Ten years later, NCSLT sued Mr. Holmes, claiming he owed more than $16,000 on the loan plus accrued interest. Holmes denied NCSLT's claim and argued that NCSLT did not have standing to sue him.
NCSLT moved for summary judgment, which an Indiana trial court granted. The court then ordered Holmes to pay NCSLT $18,183.26 plus interest and costs.
But Mr. Holmes had a good lawyer and he appealed. An Indiana appellate court reversed the lower court's order against Mr. Holmes on the grounds that NCSLT had not provided admissible evidence that it had the right to collect on the debt Holmes owed Charter Bank.
The court's reasoning is a bit technical; but this is a summary of the appellate court's decision:
In support of its motion for summary judgment against Mr. Holmes, NCSLT offered the affidavit of Jacqueline Jefferis, an employee of Transworld Systems, Inc. (TSI), which was the "loan subservicer" for U.S. Bank, National Association, which the court identified as the "Special Servicer" working for NCSLT.
In a sworn statement, Ms. Jefferis' said she was familiar with TSI's business practices regarding loan records. But, as the Indiana Court of Appeals pointed out:
[T]he Jefferis affidavit provided no testimony to support the admission of the contract between Holmes and Charter One Bank or the schedule of pooled loans sold and assigned to National Collegiate Funding, LLC, and then to NCSLT . . . . There was no testimony to indicate that Jefferis was familiar with or had knowledge of the regular business practices or record keeping of Charter One Bank, the loan originator, or that of NCSLT regarding the transfer of pooled loans . . . . [Emphasis added by me.In other words, as far as the appellate court was concerned, Ms. Jefferis didn't know nuthin' about no loan from Charter Bank to Mr. Holmes. Consequently, the trial court's judgment against Mr. Holmes was reversed.
Why is the Holmes case, decided by an Indiana state court, important to other student-loan debtors? Three reasons:
I. The private student-loan industry is bundling student loans and selling them to investors
First, the private student-loan industry has been packaging student loans into bundles (or pools) and selling them to third parties, and these third parties often then sell these bundled loans to yet other parties. In fact, these loans can have multiple owners.
In this flurry of transactions, the paperwork often gets mislaid or lost. Sometimes the companies suing student-loan debtors for payment do not have the critical documents necessary to show that they have the legal right to collect on the debt.
This confusion sometimes occurs due to "robo-signing," the mindless signing of documents by people who are not familiar with the original transactions. This was a significant issue during the home-mortgage crisis of 2008, and judges sometimes dismissed home-foreclosure suits because the parties trying to foreclose on houses could not prove they were entitled to grab someone's home.
Thus, anyone who is sued by a company trying to collect on a private student loan should demand that the suing party show that it is the legal entity entitled to sue for the money. Fortunately for Mr. Holmes, NCSLT was unable to show that it was the party that had legal standing to sue him.
II. Student-loan debtors need good lawyers
This brings me to the second reason the Holmes case is significant for other student-loan debtors. Mr. Holmes defeated NCSLT on a technicality. Specifically, NCSLT's documentation did not pass muster with Indiana Evidence Rule 803(6). But only a competent lawyer would know how to make the technical argument that benefited Mr. Holmes.
I once thought that student-loan debtors with the right facts could go into court without lawyers and be successful. And indeed, some debtors have won their cases in federal bankruptcy courts over the ruthless opposition of the debt collectors' lawyers.
But many of these cases turn on legal technicalities that a nonlawyer could not be expected to know. The Holmes case was based on Indiana law, but federal bankruptcy law also has technicalities that nonlawyers will find very difficult to master.
That is why I was heartened by the decision of the Massachusetts Bar Association to organize teams of volunteer lawyers to represent student-loan debtors in bankruptcy courts. If student-loan debtors can get good lawyers, they will have a far better chance of winning their cases than if they go to court without legal counsel.
III. Never co-sign your children's student loans
There's a third lesson to be learned from the Holmes case. Mr. Holmes co-signed a student loan with his son Nicholas to enable Nicholas to enroll at the University of Southern Indiana. In my view, that was a mistake. If Nicholas couldn't figure out a way to attend a regional state university without having his dad co-sign a student loan, then Nicholas needed to figure out another way to go to college.
I've said this before, and I'll say it one more time. Parents should never co-sign their children's student loans. Never. Never. Never.
Note: My thanks to Steve Rhode for calling my attention to Holmes v. NCSLT.
Alexander Holmes v. National Collegiate Student Loan Trust (Ind. Ct. App. Feb. 27, 2018).
Steve Rhode. Perfect Example Why Most National College Student Loan Trust Lawsuits are BS. Getoutofdebtguyorg., March 1, 2018.