Articles Posted in Bankruptcy Legislation

In bankruptcy actions, creditors will often seek to recover some or all of the debts they are owed. While they have the right to do so, the Bankruptcy Code prohibits them from recovering the same debt twice. As discussed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a recent case, though, payments and transfers that may seem like double recovery often are not recoveries at all. If you have debt obligations you cannot meet, you may be eligible to file for bankruptcy, and you should speak to a California bankruptcy lawyer.

History of the Case

It is alleged that in February 2018, the defendants entered into an agreement with the plaintiffs for the sale of a warehouse in California for $8 million. The plaintiffs’ company, a California business, transferred a down payment of approximately $2.4 million, with the remaining amount financed through a loan secured by the warehouse. The title of the warehouse was transferred to a special purpose entity created by the plaintiffs. This transaction was later discovered to be part of an extensive Ponzi scheme.

Reportedly, in December 2018, federal authorities raided the plaintiffs’ business operations, uncovering substantial fraud, which led to the plaintiffs and several related entities filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The warehouse, owned by a non-debtor entity, was included in federal forfeiture actions against the plaintiffs’ properties. Despite an attempt by one trustee to enforce an automatic stay against the forfeiture, the sale of the warehouse proceeded, and the loan was repaid from the sale proceeds.

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Many Californians struggling to pay debts are worried that they will lose their homes if they file for bankruptcy. Fortunately, California’s bankruptcy laws allow certain properties to remain exempt from being liquidated and used to pay creditors, such as homes. A debtor must have some interest in a dwelling for the homestead exemption to apply, though. This was demonstrated in a recent California ruling in which the court denied the debtor’s attempt to apply the homestead exemption to a property owned by his company. If you own property and wish to seek debt relief, it is prudent to speak with a knowledgeable California bankruptcy attorney to discuss your options for retaining your assets.

The Debtor’s Petition for Homestead Exemption

Reportedly, the plaintiff filed for bankruptcy via a Chapter 11 petition in July 2019. In December 2019, it was converted to Chapter 7. The defendant was listed as the plaintiff’s largest creditor due to a disputed judgment obtained against the plaintiff. The plaintiff alleged the judgment was obtained via abuse of process, witness tampering, fraud, and perjury, and listed a cause of action against the defendant for the same amount as the judgment as an asset. He also listed his 50% membership interest in an LLC as an asset but did not list any real property.

It is alleged that the defendant obtained relief from the automatic stay to include the LLC as an additional judgment debtor under the theory of reverse alter ego. The plaintiff then amended his exemptions to include a property owned by the LLC. He claimed he resided there, and therefore it qualified for a homestead exemption. The court disallowed the exemption because the plaintiff did not own the property, and the plaintiff appealed. Continue reading

When a person files for bankruptcy, an automatic stay is entered, preventing creditors from taking further actions to collect debts from the person. Further, the law provides that if a creditor willfully violates a stay, anyone injured by the violation can recover actual damages, which includes attorneys’ fees and costs. As discussed in a recent bankruptcy case arising out of California, in some circumstances, however, a court may decline to grant a person an award of the true costs associated with seeking damages caused by the violation. If you are a resident of California seeking debt relief, it is advisable to speak with a trusted California bankruptcy attorney regarding your options.

Factual and Procedural History

Reportedly, the plaintiff filed for bankruptcy on October 1, 2018. At the same time, she filed a stay of proceedings in pending state court actions. Per the defendant’s admission, it became aware of the bankruptcy petition by October 2, 2018. Regardless, on October 2, 2018, the defendant sent the sheriff instructions to enforce the writ of execution. Although an attorney that worked for the defendant reportedly directed an assistant to advise the sheriff to terminate the levy on October 10, 2018, the sheriff never received notification of the termination and levied funds from the plaintiff’s bank accounts. The plaintiff attempted to withdraw funds following the levy and was charged an overdraft fee.

Allegedly, the plaintiff’s attorney then filed a motion for contempt against the defendant for violating the automatic stay. Following a hearing, the court found that the defendant clearly violated the stay and that its violation was willful. The court then ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, but not the full amount claimed. The plaintiff appealed. Continue reading

As a practicing bankrtuptcy attorney in Sacramento I have followed the states progress in the “robo-signing” settlement talks with great interest. Attorney General Kamala Harris has recently made headlines by refusing to sign on to the national settlement, calling it inadequate to compensate Californians for the many losses they incurred in the housing crash. The California Attorney General’s Office has launched independent investigations, including some in cooperation with Nevada. According to the LA Times in an article written Jan. 25, 2012, titled, California calls $25-billion mortgage settlement ‘inadequate,’ Harris and her deputies were invited back to the negotiating table by further concessions from lenders, but ultimately rejected all offers because they were insufficient. However, A spokesperson for Harris told the media that the settlement would prevent her and other AGs from pursuing further independent investigations.

