In the case, Nightingale v. North Carolina State Educational Assistance Authority, the debtor, Alice Nightingale, 67 years old, suffered from “intractable foot pain,” hypothyroidism, obstructive sleep apnea, and chronic fatigue, all of which had worsened over the course of her chapter 13 bankruptcy. The condition prevented her from engaging in employment and from taking part in many day-to-day activities.
She was granted full disability from her teaching job by the County School Board. In a hearing in October, 2015, the court found Ms. Nightingale had established the first and third prongs of the Brunner test with evidence that she had attempted to repay the student loan, that she was “elderly” and unlikely to find future employment and that she suffered from significant medical problems. Although Ms. Nightingale’s testimony concerning her medical disabilities was credible, the second prong of the Brunner test still needed to be satisfied.
Over the lender’s objection, the court held a second hearing in which Ms. Nightingale presented medical documents to corroborate her testimony, including letters to Ms. Nightingale’s attorney from two of her doctors, a medical report for disability eligibility, and a physician-provided list of Ms. Nightingale’s current medications.
The subsequent hearing specifically addressed the second prong of the Brunner test: whether there existed “additional, exceptional circumstances, strongly suggestive of continuing inability to repay [the debt] over an extended period of time.”
While the court agreed with the lender that Ms. Nightingale could have presented evidence of recent tests and evaluations, it found that it was not necessary that she “provide every possibly available piece of evidence that could further corroborate the unrebutted evidence in this case.”
The court concluded: “Taking into consideration the Plaintiff’s age, current living situation, inability to walk or stand for long periods of time, chronic fatigue, lack of stamina, lack of strength, diminished cognitive ability, and the likelihood that these conditions will all last for a significant period of her possible repayment period given her age and the duration of her illnesses, the Plaintiff has demonstrated that exceptional circumstances exist in this case and has met the second prong of the Brunner test.”
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