U.S. Trustee Fee Unconstitutional

On June 6, the Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion in Siegel v. Fitzgerald1 held that the increase in U.S. Trustee fees in Chapter 11 cases violated the uniformity requirement of the Constitution’s Bankruptcy Clause,2 because the fee increase in 2017 only applied to in the U.S. Trustee districts and didn’t apply to the Bankruptcy Administrator districts in Alabama and North Carolina. Although the Judicial Conference of U.S. Courts adopted the fee increase for those Administrator districts in 2018, the increase applied only to newly filed Chapter 11 cases, while the congressional increase had applied to pending and newly filed cases.

The opinion by Justice Sotomayor reviews prior Supreme Court authority on uniformity under the Bankruptcy Clause, including Hanover National Bank v. Moyses,3 in which the Court held that application of exemptions based on variations in state law satisfied the uniformity requirement because it satisfied “geographical” uniformity. The Hanover decision led to holdings of constitutionality of the current “opt out” system for exemptions in bankruptcy cases.4

In contrast to Hanover and other Supreme Court decisions on uniformity, with regard to the U.S. Trustee fee, there was “no support for respondent’s argument that the uniformity requirement does not apply where Congress sets different fee structures with different funding mechanisms for debtors in different states.” Although Congress could, as with exemptions, “account for differences that exist between different parts of the country,” Congress violated the uniformity requirement when it subjected debtors in some districts to higher fees than debtors in North Carolina and Alabama.

The case was remanded to the Fourth Circuit to consider an appropriate remedy, which potentially could include refund of the excess fee to the Chapter 11 debtor. Any remedy could potentially be sought by other Chapter 11 debtors who were required to pay the increased fees.

The opinion notes that the Court was not ruling upon the constitutionality of the separate U.S. Trustee and Bankruptcy Administrator system, which only means that the Court didn’t address the issue.

________________________

[1] Siegel v. Fitzgerald, ___ S.Ct. ___ (June 6, 2022).

[2] U.S. Constitution, Art. 1, § 8, cl. 4.

[3] Hanover National Bank v. Moyses, 186 U.S. 181 (1902).

[4] See Brown, Ahern & MacLean, Bankruptcy Exemption Manual, chapter 4, for discussion of the Hanover decision and opt out.

William-1_print_2019
Editor/Adviser, Academy for Consumer Bankruptcy Education

The Honorable William Houston Brown retired in 2006 as a United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Western District of Tennessee, and he had been designated to sit also in the Middle District of Tennessee, Southern District of Florida, Eastern District of Michigan and Western District of Kentucky. Judge Brown served a four-year term on the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the Sixth Circuit from 1999 through 2002. He received his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law, where he was Order of the Coif. Judge Brown is a member of the American Bankruptcy Institute, having served on its Board and Executive Committee, and he is a Fellow in the American College of Bankruptcy. He is the author or co-author of several texts, including Bankruptcy Exemption Manual, 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Legislation with Analysis 1st and 2d editions, Bankruptcy and Domestic Relations Manual, The Law of Debtors and Creditors, as well as bankruptcy form books, all published by Thomson West. He is also a principal contributing editor for Norton Bankruptcy Law and Practice 3rd, published by Thomson West. Judge Brown prepares a quarterly update of consumer cases for the Federal Judicial Center, which distributes those materials to all bankruptcy judges, and he is a speaker at the Federal Judicial Center’s annual seminars for bankruptcy judges. He also speaks regularly at seminars throughout the United States, on consumer bankruptcy topics. Judge Brown co-authors Chapter 13 Bankruptcy 4th ed., a digital publication, available at ch13online.com. Judge Brown also acts as a mediator in bankruptcy-related disputes, has conducted mock trials, and has testified as an expert witness in bankruptcy court proceedings.

Related Articles

Academy Circle Logo Final
January 16, 2022
NCLC seeking non-profit organizations to sign two letters (one to the CFPB and one to FHFA, FHA, VA, and USDA) urging the agencies to require servicers to pause foreclosure activity for at least 60 days after being notified that a borrower has applied for HAF assistance and meets conditional program eligibility. We ask organizations to sign both letters, and the...
June 7, 2020
By The Honorable William Houston Brown (Retired) HAVEN Act applied to modification when plan was confirmed prior to Act becoming law. The debtor proposed a plan modification deleting from disposable income $1,789 monthly VA disability benefits. First concluding that the HAVEN Act was applicable law at time of this decision, nothing in the Act, its legislative history or the Official...
Members
January 31, 2021
By Rachel Jones, Staff Attorney to Chapter 13 Standing Trustee Chris Micale, Western District of Virginia (Roanoke) The events of 2020 have had a devastating impact on the very low-income population. The working poor are struggling, particularly those working in sectors such as hospitality and tourism. State and Federal funding and local programs such as food banks and community action...
moran_cathy
March 27, 2022
I’ve been having nightmares about the 9th Circuit’s decision in Siegel for 20 years. Broad strokes, Siegel (143 F.3d 525 (9th Cir. 1998) holds that a filed claim in a no asset bankruptcy case to which no one objects is entitled to preclusive effect in subsequent litigation by . . . It looks like you are not signed in or...
Members
September 15, 2019
By The Honorable William Houston Brown (Retired) Manufactured home did not become accession to real property. The creditor holding security interest in a manufactured home objected to confirmation, on the basis that § 1322(b)(2)’s anti-modification provision prevented bifurcation of its claim into secured and unsecured parts. The Eighth Circuit noted that the Bankruptcy Code does not resolve the issue of...
Members
July 18, 2021
By Lawrence R. Ahern, III, Brown & Ahern (Nashville, TN) Introduction The primary purpose of this two-part paper is to explore recent legislation that makes it easier for some individuals to modify the terms of their residential mortgages, especially if they are farmers or small business owners. The emphasis is on the Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019 (SBRA).1 A...
Members
siomos
March 31, 2024
While some circuits differ, statutory interpretation suggests similar treatment for secured and unsecured claims regarding interest disallowance, unless context dictates otherwise. Attorney Siomos brings subscribers a follow-up to last week’s article.
Members
hayes
January 28, 2024
Does § 523(a)(15) include claims by a spouse against the other spouse for fraud etc, i.e., §§ 523(a)(2), (4) and (6), in a chapter 7 case?
Members
March 1, 2020
By William Houston Brown, Adviser, Academy for Consumer Bankruptcy Education, Inc. and Lawrence R. Ahern, III, Brown and Ahern (Nashville, TN) In two February opinions, the Supreme Court addressed issues that appear in bankruptcy cases, one dealing with a common practice of entering nunc pro tunc orders and the other affecting determination of property rights under state law. In a...
Members
May 12, 2019
By Judge Michael A. Fagone & Career Law Clerk Ciera S. Dye III. Policy Considerations Where the statute does not provide definitive guidance, courts often turn to policy considerations. How do those considerations weigh out here? One answer is that policy considerations cut against imposing any sort of requirement of preapproval for postpetition borrowing by a consumer debtor. Several reasons...
Members

Looking to Become a Member?

ConsiderChapter13.org offers a forum to advance continuing education of consumer bankruptcy via access to insightful articles, informative webinars, and the latest industry news. Join now to benefit from expert resources and stay informed.

Webinars

These informative sessions are led by industry experts and cover a range of consumer bankruptcy topics.

Member Articles

Written by industry experts, these articles provide in-depth analysis and practical guidance on consumer bankruptcy topics.

Industry News

The Academy is the go-to source for the latest news and analysis in the Chapter 13 bankruptcy industry.

To get started, please let us know which of these best fits your current position: