VOLINN, Bankruptcy Judge.
The debtor appeals from an order entered on motion of a consumer secured creditor, pursuant to 11 U.S.C. Sec. 521(2), requiring her to amend her statement of intention, Official Bankruptcy Form 8, as to the collateral claimed by the secured creditor. We reverse.
The debtor filed her Chapter 7 petition pro se
As required by § 521(2),
Id. On the form, the debtor responded "N/A" to both the "Property to Be Surrendered" and "Property to Be Retained" statements.
At the § 341 meeting of creditors held on August 11, 1995, the debtor appeared for examination by the U.S. Trustee and interested creditors. The following exchange took place between the debtor and a representative of Sears:
On October 2, 1995, Sears filed a motion to compel the debtor to file an amended statement of intention pursuant to Fed. R.Bankr.P. 1009(a). Sears alleged in a declaration attached to the motion, that the debtor had purchased a sewing machine, a microwave oven, a television and a "LXICU box/programmer" with her Sears credit card and that therefore the items were subject to security agreements.
The sales receipts attached contained language giving a security interest in the purchased goods.
The debtor's discharge was entered on November 2, 1995. A hearing on the motion to amend was held on November 9, 1995. On November 9, 1995, the court ordered the debtor "to file an Amended Statement of Intention, including her intention as to secured Creditor, Sears, Roebuck and Co., within thirty (30) days of entry of this order." The order was entered on November 15, 1995. The debtor filed a timely notice of appeal on November 17, 1995.
Whether the court could require that the debtor file an amended statement of intention, specifically responding to Form 8 in terms of surrender or retention of collateral and in the latter event whether the debtor would redeem or reaffirm?
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Essentially, there are no disputed facts. The fundamental issue is one of statutory interpretation which involves the de novo standard or independent appellate review. In re Pace, 67 F.3d 187, 191 (9th Cir.1995).
As indicated, the order on appeal requires the debtor to comply with § 521(2).
At the outset, there is a question as to whether the order on appeal is a final ruling on a discrete issue effectively fixing the relationship of the parties. The BAP has jurisdiction to review final orders of the bankruptcy courts. 28 U.S.C. § 158(a). The Ninth Circuit has adopted a "pragmatic approach to deciding whether a bankruptcy court's order is final, recognizing that certain proceedings in a bankruptcy case are so distinct and conclusive either to the rights of individual parties or the ultimate outcome of the case that final decisions as to them should be appealable as of right." Dunkley v. Rega Properties, Ltd. (In re Rega Properties, Ltd.), 894 F.2d 1136, 1138 (9th Cir.1990) (quotations omitted). Orders which resolve discrete issues and seriously affect substantial rights are immediately appealable. Allen v. Old Nat'l Bank of Washington (In re Allen), 896 F.2d 416, 418 (9th Cir.1990). The scope of appellate jurisdiction is ultimately defined by balancing "the costs and inconvenience of piecemeal review on the one hand and the danger of denying justice on the other." Gillespie v. United States Steel Corp., 379 U.S. 148, 152-53, 85 S.Ct. 308, 311,
The statute plainly provides that the filing of a statement does not represent a discrete or separable act. Rather, the statement begins a self-executing continuum. Once the debtor files a statement, § 521(2)(B) commits the debtor as follows:
Thus, the court order requiring debtor to file a statement commits the debtor to surrendering the property or to following any one of the three specific alternatives indicated. To put it otherwise, the order is self-executing and no further proceedings before the court are contemplated other than those which might be required for enforcement. It therefore appears that the order before us is final and appealable.
Section 521(2), which was added to the Bankruptcy Code in 1984, was sponsored by consumer creditor organizations, resisted by debtor-oriented groups and debated in the Congress. The legislative pulling and hauling is described in considerable detail in the case of In re Weir, 173 B.R. 682 (Bankr. E.D.Cal.1994).
Because of the legislative compromises and logjam atmosphere attending the 1984 bankruptcy legislation, certain controversial sections of the Code, such as § 521(2), resulted in ambiguous language and inconsistent or conflicting provisions. The cases dealing with § 521(2) arise, for the most part, in two contexts: cases in which the debtor is considered not to have filed a statement of intention and cases in which the debtor stated an intention to pursue a course other than one specified in § 521(2). In the latter category, the debtor has generally stated an intention to retain the property and simply make payments as provided for by the security agreement. The instant matter falls in the former category.
Of the five circuit courts of appeal thus far interpreting the statute before us, three have held that the debtor is required to address only the alternatives set forth in § 521(2)(A)(B).
Taylor, 3 F.3d at 1516 quoting Horne, 132 B.R. at 663-64 (alteration in original).
