A Baltimore County woman had about $340,000 in student loan debt discharged by a federal bankruptcy judge this month because Asperger's syndrome prevents her from holding a job.
Carol Todd of Nottingham pursued college degrees "as a stepping stone toward a measure of liberation … and perhaps to help her achieve something closer to a normal life," according to the May 17 opinion of Judge Robert A. Gordon, a bankruptcy judge for the District of Maryland. Asperger's is an autism-spectrum disorder that is typified by problems with social interaction.
But the debt Todd racked up ended up complicating her life, Gordon said. He took a rare judicial step by deciding that the loans Todd took on were an "undue hardship."
"It's very difficult to discharge a student loan," said Lawrence D. Coppel, a Baltimore attorney and founder of Maryland's Bankruptcy Bar Association.
"The courts have applied a very strict standard to that exception," said Coppel. "Most of the decisions that are published deny the discharge and refuse to find a hardship exception, even in cases where there's clearly hardship — so the decision by Judge Gordon … is unique."
Todd, who was 63 at the time of her student loan discharge trial in Nov. 2010, received a GED at 39 and began pursuing higher education.