United States: Lessor Repossession Of Property On Eve Of Lessee Bankruptcy: Voluntary Turnover Or Face Contempt

Lessors who repossess property immediately prior to a lessee bankruptcy filing may be required to return such property or face sanctions by the bankruptcy court. Federal courts are currently split on the issue of whether the lessor must voluntary surrender property seized pre-petition or may hold such property until such time as the debtor seeks, and obtains, an order of turnover. In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit weighed in and decided four appeals involving chapter 13 debtor filings following the City of Chicago's seizure of vehicles based on unpaid fines. See, In re Fulton, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 18393 (7th Cir. 2019). In Fulton, the Seventh Circuit ruled that the City of Chicago must comply with the automatic stay by returning impounded cars immediately after being notified of a chapter 13 filing. (The Fulton decision is not the first time the Seventh Circuit decided the issues presented. In 2009, the court held that a creditor must comply with the automatic stay and return a debtor's vehicle upon her filing of a bankruptcy petition. See, Thompson v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 566 F.3d 699 (7th Cir. 2009)).

The Seventh Circuit's holding in Fulton is consistent with decisions from the Second, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits, each of which hold that a secured creditor or owner must turn over repossessed property immediately or face a contempt citation. See, Weber v. SEFCU (In re Weber), 719 F.3d 72 (2d Cir. 2013); Cal. Emp't Dev. Dep't v. Taxel (In re Del Mission), 98 F.3d 1147 (9th Cir. 1996); Knaus v. Concordia Lumber Co. (In re Knaus), 889 F.2d 773 (8th Cir. 1989). A minority of the circuits disagree. Specifically, the Tenth and the District of Columbia Circuits and the District Court for the District of Delaware have ruled that holding property of the estate seized prepetition does not violate the automatic stay in Section 362(a) (3) because such section applies prospectively and prohibits "any [postpetition] act ... to exercise control over property of the estate." WD Equip., LLC v. Cowen (In re Cowen), 849 F.3d 943 (10th Cir. 2017); United States v. Inslaw, Inc., 932 F.2d 1467 (D.C. Cir. 1991); Denby-Peterson v. Nu2u Auto World, 595 B.R. 18 (D.N.J. 2018).

A lessee's chapter 13 filing invokes the broad protections of the automatic stay. Section 362(a)(3) of the Bankruptcy Code provides that a chapter 13 petition "operates as a stay applicable to all entities, of ... any act to obtain possession of property of the estate or of property from the estate or to exercise control over property of the estate." 11 U.S.C §362(a) (3). The concept of property of the estate is likewise broad and is defined in the Bankruptcy Code to include "all legal or equitable interests of the debtor in property as of the commencement of the case." 11 U.S.C. §541(a)(1). To the extent that a lessee has a right of redemption under applicable state law, the debtor has an interest in property repossessed as of the petition date. The split among federal courts focuses on the extent to which the lessor has an affirmative obligation to return property repossessed on the eve of a bankruptcy filing as opposed to requiring the debtor to affirmatively seek turnover of such property. The majority of courts hold that a lessor's holding onto property upon a bankruptcy filing is "exercising control" over such property within the meaning of the automatic stay section 362 of the Bankruptcy Code. These courts also rely on the turnover section of the Bankruptcy Code which effectively requires that any entity in possession of property of the estate as of a bankruptcy filing is required to turnover such property to the trustee. 11 U.S.C. §542(a) ("an entity ... in possession, custody, or control, during the case, of property that the trustee may use, sell, or lease under section 363 of this title ... shall deliver to the trustee, and account for, such property").

Individual debtors injured by a lessor's willful violations of the automatic stay may recover actual damages, including costs and attorneys' fees as well as, in some instances, punitive damages. 11 U.S.C. §362(k). A lessor that repossesses an individual's personal property prior to a bankruptcy filing may face sanctions if such property is not voluntarily returned to the debtor upon the lessor's learning of the filing. Actual notice of the bankruptcy filing should be provided to all creditors of the debtor. Notwithstanding that lessors should receive actual notice of their lessee's bankruptcy filings, active monitoring of lessee accounts for bankruptcy filing activity is prudent. Lessors may obtain access to the public database for details on all bankruptcy filings throughout the United States by registering with PACER. See, http://bit.ly/2NKzEUK.

While the issue of whether property repossessed on the eve of a lessee bankruptcy filing must be returned by the lessor is left unsettled pending a possible U.S. Supreme Court review, lessors should proceed with caution. The best practice for lessors is to be proactive upon a lessee's bankruptcy filing and either voluntarily return property seized (to the extent the debtor has an interest in such property by way of a right of redemption or otherwise) or promptly seek relief from the bankruptcy court to otherwise approve the lessor's retention of such property.

Originally published by ALM

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Moritt, Hock & Hamroff LLP
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Moritt, Hock & Hamroff LLP
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions