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IN RE WILLIAMS

June 2, 2003

NATALIE M. WILLIAMS, DEBTOR. NATALIE M. WILLIAMS, APPELLANT, AGAINST NEW YORK STATE HIGHER EDUCATION SERVICES CORPORATION, EDUCATIONAL CREDIT MANAGEMENT CORP., UNIVERSITY OF MEDICINE AND DENTISTRY OF NEW JERSEY, APPELLEES.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shira A. Scheindlin, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Natalie Williams (the "Debtor") filed a petition for relief under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code on January 8, 2001. Subsequently, Williams filed this adversary proceeding against various state and federal agencies seeking a determination that her student loans are dischargeable pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 523, or are otherwise eligible for loan forgiveness. On August 13, 2002, the Bankruptcy Court issued an order denying Williams' request and she now appeals that order. For the reasons stated below, the Bankruptcy Court's order is affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Parties

Williams is a licensed teacher currently employed by the New York City Board of Education. See 3/25/02 Joint Pre-Trial Order ("JPTO"), Ex. E to Appellees' Appendix to Record on Appeal, at 4. From 1981 to 1994, she received student loans from three lenders. The first lender, the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation ("NY Education Services"), is a New York State agency responsible for the administration of the Federal Family Education Loan Program ("FFEL Program") as a guaranty agency. See Natalie Williams v. New York State Higher Educ. Corp. (In re Natalie Williams), No. 01 B 40029, at 4 (Bankr.S.D.N.Y. Aug. 13, 2002). Williams also received loans from the Educational Credit Management Corporation ("Credit Management"), which is a not-for-profit corporation created under the direction of the Department of Justice. Credit Management provides specialized guarantor services to the Department of Education, including the transfer of title to certain student loan accounts on which the student loan borrower has filed a bankruptcy petition.*fn1 See id. The third lender, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey ("UMDNJ"), is a medical school Williams attended from 1992 to 1994. See id.

B. Stafford and UMDNJ Loans

The lenders provided Williams with two types of loans: Stafford Loans*fn2 and UMDNJ Loans. Williams received Stafford Loans from N.Y. Education Services. These loans were taken from 1981 to 1991 when Williams was a student at the University of Chicago and Columbia University Teachers College. See id. The loans totaled $40,320, and Williams has paid a total of $11,287.44 through wage garnishment and tax seizure. See id. Williams also received Stafford Loans from Credit Management in 1993 and 1994, when she attended UMDNJ. See id. As of March 25, 2002, Williams outstanding balance with Credit Management was $13,280.75.

Williams' UMDNJ student loans consist of Health Professional Student Loans and Loans for Disadvantaged Students, which Williams received when she attended UMDNJ. As of January 8, 2001, the amount of unpaid principal and interest owed by Williams under the UMDNJ Loans was $17,277.03. See id. UMDNJ has also charged Williams for late fees of $127.36 and attorneys' fees of $5,016.04.

C. Bankruptcy Court Proceedings

On January 8, 2001, Williams, appearing pro se, filed a petition for relief under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. Williams subsequently filed three adversary proceedings against N.Y. Education Services, Credit Management, and UMDNJ. In each adversary proceeding, the Debtor disputed the accuracy of the amounts claimed by each of the defendants and requested a discharge of her student loans due to financial hardship. Williams also claimed that her student loans were eligible for deferment and forgiveness. The Bankruptcy Court consolidated the three adversary proceedings on August 17, 2001, pursuant to Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 7024.

On March 25, 2002, the Bankruptcy Court held a trial and ruled that Williams was not entitled to discharge her student loans on the ground that the loans created a financial hardship. The court also issued an opinion on August 13, 2002, holding that Williams' Stafford Loans were ineligible for loan forgiveness or deferment based on her employment as a teacher in a low-income area, pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1078-10 and FFEL Program. See id. at 5. In addition, the court held that the UMDNJ Loans were ineligible for deferment or cancellation based on the terms of the promissory notes. See id. The court did not make a determination on the accuracy of the amounts claimed by each defendant. Williams filed this appeal on October 24, 2002, arguing that the Bankruptcy Court erred, and that her loans should be discharged, forgiven, or deferred.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A district court sits as an appellate court in bankruptcy cases and applies dual standards of review. Questions of law are subject to de novo review. See In re Maxwell Newspapers, Inc., 981 F.2d 85, 89 (2d Cir. 1992); Seaman Furniture Co. of Union Square, Inc. v. Seaman-Mitchell Assoc. (In re Seaman Furniture Co. of Union Square), No. 96 Civ. 4268, 1996 WL 741604, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 27, 1996). The Bankruptcy Court's findings of fact will only be set ...


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