Monday, August 29, 2022

Parties Liable for Credit Card Debts

The Richmond Circuit Court, in the case of Chevy Chase Savings Bank v. Strong, ruled that a husband who was only an “authorized user” on a bank credit card issued to his wife was not liable to the bank for a $5,024 cash advance check he wrote on the credit card; only the wife was liable.

In Virginia Code §11-31, Virginia has codified the rule that use by an authorized agent of a cardholder shall be the equivalent of use by the cardholder.  That rule, however, does not address the question of the liability of the agent.  The court reasoned that while it does not appear that any Virginia Court has addressed the issue, the language used in the statute and case law from other jurisdictions led the Court to believe that the issue was governed by agency law.

The Court stated that it was well established in Virginia that when an agent contracts for a disclosed principal, credit is extended to the principal, and the benefits of the contract are accepted by the principal, there is no personal liability on the agent.  In this case, the bank was well aware that the principal was the wife.  It extended credit to her based on her application for a card.  They were aware that no contract was ever made with husband individually and, therefore, they knew that he was simply an authorized agent.

The Court found that there was no indication in this case that husband exceeded his authority in executing the check against the account, or that he agreed to be personally liable for any debt incurred on his wife’s account.  Accordingly, the court ruled that the liability for the debts belonged only to wife.  The court ruled that the husband was not liable for any portion of the outstanding balance, including the amount of the check that he personally wrote.

The lesson from Strong - do not confuse guarantors with authorized users.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Deeds of Trust

It all starts with the deed of trust.  The deed of trust is the primary method of acquiring a lien against real estate in Virginia.  With a deed of trust, the owner of the real estate conveys legal title to a trustee, in trust, to secure the noteholder’s indebtedness.  A deed of trust establishes a lien on the subject real estate upon execution by the grantor and recordation in the land records of the Circuit Court for the jurisdiction (County or City) in which the property is located.  While recording the deed of trust is not essential to the validity of the deed of trust between the parties, an unrecorded deed of trust does not establish a lien on the subject real estate as to other creditors and purchasers of the grantor.  An unrecorded deed of trust will not provide the beneficiary of the deed of trust with a priority position against other creditors with recorded liens, even if they are subsequent in time.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Using Lis Pendens to Secure an Interest in Real Estate

In recent editions of Creditor News we have been discussing the benefits of using real estate to improve creditors’ positions.  As I have emphasized, properly securing debts through real estate could make the difference between collecting the funds and incurring a loss.  In this edition, we will review the benefits of using lis pendens in litigation cases to aid in the collection of your debt.

A lis pendens is a legal memorandum which places parties on notice that litigation is pending which affects the title or ownership of real estate.  The lis pendens is filed in the circuit court of the county or city in which real estate lies.

Virginia Code §8.01-268 B states that “No memorandum of lis pendens shall be filed unless the action on which the lis pendens is based seeks to establish an interest by the filing party in the real property described in the memorandum…”.

Virginia Code § 8.01-268 A provides that a lis pendens does not affect a subsequent bona fide purchaser of real estate for valuable consideration until actual notice of such lis pendens is properly filed with the required information.  Requirements include: the title of the cause, the general object thereof, the court wherein it is pending, the amount of the claim asserted, a description of the property, the name of the person whose estate is intended to be affected thereby.

We have experienced attorneys and staff who can examine title, file lis pendens, and litigate to enforce the same.

Monday, August 8, 2022

"Tools of the Trade" Exemption

Virginia Code §34-26, the "Poor Debtor's Exemption" section, allows a debtor to claim tools used in the course of his trade or occupation and keep them from creditors in bankruptcy cases.  This exemption also applies to collection cases, as the debtor may use this exemption to prohibit post judgment collection by execution on the asset.

