VAUGHN, Bankruptcy Judge.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("FDIC") has appealed an order of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts avoiding its liens in full pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 522(f) as impairing the Debtor-Appellee's exemption in residential property located in Dover, Massachusetts, which is owned by the Debtor-Appellee and her spouse as tenants in the entirety. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel has jurisdiction over this appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 158. We review findings of fact for clear error and we review conclusions of law de novo. Fed.R.Bankr.P. 8013; Piccicuto v. Dwyer, 39 F.3d 37, 40 (1st Cir.1994). For the reasons discussed below, we reverse the bankruptcy court's decision in part.
Mary B. Finn, the Debtor-Appellee, filed a petition under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code on August 7, 1996. On her schedules, the Debtor-Appellee listed residential real estate in Dover, Massachusetts, which she
On September 11, 1996, the Debtor-Appellee filed a motion to avoid the FDIC's liens to which the FDIC filed an objection on October 16, 1996. The Debtor-Appellee filed a response to the FDIC's objection on October 23, 1996. The bankruptcy court held a hearing on October 30, 1996 at which Judge Hillman granted the Debtor-Appellee's motion. The FDIC subsequently filed a notice of appeal.
The issue before the Court is whether the bankruptcy court erred in ruling that the Debtor-Appellee is entitled to the total avoidance of the FDIC's liens pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 522(f). Without much analysis of the statutory language in question, Judge Hillman ruled from the bench that the "Bankruptcy Reform Act makes it clear that if a lien impairs an exemption it can be avoided completely" and held that "the [FDIC's] lien is avoided one hundred per cent."
The FDIC filed an appeal because in its view it is entitled to retain its lien in an amount equal to the Debtor-Appellee's equity in the property above the consensual liens and exemption. Section 522(f)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code provides:
11 U.S.C. § 522(f)(1). In 1994, Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Reform Act which introduced the arithmetic formula in section 522(f)(2)(A) in order to determine whether a lien impairs an exemption. The formula of section 522(f)(2)(A) provides:
11 U.S.C. § 522(f)(2)(A).
Prior to the enactment of the formula in section 522(f)(2)(A), the extent to which a lien could be avoided if it impaired an exemption varied from court to court, even in Massachusetts. Most courts avoided the lien in full if it impaired an exemption and there were no remaining equity to which the lien could attach. In re Witkowski, 176 B.R. 114 (Bankr. D.Mass.1994); In re Princiotta, 49 B.R. 447 (Bankr.D.Mass.1985). Some courts, however, merely subordinated the judicial liens to the debtor's consensual liens and exemption; in other words, even if there were no nonexempt equity to which the liens could attach, the liens would remain intact in order to catch any future appreciation in the value of the property. In re D'Amelio, 142 B.R. 8
The legislative history indicates that the formula in section 522(f)(2)(A) was based upon the decision in In re Brantz, 106 B.R. 62 (Bankr.E.D.Pa.1989), which was cited favorably by the United States Supreme Court in Owen v. Owen, 500 U.S. 305, 313 n. 5, 111 S.Ct. 1833, 1838 n. 5, 114 L.Ed.2d 350, 360 n. 5 (1991). The Brantz court set forth the following formula for determining lien avoidance under section 522(f)(1):
Brantz, 106 B.R. at 68. As noted by both parties, the Brantz test and the formula adopted by Congress differ. The FDIC reconciles the formulae by asserting that step 5 of the Brantz test reflects the application of the phrase "impairs an exemption to the extent" that is found in section 522(f)(2)(A). Several post-amendment cases reconcile the two and support the FDIC's position that the Debtor-Appellee is only entitled to partial avoidance of its liens since equity exists in the real property beyond the consensual liens and the exemption. See In re Moe, 199 B.R. 737, 739-40 (Bankr.D.Mont.1995); In re Johnson, 184 B.R. 141, 147 (Bankr.D.Wyo. 1995); In re Thomsen, 181 B.R. 1013, 1016 (Bankr.M.D.Ga.1995).
Both Judge Feeney of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts and Judge Young of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts recently ruled on the issue facing the Court in In re Ryan, 210 B.R. 7 (Bankr. D.Mass.1997) and East Cambridge Sav. Bank v. Silveira, No. 96-11388-WGY (D.Mass. June 30, 1997). After reviewing the legislative history, Judge Young concluded that "the proper application of section 522(f)(2)(A)requires the avoidance of the entire lien if it impairs a debtor's exemption in any amount" despite the existence of equity to which a portion of the judicial lien could attach. Silveira at 7. We disagree with Judge Young. Rather, as Judge Feeney noted, review of the analysis contained in the legislative history is not necessary where the plain meaning of the statute is conclusive. Ryan at 12 (citing United States v. Ron Pair Enters., Inc., 489 U.S. 235, 242, 109 S.Ct. 1026, 1030-31, 103 L.Ed.2d 290 (1989) and Summit Invest. and Dev. Corp. v. Leroux, 69 F.3d 608, 610 (1st Cir.1995)). We agree with Judge Feeney that the cases cited in the legislative history do not fit the examples discussed there.
Accordingly, we undertake the application of the formula to the facts of this case. We first note, however, that because section 522(f)(2)(B) provides that "[i]n the case of a property subject to more than 1 lien, a lien that has been avoided shall not be considered in making the calculation under subparagraph
Because the sum of (i), (ii), and (iii), $2,237,149.97, exceeds the value of the Debtor-Appellee's property of $225,000 by $2,012,149.97, the FDIC's lien of $766,552.63 fully impairs the Debtor-Appellee's exemption. Accordingly, this lien of the FDIC can be avoided in full and should not be used in calculating whether the FDIC's lien of $1,300,000.00 impairs the Debtor-Appellee's exemption.
With respect to the FDIC's lien of $1,300,000.00, the formula provides:
Because the sum of (i), (ii), and (iii), $1,470,597.34, exceeds the value of the Debtor-Appellee's property of $225,000 by $1,245,597.34, this is the amount of the impairment. Because the impairment of $1,245,597.34 does not exceed the FDIC's lien of $1,300,000.00, this lien cannot be avoided in full. Rather, in accordance with section 522(f)(1), the lien can be avoided only to the extent of the impairment or only in the amount of $1,245,597.34. Accordingly, the FDIC should retain its lien, but in a reduced amount of $27,201.33.
The Court finds that the result in this case is consistent with bankruptcy policy. First, under this approach the Debtor-Appellee has claimed a $15,700 exemption, and she has gotten a $15,700 exemption. In addition, although the Debtor-Appellee has been unable to totally avoid both of the FDIC's liens, she has been able to reduce the amount of the liens by over two million dollars. Surely, this benefits the Debtor-Appellee and provides her with a "fresh start."
Second, the result in this case provides certainty and definiteness by setting the FDIC's lien at a fixed amount. Under the carve-out approach utilized by some courts before the 1994 amendment to section 522(f), the FDIC's lien would have attached to any future appreciation in the property, an amount which would be unquantifiable absent some agreement between the parties or future court proceeding. In addition, by permitting the Debtor-Appellee to retain any future appreciation in the property, her "fresh start" is enhanced.
Third, we find that it would be inconsistent with the policy of exemptions to permit the Debtor-Appellee to avoid the lien in full despite the existence of non-exempt equity to which the lien could attach because the Debtor-Appellee would in effect be getting an unlimited exemption. For example, if the property in this case were worth $500,000 instead of $225,000, the Debtor-Appellee would exit bankruptcy with $154,897.34 in consensual liens, a $15,700 exemption, plus
For the reasons stated herein, we hold that partially undersecured judicial liens need not be avoided in their entirety pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 522(f)(1). Rather, pursuant to the formula, only that portion of the lien which exceeds a debtor's equity in the property, taking into account the non-judicial liens and the debtor's exemptions, may be avoided. We therefore REVERSE the decision of the bankruptcy court and deny the Debtor-Appellee's motion to the extent that she sought full avoidance of the FDIC's liens. The FDIC shall retain a lien in the amount of $27,201.33.
De JESUS, Bankruptcy Judge, dissenting.
The facts are accurately portrayed by the majority opinion and do not need to be repeated here. I respectfully disagree with my colleagues' opinion to partially reverse the Bankruptcy Court's decision. I would affirm Judge Hillman's ruling for the following reasons.
First, the opinion does not attempt to determine ". . . the value of Debtor's interest in the property . . ." required by 11 U.S.C. § 522(f)(2)(A). The opinion assumes the value of Debtor's interest is $225,000.00. This may not be the case given the fourth footnote of the majority opinion and the ruling entered in In re Cozad, 208 B.R. 495 (10th Cir. BAP 1997).
My second reason for disagreeing with the majority is articulated by Bankruptcy Judge James D. Walker, Jr. in In re Thomsen, 181 B.R. 1013 (Bankr.M.D.Ga.1995). I cannot improve on what he states. I, therefore, transcribe it and adopt it as my own.
Thomsen, 181 B.R. at 1016-17 n. 2 (emphasis added).