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Same-Sex Couple Deemed “Spouses” for Purposes of the Bankruptcy Code

By: Michael Rich

St John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Recently, in In Re Matson, the court held that a same-sex couple who filed for bankruptcy as joint debtors were “spouses” for the purpose of the Bankruptcy Code even though the petition was filed in a state that did not recognize their same-sex marriage. In Matson, the debtors were legally married in Iowa but resided in Wisconsin, which does not recognize same-sex marriages. Upon the filing of the case, a creditor moved to dismiss the bankruptcy case or, in the alternative, to bifurcate the case. The creditor argued that a joint bankruptcy case could only be commenced “by an individual that may be a debtor under such chapters and such individual’s spouse.” Further, the creditor claimed that “the definition of marriage and the regulation of marriage . . . has been treated as being within the authority and realm of the separate States.” Thus, the creditor argued that since Wisconsin did not permit or recognize same sex marriages, the debtors should not be deemed “spouses” for the purpose of a joint bankruptcy petition. In the response, the debtors relied on the Supreme Court’s holding that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one women, was unconstitutional because it “violate[d] basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government.” In particular, the debtors argued that following Windsor, the definition of marriage could no longer be restricted to “a union between one man and one woman.” Therefore, the debtors claimed that Wisconsin did not have the authority to deny a lawfully wedded couple any federal benefits, which would include same-sex couples right to file as spouses in a joint bankruptcy case. Ultimately, the Matson court denied the creditor’s motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, bifurcate the case because the court found that it was required to give full faith and credit to the Iowa marriage.

A Self-Employed Chapter 13 Debtor Cannot Deduct Ordinary and Necessary Business Expenses When Calculating His Current Monthly Income

By: Arthur Rushforth

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Recently, in In re Hoffman, a bankruptcy court denied confirmation of the joint debtors’ plan after the chapter 13 trustee objected to the plan, which had a three-year applicable commitment period, holding that the debtors improperly deducted ordinary and necessary business expenses when calculating their current monthly income. Instead, the court held that the debtors should have used the gross receipts from the business. In Hoffman, a married couple filed a joint petition under chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. The husband was self-employed, and pursuant to Official Bankruptcy Form 22C, the debtors deducted the husband’s ordinary and necessary business expenses from his gross receipts when they calculated their current monthly income. Based on these calculations the debtors’ annualized current monthly income was lower than the applicable median family income of in Minnesota, where they resided. Accordingly, the debtors proposed a plan that provided for them to pay $175.00 for thirty-six months. The chapter 13 trustee objected, arguing that the debtors improperly deducted business expenses when calculating the husband’s current monthly income and that the debtor’s current monthly income was above-median after eliminating that deduction, thereby triggering a five-year applicable commitment plan rather than the three-year period proposed by the debtors. In particular, the trustee argued the plain language of section 1325 did not provide for the deduction of ordinary and necessary business expenses when calculating current monthly income. The debtors responded by claiming their applicable commitment calculation conformed to the calculation scheme provided for by Official Form 22C. The court ultimately agreed with the trustee and denied the confirmation of the debtor’s plan.

In re 56 Walker LLC—The Resurrection of the Gifting Doctrine?

By: Brianna Walsh

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Recently, in In re 56 Walker LLC, a bankruptcy court overruled a debtor’s objection a secured creditor’s proposed order providing for the distribution of the proceeds from the sale of real property that was the debtor’s sole asset pursuant to the debtor’s confirmed plan of reorganization even though the secured creditor “gifted” a portion of its recovery to a junior class because, among other reasons, the court found that the distribution scheme would not violate the absolute priority rule. In 56 Walker, the debtor pledged a six-story mixed-use building, its sole asset, as security for an $8 million mortgage loan. After the debtor defaulted one year later, the bank that had acquired the mortgage loan from an FDIC receivership commenced a foreclosure action in New York state court. Subsequently, the debtor filed for bankruptcy under chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in order to stay the foreclosure proceeding. This first case was ultimately dismissed. Following dismissal of the debtor’ first chapter 11 case, the bank resumed the foreclosure action in state court and moved for summary judgment. The debtor then crossed-moved for summary judgment, arguing that the bank had not provided adequate proof that it was the assignee of the mortgage or the note and that the bank was liable for certain lender-liability claims. The state court granted the bank’s motion for summary judgment of foreclosure and denied the debtor’s cross-motion. The debtor timely filed a notice of appeal. Prior to the state court entering the bank’s proposed judgment of foreclosure, the debtor filed a second chapter 11 case. Ultimately, the debtor confirmed a consensual plan of reorganization and sold the property for $18 million. After selling the property, the debtor objected to, among others, the bank’s claim. In its decision, the court overruled the debtor’s objection and directed the bank to settle an order to provide for the distribution of the sales proceeds. The bank then filed a proposed order, providing that (i) the bank would have a distribution in the amount of $15.1 million, (ii) another mortgage lender would have a distribution in the amount of $150,000, (iii) a mechanic’s lien holder would have a distribution in the amount of $400,000, (iv) another mechanic’s lien holder would have a distribution of $350,000, (v) the debtor’s counsel would have an administrative claim for fees and expenses capped at $250,000, and (vi) the remaining funds would be distributed to the debtor’s unsecured creditors. Equity would not receive a distribution under the proposed order. The debtor objected to the proposed order, arguing, among other things, that the proposed distribution to a mechanic’s lien holder was premature because the debtor’s previous objection to the mechanic’s lien holder’s claim was still pending. The court, however, overruled the debtor’s objection to the proposed order, noting that the only reason the mechanic’s lien holder would receive anything was the bank’s willingness to forgo part of its claim and “gift” it to the junior secured creditors.


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.