Trantham v. Tate
Order Affirming Bankruptcy Decision. Signed by District Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr on 11/18/2022. (ams)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
SHEILA ANN TRANTHAM,
STEVEN G. TATE,
THIS MATTER is before the Court on an appeal from the United States Bankruptcy
Court for the Western District of North Carolina, filed by Sheila Ann Trantham (hereinafter
“Debtor/Appellant” or “Appellant”) on June 8, 2022. The Court held a hearing on the appeal on
October 4, 2022.
A. The Bankruptcy Court’s Local Form 4 Plan.
Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 9029 allows the District Court to approve local
bankruptcy rules governing practice and procedure in all cases and proceedings that are
consistent with but not duplicative of Acts of Congress and these rules. See FED. R. BANKR. P.
9029(a). The District Court has approved the Local Rules enacted by the Bankruptcy Court for
the Western District of North Carolina.1 The Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of North
Carolina has a long-standing history of providing in its chapter 13 plan form language that
The most recent version of the approved Local Rules for the Bankruptcy Court went into effect
on September 1, 2021, per Administrative Order 1039 entered by the Bankruptcy Court for the
Western District of North Carolina on September 1, 2021.
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property of the estate vests in the estate until the plan is completed. The Western District of
North Carolina Bankruptcy Court has adopted a Local Form 4 Plan to be used in all bankruptcy
cases filed in the Western District of North Carolina. The Local Rules Committee and the
Bankruptcy Court update the Local Form 4 Plan every few years. The following provision is
found in Section 5 of the General Provisions of the Local Form 4 Plans dated July 2007, August
2010, and March 2013:
5. Property of the estate includes all of the property specified in 11 U.S.C. § 541
and all property of the kind specified in such section acquired by the Debtor after
commencement of the case but before the case is closed, dismissed, or converted
to one under another chapter of the Code. All property of the Debtor remains
vested in the estate until completion of the plan.
On December 1, 2017, amendments to the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure went
into effect. Along with these amendments, a form chapter 13 national plan was developed, but
districts were permitted to substitute the national form plan with a local form plan. See FED. R.
BANKR. P. 3015(c); 3015.1.
The Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of North Carolina opted out of the
National Chapter 13 Plan Form that was promulgated in 2017 and decided to retain and slightly
revise the language in its Local Form 4 Plan as relates to vesting of property of the estate. The
Local Form 4 Chapter 13 Plan adopted by the Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of
North Carolina in December 20172 is required to be used in all Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases filed
in the Western District of North Carolina, and the Local Form 4 Plan includes a provision noted
The latest version of the Local Form 4 Plan was adopted in September 2021. It includes minor
changes to the Local Form 4 Plan that was adopted in December 2017. The provision as to
vesting is the same in the September 2021 version as was included in the December 2017 version
of the Local Form 4 Plan.
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in footnote 3 as to the vesting of property of the estate in the estate until a final decree is entered.
B. Debtor/Appellant Files a Plan that Strikes through the Standard Default
Language in Section 7.1 of the Local Form 4 Plan as to Vesting of Property of
Debtor/Appellant filed a petition seeking relief under chapter 13 of Title 11 of the
Bankruptcy Code3 on September 22, 2021, in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the
Western District of North Carolina, Asheville Division (hereinafter “Bankruptcy Court”), and
was assigned case number 21-10178. On September 22, 2021, Debtor/Appellant filed her
Chapter 13 Plan (Bankruptcy Doc. No. 3),4 using the Local Form 4 Plan, the approved form plan
for all cases filed in the Western District of North Carolina.
Debtor/Appellant’s plan struck through the standard default language in Section 7.1 of
the Local Form 4 Plan as to vesting of property of the estate. Furthermore, Debtor/Appellant’s
Plan included another provision in Section 8.1.17 that directly contradicts the standard language
of Section 7.1.5 Section 8.1.17 of the Debtor/Appellant’s proposed plan added a nonstandard
provision that confirmation of the plan vests all property of the estate in the debtor.
