Hobbs v. Buffets, LLC, No. 19-50765 (5th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
This case concerns challenges to a 2017 law imposing a temporary but substantial increase in quarterly fees for large Chapter 11 debtors. The Fifth Circuit held that the fee increase is constitutional and applies in this case. The court agreed with the bankruptcy court and its sister circuits that "disbursements" includes all payments a debtor makes. The court explained that, because "disbursements" include all the payments Buffets made in 2018, its roughly $60 million of quarterly disbursements qualify for the heightened fees. The court concluded that the Amendment applies to cases like Buffets' that were pending when the Amendment took effect. The court explained that the 2017 Amendment is prospective and the court found no uniformity problem.
The court held that the fee increase easily survives rational basis review where it addresses a shortfall in the U.S. Trustee System Fund, the fee increase is directly tied to the deficit, and it is reasonable to have large debtors shore up the system's finances as their cases typically place greater burdens on the system. Furthermore, taxes and user fees are not takings under the Fifth Amendment. In this case, Buffets had disbursements exceeding $1 million for each of the first three 2018 quarters. The court concluded that the fee increase applies to those disbursements even though the case was pending before the increase became law and the fee increase is constitutional. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for modification of the fee orders.