§ 158.3 — Driving while Intoxicated

Revised: June 17, 2004

[1]

Prior to the 1990 bankruptcy amendments, claims resulting from drunken driving were dischargeable in Chapter 13 cases after completion of all payments but nondischargeable in a Chapter 7 case under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(9). In 1990, Congress twice amended Chapter 13 to create an exception to discharge for claims arising from driving while intoxicated.

[2]

The Criminal Victims Protection Act of 1990, enacted on November 15, 1990,1 and re-enacted on November 29, 1990,2 amended § 1328(a)(2) by adding § 523(a)(9) as an exception to discharge after completion of payments. Section 523(a)(9) excepts from discharge claims “for death or personal injury caused by the debtor’s operation of a motor vehicle if such operation was unlawful because the debtor was intoxicated from using alcohol, a drug, or another substance.”3

[3]

The first enactment provided that the amendment “shall not apply with respect to cases commenced . . . before the date of the enactment of this act.”4 Thus, § 523(a)(9) is an exception to discharge only in Chapter 13 cases commenced after November 15, 1990.5

[4]

The second enactment was a word-for-word re-enactment of the legislation of two weeks earlier.6 The effective date for the re-enactment was November 29, 1990.7 The re-enactment did not change the effective date of the first enactment.

[5]

The House and Senate versions of the legislation that became the exception for § 523(a)(9) claims in § 1328(a)(2) were identical.8 The committee report accompanying the House version states, “During the 101st Congress, it came to the committee’s [the House Committee on the Judiciary] attention that some drunk drivers might be attempting to circumvent the nondischargeability rules of Chapter 7 by resorting to Chapter 13 instead.”9 The House Report contains this important statement with respect to the treatment of claims arising from driving while intoxicated:

During the Chapter 13 payment plan, the drunk driving victim will participate fully with other creditors; following completion of the payment plan, any remaining portion of the drunk driving related debt will not be discharged, but will remain owed to the victim until fully paid.10
[6]

This legislative history supports the view that Chapter 13 debtors should be permitted to pay part of a drunken driving obligation through the plan, with the unpaid balance to survive discharge.11 Because debts relating to driving while intoxicated are likely to be large unsecured claims, there will be difficult classification questions when the Chapter 13 debtor proposes to separately classify the drunken driving debt for more favorable or less favorable treatment through the plan.12 The case law under other chapters of the Code interpreting § 523(a)(9) will become relevant to the discharge of drunken driving related debts in Chapter 13 cases.13

[7]

Unlike student loans,14 the dischargeability of a drunken driving debt under § 523(a)(9) can readily be determined at any time during the Chapter 13 case by filing an adversary proceeding. It has been held that a determination during a Chapter 13 case that a debt is nondischargeable under § 523(a)(9) is preclusive of relitigation even if the Chapter 13 case is dismissed before the completion of payments under the plan.15


 

1  Pub. L. No. 101-581, 104 Stat. 2865 (Nov. 15, 1990).

 

2  Pub. L. No. 101-647, 104 Stat. 4789 (Nov. 29, 1990).

 

3  11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(9). This is the way 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(9) reads after the 1990 amendments. The Criminal Victims Protection Act of 1990, in addition to adding § 523(a)(9) as an exception to discharge in § 1328(a)(2), also amended § 523(a)(9) itself to expand the kinds of debts that are nondischargeable if incurred while driving under the influence of drugs. See § 2 of Pub. L. No. 101-581, 104 Stat. 2865 (Nov. 15, 1990); § 3102(a) of Pub. L. No. 101-647, 104 Stat. 4789 (Nov. 29, 1990).

 

4  Section 4(b) of Pub. L. No. 101-581, 104 Stat. 2865, 2866 (Nov. 15, 1990).

 

5  Driving-while-intoxicated claims in bankruptcy cases commenced before November 15, 1990, and converted to Chapter 13 after November 15, 1990, are dischargeable upon completion of payments. See 11 U.S.C. § 348(a), discussed in § 148.3  Effects of Conversion from Chapter 7 to Chapter 13 and § 148.4  Conversion to Chapter 13 after BAPCPA.

 

6  See §§ 3102 and 3103 of Pub. L. No. 101-647, 104 Stat. 4789, 4916 (Nov. 29, 1990).

 

7  See Pub. L. No. 101-647, § 3104, 104 Stat. 4789, 4916 (Nov. 29, 1990).

 

8  See H.R. 5269, 101st Cong., § 1901 (1990); S. 1931, 101st Cong., § 2 (1990).

 

9  H.R. Rep. No. 101-681, at 163 (1990).

 

10  H.R. Rep. No. 101-681, at 164 (1990).

 

11  See § 155.1 [ Driving While Intoxicated ] § 88.8  Driving, Boating or Flying while Intoxicated for discussion of the separate classification of § 523(a)(9) claims in Chapter 13 cases.

 

12  See §§ 149.1 [ Power to Classify Unsecured Claims: Tests for Unfair Discrimination ] § 87.1  Power to Classify Unsecured Claims: Tests for Unfair Discrimination and 155.1 [ Driving While Intoxicated ] § 88.8  Driving, Boating or Flying while Intoxicated.

 

13  See, e.g., Whitson v. Middleton, 898 F.2d 950 (4th Cir. 1990); Lugo v. Paulsen, 886 F.2d 602 (3d Cir. 1989); In re Pahule, 849 F.2d 1056 (7th Cir. 1988); Moraes v. Adams (In re Adams), 761 F.2d 1422, 1427 (9th Cir. 1985); Bryant v. Straup (In re Straup), 90 B.R. 481 (D. Utah 1988); Leach v. Reckley (In re Leach), 63 B.R. 724 (S.D. Ind. 1986); Konieczka v. Hodak (In re Hodak), 119 B.R. 516 (Bankr. W.D. Pa. 1990); Dean Health Plan v. Selin (In re Selin), 104 B.R. 98 (Bankr. W.D. Wis. 1989); Allstate Ins. Co. v. Humphrey (In re Humphrey), 102 B.R. 629, 633 (Bankr. S.D. Ohio 1989); Radivoj v. Williams (In re Williams), 101 B.R. 356 (Bankr. S.D. Fla.), aff’d, 111 B.R. 361 (S.D. Fla. 1989); In re Lewis, 77 B.R. 972 (Bankr. S.D. Fla. 1987); In re Jackson, 77 B.R. 120 (Bankr. N.D. Ohio 1987); In re Lewis, 69 B.R. 600 (Bankr. S.D. Fla. 1987); In re Carney, 68 B.R. 655 (Bankr. D.N.H. 1986); Commercial Union Ins. Co. v. Christianson (In re Christianson), 65 B.R. 157 (Bankr. W.D. Mo. 1986); County of Otter Tail v. Miletta (In re Ganzer), 54 B.R. 75 (Bankr. D. Minn. 1985); Dougherty v. Brackett (In re Brackett), 51 B.R. 987 (Bankr. D. Colo. 1985).

 

14  See § 156.1  Timing and Procedure for Discharge and Objecting to Discharge§ 158.2  Student Loans and § 159.6  Student Loans: § 523(a)(8).

 

15  See Arneson v. Farmers Ins. Exch. (In re Arneson), 282 B.R. 883 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. 2002) (Determination of nondischargeability of drunken driving debt under § 523(a)(9) in Chapter 13 case precluded nondischargeability litigation in subsequent Chapter 7 case notwithstanding that Chapter 13 case was dismissed during appeal of nondischargeability determination; vacatur doctrine under United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U.S. 36, 71 S. Ct. 104, 95 L. Ed. 36 (1950), did not apply.).