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In re Chilson

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

April 27, 2015

IN RE AMY HOPE CHILSON, Debtor.
v.
AMY HOPE CHILSON, Appellee. LANGDON M. COOPER, TRUSTEE, Appellant, Bankruptcy Case No. 12-10848

MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER

MARTIN REIDINGER, District Judge.

Langdon M. Cooper, the Chapter 7 Trustee ("Trustee") below, has filed a motion herein [15cv20 Doc. 3][1] seeking an order from the Court holding this appeal in abeyance. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the Trustee's motion.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On October 24, 2012, Amy Hope Chilson ("Debtor") filed a voluntary Chapter 7 Petition. [B Doc. 1]. The Debtor claimed one individual retirement account held by Merrill Lynch both as personal property on Schedule B of her Petition and as property exempt from her Bankruptcy Estate on Schedule C. [B Doc. 1 at 7; 9]. On November 28, 2012, the Trustee held a meeting of creditors as required by 11 U.S.C. § 341(a). [B Doc. 3]. At the creditors' meeting, the Trustee spoke with a listed creditor and the Debtor's former husband, Gary Chilson, who provided the Trustee with copies of the separation agreement and New York divorce decree terminating the Chilsons' marriage in 2007. [B Doc. 31-1]. Upon reviewing these documents, the Trustee learned that Mr. Chilson maintained an individual retirement account with TIAA CREF containing money he earned while married to the Debtor, a portion of which was adjudged to be the property of the Debtor in 2007 pursuant to the divorce decree. [Id.]. Specifically, paragraph 5.3.3 of the separation agreement, which was incorporated into the divorce decree [Id. at 2], states:

For his TIAA CREF account, the Husband will transfer one half of the current balance, plus any applicable investment gains and less any losses on that portion of the Wife's share from the date this Agreement is executed until distribution to the Wife through a qualified domestic relations order in a form acceptable to the Plan Administrators.

[Id.]. No qualified domestic relations order was ever prepared or executed. Consequently, the Debtor's retirement money - that portion of her ex-husband's TIAA CREF retirement account belonging to her by judicial decree - was never removed from Mr. Chilson's IRA. [B Doc. 28 at 1].

On October 4, 2013, the Trustee moved the Bankruptcy Court, in accordance with 11 U.S.C. § 542, for an order directing the Debtor's former spouse to turnover to the Trustee the Debtor's share of funds held in his TIAA CREF account. [B Doc. 25]. Shortly thereafter, the Debtor moved the Bankruptcy Court to amend Schedules B and C of her Petition to claim these funds both as personal property and as exempt from her Bankruptcy Estate. [B Doc. 26]. The parties responded to each other's motions after which the Bankruptcy Court entered an Order on December 27, 2013, granting the Trustee's motion for turnover of the Debtor's retirement funds and denying the Debtor's motion to amend her Petition. [B Doc. 33]. Fourteen days later, the Debtor filed two motions. Her first motion asked the Bankruptcy Court to reconsider its December 27, 2013, Order. [B Doc. 34]. The Trustee responded thereto. [B Doc. 36]. Her second motion sought an extension of time to give notice of appeal in the event the Bankruptcy Court denied her first motion. [B Doc. 35].

On February 4, 2014, the Bankruptcy Court heard the Debtor's motions. [B Doc. 43]. At the hearing, the Debtor's attorney acknowledged that his "research wasn't as thorough as I thought it was originally, " and provided the Bankruptcy Court with additional precedent he argued supported the Debtor's position that the portion of the retirement money held in Mr. Chilson's TIAA CREF account adjudged to be her retirement funds were exempt property under state law. [Id. at 3-8]. The Trustee countered that, procedurally, Fed.R.Civ.P. 60 did not provide the proper mechanism to effectuate the relief requested by the Debtor. [Id. at 8-9]. In response to the Debtor's substantive argument, the Trustee maintained (as he has previously asserted) that the Debtor's retirement money held in Mr. Chilson's retirement account represented nothing more than a right to payment inuring to the benefit of the Debtor. [Id. at 10-11]. As such, according to the Trustee, the Debtor's funds were subject to being turned over to him as correctly determined by the Bankruptcy Court's December 27, 2013, Order. [Id. at 11]. During the hearing, however, the Trustee objected to the Debtor's tardiness in offering additional pertinent case law, asserting that he did not have sufficient time to review the materials submitted in court by the Debtor. [Id.]. After hearing the arguments of counsel, the Bankruptcy Court granted the Debtor's motion and agreed to reconsider its December 27, 2013, Order. [Id.]. The hearing transcript reflects the following exchange between the Bankruptcy Court and counsel for the Trustee:

THE COURT: Well, I think I ought to consider these matters. And so I'll grant the motion to reconsider and will consider this new material. And, Ms. Youngs, how long do you want to respond to that?
MS. YOUNGS: If I can have two weeks to file -
THE COURT: Okay.
MS. YOUNGS: - a memorandum?
THE COURT: We'll give you two weeks to respond and then I'll enter an ...

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