All posts in Chapter 7

Disclaimer of Inheritance: Not a Fraudulent Transfer Under Section 548, but….

Imagine 5 months before debtor files bankruptcy, she was notified that her late grandmother left her a mansion in Beverly Hills and $50,000 in life insurance proceeds.  Debtor, who was concerned that her creditors would snatch up the assets, instead decided to disclaim her interest in this inheritance — meaning she waived her right to receive the inheritance.  It is common sense that nobody can be forced to accept something if they do not choose to and the transfer of title to the property does not vest in the person until the recipient accepts it.

Under California’s Probate Code, a beneficiary to an inheritance may disclaim any property interest as long as they file the disclaimer in accordance with the Probate statute (i.e. sign it, identify who is seeking to transfer you the asset (grandma) and voluntarily disclaim the asset).  Debtor has now “transferred” her right to inheritance to another person before filing bankruptcy.   Is this a prepetition fraudulent transfer that is voidable by the trustee under Uniform Voidable Transaction Act?

No, it’s not.

Read more…

Human Error: Bank Submits Wrong Escrow Demand in Debtor’s Post-Discharge Sale and Seeks Unjust Enrichment Claim Against Debtor. Was This Postpetition Unjust Enrichment Claim Discharged? Eh, not really said the BAP.

Debtor owned a home encumbered by 3 liens and filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy and gets a discharge.  We know liens survive (“ride through”) a bankruptcy.  Eight years passed and debtor markets and sells her home.  The Bank makes a demand into escrow to get paid on its claim but due to human clerical error, the Bank submits a demand for  $3,000 when it should have been $230,000Whoops!!  Escrow relied on the demand, pays the Bank $3,000 and closes.  Debtor got $230,000 from sale proceeds that should have gone to the Bank but for that clerical error.  Windfall!  Under California law, once escrow closes — then the Bank’s rights and interests under the deed of trusts were instantly and automatically extinguished.  So, the Bank’s only Hail Marry pass is to argue the catchall – unjust enrichment!

Bank files a motion to reopen debtor’s case after 8 years to file a complaint to allege a claim for “unjust enrichment” in order to argue that it would be simply wrong (“inequitable” as lawyers say) for debtor to get to keep the all that sale proceeds.  Question is — was that “unjust enrichment” cause of action also discharged in debtor’s bankruptcy 8 years ago?  [cue suspense music]

Read more…

Prenups are Voidable Transfers says California Law

Premarital agreements between soon-to-be spouses can be an avoidable “transfer” under UFTA (now the UVTA).

In Sturm v. Moyer, defendant procured a $600,000 non-dischargeable judgment per Section 523(a).  During several rounds of debtor’s examination, the debtor said in essence, “I have nothing and will not work either, so you cannot collect against me.”  During one of the debtor’s examinations, it was discovered that the debtor got married a few years ago.  The debtor, knowing he had this judgment looming over him, entered into a prenuptial agreement with his then-wife to keep her assets and earnings separate so this judgment creditor does not try to collect on it as community property.

The judgment creditor found out about the prenup and filed a state court lawsuit to assert that the prenup was a fraudulent transfer per UFTA/UVTA.  The lower court disagreed and dismissed the case.  Judgment creditor appealed and the California appellate court, in this certified for publication case, said the prenup was a transfer based on legislative history and policy.

Read more…

Update on In re Brace – pending at the California Supreme Court

This is the case where the California Supremes will decide whether property held by husband and wife as joint tenants is owned 50-50 by each or is owned as community property.   California law presumes both.  The BAP agreed with Judge Scott Yun and ruled that the ”record title presumption of Cal. Evid. Code § 662″ does not trump “the community property presumption of Cal. Fam. Code § 760″ citing Valli v. Valli (In re Marriage of Valli), 58 Cal. 4th 1396 (2014).

The 9th Circuit punted the issue over to the California Supreme Court.  They are still doing briefing so we are probably a ways from a result.  The Supremes must rule within 90 days after oral argument but there is no deadline re when oral argument must be set.

 IN RE CLIFFORD ALLEN BRACE, JR. 
Case Number S252473 (See docket below) Read more…

Attorney’s fees for enforcing judgments

Can a judgment creditor get attorneys fees for its efforts in collecting the judgment?  No – unless the fees are “authorized” by contract, statute or law.”  If there is a “contract, statute or law,” can the creditor get fees for fighting with the debtor in bankruptcy court?  Probably yes if “the underlying judgment includes an award of attorneys’ fees.”

CCP 685.040.  The judgment creditor is entitled to the reasonable and necessary costs of enforcing a judgment. Attorney’s fees incurred in enforcing a judgment are not included in costs collectible under this title unless otherwise provided by law.  Attorney’s fees incurred in enforcing a judgment are included as costs collectible under this title if the underlying judgment includes an award of attorney’s fees to the judgment creditor pursuant to subparagraph (A) of paragraph (10) of subdivision (a) of Section 1033.5.

CCP 1033.5. (a) The following items are allowable as costs under Section 1032:

(10) Attorney’s fees, when authorized by any of the following:

(A) Contract.

(B) Statute.

(C) Law.

So opposing the discharge, opposing claimed exemptions, motions for relief?  See BAP decision in In re Gilman – here.

BAP affirms award of attorneys fees to debtor after defense of 523(a)(2) action

This is pretty interesting and very surprising.  It seems to me to make the whole “is this an action on a contract” issue go away, as long at there is some relevant contract with an attorney’s fees provision.

Asphalt Professionals, Inc. v. Davis (In re Davis), (unpublished) 1:10-bk-17214-VK (9th Cir. BAP  July, 2019)

Issue:    Did the bankruptcy court properly award attorneys fees to the debtor after ruling in debtor’s favor in a 523(a)(2) action?

Holding:   Yes.  Even though the 523 action was not “on the contract,” fees are still appropriate under CCP 1021 which “permits recovery of attorney’s fees by agreement, for tort as well as contract actions.”   Further, CCP 1032(b) gives the prevailing party “costs” which include “Attorney’s fees, when authorized by . . . Contract.” CCP 1033.5(a)(10).

Judge Victoria Kaufman, Central District of California

Faris, Lafferty, Kurtz

The creditor here sued the debtor and certain of his corporations for breach of contract, alter ego and fraud.  The state court gave the creditor judgment against the corporate entities for breach of contract and against the debtor based on alter ego.  It did not rule (apparently) on the fraud.  Judgment was $3 million for breach of contract which included $1.5 million for fees.  During these proceedings, the debtor filed chapter 7.  The creditor filed a non-dischargeability complaint alleging fraud and also sought denial of the discharge.  After trial, the bankruptcy court ruled for the debtor which was affirmed by the BAP.  The bankruptcy court then awarded attorneys fees to the debtor for approximately $100,000.  The court ruled that CA CCP 1717 did not apply because the action in bankruptcy court was not “on the contract.”  She found however that CA CCP 1021 “permits recovery of attorney’s fees by agreement, for tort as well as contract actions.”   Further, CCP 1032(b) provides “a prevailing party is entitled as a matter of right to recover costs in any action or proceeding.”  Finally, “Costs” include “Attorney’s fees, when authorized by . . . Contract.” CCP 1033.5(a)(10).

The BAP affirmed.  Citing the California Supreme Court: Read more…

Are funds seized prepetition by a creditor, and now in the possession of the Sheriff, Property of the Estate?

tentative from Judge Maureen Tighe re the issue of whether funds seized by a creditor but still in possession of the Sheriff are property of the estate.

1:18-13040 Eric Rodriguez Chapter 7

Motion By Debtor For Order Authorizing And Instructing the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office to Return Levied Funds to Debtor

On December 13, 2018, Eric Rodriguez (“Debtor”) received a notice from his bank (“Chase”) that it had received a bank levy in the amount of $14,301.57 from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office (the “Sheriff”) on behalf of judgment creditor Freddy Harrison. Debtor filed this case as a chapter 13 on December 20, 2018.  The Sheriff then sent Debtor a notice acknowledging the bankruptcy filing, but indicating that if Debtor wanted the funds to be returned, he must seek an order from the Bankruptcy Court; otherwise, the funds would be turned over to the Trustee. The total being held by the Sheriff is $11,367.68 (the “Funds”). Read more…

Discharging Student Loans in Bankruptcy – Public Counsel program

Email from Christian Cooper:

You are invited to attend “Discharging Student Loans in Bankruptcy,” an MCLE program that will cover the fundamentals of litigating student loans in adversary proceedings.  It is approved for four (4) hours of general MCLE credit.

The program is presented by Public Counsel, and is cosponsored by the Central District Consumer Bankruptcy Attorney Association (cdcbaa) and the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California. Read more…

ABI Commission Report on Consumer Bk

The ABI Commission just released the report on consumer bankruptcy.  You can find the summary of findings by clicking here.

Some interesting recommendations:  allow for postpetition chapter 7 attorneys fees, get rid of both credit counseling courses for a chapter 7, and increase chapter 13 debt limit to $3 million and eliminate the secured / unsecured distinction.    Interesting stuff in the full report which can be retrieved by registering your email here.  Curious what they will do with your email….

Paying the mortgage in advance as prepetition exemption planning

I have asked bankruptcy attorneys many times over the years whether they think that it is okay to use non-exempt cash in the bank to prepay the mortgage before filing a petition.  It would only work of course if the mortgage payment created equity that was then exempt.  Every attorney I have ever asked has said something like, “Of course it’s okay.”  Some have looked at me strangely like “Why are you asking when the answer is obvious?” If you need to pay for debts quickly here you can learn What is a life settlement and how to work around it.

I don’t see it as obvious.  It is a transfer to delay, hinder or defraud creditors.  “But it is exchanging non-exempt assets for exempt assets which is okay,” is the usual response.  The answer to that is “sort of.”

The BAP has recently affirmed Judge Robert Kwan in an unpublished opinion, In re Ellison, who denied this guy’s discharge based on a bunch of prepetition transfers, (“But it’s allowed exemption planning says the debtor’s atty.”)  The debtor paid six months worth of his first and second mortgages and he will be looking for more details about debt consolidation to decrease his total debt.  Why you ask?  The debtor’s words, “to assure that my wife and my daughter and myself had a home to live in through the end of the year . . . I did prepay [the mortgage in the past] but not to that degree, not six months, or four months, five months, whatever it was in advance, normally.”  According to Judge Kwan, “This out of the ordinary course transaction and Defendant’s admissions are additional evidence of his intent to hinder or delay his creditors by putting these funds out of their reach for his personal benefit.”   See In re Ellison, 2:15-ap-01001-RK.  Docket No. 30.

There were other transfers to be sure which had the effect of protecting about $250,000 of equity in the debtor’s home (after the homestead exemption).  Judge Kwan concluded that the debtor “crossed over the line’ of what is permissible behavior.  See In re Beverly, 374 B.R. at 244-246 (discussing the difficulty in drawing the line between legitimate bankruptcy planning and intent to hinder, delay or defraud creditors).”