IN RE: SANDRA TILLMAN, ET AL V. LAWRENCE WARFIELD, ET AL, No. 21-16034 (9th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
The IRS held a secured claim on the debtor’s real property arising from a tax penalty lien. The debtor claimed a $150,000 homestead exemption in the property under Arizona law. The trustee sought to avoid the tax penalty lien on the debtor’s exempt property and preserve it for the benefit of the estate pursuant to 11 U.S.C. Sections 724(a) and 551.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision affirming the bankruptcy court’s summary judgment in favor of a Chapter 7 trustee who brought an adversary proceeding seeking to avoid an Internal Revenue Service tax lien on property subject to a homestead exemption and to preserve the value of the lien for the benefit of the bankruptcy estate.
The panel held that Section 724(a) concerns the trustee’s avoidance of qualifying liens attached to the property of the estate at the time of distribution. When a debtor exempts a property interest under 11 U.S.C. Section 522, the exemption withdraws that property interest from the bankruptcy estate and, thus, from the reach of the trustee for distribution to creditors. Accordingly, because exempt property is not “property of the estate” which may be “distributed,” a trustee may not avoid a lien under Section 724(a) attached to exempt property which is no longer part of the estate. The panel held that it follows that a trustee is not permitted to preserve the tax lien for the benefit of the estate under Section 551, which provides for automatic preservation of certain avoided liens, including liens avoided under Section 724(a).