In re: Clinton Nurseries, No. 20-1209 (2d Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Debtors appealed the bankruptcy court's order rejecting their constitutional challenge to quarterly fees imposed during the pendency of their bankruptcy proceeding. Congress passed in 2017 an amendment to the statute setting forth quarterly fees in bankruptcy cases, 28 U.S.C. 1930. The 2017 Amendment increased quarterly fees in judicial districts in which the United States Trustee Program oversees bankruptcy administration (UST Districts). In 2020, Congress passed the Bankruptcy Administration Improvement Act of 2020, which requires that UST Districts and BA Districts, judicial districts in which judicially appointed bankruptcy administrators perform the same function, charge equal fees.
The Second Circuit held that the 2017 Amendment is a bankruptcy law subject to the uniformity requirement of the Bankruptcy Clause. The court also held that, under the version of section 1930 in effect prior to the 2020 Act, the 2017 Amendment violated the uniformity requirement. In this case, the court concluded that debtors have standing to bring its constitutional challenge and to seek reimbursement because it filed for bankruptcy in a UST District prior to October 1, 2018; qualified for and paid a fee increase pursuant to the 2017 Amendment due to the size of its disbursements; and paid more than a similarly situated debtor (with the same filing date and disbursement size) would owe in a BA District, where the increased fee schedule had not yet been implemented by the Judicial Conference. The court explained that, prior to the 2020 Act, the 2017 Amendment was unconstitutionally nonuniform on its face because it mandated a fee increase in UST Districts but only permitted a fee increase in BA Districts. Accordingly, the court reversed the bankruptcy court's judgment and directed the bankruptcy court to provide debtors with a refund of the amount of quarterly fees paid in excess of the amount debtors would have paid in a BA District during the same time period.