Chapter 20 Bankruptcy Makes Its Return

September 28, 2011

 In “the old days” (before 2005) a bankruptcy debtor with a mortgage problem could file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and discharge all of his unsecured debts, then immediately turn around and file a Chapter 13 to deal with real estate debt. Bankruptcy attorneys referred to this as a “Chapter 20” (Chapter 7 plus Chapter 13). The 2005 amendments to the Bankruptcy Code sought to kill this practice; however one recent case may bring Chapter 20 back to life.

The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a debtor who filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy to strip away a wholly unsecured second mortgage, even though he was not eligible for a discharge in the Chapter 13 case. In this case, In re Fisette, No. 11-6012 (8th Cir. BAP Aug. 29, 2011), the debtor filed his Chapter 13 case soon after receiving a discharge in a previous Chapter 7 case. The Bankruptcy Code requires that a debtor wait six years after a Chapter 7 case to be eligible for a Chapter 13 discharge, so the debtor was not eligible for a Chapter 13 discharge. After filing Chapter 7, Fisette continued to make payments on his home without formally reaffirming his personal obligation on any of his three mortgages. By 2010 he was behind on his mortgage payments. Since the total amount owed on his first mortgage was more that his house was worth, Fisette decided to ask the bankruptcy court to strip away the second and third mortgages.

The Eighth Circuit BAP allowed Fisette to strip away the junior mortgages. Since Fisette had previously been discharged of his personal obligation on the junior mortgages during his Chapter 7 case, the bank had no recourse against Fisette or his property. This is the first time a federal appellate court has allowed lien stripping in a “Chapter 20” case since 2005.

Bankruptcy law can be extremely complex and is constantly changing. If you need the help and protection of the federal bankruptcy courts, get assistance from an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Your attorney can explain your rights and your options, and help you decide on the right course for you and your family.

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