IN RE: ANA J. FOX, DEBTOR.
ANA J. FOX, Respondent, YVETTE WEINSTEIN, CHAPTER 7 TRUSTEE, Appellant,
Certified question, pursuant to NRAP 5, regarding permissible exemptions under NRS 21.090 for property belonging not only to the judgment debtor but also to her non-debtor spouse. United States Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Ninth Circuit.
Sullivan, Hill, Lewin, Rez & Engel and Elizabeth E. Stephens, Las Vegas, for Appellant.
Ana J. Fox, Las Vegas, in Proper Person.
Law Offices of Amy N. Tirre, P.C., and Amy N. Tirre, Reno; Lewis & Roca, LLP, and Laury M. Macauley, Reno, for Amicus Curiae Bankruptcy Law Section of the State Bar of Nevada.
BEFORE THE COURT EN BANC.
The United States Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Ninth Circuit has certified a question of law to this court relating to permissible exemptions claimed by judgment debtors under Nevada's exemption statute, NRS 21.090. In particular, the certified question asks, "[i]n Nevada, may a judgment debtor claim exemptions under NRS 21.090 belonging not only to herself, but also to her non-debtor spouse?" In the bankruptcy case, however, only two types of exemptions are at issue: the exemption under NRS 21.090(1)(f) for motor vehicles and the exemption under NRS 21.090(1)(z) for up to $1, 000 of property not already exempted, which is known as the "wildcard exemption." See In re Newman, 487 B.R. 193, 196 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. 2013). Thus, we focus on whether the motor vehicle and wildcard exemptions may be claimed on behalf of a non-debtor spouse. See NRS 21.090(4)(f) and (z); In re Fontainebleau Las Vegas Holdings, LLC, 128 Nev. ___, ___, 289 P.3d 1199, 1209 (2012) (rephrasing certified questions under NRAP 5). We adopt the plain language rationale embraced by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Idaho in In re DeHaan, 275 B.R. 375 (Bankr. D. Idaho 2002), and conclude that, based on NRS 21.090(1)(f) and (z)'s plain language, Nevada law does not allow debtors to claim motor vehicle and wildcard exemptions on behalf of their non-debtor spouses.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
In May 2010, respondent Ana Fox filed a petition for relief under Chapter 7 of the United States Bankruptcy Code. Fox's spouse did not join in the bankruptcy petition and did not file a separate petition for relief. Nevertheless, under bankruptcy law, the bankruptcy estate includes all of the marital community property, in addition to Fox's separate property. 11 U.S.C. 541(a)(2); NRS 123.225; NRS 123.230. Out of the bankruptcy estate, Fox claimed exemptions for two motor vehicles under NRS 21.090(1)(f) and property worth over $1, 400 under NRS 21.090(1)(z). Both the vehicles and the other assets claimed as exemptions were community property.
The Chapter 7 Trustee, appellant Yvette Weinstein, filed an objection on the grounds that a debtor spouse may exempt only a single vehicle and property worth no more than $1, 000 under NRS 21.090(1)(f) and (z) and a non-debtor spouse has no right to claim any exemptions in a debtor spouse's bankruptcy. Fox filed a response to the Trustee's objection, arguing that a debtor spouse may claim exemptions under NRS 21.090(1)(f) and (z) on behalf of a non-debtor spouse.
After a hearing, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Nevada entered an order overruling the Trustee's objection. The court found that Nevada law allows a debtor to claim motor vehicle and wildcard exemptions on behalf of a non-debtor spouse, which, in effect, doubled Fox's exemptions. The Trustee timely appealed to the United States Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Ninth Circuit. Because Nevada has opted out of the federal exemption scheme, Nevada's judgment debtor exemption law applies, 11 U.S.C. 522(b); NRS 21.090(3), and the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel has sought a ruling from this court regarding whether, under Nevada law, judgment debtors are allowed to claim exemptions on behalf of non-debtor spouses. In particular, it requests a definitive construction of Nevada's motor vehicle and wildcard exemption provisions, NRS 21.090(1)(f) and (z). The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel stayed the proceedings before it until our resolution of the certified question.
We have decided to consider the certified question. See NRAP 5(a); Volvo Cars of N. Am., Inc. v. Ricci, 122 Nev. 746, 750-51, 137 P.3d 1161, 1164 (2006) (in determining whether to exercise its discretion to consider certified questions, this court looks to whether the "answers may 'be determinative' of part of the federal case, there is no controlling [Nevada] precedent, and the answer will help settle important questions ...