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Thinking about Legal Research Problems

By Paul D. Callister, JD, MSLIS

Library Director & Associate Professor of Law

Picking out Descriptive Words and Phrases

Sample Problem

Your firm has been asked to represent O.J. Simpson in an action in a federal bankruptcy court in California  in which creditors are attempting to seize assets of his profit-sharing plan.  O.J. Simpson had set up a corporation (which sponsored a profit-sharing plan) for his commercial endorsements.  There is approximately four million dollars in the plan.  The senior partner at your firm informs you that the federal statute, ERISA,  generally protects profit-sharing plans from the reach of creditors.  However, because O.J. Simpson was the sole shareholder of his corporation, the plan is not deemed to have any employees, and consequently does not fall under the exemption provisions (i.e., it is not exempt from creditors under ERISA).

You have been asked to find out if, after 1990, any Federal bankruptcy court (or appellate court) in California has applied exemptions under California law (Federal bankruptcy law allows debtors to elect to use state exemptions under 11 U.S.C. 522(b)) to successfully block creditors from reaching the assets of a profit-sharing plan (and specifically, a “single-person” plan which didn't fall under ERISA).  You are reminded to search the Courts of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit, as bankruptcy matters are often appealed to the Federal Courts of Appeal and District Court.

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