SCOTUS rules against student-loan company

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The Supreme Court of the United States clarified March 23 the discharge of federal student-loan debt in bankruptcy involving an Indianapolis-based education loan guarantor.

In United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. Francisco J. Espinosa, No. 08-1134, the SCOTUS unanimously ruled against United Student Aid Funds' attempt to collect interest from federally guaranteed student loans discharged in Bankruptcy Court. Francisco J. Espinosa had four student loans and claimed those as his only debt when he filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The Bankruptcy Court accepted his plan to repay only the principal owed, without making an undue hardship finding or having an adversary proceeding as required by Bankruptcy Code.

USA Funds received notice of the plan from the court clerk but didn't object to or appeal once it was approved. Espinosa paid off the principal per the terms of the plan, and the interest was discharged. Three years later, USA Funds attempted to collect the unpaid interest. Espinosa reopened his case asking for an order to prohibit collection of his discharged debts. USA Funds filed a cross-motion under Federal Rule Civil 60(b)(4) to set aside the order confirming the plan. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Bankruptcy Court. The 9th Circuit found the Bankruptcy Court committed a legal error by not finding undue hardship in an adversary proceeding, but that didn't justify setting aside the confirmation order under Rule 60(b). This was in contrast with rulings in the 2nd and 10th Circuit Courts.

The SCOTUS granted transfer to decide whether an order that confirms the discharge of a student-loan debt without an undue hardship finding or adversary proceedings, or both, is a void judgment under Rule 60(b)(4).

USA Funds claimed it's entitled to relief because it didn't receive adequate notice of the proposed discharge of the loans. But the company received actual notice of the filing and contents of Espinosa's plan, even if Espinosa didn't serve the company with a summons and complaint, wrote Justice Clarence Thomas.

USA Funds argued that an order confirming a plan to discharge student-loan debt without an undue hardship finding is beyond the court's authority and therefore void. The justices weren't persuaded that not finding undue hardship in accordance with federal statute is on par with the jurisdictional and notice failings that define void judgments that qualify for relief under Rule 60(b)(4).

The Bankruptcy Court did commit a legal error by not finding undue hardship before confirming Espinosa's plan, but the order is still enforceable and binding because USA Funds had notice of the error and didn't timely object or appeal, the justices held.

The justices ruled the 9th Circuit went too far in holding Bankruptcy courts must confirm a plan proposing the discharge of student-loan debt without a determination of undue hardship in an adversary proceeding unless the creditor timely raises a specific objection. Discharging student-loan debt under Chapter 13 without determining undue hardship violates Bankruptcy Code. Courts must make an independent determination before a plan is confirmed, even if the creditor fails to object, or the debtor and creditor agree that there is an undue hardship, wrote the justice.

USA Funds said in a statement that the ruling provides the clarification the company has been seeking, given the disagreement among courts on the issue. USA Funds also said the ruling protects taxpayers by requiring the showing of undue hardship before discharging student-loan debt and puts Bankruptcy courts on notice regarding the law's requirements for discharge.

"Importantly, the opinion also includes strong language that puts debtors and their attorneys on notice that they will face penalties if they propose bankruptcy plans that attempt to skirt the undue hardship requirement of the federal statute," said the company.


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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.