from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Texas
JONES, HO, and OLDHAM, Circuit Judges.
H. JONES, CIRCUIT JUDGE
Thomas challenges the bankruptcy court's denial of
discharge of her student loan debt pursuant to 11 U.S.C.
§ 523(a)(8). This court, like the bankruptcy and
district courts, is bound by our previous interpretation of
the discharge provision in In re Gerhardt, 348 F.3d
89 (5th Cir. 2003). Finding no error, we AFFIRM.
Frances Thomas, the Appellant, is over 60 years old and had
to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case in 2017. Ms. Thomas
suffers from diabetic neuropathy, a degenerative condition
that causes pain in her lower extremities. Ms. Thomas is now
unemployed and subsists on a combination of public assistance
and private charity. In February 2012, however, she had
worked for eight years at a call center in Southeastern
Virginia and was earning $11.40 per hour with benefits. That
year, Ms. Thomas decided to enroll at a local community
college to improve her career prospects (she had a high
school diploma, but no higher education credits). She
obtained two $3, 500 loans through the Department of
Education, the first on February 14, 2012 and the second on
September 21, 2012 to finance her first two semesters of
courses. Ms. Thomas did not return for a third semester, and
her loans went into repayment in December 2013. In spring
2014, she made payments of $41.24 and $41.61 on the loans.
Thomas's health began to decline significantly in 2014
when she was diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy. The
condition, which often reduces circulation in patients'
lower extremities, caused muscle weakness, numbness, and pain
in her legs and feet after prolonged standing. Ms. Thomas
frequently took unpaid leave from work at the call center to
manage her symptoms and incurred significant medical
expenses. In 2016, her employer was acquired by another
company, and the new employer fired her for violating company
policies. Because she was terminated for cause, Ms. Thomas
was ineligible for unemployment benefits.
defray costs, Ms. Thomas moved to Texas to live with her
then-boyfriend. She obtained work with Perfumania, then
Whataburger, and finally UPS. But each job required her to be
on her feet, and she could not maintain these positions.
Since quitting UPS in 2017, Ms. Thomas has not obtained
employment that comports with her need for sedentary work.
to make payments on her student loans and other significant
debts, Ms. Thomas filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Dallas and
received a general discharge of her debts. Seeking a
discharge of her student loan debt as well, Ms. Thomas
initiated an adversary complaint in bankruptcy court against
the Department of Education.
discharge student loan debt under the Bankruptcy Code, a
debtor must show that the debt would impose an "undue
hardship" on the debtor if it is not discharged. 11
U.S.C. § 523(a)(8). In In re Gerhardt, 348 F.3d 89
(5th Cir. 2003), this court adopted the three-prong test for
evaluating "undue hardship" claims established by
the Second Circuit in Brunner v. New York State
Higher Education Service Corp., 831 F.2d 395 (2d Cir.
1987). To justify the discharge of student loan debt under
this test, a debtor must prove:
(1) that the debtor cannot maintain, based on current income
and expenses, a 'minimal' standard of living for
[herself] and [her] dependents if forced to repay the loans;
(2) that additional circumstances exist indicating that this
state of affairs is likely to persist for a significant
portion of the repayment period of the student loans; and (3)
that the debtor has made good faith efforts to repay the
Gerhardt, 348 F.3d at 91 (quoting Brunner,
831 F.2d at 396).
bankruptcy court held a trial to review Ms. Thomas's
complaint, applied Gerhardt, and determined that
"Ms. Thomas has not met her burden of showing undue
hardship under the controlling standard in the Fifth Circuit
. . . ." The bankruptcy court concluded that she had
satisfied the first prong of Brunner-showing an
inability to maintain a minimal standard of living if forced
to repay the loan-because her monthly expenses ($640)
exceeded her monthly income ($194). Ms. Thomas failed to pass
Brunner's second standard, however, because she
"conceded that she is unable to show she is completely
incapable of employment now or in the ...