Mom of 7 Gets Some Student Debt Relief, But Still Must Pay $222K

By Diane Davis

A single mother with seven children, four of them disabled, got part of her student loan debt wiped out in bankruptcy, but she still must repay $222,000 of it, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington held.

“Though $222,000 is a large amount, the Court’s partial discharge of her student loan obligation will hopefully provide the Plaintiff with some hope and ability to pay the student loans within her working life while still being able to care for her children,” Judge Mary Jo Heston wrote Dec. 6 in an unpublished decision.

The Bankruptcy Code prevents a debtor from discharging any qualified educational loan unless she can show that repayment would impose an undue hardship on her and her dependents.

While the Ninth Circuit has adopted the three-part Brunner v. New York State of Higher Educ. Servc., Corp. (In re Brunner) test for conducting the undue hardship analysis, the court recognized the “drastically different landscape” facing student loan debtors now compared to 30 years ago when it was decided.

This court’s approach to the undue hardship analysis may not be unique, but it shows a movement away from merely a formulaic analysis to a real-life analysis. Heather Ann Coplin, 45, is divorced with a law degree. She’s also bi-polar, and has attempted suicide several times.

She currently works 30 hours as a waitress at the Muckleshoot Casino because she can work nights and weekends and it provides medical benefits she needs to take care of her four disabled children. Her daughter, who is a triplet, will most likely never be able to take care of herself.

Coplin filed Chapter 13, and after completing her three-year plan, received a discharge. She then asked the court to wipe out her $415,000 student loan debt.

She paid the Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) and other creditors $2,242, but hasn’t enrolled in an income-based repayment plan (IBR) because she was concerned about potential tax liability.

Coplin showed that she was unable to repay the total amount without an undue hardship, but she can repay a portion of it, the court said.

Although the court found her concern over the tax implications of an IBR plan speculative, it said she could pay the remaining debt under whatever terms agreed upon with ECMC.

Richard D. Granvold, Law Office of Richard D. Granvold PS, Federal Way, Wash., represented Coplin; Trustee Michael G. Malaier, Tacoma, Wash., represented himself; Pooja Faldu Dave, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Seattle, Wash., represented U.S Department of Education.

The case is Coplin v. Dep’t of Educ. (In re Coplin) , 2017 BL 438325, Bankr. W.D. Wash., No. 16-04122, 12/6/17 .

To contact the reporter on this story: Diane Davis in Washington at ddavis@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jay Horowitz at jhorowitz@bloomberglaw.com

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