Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Bankruptcy
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The IRS recorded liens for unpaid taxes, interest, and penalties against the debtors’ residence. After debtors filed for bankruptcy, the IRS filed a proof of claim. The portion of the claim that was secured by liens on the residence and attributable only to penalties was $162,000. The debtors filed an adversary proceeding, asserting that the IRS’s claim for penalties was subject to avoidance by the trustee and that because the trustee had not attempted to avoid this claim, debtors could do so under 11 U.S.C. 522(h). The trustee cross-claimed to avoid the liens and alleged their value should be recovered for the benefit of the bankruptcy estate.The bankruptcy court dismissed the adversary complaint. The trustee and the IRS agreed that the penalty portions of the liens were avoided under 11 U.S.C. 724(a). The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel and Ninth Circuit affirmed. Section 522(h) did not authorize the debtors to avoid the liens that secured the penalties claim to the extent of their $100,000 California law homestead exemption. Section 522(c)(2)(B), denies debtors the right to remove tax liens from their otherwise exempt property. Under 11 U.S.C. 551, a transfer that is avoided by the trustee under 724(a) is preserved for the benefit of the estate; this aspect of 551 is not overridden by 522(i)(2), which provides that property may be preserved for the benefit of the debtor to the extent of a homestead exemption. View "Hutchinson v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy, Tax Law
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While their state suit against their mortgage service company was pending, the debtors filed for bankruptcy. On a schedule that asked about claims against third parties, they stated they had none. They listed the mortgage servicing company as a non-priority creditor and disclosed the lawsuit in their Statement of Financial Affairs. They discussed the state lawsuit with the bankruptcy trustee. The trustee determined there were no scheduled assets that would benefit the estate. The bankruptcy court discharged the trustee and closed the case. Later, the mortgage servicing company contacted the bankruptcy trustee, offering to settle the lawsuit. The trustee was reappointed, took over the state lawsuit, settled it, and got the settlement approved by both the state court and the bankruptcy court. The settlement proceeds went to the bankruptcy estate, not the debtors.The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel and Ninth Circuit affirmed. Under 11 U.S.C. 554(c), at the end of bankruptcy proceedings, property that has not been otherwise administered can generally be abandoned to the debtor only if it has been “scheduled.” Section 554(c) requires property to be disclosed on a literal schedule under 11 U.S.C. 521(a). Without trustee or court action, property disclosed only on a statement, such as a Statement of Financial Affairs, cannot be abandoned under section 554(c). The debtors did not meet the requirements of section 544(c), and their interest was not abandoned. View "Stevens v. Whitmore" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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Berkovich filed California state tax returns as required for 2003-2005. In 2008, the IRS assessed about $145,000 of additional federal income taxes against Berkovich for those years. He did not notify the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) of the increased federal assessments as required. (Cal. Rev. & Tax Code 18622(a)). The FTB learned of the federal assessments from the IRS. It assessed Berkovich additional state income taxes, approximately $45,000 plus penalties and interest. Berkovich did not challenge the assessments nor pay the additional state taxes. In 2012, Berkovich filed a chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. After the bankruptcy discharge, the FTB filed a complaint, alleging that the state tax debts were nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(1)(B)(i) because Berkovich failed to report the increased federal tax assessments to the FTB and failed to challenge the FTB’s notices of proposed tax assessment. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel held that Berkovich’s tax debt was not discharged.The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Berkovich’s tax debt was not discharged in bankruptcy because the debt derived from a “report or notice” “equivalent” to a tax return. Section 523(a)(1)(B) provides that, if a taxpayer fails to file a required “return, or equivalent report or notice,” the relevant tax debt is not discharged. California law requires a taxpayer to “report” to the FTB if the IRS changes the taxpayer’s federal income tax liability. View "Berkovich v. California Franchise Tax Board" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy, Tax Law
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The Nichols filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition and later were indicted on federal charges for their alleged participation in a scheme to defraud Marana Stockyard. To avoid disclosure of information that might compromise their position in the criminal proceedings, the Nicholses declined to complete steps required by the Bankruptcy Code to advance their case. They refused to hold a meeting with creditors, to file outstanding tax returns, or to propose an appropriate repayment plan. Marana, which had filed a claim in the Nicholses’ bankruptcy case, moved (11 U.S.C. 1307(c)) for the case to be converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation. The Nicholses unsuccessfully requested a stay of the bankruptcy case during the pendency of the criminal proceedings. The bankruptcy court determined that conversion to a Chapter 7 liquidation was justified by the Nicholses’ “unwarranted” delays and would have been proper, in the alternative, under section 1307(e), because the Nicholses failed to file tax returns for several years.The Nicholses did not comply with the bankruptcy court’s requirements but moved to dismiss voluntarily their bankruptcy case under section 1307(b). The Ninth Circuit’s Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed the denial of the dismissal motion and conversion of the case. The Ninth Circuit reversed. A bankruptcy court may not invoke equitable considerations to contravene section 1307(b)’s express language fiving Chapter 13 debtors an absolute right to dismiss their case. View "Nichols v. Marana Stockyard & Livestock Market, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the 732 Hardy Way trust, the denial of summary judgment to the Bank, and the dismissal of the Bank's claims against the HOA in a quiet title action brought by the Bank, concerning title to real property in Nevada that was subject to a HOA nonjudicial foreclosure sale. At issue is whether the Bank, as the first deed of trust lienholder, may set aside a completed superpriority lien foreclosure sale on the grounds that the sale occurred in violation of the automatic stay in bankruptcy proceedings.The panel concluded that the Bank may raise the HOA's violation of the automatic stay provision and that the Bank has superior title. The panel explained that the Bank has standing under Nevada's quiet title statute, Nevada Revised Statute 40.010, and established case authority confirms that any HOA foreclosure sale made in violation of the bankruptcy stay—like the foreclosure sale here—is void, not merely voidable, Schwartz v. United States, 954 F.2d 569, 571–72 (9th Cir. 1992). Therefore, the district court erred in holding that the Bank lacked standing to pursue its quiet title claim in federal court. