Tuesday, November 12, 2019

College life in the 1960s: College kids try to kill themselves in a 1961 Chrysler Imperial--but botch the job

I ain't hurtin' nobody. I ain't hurtin' no one.

John Prine

I enrolled at Oklahoma State University in 1966, just as the Vietnam War was heating up. The rules were quite clear. Boys could avoid the draft for four years if they kept their grades up. But if they flunked out, they’d be drafted and probably go to Vietnam.

I still remember some of my dorm buddies who lived with me in Cordell Hall, a four-story neo-Georgian monstrosity located near the ROTC drill field. No air conditioning. Most of us were poor or nearly poor or we wouldn’t have been living there.

I remember Alton and Bobby, two freshmen from southwestern Oklahoma. Alton was from the little town of Amber; Bobby was from the nearby hamlet of Pocasset.  If you asked them where they were from, they both would say Am-Po, expecting you to know that they were referring to the Amber-Pocasset Metropolitan Area.

And there was another kid whose name I’ve forgotten who was clinically shy and morbidly frail. His skin was almost translucent, which gave him the appearance of a young girl. I’m ashamed to say the guys in the dorm nicknamed him Elsie. He never objected.

Everyone liked Elsie, partly because he had something most of us didn’t have: a car. His parents loaned him their 1961 Chrysler Imperial, perhaps the ugliest car ever made. It had all sorts of buttons and gadgets, including power windows, which I had never seen before.

Elsie was incredibly generous with his car and loaned it to just about anyone who asked. One Saturday during the fall semester, Alton wanted to go to Oklahoma City to see his girlfriend, and he asked Elsie if he could borrow the Chrysler. Oklahoma City was 120 miles away, but Elsie offered to drive him there. Several bored freshmen joined the expedition, and six or seven of us piled into the Imperial for the run to OKC.

But Elsie didn’t drive us. Alton insisted on taking the wheel, and when we got out on Interstate 35, he said, “Let’s see how fast this baby can go.” In an instant, we were hurtling south at 120 miles an hour. No seat belts.

I was terrified but I didn’t have the courage to tell Alton to slow down. Then I looked through the rear window, and I saw a Highway Patrol cruiser closing in on us--siren wailing.

Alton panicked when he heard the siren. In a desperate attempt to get his speed down to double digits, he stomped down on the brake pedal and jerked up the hand brake. That definitely slowed us down.

Alton laid down about 100 feet of skid marks, which you can probably still see on Interstate 35. In an instant, the whole car was filled with smoke and the smell of burning rubber and fried brake pads.

We’re in big trouble now, I thought. But the cop didn’t seem concerned about the fact that seven idiot teenagers were apparently trying to kill themselves in a Chrysler. The cop said hardly a word; he just wrote Alton a speeding ticket and drove away in his cruiser.

Am-Po Bobby also had a car, an old Chevy Nova; and every Monday night he chauffeured a bunch of freshmen to Griff’s Drive-In. Griff’s sold tiny hamburgers for 15 cents apiece, and on Monday nights it sold them for a dime. Pooling our resources, we could usually scrape up three bucks, which would buy us 30 hamburgers. We all ate four apiece, and a couple of big eaters would eat five. Oh, we were living high!

One Monday night, we were waiting in Griff’s drive-through lane and Bobby spotted a metal gasoline can behind Griff’s back door. Bobby got out of the car, shook the can, and confirmed there was fuel in it. Free gas! Bobby put the gas can in the backseat of his car, and we picked up our 30 burgers at the drive-through window.

Unfortunately for Bobby, an alert Griff’s employee witnessed the theft and called the Stillwater police. A cruiser arrived immediately, and an elderly officer gave us all a lecture on stealing. He confiscated the gas can and then walked to the back of Bobby’s car to jot down the license plate number.

