Associates Commercial Corp. v. Rash
520 U.S. 953 (1997)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 1996

Syllabus

ASSOCIATES COMMERCIAL CORP. v. RASH ET ux.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

No. 96-454. Argued April 16, 1997-Decided June 16, 1997

Petitioner Associates Commercial Corporation (ACC) holds a loan and lien on a tractor truck purchased by respondent Elray Rash for use in his freight-hauling business. Elray and Jean Rash, also a respondent, filed a joint petition and repayment plan under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code (Code), listing ACC as a secured creditor. Under the Code, ACC's claim for the $41,171 balance owed on the truck was secured only to the extent of the value of the collateral; its claim over and above that value was unsecured. See 11 U. S. C. § 506(a). The Rashes could gain confirmation of their Chapter 13 plan only if ACC accepted it, if the Rashes surrendered the truck to ACC, or if the Rashes invoked the so-called "cram down" provision. See § 1325(a)(5). The cram down option allows the debtor to keep the collateral over the objection of the creditor; the creditor retains the lien securing the claim, see § 1325(a)(5)(B)(i), and the debtor is required to provide the creditor with payments, over the life of the plan, that will total the present value of the collateral, see § 1325(a)(5)(B)(ii). The value of the allowed secured claim is governed by § 506(a) of the Code. The Rashes invoked the cram down power, proposing to keep the truck for use in the freight-hauling business. ACC objected to the plan, sought to repossess the truck, and disputed the value the Rashes had assigned to the truck. At an evidentiary hearing held to resolve the dispute, ACC maintained that the proper valuation was the price the Rashes would have to pay to purchase a like vehicle (the replacement-value standard), estimated to be $41,000. The Rashes, however, maintained that the proper valuation was the net amount ACC would realize upon foreclosure and sale of the collateral (the foreclosure-value standard), estimated to be $31,875. The Bankruptcy Court adopted the Rashes' valuation figure and approved the plan. The District Court and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Held: Under § 506(a), the value of property retained because the debtor has exercised Chapter 13's "cram down" option is the cost the debtor would incur to obtain a like asset for the same proposed use. pp. 960-965.

(a) The words "the creditor's interest in the estate's interest in such property" contained in the first sentence of § 506(a) do not call for the foreclosure-value standard adopted by the Fifth Circuit. Even read in


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isolation, the phrase imparts no valuation standard. The first sentence, read as a whole, instructs that a secured creditor's claim is to be divided into secured and unsecured portions. The sentence tells a court what it must evaluate, but it is not enlightening on how to value collateral. Section 506(a)'s second sentence, however, speaks to the how question, providing that "[s]uch value shall be determined in light of the purpose of the valuation and of the proposed disposition or use of such property." By deriving a foreclosure-value standard from § 506(a)'s first sentence, the Fifth Circuit rendered inconsequential the sentence that expressly addresses how "value shall be determined." The "proposed disposition or use" of the collateral is of paramount importance to the valuation question. Such "disposition or use" turns on which alternative the debtor chooses when a secured creditor refuses to accept the debtor's Chapter 13 plan-in one case the collateral will be surrendered to the creditor, and in the other, the collateral will be retained and used by the debtor. Applying a foreclosure-value standard attributes no significance to the different consequences of the debtor's choice. A replacement-value standard, on the other hand, distinguishes retention from surrender and renders meaningful the key statutory words "disposition or use." Surrender and retention are not equivalent acts. When a debtor surrenders the property, a creditor obtains it immediately, and is free to sell it and reinvest the proceeds. If a debtor keeps the property and continues to use it, the creditor obtains at once neither the property nor its value, and is exposed to double risks against which the Code affords incomplete protection: The debtor may again default and the property may deteriorate from extended use. Of prime significance, the replacement-value standard accurately gauges the debtor's "use" of the property. The debtor in this case elected to use the collateral to generate an income stream. That actual use, rather than a foreclosure sale that will not take place, is the proper guide under a prescription hinged to the property's "disposition or use." Pp. 960-963.

(b) The Fifth Circuit considered the replacement-value standard disrespectful of Texas law, which permits the secured creditor to sell the collateral, thereby obtaining only its net foreclosure. In allowing Chapter 13 debtors to retain and use collateral over the objection of secured creditors, however, the Bankruptcy Code has reshaped debtor and creditor rights in marked departure from state law. It no more disrupts state law to make "disposition or use" the guide for valuation than to authorize the rearrangement of rights the cram down power entails. There is also no warrant in the Code for a valuation standard that uses the midpoint between foreclosure and replacement values. pp. 964-965.

90 F.3d 1036, reversed and remanded.


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Full Text of Opinion

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