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Defining Residency Under the Federal Homestead Exemption

By: Sally A. Profeta

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Recently, in In re Abraham, a bankruptcy court held that debtors living in Iran could not claim the federal homestead exemption for their real property located in New Jersey because the property did not qualify as their “residence” under section 522(d)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code. In Abraham, the married debtors moved to Tehran, Iran from New Jersey in 2011, seeking employment after the husband’s business income started to decline. Their children, however, continued to occupy the debtor’s New Jersey home, making payments for the mortgage, utilities, and the general maintenance of the property. In 2012, the debtors filed for bankruptcy in New Jersey and claimed an exemption for the New Jersey property. In their original Schedule C, the debtors claimed a $10,505.76 exemption in the New Jersey property. Subsequently, the debtors amended their Schedule C and claimed a $43,250 exemption in the property. The chapter 7 trustee objected to the debtors’ proposed exemption. The trustee argued that the property did not qualify as their residence, and the debtors filed their amended exemption in bad faith. In the husband’s certification, he indicated that, while the debtors lived and worked in Iran, they intended to return to the New Jersey property in the future. Yet this assertion contradicted the debtors’ previously filed certification in support of a motion to compel abandonment of the property, where they stated they did not intend to return to the United States in the near future. In addition to the husband’s certification, the husband offered his New Jersey driver’s license as proof of residency during a section 341 meeting of creditors. Therefore, the debtors argued that the New Jersey property was their “residence” under section 522(d)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code. Ultimately, the bankruptcy court agreed with the trustee and denied the homestead exemption.

Chapter 11 Non-Debtor Release Provisions: The High Burden Officers and Directors Must Meet

By: Ashraf Mokbel

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Recently, in National Heritage Foundation Inc. v. Highbourne Foundation, the Fourth Circuit held that a non-debtor release provision in a chapter 11 reorganization plan was not warranted by the circumstances of the case because the court found that the bankruptcy case would not be adversely affected if the provision was not included in the plan.

The Resurrection of the Eleventh Amendment in Chapter 9 Cases

By: Christopher J. Pedraita

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Reversing the bankruptcy court, in In re City of San Bernardino, a district court recently held that the Eleventh Amendment barred a chapter 9 debtor’s claims against certain state agencies. In San Bernardino, the City of San Bernardino (the “City”) sought to protect funds, which the State of California (the “State”) demanded that the City remit to the State. The funds at issue in San Bernardino had been parceled out to the City’s redevelopment agency (“RDA”) and earmarked for redeveloping urban neighborhoods. In light of the fiscal emergency experienced by State in 2011, however, its legislature supplanted the existing RDAs with “successor agencies” to conclude all remaining matters of the RDAs, including returning the funds to the county auditor-controller that the RDAs had not already been committed to a project. As part of this process, the State ordered the City’ successor agency to return millions of dollars in tax revenues to the State’s Department of Finance (the “DOF”). If the successor agency failed to remit the funds to the DOF, the State warned that it could withhold tax revenue from the successor agency or the City. The warning prompted the City to commence adversary proceedings against the various state agencies seeking injunctive and declaratory relief to, among other things, prevent the State agencies from withholding tax revenue from the successor agency (and the City itself). The State agencies moved to dismiss the City’s complaint on several grounds, including that claims were barred under the Eleventh Amendment. While the bankruptcy court granted the State agencies’ motion to dismiss with leave to amend, believing that the City could show imminent injury if the state agencies withheld the tax money, the court rejected the state agencies’ Eleventh Amendment defense. In particular, the bankruptcy court ruled that when the subject of litigation was unquestionably within the court’s control state sovereign immunity could not prevent the adversary proceeding. On appeal, the district court reversed the bankruptcy court holding the Eleventh Amendment to apply in order to protect the State’s rights to run its own finances.

Judicial Estoppel: Essentially Locking a Litigation Trust into Representations Made During Prior Bankruptcy Proceedings

By: Sophie Tan

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Recently, in Adelphia Recovery Trust v. Goldman Sachs & Co., the Second Circuit held that a fraudulent conveyance claim brought by a litigation trust, created to recover assets for the benefit of unsecured creditors of Adelphia Communications Corp. (“ACC”), was barred by the doctrine of judicial estoppel because the funds at issue were transferred from an account that the plaintiff’s predecessor-in-interest scheduled as an asset of one of the predecessor’s subsidiaries, not the predecessor itself. The litigation trust commenced a fraudulent conveyance claim against Goldman, Sachs & Co. under sections 548(a)(1)(A) and 550(a) of the Bankruptcy Code to recover certain payments made to Goldman from a concentration account held in the name of Adelphia Cablevision Corp. (“Adelphia Cablevision”), a subsidiary of ACC. Goldman later moved for summary judgment on the grounds that (1) the plaintiff lacked standing to assert the fraudulent conveyance claim because the payments were not transfers of ACC's property; and (2) the plaintiff failed to raise a material issue of fact as to whether the payments were made with an actual intent to hinder, delay or defraud ACC's creditors. In response, the litigation trust argued that “ACC was the real owner of, and payor from, the Concentration Account” because ACC exercised complete control over the collective cash of ACC and its subsidiaries in the concentration account. While the district court recognized that the money in the concentration account may have been attributed to ACC prior to the bankruptcy proceedings, the district court ruled that “the easy attribution of money to whatever entity may at the moment be convenient stopped with the bankruptcies.” Therefore, the district court granted Goldman’s motion for summary judgment, stating that “it [wa]s admitted by [the litigation trust’s] own revised pleading that the margin loan payments were not made by ACC but by Adelphia Cablevision LLC, an ACC subsidiary on whose behalf [the litigation trust] does not have standing to sue.” The Second Circuit affirmed, holding that the litigation trust did not have standing to sue because it was judicially estopped from arguing now that ACC owned the account.

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