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In re Romero

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 24, 2016

In re EDWARD J. ROMERO, Debtor.
v.
KIMBERLEY H. TYSON, as Trustee, Appellee. EDWARD J. ROMERO, Appellant,

ORDER

Philip A. Brimmer United States District Judge

This is an appeal by debtor Edward Romero from the June 24, 2015 order [Docket No. 13-1 at 56-66] of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Colorado (the “bankruptcy court”) denying debtor’s claim of a homestead exemption for his vehicle, which debtor adapted to serve as his living quarters. The Court’s jurisdiction is based on 28 U.S.C. § 158(a).[1]

I. BACKGROUND [2]

Debtor filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on February 9, 2015. Docket No. 13-1 at 5. Among his assets, debtor listed a 1997 Peterbilt truck, id. at 19, which debtor claimed was exempt as a homestead pursuant to Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 38-41-201(a) and 38-41-201.5. Docket No. 13-1 at 21. On March 18, 2015, the T rustee objected to debtor’s claim of exemption for the truck, arguing that the truck is not a “homestead” under Colorado law. See generally Id. at 44-46. On June 10, 2015, the bankruptcy court held an evidentiary hearing on the trustee’s objection. See generally Docket No. 13-2. The bankruptcy court found that debtor owns the truck, which is worth $45, 000, that the truck is a commercial vehicle designed to be driven on the road and to tow a trailer to haul goods, that the truck is not designed to be installed in a permanent or semipermanent location, and that the truck is not affixed to real property. Docket No. 13-1 at 57. The bankruptcy court further found that debtor has been living in the truck since 1998. Id. at 58. Regarding the debtor’s living quarters in the vehicle, the court found that the truck has a

fairly large cab which serves as the Debtor’s principal living and sleeping quarters. The cab has a bed, microwave oven, toaster, coffee pot, refrigerator, laser printer, television, light, and vacuum. In addition to food and water, the Debtor also neatly stores his clothes, laundry, and sundry items in a dozen plastic boxes mainly located in a small loft above the bed. A self-contained portable toilet rounds out the cab’s equipment. The Debtor’s dog lives with him in a small kennel near the bed. The Peterbilt Truck has a 12-volt generator to provide electricity, heat, and air-conditioning when the vehicle is parked.

Id. The bankruptcy court, after a careful review of the history of the homestead exemption under Colorado law, held that the truck did not qualify as a homestead.[3]

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A party may appeal the “final judgments, orders, and decrees” of a bankruptcy court to either the district court or a bankruptcy appellate panel. 28 U.S.C. §§ 158(a), (c)(1). A district court reviews the Bankruptcy Court’s legal conclusions de novo, its factual findings for clear error, and its discretionary decisions for abuse of discretion. In re Baldwin, 593 F.3d 1155, 1159 (10th Cir. 2010); Busch v. Busch (In re Busch), 294 B.R. 137, 140 (B.A.P. 10th Cir. 2003) (lifting of automatic stay); Brasher v. Turner (In re Turner), 266 B.R. 491, 494 (B.A.P. 10th Cir. 2001) (excluding an exhibit); Dennis Garberg & Assocs., Inc. v. Pack-Tech Int’l Corp., 115 F.3d 767, 771 (10th Cir. 1997) (entering default judgment).

III. ANALYSIS

The only issue before the Court is whether the bankruptcy court erred in finding that debtor’s truck is not subject to Colorado’s homestead exemption. Colorado Revised Statute § 38-41-201(1), which codifies the homestead exemption, provides, in relevant part: “[e]very homestead in the state of Colorado shall be exempt from execution and attachment arising from any debt, contract, or civil obligation[.]” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-41-201(1). Colorado law further provides that “[t]he homestead mentioned in this part . . . may consist of a house and lot or lots or of a farm consisting of any number of acres.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-41-205. “Colorado Courts have expressed a policy of broad and liberal interpretation of the homestead exemption.” In re Wells, 29 B.R. 688, 689 (Bankr. D. Colo. 1983). “The purpose of Colorado’s homestead exemption is to secure to a householder a home for himself and his family, regardless of his financial condition.” In re Harwell, No. 07-cv-01283-WYD, 2008 WL 410590, at *3 (D. Colo. Feb. 13, 2008) (citing Matter of Lombard, 739 F.2d 499 (10th Cir. 1984)).

In addition to houses and farms, the Colorado General Assembly has included mobile homes, manufactured homes, trailers, and trailer coaches under the state’s homestead exemption. The inclusion of mobile homes arose out of a concern that, “as the cost of conventional housing continues to escalate, mobile homes will become an ever larger percentage of the total housing supply, particularly for the elderly and the low-to-moderate income groups[.]” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-41-201.5. The statute effectuating the exemption for mobile homes, manufactured homes, and trailers provides:

(1) A manufactured home as defined in section 38-29-102(6), which includes a mobile home or manufactured home as defined in section 38-12-201.5(2), 5-1-301(29), or 42-1-102(106)(b) . . . that has been purchased by an initial user or subsequent user . . . is a homestead and is entitled to the same exemption as enumerated in section 38-41-201, except for any loans, debts, or obligations incurred prior to January 1, 1983. For purposes of this homestead exception, the term “house” as used in section 38-41-205 shall be deemed to include mobile homes or manufactured homes.
(2) A trailer . . . or a trailer coach . . . is a homestead and is entitled to the same exemption as enumerated in section 38-41-201, except for any loans, debts, or obligations incurred prior to July 1, 2000. For purposes of this homestead exemption, the term “house” as used in ...

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