In re: Bruner, No. 15-8031 (6th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Debtor’s bankruptcy schedules indicated she had $1,500 in a checking account and no cash on hand. The Kentucky Medicare Fraud Unit subsequently searched her home and seized $270,000 in cash. Debtor was indicted for fraudulently claiming Social Security benefits, bankruptcy fraud, and money laundering. Debtor’s mother, Newton, who allegedly lived with Debtor, deposited $51,000 in cash into their joint bank account, then transferred $50,000 to retain a law firm as Debtor’s criminal counsel. Debtor was convicted. The chapter 7 trustee initiated an adversary proceeding to pursue the attorney fee. The bankruptcy court held that the fee was not subject to turnover, acknowledging: "Trustee offered substantial evidence that the Debtor was the source of the $50,000,” which may have been estate property before its transfer, but that the trustee’s “claim to estate property is no greater than the debtor’s claim.” The court held that because the trustee never sought to avoid that transfer under 11 U.S.C. 549, it was not estate property. The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed. The Trustee did not meet her burden of establishing that the attorney fee is property of the estate; fraudulently transferred property only becomes estate property upon avoidance of the transfer. The trustee did not establish that the fee was property of the estate under the Rules of Professional Responsibility.