In the case of Monticello Arcade L. P. v. Lyall, the United States Bankruptcy Court at Newport News reviewed §34-26 in regard to an architect's Acura automobile.  The Bankruptcy Court denied the exemption based upon the classification of the car as a "luxury" car.  The Appeals Court reversed and remanded the case with instructions that the Bankruptcy Court focus not upon whether the car is a "luxury" car, but upon whether the car is an "absolute requirement for [debtor] to efficiently and competently perform his work as an architect."  Upon the Bankruptcy Court’s review, the Court ruled that the architect had demonstrated with his daily calendar and his testimony that the car was used to visit clients, job sites and government offices. The debtor was a self-employed architect in Hampton Roads, had practiced architecture on his own for six years as owner an president of his company.  The debtor testified that although he used the vehicle to commute to and from work, the vast majority of the time he used the vehicle for non-commuting business purposes.  The debtor also testified that he had to visit job sites in order to interpret plans and in order to understand the scope of the project.  The Court noted that there was no evidence that there were alternate means of transportation available for the debtor to accomplish these requirements.  Accordingly, the Court, this time around, found that the vehicle was "necessary", and therefor was exempt under Virginia Code §34-26(7).

In the case of White v. Central Fidelity Bank the United States Bankruptcy Court at Roanoke, Virginia, reviewed the language of Virginia Code §34-26 and held that the plain meaning is that property which is "necessary for use in the course of the householder's occupation or trade" qualifies as a "tool" for purposes of exemption.  In White the Court noted that in regard to automobiles, the particular facts surrounding the occupation and the necessity of the automobile must be examined.  In White, the debtor had both a day and an evening job as a nursing assistant providing home health care in patients' homes, and whose employment contract required that she have an auto as a condition of her employment.  Based upon these facts, proof that the creditor's lien was a nonpossessory, non-purchase money lien, and the fact that the creditor's lien impaired the debtor's exemption, the Court held that the lien was avoidable under Bankruptcy Code §522(f).

In the civil/collection case of Hunn v. Zettel the Fairfax County Circuit Court had occasion to review a debtor's claim for an exemption for his BMW car as a "tool of the trade".  Unlike the evidence obtained in Lyall which demonstrated the "absolute requirement", in Zettel, no such evidence was presented.  Accordingly, the Court denied the debtor's exemption claim in Zettel.

Looking at another case involving tools of the trade, the United States Bankruptcy Court at Newport News, in the case of In re Aldrich, upheld the debtors' motion to exempt various items of property, including an inoperable photo enlarger and two photo processors, as "tools of the trade" under Virginia Code §34-26.  The Court concluded that these items were exempt under Virginia Code §34-26 and under Bankruptcy Code §522.  The Court in Aldrich stated that it reached its conclusion from the plain meaning of Virginia Code §34-26, and from the obvious intention of the Virginia legislature, which substantially broadened the scope of the relevant  definitions when it amended Virginia Code §34-26 in 1990.  The Court in Aldrich found from the unrebutted testimony that the photo processing equipment was necessary for use in the debtors' occupation involving the family photo processing lab.  There was no doubt that the debtors had been in the photo processing business for some time and, in the case of the husband, almost continuously since his retirement from the Air Force.  It was likewise absolutely clear from the evidence that the wife was engaged in the photo processing business of a third party at the time of the filing of the petition, and that she too awaited the startup of the family business in order to utilize the exempted tools of the trade, which she was currently utilizing on a part-time basis.  Therefore the Court found that both debtors were, or intended to be engaged, in an occupation and trade at the time of the filing of the petition.  The Court found it to be sufficient that the husband had the intention of returning to his occupation as a photo processor at the time of the bankruptcy filing, even though he had been precluded from doing so by the contractual relationship with the objecting creditor, who bought out the debtor's earlier photo processing business and implemented a non compete agreement. 

Monday, August 1, 2022

Creditor's Bill

The action to force the sale of real estate to satisfy a judgment is called a "Creditor's Bill."  This action is governed by Virginia Code §8.01-462:

                         Jurisdiction to enforce the lien of a judgment shall be in equity.  If it

                        appears to the court that the rents and profits of all real estate subject

                        to the lien will not satisfy the judgment in five years, the court may

                        decree such real estate, any part thereof, to be sold, and the proceeds

                        applied to the discharge of the judgment.

Although the action may be costly, given the right judgment it is an effective collection tool.  Determining what judgments are "right" requires experience and good judgment.