Other cases have held that the specific designation of alternatives is not exclusive or mandatory. For instance, in In re Bracamortes, the court, considering a motion by Sears similar to the one in the instant case, declined to compel the debtors to amend their statements of intention holding that "there is nothing in the statute which suggests that the time periods are anything more than procedural guidelines." Bracamortes, 166 B.R. at 162. The court held that neither the duty to file nor the time limitations affected the debtor's substantive rights with respect to the property and that when the debtor failed to comply with § 521(2), "the expiration of those time periods can serve as a signal to the creditor that it may be time to take action to enforce its lien rights against the collateral." Id.
In In re Ogando, 203 B.R. 14 (Bankr. D.Mass.1996), Sears held a purchase money security agreement covering a variety of household goods ranging from televisions to mattresses. As in the instant case, Sears moved for an order requiring each of the debtors to file a statement of intent with respect to the Sears debt and the underlying collateral pursuant to § 521(2). Sears intended, as it does here, that the debtor would be limited to choosing from the options specified in § 521(2). The court pointed out that because Sears held a purchase money security interest, the debtor could not exempt the property and avoid the security interest pursuant to the § 522(f) avoidance powers. Thus, if the debtor desired to retain the goods, the choice would be redemption or reaffirmation. Redemption would require payment of the allowed amount of the secured claim under § 722, which could be substantial and, therefore, reaffirmation would be the only practical retention option. The court stated "[o]btaining reaffirmation is obviously Sears' goal in filing the motions." Ogando, 203 B.R. at 15-16.
The court discussed the meaning of the words "if applicable" in § 521(2)(A) and concluded the phrase was ambiguous. The court therefore stated that it must "look elsewhere to glean the meaning of subparagraph (A)" and concluded:
Id. (quoting § 521(2)(C)). According to the court, restriction of the debtor's retention options to redemption or reaffirmation (or exemption) indisputably "alters" the debtor's "rights."
Id. at 16.
The Ogando court criticized the reasoning of § 521(2) cases which ignore or contravene the Congressional concern in preserving the voluntary nature of reaffirmation under § 524(c)(3)(A) by, in effect, requiring the debtor to select a course which will result in either payment of the debt or surrender of the collateral. While critical of the cases requiring the debtor to file a statement with one of three choices, the court concluded, after presumably advising the secured creditor that enforcement of the order would be questionable, that "section 521(2) clearly requires a debtor to file a statement of his intention either to retain or surrender the collateral. An order requiring the filing of such a statement has therefore issued." Id. at 17. This result was consistent with the ruling of the district court in Sears Roebuck & Co. v. Lamirande, 199 B.R. 221 (D.Mass. 1996).
Section 521(2)(C) preserves the debtor's property rights derived from the substantive provisions of the Code and specifically provides that subparagraphs (A) and (B) are subservient to it. It is also clear that § 521 does not diminish the debtor's rights under the Code generally. In the case of reaffirmation, the most cursory reading of § 524(c) et seq. emphasizes its voluntary aspect.
As previously indicated, it certainly would be better for the secured creditor to have available the possibility of a judgment in the event of default, as would be the case were there no bankruptcy. However, this does not outweigh the right of the debtor to file bankruptcy, and discharge the debt. In any event, as indicated, redemption is voluntary and the debtor, pursuant to § 521(2)(C), is free to decline to choose this option if it does not serve the debtor's interest.
If the debtor cannot be constrained to select reaffirmation or redemption by virtue of § 521(2)(C), the remaining alternative is surrender of the property. Despite the fact that the secured creditor, prior to discharge, is enjoined by § 362(a)(4), (5) and (6) from taking any action to enforce prebankruptcy liens against property of the debtor, the secured creditor may seek relief from stay. It is not likely that Congress intended to abrogate or dispense with the requirement that the secured creditor move for termination of the stay in order to permit the creditor to seek the remedy of foreclosure in state court. To put it otherwise, considering the central role the automatic stay plays in bankruptcy proceedings, it would not be appropriate to infer that Congress by its use of the term "surrender" intended to nullify the provisions of § 362(a) together with the contract rights under state law of the consumer debtor and creditor relative to retention or surrender of collateral in which the creditor has a purchase money secured interest.
The automatic stay dissolves on the discharge date. After discharge, as is the case here, while the secured creditor is free to foreclose on collateral, § 524(a)(2) otherwise enjoins the creditor from attempting to collect or enforce the debt. Thus, the creditor's only recourse is to return to state court and foreclose on the security. As previously discussed, and as indicated by counsel in this case, all too often, the pursuit of that remedy would not be worth the effort. But inadequacy of collateral is a problem which bankruptcy
Appellee, in its brief to this court, states:
While the foregoing does not explicitly state that Sears seeks reaffirmation, it appears that what it wants is a direction to the debtor to pay the debt since recourse to collateral of "de minimis" nature, considering the added factor of foreclosure cost, would afford little, if any, recovery. This appears to skirt the mandate of § 524(a)(2) enjoining post-bankruptcy efforts to collect a discharged debt.
