Valuable Bible Exempt in Illinois says District Court Judge Overruling Bankruptcy Judge

Illinois exemption statute says:”The necessary wearing apparel, bible, school books, and family pictures of the debtor and the debtor’s dependents.”  This bible however was a 1830 relic worth at least $10,000 with some people saying it could be five to ten times that value.  And, says the trustee, the debtor had other bibles and did not use this one.   Her total debt was in the range of $30,000.  The bankruptcy judge ruled that it was not exempt and the district court reversed.  The district court decision is here.

This is really straight statutory construction.  There are lots of dollar limitations among the various exemptions but none on bibles.  The district court writes,

The Court believes a reading of the plain language indicates the Bible is exempt without regard to its value.  First, it is the most reasonable interpretation that “necessary” only modifies “wearing apparel” and does not modify the remaining items in the list.  Wearing apparel is a necessity for basic living.  However, one does not need a bible, school books or family pictures to survive.  As such, the Court finds that the statute, as written, does not require the Court to undertake a “necessary” analysis.

The article at Credit Slips is here.  The Wall Street Journal article is here.

The biggest problems law students have is that they learn a bunch of rules which they can spew back to you nicely but then they jump to a “reasonable” type argument.   Congress makes the laws.  Obviously the Illinois legislature could have exempted bibles “irrespective of the value.”  There would be no debate.  But is that what it did here?  It depends on what the code says.  The district court judge’s analysis here is supported by the plain language of the code.  The trustee’s arguments on the other hand are completely “reasonable.”

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