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When she graduated four years ago with a law degree at the age of 61, Denise Megan Bronsdon likely did not foresee bankruptcy court in her future. But that’s where she ended up — as a debtor. The former farmer’s wife who operated a tractor before going to Southern New England School of Law in 2002, convinced a Massachusetts bankruptcy court in January that repaying the more than $82,000 she owed in student debt would create an undue hardship. However, the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, considering an appeal by the lender, Educational Credit Management Corp., found on Nov. 20 that Bronsdon’s decision not to participate in a loan repayment assistance program should be part of the bankruptcy court’s undue hardship analysis. Bronsdon, who represented herself, filed for bankruptcy after she could not get a job following her graduation in 2005 from the Dartmouth, Mass., law school. Although she graduated in the top half of her class, she failed the Wisconsin bar exam three times and was unable to pay for test preparation materials and to take the exam again. Reached by phone, Bronsdon declined to answer questions about the case. Bronsdon, who worked temporarily as a legal secretary and receptionist, had continually interviewed for full-time work after graduation without success, the Nov. 20 opinion said. She also wrote a novel but was unable to find a publisher. At the time of trial, she was 64 years old and unmarried, with a monthly income of $946 from Social Security. The district court determined that the bankruptcy court was correct in finding that she was unlikely to obtain paid employment in the foreseeable future, which would make repaying her debt unduly burdensome. However, the district court also found that the bankruptcy court was incorrect in reaching that conclusion without considering her decision not to participate in the William D. Ford Direct Loan Program’s Income Contingent Repayment plan available to law school graduates. Specifically, the district court found that the bankruptcy court erred when it concluded that the loan assistance program was not part of the analysis because it would have resulted in a tax liability that “could leave her in a financial state much more desperate than the one she was currently enduring.” The district court vacated the bankruptcy court’s decision and directed it to consider the repayment program in its undue hardship analysis. Representing Educational Credit Management Corp. was John F. White Jr., an associate at Topkins & Bevans in Braintree, Mass.

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