search form

Trying to get rid of your loans? Here’s all the undue hardship student loan cases in 2018

March 7, 2018

Whether a court uses the Brunner test or the totality of the circumstances test, the question is the same: does repaying your student loans cause you an undue hardship? Use these undue hardship student loan cases to try and get rid of your student loans.

This page lists undue hardship student loan cases that were entered in 2018. I do my best to find all of the bankruptcy cases where the dischargeability of student loans is at issue. But sometimes I miss some because they weren’t picked up by WestLaw or LexisNexis or Google Scholar.

A collection of undue hardship student loan cases from 2018

The reason why I track these cases is to:

  • watch how different bankruptcy courts make their undue hardship determination;
  • learn which facts and arguments courts found persuasive;
  • try and collect undue hardship examples to share

Below, you’ll find a brief recap of what the case was about, what the court did, and what facts I thought were relevant. You’ll also find a link to the case so you can read the case for yourself.

Ready to get started? Feel free to jump down to the cases. But for those of you who want to know the history of student loans in bankruptcy, watch this…

And if you need a refresher, let’s talk about…

What does undue hardship mean?

There really is no set definition of what undue hardship means when it comes to student loans. Bankruptcy law doesn’t define it. Because of that, courts have had to define it for themselves. That’s where we get the Brunner test and the totality of the circumstances test.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education dipped its toes in defining undue hardship. It did this by publishing a Request for Information. In that Request, the Department asks the public to (a) identify factors that should be considered in evaluating undue hardship claims; and (b) determine the weight to be given to those factors.

Undue hardship student loan cases 2018

January

ECMC v. Acosta-Conniff. Elizabeth Acosta-Conniff initially convinced the bankruptcy court her federal student loans caused her an undue hardship. ECMC appealed. The 11th Circuit sent the case back to the district court. The district court said more information was needed to determine if her loans were dischargeable under the Brunner test. It then sent the case back to the bankruptcy court to try and get that information.

Relevant facts. Elizabeth obtained deferments and made payments on her loans. But she failed to participate in the income contingent repayment plan. Under that plan, her monthly payment would be reduced from about $900 to about $350. She also failed to show how she lowered her expenses and maximized her income.

Result. Returned to the bankruptcy court for more information as to whether Elizabeth met Brunner’s 3 prongs.

Opinion. Download here.

***

Munch v. ECMC. Christopher Munch failed to convince the bankruptcy court that repaying about $304 thousand in federal student loans. The court refused to discharge his loans because he failed to show:

  • his hardship would persist for a significant part of the repayment; and
  • he made a good faith effort to repay the loans.

Relevant facts. Christopher was 33, lived with his girlfriend, and was unemployed at the time of trial. He testified his hardship would persist because he’s a felon, with physical and mental disabilities. He provided no evidence, other than his own testimony, in support. He made less than $250 in voluntary payments towards his loans.

Result. Undue hardship denied.

Opinion. Download here.

***

Devos v. Price. Kristin Price convinced the bankruptcy court that repaying about $26 thousand in federal student loans would cause her and her 3 children an undue hardship. On appeal, the district court disagreed. It said she hadn’t demonstrated her financial hardship will last for a significant part of her repayment period.

Relevant facts. Kristin worked part-time (20 hrs per week) as a sonographer, earning about $34 per hour. She received $1400 in child-support. Her monthly expenses exceeded her income by about $140. She believed she couldn’t work more hours or find a second job because: (a) employment options in her area for sonographers were limited; and (b) child-care expenses would eat away any extra money she earned.

Result. Undue hardship denied.

Opinion. Download here.

February

West v Dept. of Ed. Willie West, a 60 year old man, argued that repaying $69 thousand in federal student loans would cause him an undue hardship.

Relevant facts. Willie was single, had no dependents, and was unemployed. His only source of income was less than $200 per month in food stamps. He lived in his aunt’s home rent free. He hadn’t worked since 1990 and hadn’t looked for a job in the past 5 years. He had not made a voluntary payment on his loans but he had entered into forbearances.

Result. To be determined. The court needed more information to see if Willie satisfied Brunner‘s second and third prongs.

Opinion. Download here.

***

Martin v. Great Lakes Higher Ed. The bankruptcy court agreed with Janeese Martin that repaying over $230 thousand in federal student loans would cause her and her dependents an undue hardship.

Relevant facts. Janeese was 50, married, and lived with her 2 adult children, who both have disabilities (one has OCD, the other a learning disability). She was unemployed at the time of trial. Her last job was in 2008. She has a law degree but she hasn’t worked as a lawyer since the 90s. Her 66 year old husband earned less than $40 thousand in 2016.

Result. Undue hardship granted.

Opinion. Download here.

***

Perez v. Dept. of Ed. Melissa Perez failed to convince the bankruptcy court her $234 thousand in Parent Plus loans were an undue hardship on her, her husband, and 4 children (1 adult, 3 minor).

Relevant facts. Both Melissa and her husband had been employed for the past several years. Combined, they had over $400 thousand in retirement fund accounts. They also owned a rental property that generated income. All told, they had an excess of almost $600 per month after covering their expenses. (And that’s before the court decreased their expenses to those set by the IRS guidelines.) They could have used that money to repay the loans under an ICR plan but they failed to do so.

Result. Undue hardship denied. Melissa satisfied none of Brunner’s 3 prongs.

Opinion. Download here.

Private student loan bankruptcy examples 2018

Before we get to the cases, let’s give a brief refresher of private student loans in bankruptcy.

For years, courts regularly said that absent undue hardship, private student loans were nondischargeable in bankruptcy. They typically reached that conclusion by determining them to be an educational benefit.

Over the past 2 years, that’s changed. Now, courts have begun looking to see if the loan is a qualified education loan. And if it isn’t, the loan, unless the court determines the loan was made under a  program funded by a nonprofit, is dischargeable.

With that refresher out the way, let’s get back to undue hardship student loan cases for private loans.

January

None.

February

Jean-Baptiste v. ECMC. Natalie Jean-Baptiste argued her private student loan was dischargeable because it wasn’t a qualified education loan. The court disagreed. What Natalie missed is that a private student loan is still dischargeable even if it isn’t a qualified education loan so long as it was made under a program funded by a nonprofit.

She also argued the loans were dischargeable because she didn’t use them for an educational purpose.

Finally, she argued the private student loans were dischargeable as an undue hardship. The court needed more information to make that determination.

Relevant facts. Natalie is an attorney, in her late 30s who suffers from sickle cell disease. At the time the motion was heard, she was single, with no dependents and she lived with her parents.

Natalie borrowed several loans from National City, a for profit lender. The loans, however, were made under the Access Loan Program. That program was funded by a nonprofit institution, Access. Access also designed the loan application, serviced the loan, and was assigned the loan pursuant to an agreement it had with National.

Result. The private student loans are nondischargeable because they were made under a program funded by a nonprofit. It doesn’t matter what you spent the money on. What matters is that when you borrowed them, you agreed to use them for an educational purpose. Finally, the court needed more information to determine if repayment would cause her an undue hardship.

Opinion. Download here.

March

None yet.

Comments