Hereinafter, Title 11 of the United States Code will be referred to as “Bankruptcy Code” or as
“Code.” All citations with only a Section symbol refer to a section or subsection of the
Bankruptcy Code, unless otherwise indicated.
4 All citations to “Bankruptcy Docket” are to the docket of the underlying bankruptcy case, all of
which have been submitted in the Appellant Designation of Contents for Inclusion in Record
(District Court Doc. No. 2).
5 The Local Form 4 Plan includes the following standard provision in Section 7.1 of the Plan:
Property of the estate includes all of the property specified in 11 U.S.C. § 541 and
all property of the kind specified in 11 U.S.C. § 1306 acquired by the Debtor after
commencement of the case but before the case is closed, dismissed, or converted
to one under another chapter of the Code. All property of the Debtor remains
vested in the estate and will vest in the Debtor upon entry of the final decree.
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C. The Trustee Files an Objection to the Debtor/Appellant’s Plan
The Trustee filed an Objection to the Debtor/Appellant’s Plan (Bankruptcy Doc. No. 13),
because it altered the standard language that has been approved by the Bankruptcy Court as to
vesting of property of the estate. A hearing was held on the Trustee’s Objection to Confirmation
on January 18, 2022. The Bankruptcy Court ruled that the Objection to Confirmation was
sustained because the proposed plan did not comply with the Local Form 4 Plan, and gave
Debtor/Appellant thirty days to file an amended plan.
In its Order Sustaining Trustee’s Objection to Confirmation entered on January 28, 2022
(Bankruptcy Doc. No. 19, hereinafter “Bankruptcy Court Order”), the Bankruptcy Court set forth
a detailed analysis of its policy for having property of the estate remain vested in the estate until
the case is completed, making the following substantive findings:
Section 1322(b)(9) of the Code allows the plan to “provide for the vesting of
property of the estate, on confirmation of the plan or at a later time.” The
language of the Debtor’s nonstandard provision is not contrary to a specific
provision of the Code; however, the Local Form already includes a provision in
Section 7.1 regarding vesting, which vests property of the estate in the debtor
upon entry of the final decree. As a result, the Debtor’s nonstandard provision is
contrary to the Local Form.
[T]he Local Form is not in contradiction with § 1322(b)(9). Rather, the Local
Form provides for vesting of the property of the estate “at a later time.” In
McIntosh, the Eastern District of Missouri disallowed a similar plan provision
regarding vesting since the debtor’s provision in that case was contrary to the
language of the model plan. In re McIntosh, No. 12-46715-399, 2012 WL
6005761, at *6 (Bankr. E.D. Mo. Nov. 30, 2012). The court in that case held that
“[o]ther than the [d]ebtor’s allegation that she has the right to choose the vesting
period . . . the [d]ebtor provides no further explanation regarding why she wants
property of the [d]ebtor’s estate to revest in the [d]ebtor later than at confirmation,
she alleges no other substantive right that was allegedly violated, and she has not
demonstrated why the Model Plan language should be changed in this case. And
this [c]ourt sees no reason to modify the vesting provision of the Model Plan.” Id.
The Debtor provides no explanation supporting her choice to vest property of the
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estate at confirmation and has not demonstrated why the Local Form should be
changed in this case. Standard plan forms are essential for courts to promote
efficiency and consistency. See id. at *3. The drafters of the Local Form’s
decision to vest property of the estate upon entry of the final decree reflects the
court’s long-standing policy on when property of the estate vests in the debtor.
Therefore, the Debtor’s attempt to strike the language in Part 7.1 regarding
vesting without explanation is inappropriate, as is her attempt to add the
nonstandard provision in Part 8.1.17.
Bankruptcy Court Order at **2–3.
