Harris v. Hoffman

Citation379 F.2d 413
Decision Date05 July 1967
Docket NumberNo. 18715.,18715.
PartiesOrville William HARRIS and Gladys Maxine Harris, Bankrupts, Appellants, v. Harry HOFFMAN, Appellee.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)

379 F.2d 413 (1967)

Orville William HARRIS and Gladys Maxine Harris, Bankrupts, Appellants,
Harry HOFFMAN, Appellee.

No. 18715.

United States Court of Appeals Eighth Circuit.

July 5, 1967.

379 F.2d 414
379 F.2d 415
James Furey, Carroll, Iowa, for appellants

Edward S. White, Carroll, Iowa, for appellee and filed brief with John H. Mitchell, Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Before MATTHES, MEHAFFY and LAY, Circuit Judges.

LAY, Circuit Judge.

This is an action arising out of a bankruptcy proceeding. The appellant-bankrupts, husband and wife, purchased real estate property in January 1958. This has been occupied by them as their homestead through December 1965, the date upon which they filed their voluntary petition in bankruptcy. On January 1, 1957, one year before the acquisition of the homestead, the appellants executed a promissory note to appellee for $8,000.00, due in one year with five per cent interest. On April 14, 1966, the Trustee in Bankruptcy set off as exempt property the real estate in question pursuant to § 561.16 of the Iowa Code and § 6 of the Bankruptcy Act. The property was valued at $12,000.00.

Appellee moved the referee to stay the discharge in bankruptcy and allow him time to perfect a lien in state court. A suit in state court on the note had been stayed upon commencement of the bankruptcy proceeding. Appellee claims that the bankrupts' property, although generally exempt to other creditors, is not exempt to him since his claim against the bankrupts antedates the acquisition of the homestead and is enforceable under § 561.21 of the Iowa Code.1

The referee refused to stay the discharge and the creditor-appellee sought a petition for review from the district court.

The district judge, the Hon. William Hanson, reversed the referee and ordered that a stay be granted until appellee could perfect a lien in state court. Unless appellee can perfect a lien in the state court he must take a position as a general creditor since he is otherwise unsecured and his note subject to discharge. The lower court in granting the stay relied upon Lockwood v. Exchange Bank, 190 U.S. 294, 23 S.Ct. 751, 47 L.Ed. 1061, and this court's opinion in Duffy v. Tegler, 8 Cir., 19 F.2d 305. See also Ingram v. Wilson, 8 Cir., 125 F. 913.

The underlying theory of Lockwood2 is that title to property generally exempt under state law does not pass to the trustee in bankruptcy. Under this rule creditors who claim that the property is not exempt from their particular debts must resort to state courts to obtain satisfaction since the bankruptcy court otherwise lacks jurisdiction. Lockwood is the leading authority for the referee to withhold discharge for a reasonable time to allow such creditors to effectuate their rights against the property.

Mr. Justice White stated:

"* * * the rights of creditors having no lien, as in the case at bar, but having a remedy under the state law against the exempt property, may be protected by the court of bankruptcy, since, certainly, there would
379 F.2d 416
exist in favor of a creditor holding a waiver note, like that possessed by the petitioning creditor in the case at bar, an equity entitling him to a reasonable postponement of the discharge of the bankrupt, in order to allow the institution in the state court of such proceedings as might be necessary to make effective the rights possessed by the creditor." (Emphasis ours) 190 U.S. at 300, 23 S.Ct. at 754.

Under the rule of Lockwood the referee need only find a prima facie right of the creditor as to the existence of waiver of the exempt property. He is not to make a final determination since this is outside of his jurisdiction to administer the exempt property. See 3 Remington, Bankruptcy, § 1317 at 244; Roden Groc. Co. v. Bacon, 5 Cir., 133 F. 515; Meinhard & Bro. v. Pincus, 5 Cir., 200 F. 736.

The referee in the present case determined there was not a prima facie waiver existing between appellee and the bankrupt. The referee relied upon the Iowa decision of Bracewell v. Hughs, 214 Iowa 241, 242 N.W. 66, which presented a case identical to the facts at bar. There the Iowa court, in denying the right of the creditor to establish a lien said:

"We have no case cited to us, nor have we been able to find any court holding, under such circumstances, that suit may be maintained successfully in a state court to create a lien as distinguished from a suit to enforce an existing lien. * * * Of course, what has been said with reference to liens must not be understood as applying to cases where the exemption is waived or the lien created on the exempt property by contract." 242 N.W. at 69. (Emphasis ours)

The trial court herein reversed the referee's order saying that Bracewell is subject to varying interpretations and is distinguishable in that it holds that the creditor could not pursue his remedy in equity but should go to the law docket. We reverse.

