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Ransom v. FIA Card Services (U.S. S.Ct.)

Ransom v. FIA Card Services, N.A., f/k/a MBNA America Bank, N.A.
Certiorari from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Cir., Case 09—907

Argued October 4, 2010—Decided January 11, 2011

The Issue: Here the question was whether a Chapter 13 debtor could deduct the allowable auto payment from his monthly budget even though he did not have a car payment (i.e the vehicle was paid for). Put another way, is it fair for all debtors to be entitled to the maximum allowable deduction from their monthly disposable income, or must debtors establish what they actually pay?

The Answer: The Court ruled 8 to 1 (Scalia J. dissenting) that if a debtor makes more than the median income for his State then he must establish that he incurrs the amounts deducted from his monthly living expenses. No more automatic deductions if debtor cannot prove what he pays.

The Gist: To determine “disposable income” BAPCPA gave us the Means Test, which starts with gross monthly income then deducts living expenses – i.e. “amounts reasonably necessary for maintenance or support” of the debtor. In a Chapter 13 case the expenses considered “reasonably necessary” are identified in 11 U.S.C. §1325(b)(2)(A)(i) and include “applicable monthly expense amounts” as specified in National and Local IRS standards. Since BAPCPA was adopted, it has become common practice to include expenses at the maximum allowable level even if the debtor does not have, or pay for, that type of asset. This case appears to say that the party is over for Chapter 13 debtors.

See Also: this post from Chicago Attorney Steve Jacobowski on the Bankruptcy Litigation Blog regarding the Scalia dissent.

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  • George E. Bourguignon, Jr.

    This is a very important decision. I hadn’t thought of it having as broad an impact as you describe, but it appears your may be right.