Public benefits are frequently a part of bankruptcy proceedings. A debtor may have received worker’s compensation payments, or unemployment benefits. In California, worker’s compensation or unemployment benefits paid before the bankruptcy can be discharged; they are not seen as a non-dischargeable tax. Notrica v. State Comp. Ins. Fund (1999) 70 Cal.App.4th 911, 924-925, 939-940

The recovery of other forms of public benefits, made before the debtor files the bankruptcy petition, is also barred by the bankruptcy discharge; even the US government, as a creditor, cannot seek repayment of the overpayment of such benefits after the debtor’s discharge. In re Madigan, 270 B.R. 749, 752-753 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. 2001); Cooper v. Soc. Sec. Admin. (In re Cooper), BAP WW-23-1098-CBS, 12 & fn. 6, 7, & 8 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. Jan. 16, 2024) [unpublished]

But sometimes, the situation is more complicated. For example, if the debtor is on Social Security Disability Income, without interruption, both before and after the filing of a chapter 7 bankruptcy, and if there is an overpayment, the government may be able to recover that overpayment through reducing benefits after the bankruptcy discharge, under the doctrine of equitable recoupment. All that is required is a “logical relationship” between the pre-petition benefits received by the debtor, and the post-petition payments to the debtor by the government. If there is such a logical relationship, the post-petition benefits may be reduced by the pre-petition overpaymnent, under the doctrine of “equitable recoupment.” This recoupment neither violates the automatic stay, nor the discharge injunction. In re Williamson, 795 Fed.Appx. at 538 (quoting In re TLC Hosps. Inc., 224 F.3d 1008, 1014 (9th Cir. 2000).

The logical relationship test States the following:

“[C]ourts have permitted a variety of obligations to be recouped against each other, requiring only that the obligations be sufficiently interconnected so that it would be unjust to insist that one party fulfill its obligation without requiring the same of the other party.” In re Madigan, 270 B.R. at 755; Cooper v. Soc. Sec. Admin. (In re Cooper), BAP WW-23-1098-CBS, 12 & fn. 6, 7, & 8 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. Jan. 16, 2024) [unpublished]

In Cooper, a former Boeing worker suffered an injury on the job and began receiving workers compensation. He was later determined to be totally disabled, and started to receive workers compensation benefits in addition to a pension. Eventually, he filed his Chapter 7 petition, while he continued to receive uninterrupted SSDI benefits. Through a paperwork glitch, the fact that he was receiving workers compensation was not communicated to the Social Security administration, and eventually SSDI came to the debtor with a $73,000 bill for payments that it would not have made, had it been aware of the workers’ compensation payments.

The court noted that the debtor was not responsible for the paperwork glitch; he had notified the Social Security Office in Washington State of the debtor’s workers compensation case, but that information was never communicated to the primary office in Richmond, California. Nevertheless, the court concluded that the disability both before and after the Chapter 7 petition was the same; that there was a “logical relationship” between the pre-petition overpayments and the post-petition paid benefits; and therefore, under that therefore, the doctrine of “logical recoupment,” the debtor’s post-petition could be reduced, to offset the pre-petition overpayments.

Cooper is an “unpublished” opinion, so it is not authority for the proposition that it cites, but it does cite to numerous published opinions that provide for “equitable recoupment.”

 

THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE; PLEASE CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY

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