In view of the language of § 521(2)(C), there is no reason to believe that Congress intended that the secured creditor would be in a better position because of the happenstance of bankruptcy than would be the case under state law. As indicated in Ogando, Congress clearly intended that the debtor notify the creditor as to his or her intentions relative to the property. It is only fair that the debtor advise the secured creditor as to the intended disposition of the collateral and compliance with the statute's directive in this respect should be observed. Here, the debtor filed a statement which contained the notation "N/A." This notation, while general, gave appellee no reason to believe that the debtor would follow any of the courses indicated in the form and, coupled with the record in this case makes it plain that the debtor chose not to follow the options indicated in form 8. Rather, the debtor chose to retain the property in a condition of default and declined to reaffirm or redeem. At this point, appellee basically does not seek recourse to its collateral. Instead, it would seek monetary recovery from the debtor.
Section 521(2) directs that a debtor with consumer secured debt (A) file notice to as to the debtor's intention to surrender or retain the collateral, and, in the latter event, give notice of exemption, redemption or reaffirmation; and (B) perform such intentions within 45 days. However, § 521(2)(C) makes it plain that "nothing in subparagraphs (A) and (B) shall alter the debtors . . . rights with regard to such property under this title." It is clear that § 521(2) was not intended to undercut the debtor's rights to a stay under § 362 or the procedure for obtaining relief from the stay; nor is there any evidence of Congressional intent to impair or affect the integrity of the discharge or the post discharge enjoinder of debt-collection pursuant to § 524(a)(2). There is no indication that there was an intention to modify or dispense with the voluntary procedures relating to redemption pursuant to § 522(f) and § 722 or the reaffirmation procedure of § 524(c)(3)(A). In the light of the preservation of or continued existence of the debtor's rights in these respects, the only logical basis for reconciling the conflicting elements of
The appellee, as previously stated, knows that the debtor thus far has chosen to retain the collateral without committing herself further. Surrender of collateral can be voluntary or involuntary. Appellee after issuance of the discharge was no longer precluded from pursuing its rights by virtue of the security agreement in state court. It could have sought authority to pursue recourse to the collateral thirty days after the petition was filed when it knew or could have discovered that the debtor had no intention to accede to the alternatives indicated in the notice of intention. The debtor's filing of an amended statement would serve no purpose by way of notifying or informing Sears as to the debtor's intentions. As indicated, it is already well aware of what they are.
As matters now stand, the estate has no interest in this proceeding. This is a contest between a secured consumer creditor and a debtor. Section 521(2)(C) does not permit involuntary redemption or reaffirmation. As indicated, surrender could have been and can be pursued, in appellant's discretion, by foreclosure proceedings under state law.
The order requiring an amended statement of intention is therefore REVERSED.
MEYERS, Bankruptcy Judge, concurring:
I concur in the result reached by the majority. I write separately because I believe reversal is called for without considering the analysis conducted by the majority.
Under Section 521(2)(A), a debtor who schedules consumer debts secured by property of the estate has a duty to file a Statement of Intention as to that property within thirty days of filing the petition, "or within such additional time as the court, for cause, within such period fixes . . ." Furthermore, the debtor shall perform this intention within forty-five days of filing the Statement of Intention. 11 U.S.C. § 521(2)(B). Section 521(2)(B) also provides that the court can extend the time to perform, with the caveat that such an extension must be granted within the forty-five day period.
The Debtor filed her Statement of Intention on July 7, 1995. This filing triggered the forty-five time period under Section 521(2)(B). Sears' motion to compel was not filed until October 2, 1995, long after the time periods under Section 521 had expired. Sears' motion would defeat the intent of Section 521(2)(c) by permitting the debtor to file an amended Statement of Intention after the deadline to do so had expired. It is ironic that a creditor should bring this untimely motion since the purpose of Section 521(2)(c) is to provide protection to secured creditors by requiring the debtor to act promptly with regard to property which is security for a creditor's claim. See, 130 Cong. Rec. H1810 (daily ed. March 21, 1984)(remarks of Rep. Rodino).
While Rule 1009, Fed. Rules Bankruptcy Proc., indicates that the court may have the discretion to grant a creditor's motion to compel the debtor to amend a Statement of Intention, the language in that Rule cannot be read to expand the power vested in the court under Section 521. Indeed, "any conflict between the Bankruptcy Code and the Bankruptcy Rules must be settled in favor of the Code." In re Pacific Atlantic, 33 F.3d 1064, 1066 (9th Cir.1994). Since statutory deadlines to file, amend and perform a Statement of Intention had expired before Sears filed its motion, the court could no longer order the Debtor to file an amended Statement of Intention. Accordingly, I would reverse because the court's order exceeded the scope of its authority.