And what did Stillwater’s finest see on the rear bumper? A sticker that said, “Support Your Local Fuzz.” Now we’re really in trouble, I thought. We’re going to be arrested, OSU will kick us out of school, and we’ll all wind up in Vietnam.

But the officer had seen moron college students before and knew we were basically harmless. He just shook his head when he saw the bumper sticker and drove off without even giving us a citation.

The 1960 Chrysler Imperial: Power windows!


Oklahoma Highway Patrol: "Let's be careful out there."


Griff's Hamburgers: 10 burgers for a dollar (but only on Mondays)


Monday, November 4, 2019

Crocker v. Navient Solutions: A small win for student-loan debtors

Crocker v. Navient Solutions, a recent Fifth Circuit decision, is a small win for student-loan debtors. Essentially, the Fifth Circuit ruled that a private student loan obtained to pay for a bar review  course is dischargeable in bankruptcy. (The opinion also includes an extensive analysis on a jurisdictional issue, which will not be discussed here.)

Brian Crocker took out a $15,000 loan from Sallie Mae to pay for his bar-examination prep course. Subsequently, Crocker filed for bankruptcy and his  Sallie Mae loan was discharged.

Navient Solutions, which assumed the legal right to collect on Crocker's debt, continued trying to collect on the $15,000 loan after Crocker's bankruptcy discharge, claiming the debt was not dischargeable in bankruptcy. In August 2016, Crocker filed an adversary proceeding against Navient in the same bankruptcy court where he had obtained his bankruptcy discharge. Crocker sought a declaratory judgment that his Sallie Mae loan had been discharged and a judgment against Navient, holding it in contempt for continuing its collection efforts after Crocker's bankruptcy discharge.

A Texas bankruptcy court ruled in Crocker's favor, and Navient appealed.  The Fifth Circuit identified three types of student debt that are not dischargeable in bankruptcy without a showing of undue hardship:

  • Student loans made, insured, or guaranteed by a governmental unit (11 U.S.C. § 523(a) (8) (i)), including federal student loans.
  • Private student loans to attend a qualified institution (11. U.S.C. § 523 (a) (8) (B)). 
  • Debt arising from "an obligation to repay funds received as an educational benefit, scholarship, or stipend" (11 U.S.C. § 523 (a) (8) (ii)).

Sallie Mae's loan to Crocker was not a governmental loan, so § 523 (a) (8) (i) did not apply. Navient conceded that the loan was not made to a qualify institution, and thus § 523 (a) (8) (B) did not apply.

Instead, Navient argued that the loan was nondischargeable under § 523(a) (ii). Navient maintained that the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act made all private student loans nondischargeable, including Sallie Mae's $15,000 loan to Crocker to pay for his bar-exam prep course.

The Fifth Circuit disagreed. The court pointed out that the statutory provision Navient relied on did not mention loans at all. Instead that provision "applies only to educational payments that are not initially loans but whose terms will create a reimbursement obligation upon the failure of conditions  of the payments."

Therefore, the court ruled, "The loans at issue here, though obtained in order to pay expenses of education, do not qualify as 'an obligation to repay funds received as an educational benefit, scholarship, or stipend' because their repayment was unconditional. They therefor are dischargeable."

As Steve Sather, a Texas bankruptcy lawyer, observed in a recent blog essay, the Crocker decision is only a small victory for student-loan debtors. It is nevertheless a significant decision because it is a reminder that not all private student loans are covered by the Bankruptcy Code's "undue hardship" provision.  Private loans taken out by law school graduates to pay for bar-examination preparation courses can be discharged in bankruptcy.

References

Crocker v. Navient Solutions, __ F.3d __, 2019 WL 5304619 (5th Cir. Oct. 22. 2019).

Steve Sather. Fifth Circuit Grants Small Victories to Student Loan Debtors, A Texas Bankruptcy Lawyer's Blog, October 26 2019, http://stevesathersbankruptcynews.blogspot.com/2019/10/fifth-circuit-grants-small-victories-to.html.