Acosta-Conniff Remanded Back to Bankruptcy Court to see to whether she has Satisfied her Burden of Proving each of the 3 Brunner elements

Acosta-Conniff Remanded Back to Bankruptcy Court to see to whether she has Satisfied her Burden of Proving each of the 3 Brunner elements

This action is before the court on the mandate of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  The Eleventh Circuit vacated this court’s judgment and remanded this action for further proceedings in accordance with its instructions.

On review of the bankruptcy court’s determination that Appellee Alexandra Elizabeth Acosta-Conniff’s (“Ms. Conniff”) student loan debt was dischargeable under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8), this court reversed the judgment of the bankruptcy court. It found that Ms. Conniff failed to demonstrate the requisite “additional circumstances” to satisfy the second prong of the three-part Brunner test, which this circuit has adopted when considering the dischargeability of student loan debt. See Brunner v. N.Y. State Higher Educ. Serv. Corp., 831 F.2d 395, 396 (2d Cir. 1987); Hemar Ins. Corp. of Am. v. Cox (In re Cox), 338 F.3d 1238, 1241-42 (11th Cir. 2003). On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit vacated the decision and remanded with instructions to “apply clear-error review to the bankruptcy court’s factual findings as to each prong of the Brunner test and de novo review to any of the bankruptcy court’s legal conclusions.” ECMC v. Acosta-Conniff (In re Acosta-Conniff), 686 F. App’x 647, 650 (11th Cir. 2017) (emphasis in original). In its opinion, the Eleventh Circuit noted that it may be necessary for this court to remand this action to the bankruptcy court for additional findings of fact. Id. at 650 & n.1.

As predicted by the Eleventh Circuit, remand is necessary. When reviewing a bankruptcy court’s decision, “the district court . . . is [not] authorized to make independent factual findings.” Equitable Life Assurance Soc’y v. Sublett (In re Sublett), 895 F.2d 1381, 1384 (11th Cir. 1990). “If the bankruptcy court’s factual findings are silent or ambiguous as to an outcome determinative factual question, the district court . . . must remand the case to the bankruptcy court for the necessary factual determination.” Id. (citing Wegner v. Grunewaldt, 821 F.2d 1317, 1320 (8th Cir. 1987)). Here, the facts are insufficiently developed for this court to determine whether Ms. Conniff has met her burden of proving Brunner‘s three requirements, and there are issues of fact that the bankruptcy court must clarify before it can determine—and this court can review—whether Ms. Conniff has satisfied Brunner‘s requirements.

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