On March 4, 2022, Debtor/Appellant filed an Amended Plan (Bankruptcy Doc. No. 26)
that included the approved standard language in the Local Form 4 Plan as to vesting. The Order
Confirming Plan (Bankruptcy Doc. No. 32) was entered on March 30, 2022. On April 6, 2022,
Debtor/Appellant timely filed her Notice of Appeal with the Bankruptcy Court (Bankruptcy Doc.
No. 34), and the appeal was docketed with this Court on April 7, 2022.
A. The Local Form 4 Plan Language Does Not Contradict the Dictates of the
In her appeal, Debtor/Appellant contends that the Local Form 4 Plan contradicts the
Bankruptcy Code. The Court disagrees. Section 1327(b) of the Bankruptcy Code provides that
confirmation of the plan vests all of the property of the estate in the debtor unless the order of
confirmation provides otherwise. In the Western District of North Carolina, the order of
confirmation provides otherwise, as Section 1327(b) expressly allows. The order of confirmation
incorporates the terms of the plan, and the Local Form 4 Plan provides that property remains
vested in the estate until the final decree is entered.
Likewise, Section 1322(a) provides mandatory provisions for a chapter 13 plan. Section
1322(b) provides discretionary provisions, such as the vesting of property of the estate, on
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confirmation of the plan or at a later time, in the debtor or in any other entity. See § 1322(b)(9).
The Western District of North Carolina decided long ago that vesting of property of the estate in
its cases should happen at a later time, as provided for in the standard language of the Local
Form 4 Plan. This Local Form 4 Plan language as to vesting complies with the explicit provision
of Section 1322(b)(9).
Debtor/Appellant asserts that the Fourth Circuit’s LVNV Funding opinion held that
the bankruptcy court lacks authority to impose additional requirements on plan confirmation
other than what is contained in §§ 1322 and 1325(a)(3), (4), (7). See (Brief of Appellant, District
Court Doc. No. 3 at 14–15, 17–18, 22). However, this was not the holding in LVNV Funding.
Rather, the holding of LVNV Funding was that a chapter 13 debtor’s objections to claims filed
by an unsecured creditor were not barred by res judicata based on the prior confirmation of the
plan. See LVNV Funding, LLC v. Harling, 852 F.3d 367 (4th Cir. 2017). The purported
“holding” cited by Debtor/Appellant was merely part of the Court’s analytical introduction,
which included reference to the Code’s statutory scheme in determining the application of res
judicata. Here, the Bankruptcy Court’s Order does not contravene LVNV Funding.
Furthermore, courts have made clear that local form plans exist for the purpose of
facilitating review by the parties in interest in a chapter 13 case. In In re Mank, No. 19-04199,
2020 WL 1228671, (Bankr. E.D.N.C. Mar. 3, 2020), an amended plan filed by the debtor
included nonstandard provisions which proposed that property owned by the debtor at the time of
filing shall vest in debtor upon confirmation, which conflicted with the local plan form. The
trustee objected to the amended plan because the vesting provision did not satisfy the good faith
requirement of Section 1325(a)(3) and did not comply with other provisions of chapter 13 under
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Section 1325(a)(1). See id. at *2. The Mank court determined that confirmation of an amended
plan which included nonstandard provisions that were not appropriate to the case should be
Bankruptcy Rule 3015(c) permits the inclusion of nonstandard provisions in a
chapter 13 plan and defines a “nonstandard provision” as one that is “not
otherwise included in the Official or Local Form or deviating from it.” Fed. R.
