The Chapter 7 Trustee appointed in the case of an individual debtor (the “Individual Case”) exercised control of an asset of the Chapter 7 estate, a 100% member interest in a limited liability company (the “LLC”). The LLC was also in bankruptcy, but in Chapter 11 (the “LLC Case”). The Chapter 7 Trustee, on the authority of In re Albright, 291 B.R. 538, 541 (Bankr. D. Colo. 2003), elected to take over control and appointed himself as Manager of the LLC.
The Chapter 7 Trustee, in his role as Manager of the LLC, did not request Court approval of his employment as a “professional person” under Section 327 of the Code. Instead, almost two years after taking over management of the LLC, he filed in the LLC Case a motion to have a compensation package approved as an administrative expense under Section 503(b)(1)(A).
The United States Trustee (the “UST”) objected arguing that the Chapter 7 Trustee may only be compensated in the Individual Case in accordance with the formula for calculating trustees’ commissions embodied in Section 326 of the Code. The UST contended that the Chapter 7 Trustee could not capitalize on an asset of the Chapter 7 case for his personal benefit and to augment that commission. The UST asserted the Chapter 7 Trustee was a “professional person” for purposes of Section 327(a) of the Code who had not obtained approval of his employment and, thus, could not be paid. Moreover, the UST urged that Section 503(b) could not be used as a vehicle to circumvent the requirements for employment under Section 327.
Following an evidentiary hearing, the Court denied the Chapter 7 Trustee’s application for allowance of an administrative expense. The Court held that the Chapter 7 Trustee was a “professional person” within the meaning of Section 327. Because he had not been employed as Manager under Section 327 in the LLC Case, the Chapter 7 Trustee could not be paid. Moreover, as a “professional person,” the Chapter 7 Trustee could not bypass the requirements of Section 327 by claiming entitlement to an administrative expense under Section 503(b). The Court agreed with the UST that a Chapter 7 trustee may only be compensated in the Chapter 7 case in which the trustee serves as a fiduciary and that a trustee’s compensation is limited by and to the commission calculated according to the formula of Section 326. Finally, even if the Chapter 7 Trustee had moved to be employed under Section 327, the Court expressed grave doubt as to whether, in a case such as this, the Trustee could pass the “disinterestedness” test of Section 327.