Monday, April 25, 2016

Collection: Attacking Fraudulent Conveyances

      It seems to happen more and more often. You are able to obtain your judgment against your debtor, but when you go to collect, he has recently transferred his assets. Can you pursue the assets to the transferee? Under the right circumstances, yes.
     The case of Price v. Hawkins, from the Newport News Circuit Court, appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, stands for the position that a court may enter personal judgments against a transferee to provide a creditor with a remedy when, due to fraud, there is no other remedy.
     In Price the Court found that the debtor, a father, enlisted the help of his son and his son's girlfriend in the debtor's scheme to defraud his creditors. Specifically, the son and his girlfriend, who were not legitimate creditors of the debtor, assisted the debtor in hiding assets ($14,058.77) that the creditor would have otherwise reached in his judgment collection efforts. The transfers occurred after the judgment order was entered, and $10,000.00 was transferred to the son and the girlfriend three months later while the creditor was attempting to collect on the judgment.
     The Court found that simply declaring the fraudulent transfer "void" pursuant to Virginia Code §55-80 would be meaningless, as the conveyance was of money. In cases involving the fraudulent conveyance of real estate, title to the real estate is restored by a declaration, thus, subjecting the property to a creditor's bill. The Court ruled in Price that unless the money was delivered to the Court for the creditor to attach, then personal judgments were the only remedy.
     Perhaps the lesson of Price is: Ask questions: what assets have been conveyed to whom, when, and for what consideration.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Foreclosure: Notice of Sale

     The Code of Virginia provides specific guidance as to giving notice of a foreclosure sale.
     §55-59.1 requires that the written notice of sale contain the time, date and place of the proposed sale, as well as either (i) the instrument number, or, deed book and page number, of the instrument of appointment filed pursuant to §55-59-59 (appointment of substitute trustee), or, (ii) a copy of the executed and notarized appointment of substitute trustee. Personal delivery or mailing a copy of the advertisement by certified or registered mail is sufficient.
     §55-59.1 requires the trustee to send written notice of the time, date and place of the sale to (i) the present owner of the property … (ii) any subordinate lienholder … (iii) any assignee of such note … (iv) any condominium unit owner’s association that has filed a lien … (v) any property owner’s association that has filed a lien … (vi) any proprietary lessees’ association that has filed a lien.
     It is important to know that in addition to the notice required by statute, the note or the deed of trust may contain additional notice requirements. Accordingly, the trustee should examine both of these documents.
     §55-59 provides that the notice can be sent by either the trustee or the lender.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Real Estate: Homeowner Associations - Damages Caused by Common Area Tree

     Townes at Grand Oaks Townhouse Association, Inc. v. Baxter is a case from Richmond Circuit Court that illustrates the importance of carefully drafted HOA agreements. The HOA sought to recover expenses for removing a tree that fell from a common area onto a homeowner’s condo. The Richmond Circuit Court held that the HOA agreement did not exempt the HOA from paying for removal costs because a portion of the tree remained on the common area. The court noted that there was no Virginia authority for these facts, but stated that the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that in cases of fallen trees between adjoining properties in the absence of negligence, there is no liability for property damages on the landowner from where the tree fell. However, the HOA agreement is a contract that created the obligation for the HOA. The agreement had a provision requiring the HOA to maintain and replace trees, and another provision exempting the HOA from liability to an owner for repairing or replacing any portion of the lot or the improvements provided the homeowner has insurance as required by the agreement. The HOA relied on the first provision, but the court determined that that reliance was misplaced as it did not cover this situation. The HOA relied on the second provision because the homeowner did not have the required insurance for “the structure of each lot”, but only insurance for the inside of the home. However, the court heard evidence from the homeowner that he understood the language to only require internal insurance. The court noted three primary reasons for holding for the homeowner:
     (1) “Removal of the tree from the lot is not a repair or replacement, but merely something necessary before the physical work of restoration of the damaged structure can begin.”
     (2) “The exemption from liability applies when the homeowner has "fire and extended coverage insurance" with applicable coverage. Considering the varying types of insurance that the market may provide, there is no evidence that the insurance required under the contract terminology must cover trees removal. Whether such a policy would is left to speculation.”
     (3) “The tree removal would necessarily involve removal of a portion of the tree from the common area as well as from Defendant's lot and home. I question whether, in any event, the total removal cost should be assigned to the Defendant rather than some prorated amount.
     It is important to ensure that HOA agreements include provisions that would govern a broad spectrum of potential issues and disputes. The law firm of Lafayette, Ayers & Whitlock, PLC has experience in drafting, reviewing, and amending HOA documents, as well as, representing HOAs in court. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Bankruptcy: Dischargeability Determination: Willful & Malicious Injury v. Embezzlement

     In the case of Robbins v. The Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A., the United States District Court at Harrisonburg affirmed a bankruptcy court's ruling that a debt was non-dischargeable under Bankruptcy Code §523(a)(6) as willful and malicious injury. The District Court found that the debtor held a 98 percent interest in a limited partnership which owned a shopping center. The partnership had granted to a bank a second deed of trust on the shopping center and assigned to the bank the rents from the shopping center as security for portions of two loans made by the bank. The debtor, however, under a workout agreement, later began receiving rent distributions from the partnership in his capacity as a limited partner, and he used nearly $71,000 of the distributions for personal expenses.  
     The District Court noted from the Bankruptcy Court's finding that the debtor made the determination on his own to take the money without consideration of the workout agreement or of the bank's rights to the rents. The District Court found that the Bankruptcy Court correctly applied the malice standard as established in that circuit.
     Although the Bankruptcy Court did not explicitly state that it found malice, malice could be inferred from debtor's actions in receiving the distributions, placing the rents in his own account and making personal expenditures. The debtor took such actions all in disregard of and without benefit to the bank's security interest in the rents and at a time when he was suffering financially.
     The District Court ruled that the bank needed only to show that the debtor's conversion was in deliberate and intentional disregard of its rights. Even if the debtor's subjective intent was relevant, the defendant's assertion that the Bankruptcy Court failed to consider his state of mind was without merit considering the debtor's own testimony relating to the receipt of the distributions, deposit of the money into his personal account and subsequent expenditures on personal items.
     The District Court ruled that the Bankruptcy Court's finding that debtor's receipt of the rent distributions injured the bank was not clearly erroneous. In receiving the distributions the debtor knowingly disregarded the bank's interest in the rents and breached the workout agreement. The debtor's use of the cash for personal purposes did not benefit but injured the bank to the tune of $297,000. The bank could not exercise control over its collateral at a time when the debtor was experiencing serious financial troubles. Consequently, the District Court found the debt was non-dischargeable as a willful and malicious injury to the bank because the debtor knowingly took the money without concern for the bank's rights.
     The bank, in its cross-appeal, argued that the Bankruptcy Court erred in rejecting its claim that the debt was non-dischargeable as an embezzlement under Bankruptcy Code §523(a)(4).
     The parties treated the bank's interest in the rents assignment and the deed of trust as security for the debt on two loans. That interest did not defeat the partnership's interest in the rents. As a limited partner in the partnership, the debtor was entitled to cash distributions made to partners. Thus, the rents did not constitute property of another which debtor could appropriate, and debtor's embezzlement claim failed. Further, the District Court ruled that the bank failed to sustain its burden of proving debtor acted with fraudulent intent.