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Bank of New York Mellon v. Enchantment at Sunset Bay Condominium Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel's decision affirming the bankruptcy court's rejection of debtor's attempt to exempt two assets from her estate. The panel clarified that a bankruptcy court's prior rejection of claimed exemptions carries preclusive weight, even after Law v. Siegel, 571 U.S. 415 (2014). The panel explained that Law does not bar courts from denying exemptions on the judicially created doctrines of issue and claim preclusion where, as here, the debtor is not statutorily entitled to the exemptions.The panel also held that the bankruptcy court properly deemed debtor's claims precluded. In this case, debtor's initial and amended exemptions are legally identical where her amended schedule sought to exempt the same assets as her earlier one; the bankruptcy court's initial, unappealed orders denying debtor's exemptions were final orders establishing the parties' rights as to the assets in question; and debtor was obviously a party to the proceeding in which her claims had originally been rejected. The panel noted that, regardless of whether the claims remained contingent or had been reduced to a settlement post-petition, debtor's interest in them remained the same. View "Albert v. Golden" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel's judgment affirming the bankruptcy court's determination that a debtor was entitled to a homestead exemption under Washington law. The panel adopted in full the BAP's well-reasoned opinion on March 23, 2020 and attached it as an appendix. The BAP concluded that the debtor, who occupied the homestead on the petition date, was entitled to her homestead exemption despite the fact that she moved out shortly thereafter and neither re-occupied the property nor filed a declaration of non-abandonment within six months of moving out. View "Klein v. Anderson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants in an action brought by plaintiff under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Plaintiff alleged that P&F violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect a debt that was no longer owed and that P&F's agent, AAS, violated the FDCPA in attempting to collect the debt.Walls v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 276 F.3d 502 (9th Cir. 2002), precludes claims under the FDCPA. The panel held that Walls does not extend to this circumstance because plaintiff's FDCPA claims are based on the wholly independent ground of full payment, rather than being premised on a violation of the discharge order. View "Manikan v. Peters & Freedman, LLP" on Justia Law

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On remand from the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel's decision reversing the bankruptcy court's finding of civil contempt and vacating its award of civil contempt sanctions against a debtor's former business partners for violation of the discharge injunction.The Supreme Court explained that an objective, rather than subjective, standard is more appropriate in determining whether the Creditors could be held in civil contempt for violating the bankruptcy discharge injunction. Furthermore, "a court may hold a creditor in civil contempt for violating a discharge order if there is no fair ground of doubt as to whether the order barred the creditor's conduct." Applying this standard, the panel held that the Creditors had an objectively reasonable basis to conclude that debtor might have "returned to the fray" in the Oregon state court to obtain some economic benefit from a higher evaluation of the sale of his ownership stake in SPBC and in the amount of interest that had accrued after the date payment was due for the forced sale. View "Lorenzen v. Taggart" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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Chapter 7 debtor and his wife (collectively, "appellants") appealed the bankruptcy appellate panel's order affirming the bankruptcy court's judgment in an adversary proceeding brought by the Chapter 7 trustee. At issue is the characterization of two properties acquired by appellants during their marriage but before debtor individually filed for bankruptcy protection.The panel certified to the Supreme Court of California the question whether, in Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings, Cal. Evid. Code 662, which affords a presumption based on the property's form of title, supersedes Cal. Fam. Code 760, which applies a presumption in favor of community property for property purchased during the marriage with community property. The California Supreme Court determined that for joint tenancy property acquired during marriage before 1975, each spouse's interest is presumptively separate in character. For such property acquired with community funds on or after January 1, 1975, the property is presumptively community in character. For property acquired before 1985, the parties can show a transmutation from community property to separate property by oral or written agreement or a common understanding. For joint tenancy property acquired with community funds on or after January 1, 1985, a written declaration is required.In light of the Supreme Court of California's opinion answering the panel's certified question, the panel held that the bankruptcy courts properly applied California law to the characterization of the Redlands Property. In this case, the community property presumption applied because the property was acquired with community funds on or after January 1, 1975. However, the panel held that the bankruptcy courts did not make the necessary factual finding regarding when the San Bernardino Property was purchased to apply the proper presumptions when characterizing that property. Finally, the panel saw no clear error in the bankruptcy courts' finding that appellants failed to meet the requirements for a transmutation of either property. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part. View "Brace v. Speier" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy