Memorandum of Decision Re: Homestead

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Decisions
IN THE UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
In re LLOYD and HAZAN CLIFTON,                                               No. 95-10818                                                                                                    AL #95-092        Debtor. ___________________________/
Memorandum of Decision
     Debtors Lloyd and Hazan Clifton reside on 4.5 rural acres near Cloverdale, California. They acquired the property in 1988, by a single deed. They have always treated the property as a single tract, and use all of it. They are not legally entitled to convey any portion of it separately from the other parts. However, judgment creditors Gary and Judy Gerdes allege that the debtors are not entitled to claim the entire parcel as an exempt homestead because at one time, long before the debtors bought the property, it had been three separate parcels and is so described in the deed's legal description. The court is unconvinced by this argument and will grant the debtors' motion to avoid the Gerdes' judgment lien.      The Gerdes' argument is based on an 80-year-old case, Guernsey v. Douglas, 171 Cal. 329 (1915). Even assuming that this case still recites applicable California law, it is easily distinguished. In that case, the debtor owned five contiguous small lots. There was no evidence that the debtor used all five in connection with his home. The decision is silent as to whether they were legally separate parcels. The court found sufficient evidence to support the trial court's finding that the homestead character did not attach to four of the five lots.      Here, all of the evidence supports the homestead character of the entire property. The debtors purchased the property as one parcel and use all of it for residential and agricultural purposes. The size is typical for residences and small farms in the area. Aside from that fact that at one time in the past the property was comprised of three separate parcels, there is nothing at all upon which to base an argument that the property is not a single homestead. The court declines to find that this fact alone defeats or limits a declared homestead.      Under both California law and federal bankruptcy law, homestead exemptions are liberally construed in favor of debtors. In re Pladson, 35 F.3d 462, 465 (9th Cir.1994); Webb v. Trippet, 235 Cal.App.3d 647, 650 (1991). Pursuant to FRBP 4003(c), the objecting party has the burden of proving that an exemption is not properly claimed. In this case, the evidence clearly established that the debtors' entire property is properly their exempt homestead.      For the foregoing reasons, the debtors' motion to avoid the Gerdes' lien will be granted. Counsel for the debtors shall submit an appropriate form of order.
Dated: April 4, 1996                                               _______________________                                                                                       Alan Jaroslovsky                                                                                       U.S. Bankruptcy