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Bankruptcy Court Reluctantly Allows Creditor To Shuck “Lil’ Sweet Pea” Accounts

Any first-year law student could attest that understanding what the law is can be a difficult task, in part because the law is not always applied consistently by courts.  This problem gives rise to a maxim law professors often invoke (sometimes citing Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a proponent of this maxim) when questioned about the law’s occasional incoherence: “hard cases make bad law.”[1]  The idea is that courts are sometimes tempted to skirt the proper application of the law when the result seems harsh or unfair.  Typically, this happens when a court is faced with a particularly sympathetic party who happens to be on the wrong side of the dispute.  Although the court’s desire to avoid a harsh outcome is laudable, if the court allows this desire to distort its interpretation of the law it allows other (often less sympathetic) parties to avoid proper application of the law

What’s Yours is Mine and What’s Mine is For the Benefit of My Creditors: Bankruptcy Courts Remain Reluctant to Impose Constructive Trusts on Debtor Property

February 27, 2017

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There is an inherent tension between the goals of bankruptcy law and the state law doctrine of constructive trust.  A central tenet of bankruptcy policy is that similarly situated creditors should be treated equally: because an insolvent business or individual will not be able to pay all creditors in full, a proper bankruptcy system must provide as equitable a distribution to each of them as possible.  Constructive trust law, on the other hand, works to the advantage of a single creditor – which always means the detriment of the others when everyone is competing for limited funds.

Constructive trusts are imposed when “property has been acquired in such circumstances that the holder of the legal title may not in good conscience retain the beneficial interest.”  Beatty v Guggenheim_Exploration_Co, 225 N.Y. 380, 386 (1919) (Cardozo, J.).  When a creditor in a bankruptcy case alleges that the debtor is

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