Above means income debtors are required to use Form B-22C (Chapter 13 Calculation of Your Disposable Income which is part of a 2 part test) which effective December 1, 2015, will be Form B122C-2. Unlike trustee fees, there is no deduction for attorney fees being paid in the plan on the form. §1325(b)(1)(B) provides that a Chapter 13 plan should “provide that all of the debtor’s projected disposable income … will be applied to make payments to unsecured creditors under the plan.” 11 U.S.C. § 1325(b)(1)(B).
Section 1325(b)(1)(B) of the Bankruptcy Code provides in pertinent part that, if a trustee or an unsecured creditor objects to confirmation of a debtor’s Chapter 13 plan, the plan can be confirmed by the court only if it provides to pay the creditors in full or proposes that “all of the debtor’s projected disposable income … will be applied to make payments to unsecured creditors under the plan.” 11 U.S.C. § 1325(b)(1)(B). Section 1325(b)(2) then defines “disposable income” as current monthly income received by the debtor less amounts “reasonably necessary to be expended.” See 11 U.S.C. § 1325(b)(1)(B).
Trustees across the country have been using this provision to object to Chapter 13 Plan fees for Debtor’s attorneys through the plan. In re Hemker, No. 15-90023, 2015 WL 5262080 (Bankr. C.D. Ill. Sept. 8, 2015), the trustee argued that the amount shown from the B22C form must only go to general unsecured creditors, excluding any attorneys fees to be paid in the plan. Further, Debtors’ attorney fees are excluded from the calculation under 11 U.S.C. § 707(b)(2)(A)(ii)(III), and thus the Debtors should not be allowed to use their disposable income to pay their attorney fees. The Trustee based this argument on Ransom. The Court rejected this argument as making an unfair treatment between a below income debtor, who was allowed to pay attorney fees through the plan and an above income debtor who could not. A debtor’s attorney who has not taken a security interest in the debtor’s property is an unsecured creditor who may be paid from disposable income.
Apparently, this case is part of a nationwide trend to make bankruptcy filings more difficult for the Debtor and their counsel. On October 6, 2015, the American Bar Institute held a Webinar “BAPCPA at 10”. Attorney Caralyce M. Lassner of Acclaim Legal Services PLLC, Warren, Mich., one of the panelists, said in practice BAPCPA has been like using a backhoe to fix a crack in your sidewalk. Lassner stated how impossible it is to confirm a chapter 13 Plan without major concessions from the debtors or creditors. She also cited two cases in the Eastern District of Michigan which attacked Debtor’s attorney fees.
In re Craig Maike, 15-20218-DOB (EDMI), Docket 25 (9/3/15)
In re Hammon, 2015 WL 4462179 (Bankr ED MI 7/21/15)
Professor Lois R. Lupica of the University of Maine School of Law said empirical studies have found no evidence of widespread abuse among consumer debtors. In fact, Lupica said that under BAPCPA the cost of access to the bankruptcy system has increased significantly, which is keeping the poorest debtors from being able to file.
In the Middle District of Florida the Chapter 13 Trustees have interpreted Harris that when a chapter 13 is dismissed or converted, the check for the balance paid in less their fees, goes to debtor c/o attorney for refund, however, no attorney fees or adequate protection is paid after dismissal/conversion by the trustee. The attorney must then try and get the debtor to pay the balance of their fees due under the retainer agreement. ( If the Debtor refiles bankruptcy within a year- would the trustee treat our fees as a preference? )
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