Bankr. P. 3015(c). A chapter 13 plan may include in its content “any other
appropriate provision not inconsistent with [the Bankruptcy Code].” 11 U.S.C. §
1322(b)(11). [T]he Local Form plan exists to facilitate review by the court, the
chapter 13 trustee, and the creditors. In re Grantham, No. 03-00165-W13, 2003
Bankr. LEXIS 2080 at *7 (Bankr. E.D. Wash. May 21, 2003). Utilizing the Local
Form for chapter 13 plans not only complies with Bankruptcy Rule 3015(c), but
also is consistent with one of the Bankruptcy Code’s main objectives: efficient
administration of bankruptcy cases. In re McIntosh, No. 12-46715-399, 2012
Bankr. LEXIS 5584, at *8 (Bankr. E.D. Mo. Nov. 30, 2012); In re Madera, 445
B.R. 509, 515 (Bankr. D.S.C. 2011). While nonstandard provisions may be
included in a plan under section 1322(b)(11), those provisions must be
“appropriate” and “not inconsistent” with the Bankruptcy Code. 11 U.S.C. §
1322(b)(11); In re Parkman, 589 B.R. 567, 574–75 (Bankr. S.D. Miss. 2018).
Id. at *2. The Mank court held that it is inappropriate for debtors to propose a plan that does not
comply with the local form plan:
[A]llowing debtors’ attorneys to create “standard nonstandard” provisions in
chapter 13 plans would enable debtors’ attorneys to create a new form plan
without complying with the procedure for altering the Local Form. See In re
Russell, 458 B.R. 731, 735–37 (Bankr. E.D. Va. 2010) (denying confirmation
where additional plan provisions were “emphatically not peculiar to [the] debtor
and his financial circumstances but rather [sought] to substitute counsel’s vision
of an appropriate uniform plan for the one adopted by the court”); In re Grantham,
No. 03-00165-W13, 2003 Bankr. LEXIS 2080, at *7 (Bankr. E.D. Wash. May 21,
2003) (denying confirmation where counsel for the debtor consistently added
eight additional paragraphs to the form chapter 13 plan). Condoning such a
practice would be contrary to the purpose of adopting a Local Form and would
impede efficient review and administration of chapter 13 plans. See In re
McIntosh, No. 12-46715-399, 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 5584, at *8 (Bankr. E.D. Mo.
Nov. 30, 2012); In re Grantham, 2003 Bankr. LEXIS 2080, at *7.
Id. at *4. The court concluded that “[r]egardless of the importance of a legal issue, a debtor
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cannot request that the court determine any unrelated legal issue by including an interpretation of
the law as a nonstandard plan provision.” Id. at *6.
Mank’s reasoning is wholly applicable to the facts of this case. The Bankruptcy Court has
determined that all chapter 13 plans should include the standard provision that property of the
estate vests in the estate until the final decree is entered. An attempt to include a nonstandard
provision in a plan filed in the Western District of North Carolina, that contradicts this standard
provision, is inappropriate, and a plan that includes such a contradicting nonstandard provision
cannot be confirmed.
Moreover, as Appellee notes, risks and practical problems would arise if property of the
estate vests in a debtor at confirmation. From the Trustee’s perspective, the risks to a debtor of
vesting at confirmation are significant. The stay of acts by creditors against property of the estate
is one of the main reasons debtors file for bankruptcy: the stay protects the debtor from
foreclosure of her home or repossession of her vehicle or seizure of money in her bank accounts.
If property of the estate vests in the debtor, the stay protection is taken away. Given that plan
confirmation typically happens within the first six months of a case, a debtor is thereby left
exposed for another 54 months of a 60-month plan term, wherein she does not have the
protection of the automatic stay. If the debtor misses any post-petition bankruptcy plan payment,
the creditor can foreclose and/or repossess. The Trustee asserts, and this Court agrees, that this is
the most compelling reason for not having property of the estate vest in the estate until the final
decree is entered. The overarching goal is to protect the debtor and her property that she is trying
to keep by filing for bankruptcy.