Duffy v. Tegler, supra, was decided in 1927, five years before the Bracewell case. Although relying on Lockwood, this court3 did not consider the effect of the intervening interpretation of Lockwood by the Supreme Court in Chicago B. & Q. R.R. Co. v. Hall, 229 U.S. 511, 33 S.Ct. 885, 57 L.Ed. 1306. In Hall the court held that a bankrupt could annul a lien even on exempt property (wages), if the lien was obtained within four months of his bankruptcy and was otherwise dischargeable under the then existing § 67f of the Bankruptcy Act.4 The railroad contended (facing double payment to Hall and his creditors on previous garnishments) that under § 70 the trustee did not acquire title to the exempt property, therefore § 67f did not apply, since it had reference only to liens on property which can "pass to the trustee as a part of the estate of the bankrupt." The Supreme Court held that § 67f annuls all liens "both as against the property which the trustee takes and that which may be set aside to the bankrupt as exempt." The court said:

"This view, we think, is supported both by the language of the section and the general policy of the act, which was intended not only to secure equality among creditors, but for the benefit of the debtor in discharging him from his liabilities and enabling him to start
379 F.2d 417
afresh with the property set apart to him as exempt. Both of these objects would be defeated if judgments like the present were not annulled, for otherwise the two Iowa plaintiffs would not only obtain a preference over other creditors, but would take property which it was the purpose of the Bankruptcy Act to secure to the debtor." (Emphasis ours) 229 U.S. at 515, 33 S.Ct. at 886.

The Court acknowledged that "title to exempt property does not rest in the trustee, and cannot be administered by him for the benefit of the creditors." However, the court observed that the property does pass to the trustee as part of the estate to "segregate, identify, and appraise what is claimed to be exempt." The court then significantly distinguishes Lockwood and says:

"The liens rendered void by 67f are those obtained by legal proceedings within four months. The section does not, however, defeat rights in the exempt property acquired by contract or by waiver of the exemption. These may be enforced or foreclosed by judgments obtained even after the petition in bankruptcy was filed, under the principle declared in Lockwood v. Exchange Bank, 190 U.S. 294, 23 S.Ct. 751, 47 L.Ed. 1061." (Emphasis ours) 229 U.S. at 516, 33 S.Ct. at 887.

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5 cases
  • In re Magee, 74 B 1819-W-1.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Western District of Missouri
    • April 12, 1976
    ...to prevent what the Fourth Circuit in Krakower regarded as "legal fraud." Appellant, however, contends that under Harris v. Hoffman, 379 F.2d 413 (8th Cir. 1967), a creditor seeking a stay to proceed against the bankrupt's property must have more than an unsecured dischargeable debt. Appell......
  • In re Wooten, Bankruptcy No. 83-00115
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • September 5, 1986
    ...debt to judgment before the debtor filed in bankruptcy. No such requirement exists in Iowa law. The McCormick court cited Harris v. Hoffman, 379 F.2d 413 (8th Cir.1967) for the same proposition. Reliance on Harris for that proposition is misplaced for the following reasons: Harris v. Hoffma......
  • In re Ellingson, Bankruptcy No. 85-01638W
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • September 30, 1986
    ...before the debtors file in bankruptcy. No such requirement exists in the Iowa Code. The cases relied on by the debtors, Harris v. Hoffman, 379 F.2d 413 (8th Cir.1967) and In re Zeisman, Slip Op. No. 83-03017 (Bankr.N.D.Iowa, May 31, 1985), either have been misconstrued, or in the case of In......
  • In re Seel, Bankruptcy No. 82-40392
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Tenth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Kansas
    • August 24, 1982
    ...a mechanic's lien as a statutory lien. See, e.g., In Re Lowery Bros., Inc., 589 F.2d 851, 860-61 (5th Cir. 1979); Harris v. Hoffman, 379 F.2d 413, 417, n. 5 (8th Cir. 1967). Therefore, the Court holds Topeka Lumber's mechanic's lien is not a security interest, but rather a statutory lien. S......
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