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Bankruptcy Cases in the News: Federal and State Exemptions

Bankruptcy Cases in the News

Federal and State Exemptions

     Under the Bankruptcy Court, a debtor may elected between two sets of exemptions in a Chapter 7 case, the Federal exemptions, or (in Michigan) the Michigan exemptions. Generally, the Federal exemptions give the greatest coverage of property to the debtor. Exempt property is property that the debtor gets to keep from creditors and the trustee, which forms the basis of his or her fresh start going forward.

     In certain interesting circumstances, however, the Michigan exemptions are more favorable to the Chapter 7 debtor and should be elected. For instance, under the Federal exemptions, exemptions about $42,000.00 in home equity can be exempted by a married couple. However, if the home is jointly owned as entireties property (husband and wife) either may file individually a bankruptcy and exempt their entire equity, no matter how great, from all individual creditors.

     That is because the historical purposes of the state law favors protecting an innocent spouse from the debts of his or her spouse to preserve their primary residence. This concepts has been explored and defined in several published court decisions. For instance, see: In re: Trickett, 14 Br 85 (Bank W.D. Michigan) 1981; and, In re: Grosslight, 757 F2d 773 (6th Cir. 1985).

     One of the keys to this relief is the absence of joint indebtedness. So, if the non-filing debtor is jointly responsible on some of the incurred debt, the trustee may argue that it should be allowed to administer the estate (sell the martital home) to the extent of the joint obligations. Still, this type of harsh relief must be examined on a case-by-case basis as noted by Judge McIvor in In re: Edwin Harlin, 325 BR 184, 189 (Bank E.D. Mich) 2005:

“As a general rule, courts have been very reluctant to apply 11 USC §363 (h) to allow the sale of entireties property owned by the debtor, and a non-debtor spouse. The case law is well summarized in Collier on Bankruptcy as follows: Disputes over the applicability of a section (h) to tenancies by the entireties have created the largest number of reported cases under section, perhaps because of the unique nature of the ownership interest, the variations among the states as to the nature of the interest and the rather draconian remedy that section 363(h) gives the trustee, contrary to the deep historical roots of the form of title, which is supposed to protect each spouse from the unilateral action of the other… Thus, although generally speaking property held by the debtor as tenant by entirety is subject to sale under section 363(h), courts have erected various obstacles to such sale.”

     This suggests, of course, that married couples should strongly consider never co-signing for the other and avoid all joint debt. Also, they might consider making sure to concentrate payments to reduce and eliminate joint debt as a priority over individual debt, in the ordinary of their payments.

     If you or a loved one are considering whether bankruptcy relief would be helpful for you, please make sure to consult a qualified debt relief agency/attorney. Guy Vining is available for a no-charge initial bankruptcy consultation and would be pleased to meet with you.

Guy Vining, a bankruptcy attorney, in metro-Detroit, maintains his office in Taylor, Michigan where he serves the downriver communities of Monroe, South Rockwood, Gibraltar, Brownstown Township, Grosse Ile, Woodhaven, Trenton, Southgate, Riverview, Allen Park, Lincoln Park, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Westland, Wayne, and Ecorse. If you or a family member of friend would like a no-obligation no cost consultation/financial analysis, just call or E-mail Guy Vining of Vining Law Group, P.L.C to schedule a meeting.]

Bankruptcy Cases in the News

Bankruptcy Cases in the News

A recent 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Case (unpublished), in re: Tammy Martin, No. 11-8052 revisited and highlighted several important aspects of bankruptcy protections for debtors. In this interesting case the debtor was awarded significant attorney fees for creditor collection actions which continued post filing and post discharge. The Court began it’s analysis by discussing 11 USC 524(a)(2) and stating:


    “Section 524(a)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code provides that a discharge “operates as an injunction against the commencement or continuation of an action, the employment of process, or an act, to collect, recover or offset… debt [discharge under section 727… of this title] as a personal liability of the debtor, whether or not discharge of such debt is waived.” 11 USC § 524(a) (2). The subsection, along with 11 USC § 524(a) (3), is commonly referred to as the “discharge injunction.” As the Ninth Circuit recognized,


        The discharge injunction [comes] into force by operation of law upon entry of the discharge. A discharge injunction …is … an equitable remedy precluding the creditor, on pain of contempt, from taking any actions to enforce the discharged debt.

Espinosa v. United Student Aid Funds, Inc., 553 F.3d 1193, 1200 (9th Cir. 2008), aff’d, 130 S. Ct. 1367 (2010) (internal citations omitted). Once a discharge issued, § 524(a) (2) and (3) makes permanent the protections afforded by § 362’s automatic stay and prohibits a creditor from pursuing collection efforts against the debtor personally for debts that were discharged in the bankruptcy proceeding. Gunter v. O’Brien & Assoc. Co., LPA (In re Gunter), 389 B.R. 67, 71 (Bankr. S.D. Ohio 2008). “The purpose of § 524(a) is to afford a debtor a ‘fresh start’ by ensuring that a debtor will not be pressured in any way to repay a debt after it has been discharged.” Paglia v. Sky Bank (In re Paglia), 302 B.R. 162, 166 (Bankr. W.D. Pa. 2003).”

The Court noted that the creditor’s post discharge actions were willful. In other words, the creditor deliberately acted with [actual] knowledge of the bankruptcy case. It noted that a creditor does not have a defense of ‘mistake’ or ‘good faith belief’ that its actions were lawful. Although the creditor would have a defense if the debt was properly reaffirmed or negotiated in a valid, and new post discharge contract.

Since the creditor did not have a viable defense the Court of Appeals affirmed (upheld) the decision of the Bankruptcy Court in determining the creditor was in contempt of court and subject to sanctions of money damages. The debtor was therefore entitled to have her incidental expenses and all reasonable attorney fees paid.

The case illustrates the protection of the Bankruptcy Court through its automatic stay provisions, 11 USC 362, during pendency of a case; and, the power of the Court to protect the debtor’s fresh start. If a creditor has harassed you during the pendency of your case or post discharge you should contact a bankruptcy attorney so that the action may be reviewed as to whether it constitutes contempt of the court.

[Guy Vining, a bankruptcy attorney, in metro-Detroit, maintains his office is in Taylor, Michigan, where he serves the downriver communities of Monroe, South Rockwood, Gibraltar, Brownstown Township, Grosse Ile, Woodhaven, Trenton, Southgate, Riverview, Allen Park, Lincoln Park, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Westland, Wayne, and Ecorse. If you or a family member of friend would like a no-obligation no cost consultation/financial analysis, just call or E-mail Guy Vining of Vining Law Group, P.L.C to schedule a meeting.]