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In re Pawlak

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 16, 2014

IN RE: ELIZABETH JULIA PAWLAK; ELIZABETH JULIA PAWLAK, Appellant
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Appellee

Page 178

Elizabeth Julia Pawlak, Appellant, Pro se, Alexandria, VA.

For United States Department of Education, Appellee: Jason Daniel Medinger, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the United States Attorney, Baltimore, MD.

Elizabeth Julia Pawlak, Debtor, Pro se, Alexandria, VA.

Page 179

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, United States District Judge.

Presently pending and ready for resolution in this bankruptcy appeal are two motions: (1) motion to dismiss filed by Appellee United States Department of Education (" DOE" or " Appellee" ) (ECF No. 6); and (2) motion for leave to file a surreply filed by Appellant Elizabeth J. Pawlak (" Ms. Pawlak" or " Appellant" ) (ECF No. 17). The relevant issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, Appellee's motion to dismiss will be granted, and Appellant's motion for leave to file a surreply will be denied.

I. Background

Ms. Pawlak appeals two orders of the bankruptcy court concerning a discovery dispute in an adversary proceeding regarding dischargeability of a student loan. In the fall of 1990, Elizabeth J. Pawlak obtained a federally insured student loan under the Higher Education Act to pay for her to attend Georgetown University Law Center (" GULC" ), where she studied from 1989 to 1992. (ECF No. 1-42, at 3). Ms. Pawlak graduated from GULC with a Juris Doctor degree in 1992. ( Id.). She defaulted on her student loan six months after graduation due to a series of events that she characterizes as " the Pennsylvania bar admission ordeal." [1] ( Id.).

On June 29, 1995, Ms. Pawlak filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland.[2] On March 26, 1997, the Bankruptcy Court issued a general discharge order pursuant to Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code, discharging all of Ms. Pawlak's debts, except for those found to be non-dischargeable, such as her student debt.[3] Ms. Pawlak states that neither the DOE nor its agents tried to collect on the student loan until early 2013, when the DOE intercepted her 2012 tax refunds.

On October 25, 2013, Ms. Pawlak filed an adversary proceeding in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland seeking to set aside her student loan debt for the time she attended GULC. See Pawlak v. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency et al., Adversary Case No. 13-00650 (D.Md. Bankr.); ( see also ECF No. 1-42). In the complaint filed in the adversary proceeding, she states that " [f]or over 20 years, neither the U.S. Department of Education nor its agents made any attempt to collect on the loan until it had the Plaintiff's 2012 tax refunds intercepted in early 2013." (ECF No. 1-42, at 3) (emphasis added). Ms. Pawlak represents that having to repay the student debt constitutes an " undue

Page 180

hardship" under 11 U.S.C. § 523. ( Id. at 5). During discovery, the DOE served Ms. Pawlak with various interrogatories and document production requests seeking information about her current financial circumstances and her recent employment history. (ECF No. 6-1, at 3). Ms. Pawlak did not respond to these discovery requests. Instead, on February 20, 2014, she filed a motion seeking a protective order for information relating to her current financial status. (ECF No. 1-40). Ms. Pawlak argued that because the adversary proceeding required the bankruptcy court to determine the dischargeability of her student loans in relation to her 1995 bankruptcy case, her current financial and employment status is outside the temporal scope of her adversary proceeding. ( Id. at 7).

On February 28, 2014, Appellee filed a motion to compel responses to discovery and opposed Ms. Pawlak's motion for protective order. ( See ECF No. 1-31). Appellee argued that its requests for Ms. Pawlak's current financial information relate directly to the standard that the bankruptcy court must apply when determining whether Appellant has met the " undue hardship" requirement for discharge of a student loan under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8). Appellant opposed the motion, arguing that her claim for undue hardship should be measured by her financial circumstances as they existed during the administration of her 1995 bankruptcy case rather than by her current financial circumstances. (ECF No. 1-30). The docket of the adversary proceeding reflects that on March 31, 2014, United States Bankruptcy Judge Wendelin I. Lipp held a hearing concerning to Appellant's motion for a protective order and Appellee's motion to compel.[4] ( See ECF No. 1-43, at 6).

On April 1, 2014, Judge Lipp issued an order granting Appellee's motion to compel and denying Ms. Pawlak's motion for protective order, concluding that " [Appellee] has set forth sufficient cause to grant the relief requested and that [Appellant's] motion is not well-taken." (ECF No. 1-28). Judge Lipp ordered Appellant to " answer in full all of [Appellee's] interrogatories and requests for production of documents, including but not limited to those which seek information from 1986 to the present time." ( Id. at 2).

Appellant did not comply with the order, and Appellee filed a motion to compel and/or for sanctions on April 22, 2014. (ECF No. 1-24). Judge Lipp issued an order granting this second motion to compel

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on May 12, 2014, (ECF No. 1-17), again ordering Appellant to answer in full all of DOE's discovery requests within fourteen (14) days or Appellant would be " subject to more severe sanctions under Fed.R.Civ.P. 37, up to and including dismissal of [the] action or the entry of default judgment in favor of [Appellee]." ( Id. at 2).

On May 22, 2014, Appellant filed a request for certification for direct interlocutory appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit regarding the May 12, 2014 order of the bankruptcy court granting Appellee's second motion to compel and/or for sanctions. (ECF No. 1-43, at 8). She sought to appeal directly to the Fourth Circuit the bankruptcy court's order requiring Ms. Pawlak to answer in full all of the interrogatories and requests for production of documents. Judge Lipp denied the request on June ...


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