Moreover, the Western District of North Carolina Bankruptcy Court has enacted certain
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rules to comply with the necessary oversight contemplated by the Code. One of the Bankruptcy
Court’s local rules requires debtors to get trustee or court approval before disposing of nonexempt property of the estate (W.D.N.C. L.R. 4002-1(e)(1)).6 Another Bankruptcy Court local
rule governs the parameters under which a debtor may be approved for obtaining credit
(W.D.N.C. L.R. 4002-1(e)(2)).7 The purpose of these specific local rules is to ensure that there is
some oversight by the parties responsible for administering the chapter 13 cases to a successful
These guidelines as to Code-envisioned oversight in a bankruptcy case were set forth by
the In re Rangel court:
The proffered benefit of this theory [of revesting property of the estate in the
debtor at confirmation] is that a debtor will be able to obtain credit easily and a
creditor to whom that debtor would be indebted will be easily able to collect on
that debt. The Court questions this benefit. First, if the theory behind Chapter 13
is that a debtor is to devote disposable income to the repayment of creditors, it is
unclear why the Code should be interpreted to enable a debtor to incur more debt.
Second, the Code and our local rules contemplate oversight of the obtaining of
credit which indicates that it was not Congress’ intent to ensure a debtor could
easily obtain credit post-petition. Third, the Code provides a mechanism for the
repayment of a creditor who has extended credit for property or services which
were necessary for a debtor to effectuate the plan. That Congress chose not to
include all post-petition creditors seems to indicate that those creditors who
extend credit for property or services which are not necessary to the plan do so at
the peril of not being able to collect on that debt until the debtor is free from the
W.D.N.C. L.R. 4002-1(e)(1) states:
Disposition of Non-exempt Property of the Estate. The debtor shall not dispose
of non-exempt property of the estate having a fair market value of more than
$2,500 by sale or otherwise without prior notice to the Chapter 13 trustee of such
disposition. This shall be a cumulative, rather than a per-transaction, dollar
limitation over the life of the plan.
7 W.D.N.C. L.R. 4002-1(e)(2) states:
Obtaining Credit. The Chapter 13 trustee may approve debtor requests to incur
credit not to exceed $25,000 provided that the proposed credit transaction will be
unsecured or secured only by personal property. All other debtor requests to incur
credit must be approved by the court.
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bankruptcy. See Annese v. Kolenda (In re Kolenda), 212 B.R. 851, 855 (Bankr.
W.D. Mich. 1997) (“To allow post-confirmation creditors to undermine the ability
of pre-confirmation creditor to be paid would place creditors who were or should
have been aware of debtors' financial difficulties in a better position than those
who may have extended credit before debtors’ precarious financial position
arose.”). Such a conclusion makes sense in light of the Code policy that all of a
debtor's disposable income, not just a portion, should be dedicated to the plan.
In re Rangel, 233 B.R. 191, 196 (Bankr. D. Mass. 1999).
As the In re Rangel court discussed, if property vests in the debtor at confirmation, then
several Code sections related to the administration of a chapter 13 estate are rendered
Under the line of cases which give great weight to § 1327(b), various statutes are
rendered meaningless or superfluous. For example, § 1305 provides the grounds
under which a post-confirmation creditor can file a proof of claim. If there is no
post-confirmation estate and stay, a post-confirmation creditor would not need to
file such a claim. If § 1327(b) revests property of the estate in a debtor, the
language in § 1306 (property of the estate remains as such until the case is
“closed, dismissed or converted”), § 704(9) (trustee to administer estate) and §
1329 (trustee and unsecured creditor can seek to amend plan) is rendered
superfluous. Furthermore, it would render unnecessary the application of Fed. R.
Bankr. P. 4001 and 6004 post-confirmation as a debtor would not have to seek
court approval to sell or encumber real property which is not property of the
Id. at 195–96.8
Various important Code provisions that govern chapter 13 administration would have no
meaning and effect if property vests in the debtor at confirmation. Section 1322(a)(1) provides
for supervision and control by the trustee over monies and property of the estate committed to
the plan. If the property vests in the debtor at confirmation, then there is no property with which
the trustee can administer the estate. Section 345 provides that the trustee is authorized to deposit
or invest money of the estate. Section 347(a) provides that the trustee shall stop payment on any
unpaid checks 90 days after the filed distribution and the remaining property of the estate is to be
paid into the court. Section 1302(b)(1) requires the trustee to make a final report and file a final
account of the administration of the estate. Section 349(b)(3) states that unless the court orders
otherwise, dismissal of a chapter 13 case revests the property of the estate in the entity in which
such property was vested immediately before the commencement of the case. The plain language
of Section 349(b)(3) should be understood to mean that the property was vested in debtor before
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Another line of cases has surmised Congress’ intent in drafting the specific language
of Section 1306(a). The court in In re Leavell stated as follows: “Congress did not say in §
1306(a) that earnings and properties acquired post-petition are property of the estate until the
Chapter 13 plan is confirmed. Rather, it said that such property and earnings are property of the
estate until the case is closed, dismissed, or converted.” In re Leavell, 190 B.R. 536, 539 (Bankr.