Despite nearly 16 months of investigations and on going negotiation, and the original participation of AGs from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., no deal has been reached. The investigation has been plagued by politics, with conservative AG’s arguing that the settlement is too aggressive and liberal ones countering that it doesn’t go far enough. Particularly, AGs in New York, Delaware, California, Nevada and elsewhere have opted out of the settlement or threatened to and started their own investigations into lending practices. Harris said in late September that the settlement offer at that time did not include enough remedies from the five major lenders for the foreclosure crisis. She and the other breakaway AGs said they’d prefer to see efforts to stop foreclosures and their negative effects, going beyond addressing the fallout from robo-signing itself. A AG’s office spokesperson said: “The current deal still is not transparent enough or sufficient to address Californians’ needs.”

California’s participation in the talks is considered important to any settlement due to the size of the state; California has the resources to bring large lawsuits on its own. According to the article, the latest proposal includes a $17 billion program that would reduce principal on loans that are “underwater,” or larger than the value of the home. Another $5 billion would be earmarked for people directly harmed by robo-signing and other bad servicing practices, and $3 billion would help underwater homeowners refinance at a rate of 5.25%. (Current rates for a 30-year prime mortgage are 4 to 4.5%.) In return, the AGs would agree to release lenders from actions for improper servicing or origination of mortgages — a provision that Harris and some colleagues believe would stop their existing investigations. Delaware has filed a lawsuit alleging MERS has engaged in deceptive practices; Massachusetts has sued five lenders, alleging they knowingly pursued illegal foreclosures.

As a Sacramento Bankruptcy Attorney I am pleased to see our state continue the fight and pursue a settlement that could provide meaningful help to people who were hurt in the housing crisis. That includes people who were directly harmed by robo-signing or other illegal and unethical behavior by lenders, as well as people who are suffering because housing prices have dropped through no fault of their own. Throughout the robo-signing scandal, lenders have downplayed their responsibility, arguing that there was likely no real harm from that particular kind of illegal behavior. This may or may not be true — instances of wrongful foreclosures have been reported — but there’s certainly widespread harm from, for example, their refusal to give meaningful consideration to loan modifications.
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Lawmakers in Sacramento decided to vote against a bill that would have stopped “dual track” foreclosures across the state last week. The legislation, SB 729, required lenders to completely evaluate a borrower for a loan modification before they filed the notice of default, which officially begins the foreclosure process.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) have authored this sweeping legislation that was designed to limit dual tracking, which is the practice by mortgage lenders to pursue foreclosure at the same time they request a loan modification.

According to the LA Times, SB 729 would have gone further than any existing anti-foreclosure measure by preventing dual-track foreclosures for all California mortgages. The bill would have required lenders to completely decline a modification before it began the foreclosure proceedings. Had lenders failed to make a definite decision regarding the modification SB 729 would permit the lender to halt or void the foreclosure for up to a year after the sale of the house.

Sacramento area residents considering Chapter 13 bankruptcy may be interested to know that bankruptcy law allows a filer to “cram down” an automobile loan to its fair market value. A “cramdown” is the lending and bankruptcy term that allows a borrower to eliminate any excess principal owed on a loan to the market value of the property that secures the loan. Mortgage Lender’s made the “cramdown” issue highly visible last year when Congress considered passing a law that would have allowed home mortgages to be “crammed down” under a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Due to the vociferous opposition posed by the mortgage lending industry Congress never passed that law. However, the law remains settled that a Chapter 13 debtor can use a “cramdown” on just about any loan other than a primary home mortgage.

A “cramdown” is available to a Chapter 13 debtor on just about every type of secured loan besides the loan on a first deed of trust or mortgage. This means the “cramdown” is available for loans on trucks, cars, second homes, boats, and just about any property that would be foreclosed or repossessed in the borrower fails to make payments. Most Chapter 13 debtors use this law on their personal vehicles. Pursuant to the Bankruptcy Code, the “cramdown” remains available on vehicles purchased more than 30 months ago. Thus, if a debtor owes $15,000 on a vehicle whose value is only $12,000, he/she could “cram down” the remaining $3,000 son long as the vehicle was bought more than 30 months ago. The bankruptcy law also allows the debtor to modify the interest rate affecting the loan to the current “prime” interest rate plus 3 percent. Depending on the conditions whereby a debtor received the loan this could drop their interest rate substantially.

