Butner Principle From a Different Perspective – Simon Says May I?

I was reading this law review article on the Butner case and it provided a different view on the case that I wanted to share.  In essence,  Professor Adler questions why Butner  became so famous and a “guiding principle” when the underlying arguments and holdings are so obvious.   Butner says that since the Bankruptcy Code does not establish or define property rights, the parties must turn to nonapplicable law (state law) to answer it.  Well of course! Where else would you turn to!? That makes so much sense, why did we need nine Justices to clarify that?

This is akin to me telling you “in order to fix my plumbing problem, don’t look in the ‘House Operations Manual’ but instead look at the plumbing manual that will tell you how to fix my plumbing problem.“  We need a Supreme Court to tell us that?  The answer is so blatantly obvious let alone to become a “guiding principle!”

I love this part of the article in explaining what Butner did.  Mr. Butner was the 2nd lienholder on the property and under state law he was technically permitted to take his property upon the homeowner’s default.   The Supreme Court put a temporarily hold on this and said instead of Mr. Butner being able to automatically take possession of his property, Mr. Butner had to get the bankruptcy court’s permission to do so.  As the article cleverly writes, “…[a]n ananoly to a child’s game comes to mind.  When the mortagee in Butner said, ‘may I have my property, please,’ the Supreme Court denied the request because mortagee did not say, ‘Simon Says, may I have my property please.’

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