Debtor and Ability to Reopen Bankruptcy

Generally, chapter 7 debtors have the right to reopen their cases for various purposes after their case is closed. Usually, the court will allow the debtor to do so to remove judicial liens for otherwise discharged debt via 11 U.S.C. §522(f) motion, or to add an overlooked creditor, or to file a financial management course certificate, or perhaps for another purpose.  In In re May E. Jones, Case No. 03-21929, debtor moved to reopen the case 13 years after it was closed, to amend the schedule of real property,  disclosing (for the first time) her interest in a parcel of real property and seeking to have the property abandoned to her under 11 U.S.C. §554. If the court were to reopen the case, a substantial real estate asset would likely revert to the debtor.

After reviewing the parties’ submissions and conducting an evidentiary hearing, Judge Warren found that the debtor was aware of her interest in the real property at the time the bankruptcy was filed but did not disclose that interest in her petition.  The court further found that reopening of the case would not be to the benefit to the creditors, and the debtor could not establish that she had acted in good faith at the time her Chapter 7 bankruptcy case was filed.

Concluding his decision, Judge Warren wrote:

The Court will not accept Jones’s invitation to turn a blind eye to the signals pointing toward bad faith, so that she can have the undisclosed assets abandoned back to her. That seems a bit like a parent rewarding a child who was caught hiding her failing report card with a hot fudge sundae.

What is the takeaway from this case?  The cardinal rule of bankruptcy is full and complete disclosure. Here, the debtor did not fully disclose all of her assets and did not act in good faith. Thus, the court denied her motion and debtor could not benefit from her actions. The above situation is unusual both in the length of time from the time of discharge and the relief sought.  However, I believe that it illustrates a simple principal that in bankruptcy a debtor cannot benefit from his wrongful conduct.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.