In Re: Drummond – 2/23/2024

March 5, 2024

The Arizona Supreme Court holds that a motor home does not qualify as a mobile home for the purpose of claiming an Arizona homestead exemption pursuant to A.R.S. § 33-1101(A)(3).

A couple filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. They claimed that their motor home, which they used as a full-time residence, was subject to the homestead exemption as a mobile home under § 33-1101(A)(3). Section 33-1101(A) sets out Arizona’s homestead exemption, which renders a single homestead not exceeding $250,000 exempt from execution and forced sale. The trustee objected to this exemption, arguing that the couple’s motor home could not qualify as a mobile home under Arizona law. The bankruptcy judge certified the question—whether a motor home may be subject to the Arizona homestead exemption as a mobile home—to the Arizona Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court interpreted §33-1101(A)(3) according to its plain meaning, viewed in the broader statutory context. It noted that although Title 33 does not define “motor home,” Title 28 defines it as “a motor vehicle that is primarily designed as a temporary living quarters and that [i]s built onto as an integral part of, or is permanently attached to, a motor vehicle chassis.” The Court explained that this definition indicates that a motor home is a vehicle that is readily and inherently movable. In contrast, the Court concluded that the term “mobile home,” in the context of §33-1101(A)’ s three other sections, which describe residences with permanent locations, similarly defines a dwelling that is physically attached to real property. The Court also noted that §33-1409 distinguishes between mobile homes and readily movable vehicles. Next, the Court disagreed with the Bankruptcy Court’s interpretation of §33-1101(A) in In re Irwin, which concluded that a motor home can qualify for the homestead exemption. Consequently, the majority held that §33-1101(A)’s exemption pertains to a permanent fixed structure where a person resides such that a motor home, which is not anchored to land, cannot qualify as a mobile home.

The dissent underscored that the majority ruling disrupts the purpose of §33-1101(A)—to prevent families from being rendered homeless by the debt collection process. The dissent also disagreed that §33-1101(A)(3) has one plain meaning suggesting that a mobile home must be designed to stay in one location or be physically attached to land. It finally agreed with federal court decisions interpreting “mobile home” to include any lodging that can be moved and is actually used as the owner’s permanent residence.

Justice Beene authored the opinion, in which Chief Justice Brutinel and Justices Bolick, Lopez, Montgomery and King joined. Vice Chief Justice Timmer dissented.

Posted by: BriAnne Illich Meeds