To better understand the impact of Patterson, as well as future debates regarding conflict between state and federal law in the Bankruptcy Code, this article will review the underlying case law that set the stage for this judicial showdown. Part II specifically analyzes the competing case lines which excluded pension plan benefits from the bankruptcy estate. Part III briefly summarizes those cases which concluded that plan benefits must be included in the estate but may be subject to exemption under state or federal law. Part IV reviews the Patterson opinion in detail, as well as the issues and analysis presented by the Court, and Part V addresses the open questions that remain after Patterson . Finally, some concluding remarks are offered to summarize the importance of Patterson in terms of its impact on uniform treatment of debtors regardless of jurisdiction, as well as the possibility of future conflicts over Bankruptcy Code language given the Supreme Court's reliance on the so-called "plain meaning" approach.
Jack E. Karns, ERISA Qualified Pension Plan Benefits as Property of the Bankruptcy Estate: The Unanswered Questions after Patterson v. Shumate, 16 Campbell L. Rev. 303 (1994).