In re Rosa: Chapter 20 Stripped Liens Are Not Allowed Unsecured Claims

As discussed on this site, “lien stripping” is a common occurrence in Chapter 13 cases, and can provide an enormous benefit to Debtors. The idea is that if there is more than one lien against a piece of real estate, and that piece of real estate is worth less than the amount owed on the first lien, there is no equity remaining to secure the junior lien(s). It is therefore “stripped” and treated like general unsecured debt (i.e. it is dischargeable).

As also previously discussed, a “Chapter 20” case is when a person files a Chapter 7 case, shortly followed by a Chapter 13 case. There are many reasons why a person might do this, but usually it’s because he or she has too much unsecured debt to qualify for Chapter 13. You file a Chapter 7 case, get rid of all the unsecured debt, and then file the Chapter case, often to strip a junior lien (which is not available in Chapter 7 under the Supreme Court’s Dewsnup decision).

Back in 2012, the North case became the local precedent establishing that a Debtor in a Chapter 20 case could indeed strip junior liens, even though there was no discharge in the second, Chapter 13 case. Now in 2015, In re Rosa has become the local precedent establishing that stripped liens are not allowed unsecured claims.

Are Chapter 20 stripped liens allowed claims?

Diana Rosa filed a Chapter 7 case in 2012. After receiving her discharge, the only debt she had left was a $700,000 mortgage against a house worth $350,000 ($44,000 in arrears), a $84,000 second mortgage to EMC, $8,500 owed to the IRS, and $300 in general unsecured debt. She then filed a Chapter 13 case, in which she stripped the second mortgage and proposed a Plan that would pay the IRS and the unsecured debt in full. As to the arrears on the first mortgage, the Plan stated that she was seeking a loan modification.

All parties agreed that Rosa’s personal liability on the second mortgage had been discharged in the Chapter 7 case, and that EMC’s in rem rights were extinguished when the lien was stripped. However, the Chapter 13 Trustee objected to the Plan, contending that EMC held an unsecured claim that needed to be paid in full.

The Chapter 13 Trustee cited Akram from out of the Central District (259 B.R. 371, 2001) and Gounder from out of the Eastern District (266 B.R. 879, 2001) to support the position that EMC held an allowed unsecured claim. As to Akram, the Court rejected what it called that decision’s “attempt to circumscribe the power of the discharge injunction.” As to Gounder, the Court rejected that decision’s conversion of the discharged junior mortgage into an unsecured claim against the Chapter 13 estate: if there is no claim against the debtor, there can be no claim against the estate. Additionally, the is no language in §506(a)(1) converting a nonrecourse claim into a recourse obligation. As to both decisions’ argument that holding otherwise would create a back door around Dewsnup’s prohibition on Chapter 7 lien strips, the Court held that such arguments are better suited for bad faith objections.

Ms Rosa case was allowed to proceed and her Plan was confirmed with EMC receiving anything.  If she completes her Plan, that second mortgage will be gone forever.  A very technical case indeed, but very good for debtors: the upshot is that Chapter 20 lien strips continue to be alive and well here in the Northern District of California.

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