By: Craig Kavanagh
St. John's Law Student
American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff
Recently, the New Jersey Bankruptcy Court, in In re Bursztyn,
held that Fourth Amendment limitations applied to a trustee’s conduct in seeking to search a debtor’s residence with the intention of seizing undisclosed assets. However, the Court reasoned that, by filing bankruptcy, the debtor had reduced her reasonable expectations of privacy
and the Court held that the trustee’s actions did not exceed the Fourth Amendment standards of reasonableness.
In Bursztyn, based on an investigation of court records of the debtor's recent divorce, the trustee suspected that the debtor was hiding valuable jewelry and artwork that was not listed in the debtor’s bankruptcy petition or financial affairs statements.
The trustee requested from the Court, ex parte, an order allowing her to search the debtor’s home with the hopes of obtaining the art and jewelry that now belonged to the estate.
The Court granted authorization, and the United States Marshals Service and the trustee served the order upon the debtor at her residence, and proceeded to search her bedroom and closets.
The search uncovered nearly two hundred pieces of fine jewelry and ten works of art, valued at nearly $250,000.
Claiming that the search and seizure violated her Fourth Amendment rights, the debtor sought to suppress all evidence uncovered by the trustee’s search.