Use of the Chapter 13 “cramdown” can benefit a Chapter 13 debtor substantially by allowing him/her to retain their personal vehicle at a more affordable monthly payment. This mechanism allows my client’s to maintain their possessions and experience as little change as possible after filing the voluntary petition.

Today, the California State Assembly blocked legislation proposed by the State Senate that would protect homeowners against foreclosure while pursuing a loan modification. The legislation was heavily supported by consumer interest groups and opposed by the California banking industry and business interests.

The Assembly rejected SB1275 towards the end of their daily session. If passed by the Assembly and signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, the Bill would have required institutional lenders to consider a loan modification on all distressed homeowners before making the decision to foreclose on the property. SB1275 differs from federal legislation because it creates a cause of action against the lender if they fail to consider a loan modification before the decision to foreclose. At this point federal legislation requires a bank who participates in Obama’s Mortgage Protection Plan to refrain from foreclosing against a homeowner who is attempting to negotiate a loan modification. Unfortunately, these rules are voluntary and have no ramifications if the bank decides to foreclose.

Statistical data show that 10% of California homeowners are 60 or more days behind on their mortgage payments. This number is almost 4% higher than the data compiled for the entire country. More than a third of California’s mortgage holders owe more on their homes than the market value of the house itself.

Today, the New York Times noted that the California State Legislature is currently considering measures that seek to protect homeowners who go into foreclosure against deficiency judgments. A deficiency is the difference between what the lender receives at the foreclosure sale on a property and the outstanding balance on the mortgage. For example, if borrower has a $300,000 mortgage on his residence and goes into default whereby the lender recovers $250,000 at the foreclosure sale a $50,000 deficiency exists. In many states a lender can file a lawsuit against the borrower and seek to recover that difference. If successful, the lender gets what is called a deficiency judgment.

California law currently protects Sacramento area residents against deficiency judgments on their first deed of trust. This means if you only have a first mortgage then you can simply walk away from your property and you need not worry about personal liability on any difference between the balance owed on your mortgage and what the bank recovers at the foreclosure sale. However, if you have refinanced your property to get a better interest rate or taken out a second loan against the property or the distressed property is your second home, these protections do not apply.

Since many people have re-financed their properties over the last few years these anti-deficiency protections do not apply to many homeowners. This is why SB1178 seeks to extend the protection against deficiency judgments to people who refinanced and took out home equity loans. The catch is that the protections only rise to the level of the original loan amount. This means if a homeowner took out a $300,000 original loan and refinanced for $350,000, taking $50,000 of equity out of the house, the homeowner would be protected for up to $300,000 but would remain liable for the $50,000. So, if that same house sold for $250,000 then the homeowner would potentially owe the bank $50,000 instead of $100,000 if a deficiency was granted.

President Obama signed sweeping legislation affecting thousands of college students along with the acclaimed health-care bill on March 30, 2010. This overhaul changes the way students will finance their higher education. Obama’s higher education overhaul encourages individuals seeking to borrow money to pay tuition and education related expenses to take the loans directly from the federal government instead of private lenders. The law also caps a graduate’s repayments of the loans to 10 percent of their salary, which currently stands at 15 percent. Designed to save the federal government $68 Billion dollars and streamline the entire lending process, students may nonetheless find themselves in the exact same situation as they do now if they cannot afford to pay their loans: STUCK.

Current bankruptcy laws allow a student to discharge his or her student loans only if he or she can show that paying the loan constitutes an “undue hardship.” The definition of “undue hardship” remains vague to most courts and has been applied to debtors inconsistently. Regardless, “undue hardship” continues to be a high standard for a student debtor to prove in bankruptcy court. Basically, this means for a student debtor to ensure that his or her student loans would be discharged through bankruptcy he or she would have to prove that she has no way of producing income; a difficult standard to achieve.

Legislation proposed this month, in the U.S. House of Representatives, seeks to alter the bankruptcy code and permit individuals to include private student loans with his or her Chapter 7 filing by having the private loan stripped off along with credit-card balances, gambling debts, and mortgages. According to Andrea Fuller’s article, Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Change Student-Loans Bankruptcy Policy, this new bill seeks to eliminate the “undue hardship” standard for private student loans. Surprisingly, however, the legislation remains completely silent with regard to a debtor’s inclusion of student loans in the bankruptcy that have been provided by the federal government.

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