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Are You a Work Horse?

posted by Bob Lawless

Two items of interest . . . .

First, from West's "headnote of the day" service on a case interpreting what it meant for a horse to a "work horse" within the meaning of an exemption statute. Given the holding, I wonder how many modern-day householders might fit the description! I, for one, vow never to be broken to gear.

To entitle a poor debtor to the benefit of the act which declares "one work horse," etc., shall be retained for the use of every family in this state "free and exempt from levy or sale by virtue of any execution or other legal process," it is not necessary to prove that the horse had been broken to gear, or used in harness; but it is enough if he performed the common drudgery of the homestead, either by hauling wood, drawing the plow, carrying the family to church, etc., under the saddle or in traces. And he need not have performed all these services. If he is intended to be used in any or all of them, or in others of a kindred character, he comes within the exemption. Noland v. Wickham, 9 Ala. 169 (1846).

The second item -- there is a headnote of the day service? Who knew?

By the way, I mainly wanted to post this for the benefit of our resident horse expert, Debb Thorne, who I am sure will chastise me for my cavalier attitude toward the comparisons between humans and horses.

Hat tip to Bob Hiller for pointing the way to this.


I went off on a tangent about exemptions for mules the other day, on a post dealing with a recent decision on the exemption of vans modified for wheelchairs:


In many states, debtors have to attempt to exempt wheelchair vans using statutes that were drafted to cover prosthetic legs.

Many state exemption statutes haven't been altered - except for the dollar amounts - for decades.

We aren't a primarily agrarian society anymore, and our exemption statutes should be amended to reflect that fact - and modern life in general.

I would hope that U.S. legislation recognizes that the body of a debtor is exempt... Otherwise, it would seem a matter of being sold into slavery!

If I live in an urban area where the zoning forbids me from keeping a horse, can I exempt a pickup truck instead? After all, it can haul wood and also carry the family to church.

There was an argument for a while in BK on 910 claims that if a vehicle was used primarily for work that 910 did not apply because of the "personal use" language. Judge ran with that for a while. We have not tried it yet but what about vehicles bought for a son or daughter. Its not for the personal use of the debtors themselves but for the personal of their children. Cramdown?

Warren and Westbrook have directed generations of law teachers to In re Freedlander, 93 BR 446 (Bankr. E.D. Va. 1988). Virginia law allowed the exemption of horses, and a debtor did so--a racehorse worth $640,000.

Patches - not such a far fetched argument for cramdown.

It has been made successfully in several cases. The published ones that might be helpful to you include: In re Solis, 356 B.R. 398 (Bankr. S.D. Tex. 2006); In re Jackson 338 B.R. 923, 925-926 (Bankr. M.D. Ga., 2006); In re Lewis, 347 B.R. 769, 2006 WL 2372162 (Bankr. D. Kan., 2006) and In re Horn, 338 B.R. 110 (Bankr. M.D.Ala. 2006). There are at least an equal number of unpublished cases that go the same way on the issue of a car bought for a son or daughter. (The car for the non-filing spouse is a little bit more of a gray area.)

Just remember: the bankruptcy court must determine usage as of the date of acquisition of the motor vehicle and not usage as of the date of the debtor's bankruptcy petition. See, In re Phillips, 362 B.R. 284, 303 (Bankr. D. Va. 2007) (citing, In re Hill, 352 B.R. 69, 72 (Bankr. D. La. 2006)), see also In re Solis, 356 B.R. 398, 408-09 (Bankr. D. Tex. 2006).


So I read this description of a "work horse" to my mare, Zoe. She was highly offended. "What self-respecting equine would tolerate such abuse?" she asked. I gently assured her that while she would never be so badly treated, there was a time, way back in our dark history, when horses were so treated. She flipped her head and dismissed me from her stall. I trudged away wearily; it was a lot of work bringing her food, filling her water bucket, brushing her coat, polishing her hooves, and picking up her poop. So who's the work horse now?


Two stories.

First is the one where a debtor sought to claim his autocad computer (many years ago) as a tool of the trade, and drew an objection. The objecting party contended made this argument: "If I ask for you to hand me that tool over there on the table, imagine my surprise if you hand me the computer."

Second is the one about the debtor who claimed more cows than the exemption statute permitted for cattle, but argued that the cow was actually a family pet. It was never clear whether the cow was permitted inside for dinner, or whether it was housebroken.

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