E.D. Va. 1995) (citing In re Thompson, 142 Bankr. 961, 963 (Bankr. Co. 1992)).
Finally, if property of the estate vested in a debtor at confirmation, then this would nullify
the important findings in cases such as Goodman v. Gorman, 534 B.R. 656 (E.D. Va. 2015) and
Carroll v. Logan, 735 F.3d 147 (4th Cir. 2013). In Goodman, the Court held that property of the
estate did not vest in a debtor upon confirmation of the chapter 13 plan because under the Carroll
analysis, an inheritance received before the case is closed, dismissed, or converted is property of
the bankruptcy estate under Section 1306(a) and should be used to repay debtor’s creditors.
Otherwise, if such an inheritance were to be property vested in the debtor post-confirmation, then
the debtor would get a windfall, to the detriment of her creditors.
In sum, the Code sections outlined herein and the Local Rules that have been enacted to
carry out those Code provisions all support the conclusion that property should not be vested
back to the debtor at confirmation, but rather, at a later time. Thus, Debtor/Appellant’s modified
plan was inappropriate.
B. Alternatively, Debtor/Appellant Has Not Established that She is Adversely
Impacted from the Applicability of the District-Approved Language of the Local Rules and
the commencement of the case, so it must be vested in some other entity (the bankruptcy estate)
during the pendency of the bankruptcy case, in order for the property to revest in debtor upon
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Local Plan Form.
The Trustee also asserts that Debtor/Appellant does not have standing to challenge the
Bankruptcy Court’s Order sustaining the Objection to Confirmation, because there has been no
showing that her case will be negatively impacted by the application of the Local Rules and
Local Form 4 Plan standard provisions. The Court agrees. More specifically, Debtor/Appellant
has not established that she is “directly and adversely affected pecuniarily” by the general
applicability of the Local Bankruptcy Rules and the Local Form 4 Plan language that states that
property of the estate vests in the estate until the final decree. See Butala v. Logan, No. 5:18-cv376, 2019 WL 826368, at *2 (E.D.N.C. Feb. 21, 2019) (finding that a debtor lacked standing to
challenge a local rule requiring motions to approves sales because the debtor had not established
that he was “directly and adversely affected pecuniarily” by the general applicability of the Local
Bankruptcy Rules to debtors that initiate Chapter 13 cases in the district). Debtor/Appellant
states that she has minimal assets, and she does not assert any specific cause of action that she
has or will have that will benefit her if the property were to vest to her at confirmation, rather
than when the final decree is entered.
In sum, for the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the Bankruptcy Court properly
exercised the authority granted to it by this Court in promulgating Local Rules and the Local
Form 4 Plan, and the Bankruptcy Court properly exercised its authority in sustaining the
Objection to Confirmation of Debtor/Appellant’s Plan, because the plan included contradictory
terms from the Local Form 4 Plan as to vesting of property of the estate. Alternatively, the relief
sought in the appeal is denied because the Debtor/Appellant lacks standing and has not suffered
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any injury or harm from the Bankruptcy Court Order sustaining the Trustee’s Objection to
Confirmation of Plan.
In sum, for the reasons stated herein, the ruling of the Bankruptcy is affirmed.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Signed: November 18, 2022
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