Debtors Could Exempt their Mobile Home in Massachusetts under a Florida Statute, which the Court found to be Extraterritorial

Debtors Could Exempt their Mobile Home in Massachusetts under a Florida Statute, which the Court found to be Extraterritorial

The debtors in this chapter 7 case, (the “Debtors”), have claimed an exemption under the Florida homestead statute, FLA. STAT. § 222.05, in a mobile home located in Massachusetts. The chapter 7 trustee,  (the “Trustee”), has objected to the claim of exemption, arguing that Florida’s statutory homestead exemption cannot be applied to property outside of the State of Florida. For the reasons set forth below, I overrule the Trustee’s objection.

In 2016, the Debtors sold their home in Florida, relocated to Massachusetts, and purchased a mobile home, located in Carver, Massachusetts. They do not own the land on which the mobile home is situated. On July 28, 2017, the Debtors then filed, in the District of Massachusetts, a joint petition for relief under chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code.

The Debtors had resided in Massachusetts for fewer than 730 days when they commenced their chapter 7 case, and they resided in Florida for the entire 180 days preceding the 730 days immediately preceding the date they commenced their chapter 7 case. Accordingly, they agree with the Trustee that under 11 U.S.C. § 522(b)(3)(A), the state whose exemptions they may elect in this case is not Massachusetts but Florida. Accordingly, the Debtors have claimed their mobile home as exempt under FLA. STAT. § 222.05. They value the mobile home at $95,000 and jointly claim that full value as exempt.

Florida has two possible sources for a homestead exemption: one in the state’s constitution, FL. CONST. Art. 10, § 4, and the other in a statute, FLA. STAT. § 222.05. The constitutional exemption applies only to real estate; the Debtors concede that it does not shelter their mobile home, and they accordingly do not rely on it. Rather, they rely solely on the Florida homestead statute. It states:

Any person owning and occupying any dwelling house, including a mobile home used as a residence, or modular home, on land not his or her own which he or she may lawfully possess, by lease or otherwise, and claiming such house, mobile home, or modular home as his or her homestead, shall be entitled to the exemption of such house, mobile home, or modular home from levy and sale as aforesaid.

FLA. STAT. § 222.05.

The Trustee argues that this statutory homestead exemption includes an unstated requirement that the dwelling house in question be located in the State of Florida; in other words, he argues that the statutory exemption, by implicit prohibition, may not be applied extraterritorially, even to a mobile home. The Debtors argue that the statutory exemption, containing no express prohibition, contains no prohibition at all against application extraterritorially.

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