City of Chicago v. Kiera Cherry, No. 19-1558 (7th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Chicago assesses fines for parking and other vehicular offenses against the owner. If the owner filed bankruptcy, keeping the car in the estate meant that the automatic stay prevented the city from using collection devices such as towing or booting. The Seventh Circuit previously held 11 U.S.C. 1327(b), which provides that “confirmation of a plan vests all of the property of the estate in the debtor” precludes debtors from avoiding such fines by keeping the car in the estate except when a court enters a case-specific order, supported by good case-specific reasons. Bankruptcy judges then changed their form confirmation order, adding a checkbox through which debtors could elect a departure from the statutory presumption. The Seventh Circuit then held that vehicular fines are administrative expenses that bankruptcy estates must pay even though not listed on debtors’ 11 U.S.C.507(a)(2) schedules. Whether a car’s title returns to the owner on confirmation of the plan or remains in the estate, vehicular fines must be paid.
The Seventh Circuit then reversed confirmation orders that were based only on the debtor’s choice. Immunity from traffic laws is not an outcome plausibly attributed to the Bankruptcy Code. A bankruptcy court must confirm any plan that satisfies 11 U.S.C. 1325(a) and "other applicable provisions of this title”; section 1327(b) is an applicable provision. A bankruptcy court may confirm a plan that holds property in the estate only after finding good case-specific reasons for that action.