On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 03-cv-38) District Judge: Honorable David S. Cercone
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fuentes, Circuit Judge
Before: BARRY, FUENTES, and BECKER, Circuit Judges.
In this appeal, we must determine whether the Bankruptcy Court abused its discretion in reopening the bankruptcy case of appellant Kenneth A. Zinchiak ("Zinchiak" or "Debtor") to permit the appellee Newcourt Small Business Lending Corporation ("Newcourt") *fn1 to file a petition to fix the fair market value of certain real estate under Pennsylvania's Deficiency Judgment Act ("DJA"), 42 Pa. Const. Stat. Ann. § 8103, and, if not, whether the Bankruptcy Court properly interpreted the interplay between the DJA and the jurisdictional and automatic stay provisions of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code ("Code"). The District Court affirmed the decision of the Bankruptcy Court to reopen the case as well as its treatment of the merits of Newcourt's deficiency petition under the DJA. The Debtor-appellant Zinchiak and his wife now appeal from these decisions. For the following reasons, we will affirm.
A. Bankruptcy Proceedings
The essential facts are not in dispute. Zinchiak filed a voluntary Chapter 11 petition in the Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on January 29, 1999. With the debtor's consent, the case was converted to a Chapter 7 proceeding on April 22, 1999, and a trustee was appointed.
Zinchiak owned commercial real estate located in Crawford County, Pennsylvania ("business property") as well as certain personal property used in his business operation ("personal property," and together with business property, the "business assets"). Zinchiak and his wife, Kathleen Zinchiak, also owned residential real estate in Mercer County, Pennsylvania ("residential property"). Each parcel of property was encumbered as follows. Newcourt held a first mortgage lien against the business property, as well as a first security lien on most of the personal property associated with the business operations. PNC Mortgage Corporation ("PNC"), as successor to Marine Bank, held a first mortgage lien against the residential property. Newcourt held a second mortgage lien on the residential property. The Money Store, n/k/a Alegis Group, Inc., held a third mortgage lien against the residential property.
On April 8, 1999, several months after Zinchiak's initial filing for bankruptcy, Newcourt filed a motion seeking relief from the automatic stay. See 11 U.S.C. § 362. *fn2 Specifically, Newcourt sought relief from the automatic stay to pursue its interests in the business property, personal property, and the residential property. Zinchiak and the trustee subsequently filed responses to Newcourt's motion. Zinchiak argued that the value in the business property was more than sufficient to satisfy Newcourt's claim on its business loan and thus there was no need to look to the residential property except in the event of a deficiency after liquidation of the business assets. Based on Zinchiak's assertions of value, the trustee requested that the automatic stay remain in effect until it was determined whether the administration of the estate might result in equity for the benefit of unsecured creditors. At a hearing on May 3, 1999 to consider the motion, Newcourt agreed to continue its motion to permit the trustee an opportunity to determine whether the Debtor's property could be marketed for a price which would render a benefit for the estate.
Thereafter, at a subsequent hearing on September 7, 1999, Newcourt presented recent appraisals of the Debtor's business property. Based on these appraisals, the trustee concluded that there was no equity for the benefit of unsecured creditors and therefore consented to the entry of an order granting Newcourt's motion for relief from the automatic stay. Nonetheless, although Zinchiak did not oppose the granting of relief from the automatic stay as to the business assets, he continued to oppose relief as to the residential property on the grounds that Newcourt could be paid in full, or nearly in full, from liquidation of the business assets. Accordingly, Zinchiak argued that there was no need to grant relief with respect to the residential property until it became evident from liquidation of the business assets that a deficiency remained on Newcourt's claim.
After the hearing, the Bankruptcy Court entered an order dated September 29, 1999 granting the Debtor's request. The order contemplated essentially a "step-by-step" approach in which Newcourt would proceed first to liquidate the business assets but wait to pursue its interests in the residential property until it became clear that a deficiency existed on its claim. Accordingly, the order lifted the automatic stay as to the business assets "so that Newcourt Financial may exercise its right to the above property under non-bankruptcy law." However, the order specifically stated that the motion "is deferred as to the [residential property]."*fn3
With the automatic stay partially lifted, Newcourt proceeded to liquidate its interests in the business assets. In particular, at a sheriff's sale of the business property in June 2000, Newcourt was the successful purchaser for a bid of costs and taxes. After Newcourt commenced efforts to market the business property, it became clear, however, that liquidation of the business property would not satisfy Newcourt's claim and thus Newcourt would have to look to the residential property for full satisfaction. In light of this new information, Zinchiak was forced to concede for the first time, at a status conference held on October 2, 2000, that no equity remained in the residential property for the benefit of himself or any unsecured creditors.
Accordingly, on November 1, 2000, the Bankruptcy Court issued a memorandum opinion addressing the outstanding motions for relief from the automatic stay filed by PNC, Newcourt, and the Money Store. After reviewing the information submitted by the parties regarding the amount of the secured creditors' claims and the value of the residential property, the Bankruptcy Court found that under no scenario would there be any equity in the residential property for the benefit of the Debtor or unsecured creditors.*fn4
Consequently, the Bankruptcy Court concluded that "[t]here appears to be no reason to further delay the [secured creditors] from proceeding against their collateral." In re Zinchiak, 280 B.R. 117, 124 (Bankr. W.D. Pa. 2002). An order was entered on January 9, 2001 lifting the automatic stay and permitting PNC, Newcourt, and ...