SCHOOL AND RUTGERS — THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Loretta Preska, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Marisol De La Mota ("De La Mota"), Froebel Chungata ("Chungata"), and Oron Doron ("Doron") (collectively, the "plaintiffs") bring this Amended Complaint (the "Complaint" or "Compl."), individually and on behalf of a class of all others similarly situated, against defendants United States Department of Education ("DOE") and Dr. Roderick R. Paige, in his official capacity as Secretary of the DOE (together, the "government defendants"), New York Law School ("NYLS") and Rutgers — The State University of New Jersey ("Rutgers") (collectively, the "defendants"), arising out of the defendants' termination of federal student loan cancellation benefits, in violation of 20 U.S.C. § 1087ee(a)(2)(I) of the Higher Education Act ("HEA") and [ Page 2]

34 C.F.R. § 674.56(b). The government defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint as against them or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on those claims. By memorandum and order dated August 12, 2003, I granted in part and denied in part the government defendants' motion to dismiss. For the reasons stated herein, the government defendants' motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims is granted.

BACKGROUND

The facts of this case are recited in the August 12, 2003 decision, familiarity with which is assumed. Any additional facts necessary to this decision are set forth below.

DISCUSSION I.

Scope of Review This Court's scope of review under the APA is limited by the language of the APA itself. Section 706 of the APA provides, in relevant part:

The reviewing court shall — (2) hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions found to be —
(A) arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law. . . .
5 U.S.C. § 706. See also Supreme Oil Co. v. Metropolitan Transp. Auth., 157 F.3d 148, 151 (2d Cir. 1998) ("Under the APA, a federal [ Page 3]

court may set aside an agency's findings, conclusions or actions only if they are `arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, [or] otherwise not in accordance with the law. . . .'"

Furthermore, review under the APA is confined to the administrative record. See Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc. v. Muszynski, 268 F.3d 91, 97 (2d Cir. 2001) (review under the APA is "narrow" and "limited to examining the administrative record"); see also Roberts v. Morton, 549 F.2d 158, 160 (10th Cir. 1976) (additional evidence outside the administrative record not considered when reviewing agency decision under the APA).

II. DOE's Interpretation of the HEA

It is undisputed that Congress, by enacting the HEA, delegated to the Secretary of the DOE the authority to administer the Perkins Loan Program and promulgate regulations for its implementation. See 20 U.S.C. § 1221e-3. Consistent with that authority, the DOE issued regulations (the "Regulations") governing the administration of the Perkins Loan Program, including the circumstances under which loan cancellation is appropriate See 34 C.F.R. § 674.56(b)(1). In drafting its Regulations, the DOE adopted 1087ee(a)(2)(I) of the HEA and incorporated it into 34 C.F. 674.56(b).

Because the DOE was, therefore, interpreting its own Regulations in evaluating plaintiffs' requests for loan [ Page 4]

cancellation, its interpretation is given some degree of deference "unless plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation." Taylor v. Vermont Dep't of Educ., 313 F.3d 768, 780 (2d Cir. 2002); see also Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 261 (1997); Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co., 325 U.S. 410, 413-13 (1945).*fn1 That the DOE's interpretation of its Regulations was not pursuant to formal notice and comment procedures does not deprive it of the deference such interpretations are otherwise due. see Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 221 (2002) ("[T]he fact that the Agency previously reached its interpretation through means less formal than `notice and comment' rulemaking does not automatically deprive that interpretation of the judicial deference that is otherwise due."). Thus, during oral ...


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