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The Earmarking Doctrine’s Viability as a Defense to Preference Actions Involving Home-Loan Refinancing Transactions

By: Michael Benzaki

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff


Recently, in In re Flannery,[i] the bankruptcy court held that the earmarking doctrine was not an appropriate defense to a preference action seeking to avoid a late-filed mortgage that was granted as part of a home-loan refinancing.[ii] In Flannery, the debtors financed the purchase of their home through an initial home-mortgage loan, which was secured by a mortgage. Further, within a year of granting the first mortgage, the debtors also granted a second-priority mortgage to secure a home equity line of credit. Subsequently, a new bank acquired both loans and mortgages from the initial lender.[iii] In 2012, the debtors refinanced the initial loan with the new bank through the Home Affordable Refinancing Program (“HARP”).[iv] In connection with the refinancing loan, the debtors granted the new bank a new mortgage against their property and the new bank executed a subordination of mortgage, subordinating the home equity mortgage to the new mortgage.[v] The proceeds from the refinancing loan were used to pay off the initial loan on January 25, 2012, and a discharge of the initial mortgage was recorded on February 21, 2012.[vi] However, the new mortgage was not recorded until April 18, 2012.[vii] Subsequently, on June 28, 2012, less than ninety days later, the debtors filed for bankruptcy under chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. Since the mortgage was recorded within ninety days of the bankruptcy filing, the chapter 7 trustee for the debtors sought to avoid the refinance mortgage as a preference pursuant to section 547 of the Bankruptcy Code.[viii] Ultimately, the court rejected the new bank’s argument that, given the facts of the case at hand, the earmarking doctrine successfully defended the transaction in question from being designated an avoidable preference.[ix]

Pay Me, Maybe? Creditors’ Superior Claim to Undistributed Funds After a Conversion from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7

By: Rosa Aliberti

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff


Recently, the Fifth Circuit held, in Viegelahn v. Harris (In re Harris),[i] that any funds held by a chapter 13 trustee at the time of conversion to chapter 7 should be distributed to creditors in accordance with the chapter 13 payment plan.[ii] In In re Harris, the debtor filed for bankruptcy under chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code.[iii] The chapter 13 plan required the debtor to make monthly payments to a trustee for distribution to secured creditors and unsecured creditors.[iv] The debtor also was required to make monthly mortgage payments directly to Chase, his mortgage lender. After failing to do so, the bank foreclosed on his home.[v] The debtor did not modify the plan and continued making the required monthly payments to the trustee for approximately a year before converting his case to chapter 7.[vi] Since Chase no longer had a claim against the debtor, the funds that were allocated for Chase under the plan began to accumulate.[vii] After the debtor converted to chapter 7, the chapter 13 trustee distributed the funds in her possession to pay the debtor’s attorneys’ fees, the remaining secured creditor, the six unsecured creditors, and her commission.[viii] The debtor moved to compel the chapter 13 trustee to return those funds, arguing that the trustee was not authorized to distribute the funds once he converted the case to chapter 7.[ix] The bankruptcy court ordered the chapter 13 trustee to return the funds to the debtor,[x] and on appeal, the district court affirmed.[xi] The trustee appealed again, and the Fifth Circuit reversed,[xii] concluding that the creditors’ claim to the undistributed funds was greater than that of the debtor.[xiii]

Going Concern Sale Liquidations and the Termination of Collective Bargaining Agreements under Chapter 11

By: Cecilia Ehresman

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff


In In re Chicago Construction Specialties, Inc.,[i] the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois recently held that the debtor must satisfy the requirements of section 1113 of the Bankruptcy Code, even though the debtor was liquidating under chapter 11 instead of reorganizing.[ii] In Chicago Construction, debtor, a demolition construction company, ceased operations, sold substantially all its assets outside of bankruptcy, and sent the union representing its workers a notice that it intended to reject a collective bargaining agreement[iii] before the company filed for bankruptcy.[iv] Subsequently, the debtor filed for bankruptcy under chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code and moved to reject its CBAs pursuant to section 1113 of the Bankruptcy Code.[v] The union objected, arguing that the debtor had unilaterally rejected the CBA by providing an ultimatum rather than a proposal for modification.[vi] The Chicago Construction court ruled in favor of the debtor, finding that there was no good reason not to allow the debtor to reject the CBA because the debtor had already liquidated and the only effect of not allowing the debtor to reject the CBA would be to elevate the union’s claims over those of the debtor’s other creditors.[vii]

Time-Barred Proof of Claims Violate FDCPA

By: Garam Choe

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff


Recently, in Crawford v. LVNV Funding, LLC, the Eleventh Circuit held that the creditor violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) by filing a proof of claim to collect a debt that was unenforceable because the statute of limitations had expired.[i] In Crawford, a third-party creditor acquired a debt owed by the debtor from a furniture company.[ii] The last transaction on the account occurred in October 2001.[iii] Accordingly, under Alabama’s three-year statute of limitations, the debt became unenforceable in October 2004.[iv] On February 2, 2008, the debtor filed bankruptcy under chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code.[v] The third-party creditor then filed a proof of claim for the time-barred debt during the debtor’s bankruptcy proceeding.[vi] Neither the debtor nor the bankruptcy trustee objected the claim.[vii] Rather, the trustee distributed the pro rata portion of the claim from the plan payments to the creditor.[viii] In May 2012, the debtor commenced an adversary proceeding against the third-party creditor alleging that the third-party creditor filed a proof of claim for a time-barred debt in violation of the FDCPA.[ix] The bankruptcy court dismissed the adversary proceeding in its entirety, and district court affirmed.[x] In affirming the bankruptcy court’s dismissal, the district court found that the third-party creditor did not attempt to collect a debt from the debtor because filing a proof of claim is “merely ‘a request to participate in the distribution of the bankruptcy estate under court control.’”[xi] Furthermore, the district court found that, even if the third-party creditor was attempting to collect the debt, the third-party creditor did not engage in abusive practices.[xii] On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that the third-party creditor violated the FDCPA by filing a stale claim in the bankruptcy court.[xiii]

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