On July 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that private student loans are not explicitly exempt from the discharge of debt granted to debtors in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed for Chapter 7, which led to an ambiguous discharge order as to how it applied to his roughly $12,000 direct-to-consumer student loans. After the plaintiff received the discharge in 2009, the student loan servicer started collection efforts. Because the plaintiff did not know whether the discharge applied to his student loans, he repaid the loans in full. In 2017, the plaintiff moved to reopen his bankruptcy case and filed an adversary proceeding against the student loan servicer and the servicer’s predecessor (collectively, “defendants”), seeking a determination that his student loans were in fact discharged during the original proceeding. The servicer moved for dismissal claiming the loans were exempt under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8)(A)(ii), but the bankruptcy judge denied the motion, ruling that the bankruptcy code “does not sweep in all education-related debt.” The district court subsequently certified the bankruptcy court’s order for interlocutory appeal.
On appeal, the 2nd Circuit reviewed whether the plaintiff’s private student loans could be discharged under bankruptcy. Under § 523(a)(8), the following types of student loans are exempt from discharge: (i) government or nonprofit institution student loans; (ii) obligations “to repay funds received as an educational benefit, scholarship, or stipend”; and (iii) qualified education loans. The defendants argued that the plaintiff’s loans fell into the “educational benefit” category, but the appellate court disagreed, concluding that § 523(a)(8) does not provide a blanket exception to the applicability of bankruptcy discharge to private student loans. In affirming the bankruptcy court’s ruling, the appellate court wrote, “if Congress had intended to except all educational loans from discharge under § 523(a)(8)(A)(ii), it would not have done so in such stilted terms.” The 2nd Circuit further added that “[i]nterpreting ‘educational benefit’ to cover all private student loans when the two terms listed in tandem describe ‘specific and quite limited kinds of payments that. . .do not usually require repayment,’. . .would improperly broaden § 523(a)(8)(A)(ii)’s scope.”