United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
In re Lon W. Cripps and Deborah E. Cripps, Debtors.
BARBARA P. FOLEY, Trustee, Appellee. LON W. CRIPPS, DEBORAH E. CRIPPS and DIETRICH LAW FIRM, Appellants,
T. NEFF United States District Judge.
Dietrich Law Firm (“Dietrich Law”) appeals from
an order of the Bankruptcy Court approving in part and
denying in part Dietrich Law's application for attorney
fees in connection with its representation of the Debtors in
their Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Having considered the
parties' appellate briefs and the record, the Court finds
oral argument unnecessary. “[T]he facts and legal
arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record,
and the decisional process would not be significantly aided
by oral argument.” Fed.R.Bankr.P. 8019. The Court
affirms the decision of the Bankruptcy Court.
22, 2010, the Debtors, Lon W. Cripps and Deborah E. Cripps
(the “Cripps” or “Debtors”) filed a
Voluntary Petition for relief under Chapter 13 of the
Bankruptcy Code. Appellant Dietrich Law represented the
Cripps in their bankruptcy case.
Debtors' Chapter 13 plan provided for the full payment of
general secured creditors over a period of sixty months.
In re Cripps, 549 B.R. 836, 842 (Bankr. W.D. Mich.
2016). On November 6, 2015, the Trustee issued her
notice/letter to the Debtors concerning completion of the
Chapter 13 plan, and on the same date issued a notice of
final cure of mortgage payments. Id. at 842-43. The
payroll orders, by which Debtors had made the required
payments to their Chapter 13 case by payroll deductions, were
terminated by the Bankruptcy Court on November 9, 2015.
Id. at 843, n.6.
December 7, 2015, the Trustee filed a report of plan
completion, and the Debtors filed their certificate regarding
domestic support obligations. Two days later, on December 9,
2015, Dietrich Law filed its final fee application,
seeking an additional $686.60 in fees and expenses, which was
later limited to $642.60 by agreement of the parties.
Id. at 843-44, n.8.
Trustee filed an objection to the fee application on December
16, 2015, contending that the court should not award Dietrich
Law compensation to be paid as an administrative expense
because the application was untimely in light of the letter
to the Cripps, the report of plan completion, and the
imminent entry of the discharge. Id. at 843.
Further, Dietrich Law's delay in filing the application
would prejudice the Cripps by impairing their fresh start
and/or precluding the entry of their discharge. Id.
January 13, 2016, during the pendency of the instant fee
matter, the Bankruptcy Court entered a Discharge in the
Cripps' case. Id. at 843.
oral argument on Dietrich Law's pending application for
fees, the Bankruptcy Court took the matter under advisement.
Id. at 844. On May 13, 2016, the Bankruptcy Court
issued an Opinion and Order approving in part and denying in
part the fee application. The court awarded compensation in
the amount of $642.60 pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 330(a),
but determined that the compensation awarded shall not be
paid as an administrative expense under 11 U.S.C. § 503,
and was discharged pursuant to 11 U.S.C. §§ 524(a)
and 1328(a) (Dkt 11-2 at PageID.118). The Order also stated that
“nothing contained herein shall preclude the Debtors
from voluntarily satisfying the compensation awarded herein
pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 524(f).”
Law now appeals the Bankruptcy Court's decision on its
bankruptcy court has broad discretion in determining the
amount of attorneys' fees, and the award may be reversed
only on a showing that the bankruptcy judge abused its
discretion.” Solomon v. Wein (In re Huhn), 145
B.R. 872, 874-875 (W.D. Mich. 1992). “An abuse of
discretion occurs only when the bankruptcy court fails to
apply the proper legal standard and procedure in making the
fee determination or bases the award on clearly erroneous
bankruptcy court's conclusions of law are reviewed de
novo. Rowell v. Chase Manhattan Auto. Fin. Corp. (In
re Rowell), 359 F.Supp.2d 645, 647 (W.D. Mich. 2004).
Issues of statutory interpretation are questions of law, and
are thus subject to review de novo. Mitan v.
Duval (In re Mitan), 573 F.3d 237, 241 (6th Cir. 2009);
ITT Indus. v. BorgWarner, Inc., 506 F.3d 452, 457
(6th Cir. 2007). “Under a de novo standard of
review, the reviewing court decides an issue independently
of, and without deference to, the trial court's
determination.” Menninger v. Accredited Home
Lenders (In re Morgeson), 371 B.R. 798, 800 (B.A.P. 6th