Court Takes a Hard Line on Curing Direct Mortgage Payment Default

Posted by NCBRC - October 12, 2017

A loan modification to cure a post-confirmation default on direct mortgage payments must be approved by the court prior to expiration of the chapter 13 plan. In re Hanley, 2017 WL 3575847, No. 11-76700 (Bankr. E.D. N.Y. Aug. 14, 2017).

Brian and Anahi Hanley’s confirmed chapter 13 plan provided for cure of their mortgage default through the plan and for regular mortgage payments to be made directly to the mortgagee, Nationstar Mortgage, LLC. They fell behind on their direct mortgage payments and, several months before completion of their plan, they entered into a trial loan modification which would cure the post-confirmation default. Though the Hanleys made all payments under the loan modification, they failed to sign and return the Loan Modification Approval Letter within the time required by Nationstar.

At the expiration of their plan, Nationstar filed a Rule 3002.1 Response notifying the court of the default based on the loan as it stood prior to the trial loan modification. The trustee moved to dismiss their bankruptcy without discharge. The Hanley’s moved to strike Nationstar’s Response and sought to modify their plan to allow them to cure the default in accordance with the terms of the loan modification.

For purposes of its decision, the court adopted the Hanleys’ factual assertion that the parties had agreed to the loan modification but had not submitted it to the court for approval. It thus framed the issue as “whether a chapter 13 debtor may cure an acknowledged default in post-petition direct mortgage payments, to be made pursuant to a confirmed chapter 13 plan, through a loan modification approved after the expiration of the 60th month.”

In answer to this question, the court found that the debtors had two choices for dealing with the post-petition default: modify the loan or modify the plan. It explained that a loan modification entered into by the parties outside the plan may cure a default even though the new loan terms are not memorialized in a plan modification. Alternatively, the cure of a post-confirmation default may be accomplished through a plan modification without an agreement between the parties to modify the loan. However, both options, the court emphasized, required approval by the court prior to expiration of the plan.

Acknowledging the “draconian” nature of denying discharge after the Hanleys had made all plan payments for five years, the court reasoned that its equitable powers were constrained by the Code and the terms of the Hanleys’ plan. Section 1328(a) makes discharge contingent upon completion of all plan payments, and relevant case law establishes that where a plan provides for mortgage payments outside the plan, those payments must be current as well.

The court noted that there is a line of cases in which courts have held that post-confirmation plan modifications to cure post-petition mortgage defaults are not permitted at all under section 1329. The court disagreed with or distinguished those cases, finding that, where, as here, the secured creditor’s rights under the loan agreement would not be altered by the modification, section 1329(a)(2) permits a modification extending the time for repayment. The court reiterated, however, that any such plan modification must take place prior to the expiration of the plan.

The court also recognized that some courts permit chapter 13 debtors to cure defaults post- plan completion either on equitable principles or on the theory that “the debtors are not seeking to extend the plan, rather they are only curing a default on already scheduled payments.” The court declined to adopt their reasoning finding instead that the Code does not allow for leeway in curing a default on plan payments. Citing sections 1322(a)(4), (d)(1), (d)(2), 1325(b)(1)(B) and 1329(c), and calling it a “drop dead jurisdictional deadline,” the court concluded that the right to discharge requires all plan payments be complete at the expiration of the plan.

Nor would the court permit a retroactive loan modification to cure the default in light of Nationstar’s position that it had not ultimately agreed to the modification.

The court granted the trustee’s motion to dismiss under section 1307(c)(6) due to a “material default.”

Hanley Bankr ED NY opinion Aug 2017

 

 

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