The Supreme Court won’t be overruling Dewnsup this year, and probably never. Yesterday, the justices denied the petition for certiorari in Ritter v. Brady, 18-747 (Sup. Ct.).
Dewsnup was the notorious 1992 decision where the Supreme Court held that a chapter 7 debtor may not employ Sections 506(a) and 506(d) to “strip down” an undersecured mortgage. Dewsnup v. Timm, 502 U.S. 410 (1992). Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a vigorous dissent, accusing the majority of ignoring the plain language of the statute in adopting a policy contrary to decisions that Congress made by enacting the Bankruptcy Code.
Twenty-three years later, the justices seemed primed to revisit Dewsnup. At oral argument in Bank of America N.A. v. Caulkett, 135 S. Ct. 1995 (2015), several justices apparently thought Dewsnup was wrongly decided. Indeed, the unanimous opinion in Caulkett, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, said that “straightforward reading of the statute” would allow a debtor to strip off an underwater mortgage.
The Dewsnup issue arose in Ritter, where the chapter 7 debtor sought to strip off a wholly underwater mortgage. All the way through the Ninth Circuit, the courts summarily denied the debtor’s request, saying the issue had been decided definitively by the Supreme Court in Caulkett.
Scott L. Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group of Washington, D.C., along with Bradley Girard and Brian Wolfman of the Georgetown Law Appellate Court Immersion Clinic, filed a certiorari petition in December. Several law professors and former judges, including Eugene Wedoff, Leif M. Clark and Bruce A. Markell, filed amicus briefs urging the Court to grant certiorari.