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In re Santiago-Monteverde

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

March 31, 2014

IN RE: MARY VERONICA SANTIAGO-MONTEVERDE, Debtor.
v.
JOHN S. PEREIRA, CHAPTER 7 TRUSTEE, Trustee-Appellee MARY VERONICA SANTIAGO-MONTEVERDE, Debtor-Appellant,

Argued September 23, 2013

Appeal from a decision of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (P. Kevin Castel, Judge) affirming a bankruptcy court's order striking a debtor's claim of entitlement to an exemption of property from her estate. The debtor contends that the value of her rent-stabilized lease was exempt from her bankruptcy estate as a " local public assistance benefit" within the meaning of New York Debtor and Creditor Law § 282(2). The bankruptcy court and district court determined that the value of a rent-stabilized lease did not fall within the exemption. We conclude that the application of § 282(2) to New York's rent stabilization laws raises a question of New York State law that is appropriately certified to the New York Court of Appeals. Accordingly, we certify the question and stay resolution of this appeal. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. No. 12 CV 4238 -- P. Kevin Castel, Judge.

RONALD J. MANN, New York, N.Y. (Kathleen G. Cully, Kathleen G. Cully PLLC, New York, NY, on the brief), for Debtor-Appellant.

J. DAVID DANTZLER, JR. (John P. Campo, Eric L. Unis, on the brief), Troutman Sanders LLP, New York, NY, for Trustee-Appellee.

Ira L. Herman, Thompson & Knight LLP, New York, NY, for Amicus Curiae New York City Bankruptcy Assistance Project, supporting Debtor-Appellant.

Carolyn E. Coffey (of counsel to Jeanette Zelhof), MFY Legal Services, Inc., New York, NY, for Amicus Curiae MFY Legal Services, Inc., supporting Debtor-Appellant.

Before: SACK, B.D. PARKER, and RAGGI, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 154

Barrington D. Parker, Jr., Circuit Judge.

In this appeal we consider whether the value inherent in a New York City tenant's rent-stabilized lease as a consequence of the protections afforded by New York's Rent Stabilization Code (" RSC" ), N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 9, § § 2520.1 et seq.,

Page 155

make the lease, or some portion of its value, exempt from the tenant's bankruptcy estate as a " local public assistance benefit" within the meaning of New York Debtor and Creditor Law (" DCL" ) § 282(2). We conclude that the New York Court of Appeals is better positioned to resolve this unsettled issue of New York law and, consequently, we certify it to that Court.

I. BACKGROUND

At some point prior to the mid-1970's, Debtor-Appellant, Mary Veronica Santiago-Monteverde, signed a lease with her husband for an apartment in lower Manhattan. Following the enactment of New York's rent stabilization law in 1974, the apartment became rent-stabilized. The RSC " regulat[es] rents and provid[es] occupants with statutory rights to tenancy renewals" as well as occupancy and anti-eviction protections. Manocherian v. Lenox Hill Hosp., 84 N.Y.2d 385, 389, 643 N.E.2d 479, 618 N.Y.S.2d 857 (1994); see N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 9, § § 2520.1 et seq .; N.Y.C. Admin Code § § 26-501 et seq . New York State law also authorizes municipalities to ...


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