Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Bankruptcy

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Cox, the trustee in the Central Illinois Energy Cooperative bankruptcy, appealed a bankruptcy court ruling after it was affirmed by the district court. In the meantime, the parties mediated a settlement and the bankruptcy court stated that it would approve that settlement, subject to the disposition of any objection filed by a creditor or Cox. Cox then moved for dismissal of the appeal. The Seventh Circuit denied the motion. When, as in this case, an appeal is from the district court’s affirmance of a bankruptcy court order, a remand to the bankruptcy court for approval of settlement requires coordination between three courts. Rules 12.1 and 57 both authorize relief only after the district court has said that it is inclined to grant a motion barred by the pending appeal. Although the parties obtained an indicative ruling from the bankruptcy court, there is no record that they sought or obtained an indicative ruling from the district court. The proper procedure is to obtain an indicative ruling from both courts that will need to act. View "Cox v. Nostaw, Inc." on Justia Law

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In the first case in “a long‐running and acrimonious business dispute,” Lardas claimed fraudulent inducement and breach of contract, arising from a settlement agreement, which Lardas argued was intended to deprive her nephew (Christofalos) of his ownership interest in Wauconda Shopping Center (WSC). The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of Lardas’s case without prejudice, finding that Lardas lacked standing. Lardas had transferred her ownership in a predecessor entity to Christofalos. The second case involves Christofalos’s bankruptcy, in which the court authorized the sale of his interest in WSC (11 U.S.C. 363(b)). The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal as moot because the sale has been consummated and third parties have acted in reliance. Christofalos also challenged the denial of a discharge, based on a bankruptcy court finding under 11 U.S.C. 727(a)(4)(A), which authorizes denial of discharge where the debtor has “knowingly and fraudulently … made a false oath or account.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that Christofalos made a “host of false statements and omissions.” The court also affirmed denial of Christofalos’s “Motion to Reopen Case and Assign a Receiver” in Lardas’s case. View "Christofalos v. Grcic" on Justia Law

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Margaret’s husband, Bart, was general counsel for a Chicago-area real estate developer. He embezzled $1.2 million from his employer while the two were married. To evade detection, he attempted to replenish the stolen funds, borrowing $400,000 from his friend Farley on the ruse that the money would be used for a real-estate development. Bart gave Farley a third-priority lien on the couple’s home, forging Margaret’s signature on the note and mortgage. Bart’s employer discovered the embezzlement. Bart was convicted of felony theft. Margaret divorced him; the couple’s home went into foreclosure. Farley filed a cross-claim, seeking to enforce his lien, but the sale of the home did not yield nearly enough to cover even the first mortgage. Margaret filed for bankruptcy while the foreclosure was pending, which stayed Farley’s claim. Farley then filed an adversary complaint challenging Margaret’s eligibility for a Chapter 7 discharge. He claimed that she made a fraudulent transfer after filing her bankruptcy petition and made multiple false statements in her bankruptcy schedules. Margaret testified at trial that these were innocent mistakes. The bankruptcy judge credited her testimony and rejected each of Farley’s contentions. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed, describing Farley’s as “ill-considered” and noting that credibility determinations are almost never disturbed on appeal. View "Farley v. Kempff" on Justia Law
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BMS provides administrative services to bankruptcy trustees. It uses Rabobank as the depositary for banking services that BMS provides through its software. Crane, the trustee in the Integrated bankruptcy, hired BMS; the contract required Crane to hire Rabobank for banking services in the proceeding. In a separate contract, Crane authorized Rabobank to withdraw its monthly fee. The plaintiff, a law firm, was a creditor of Integrated and filed a bankruptcy claim, ultimately receiving a distribution of $12,472.55. It would have received $12,666.90, but for its part of Rabobank’s fee, and more had Rabobank paid interest on the estate’s deposits. Plaintiff sued under the Bank Holding Company Act, 12 U.S.C. 1972(1)(E), which states that a bank shall not "extend credit, lease or sell property of any kind, or furnish any service, or fix or vary the consideration for any of the foregoing, on the condition … that the customer shall not obtain some other credit, property, or service from a competitor of such bank … other than a condition … to assure the soundness of the credit.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal. Had Rabobank conditioned its provision of services on the trustee never hiring any other bank in any bankruptcy proceeding, it would constitute exclusive dealing. No one forced Crane to deal with BMS and Rabobank and there was no argument that the fee was exorbitant, or would have been lower with a different bank. View "McGarry & McGarry, LLC v. Rabobank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Smith’s husband obtained a Capital One credit card that he used for family consumer debts. Smith subsequently filed for bankruptcy. Smith’s husband did not join Smith’s petition and was not listed as a co‐debtor. The bankruptcy court confirmed Smith’s Chapter 13 plan. During Smith’s repayment period, Capital One, through attorney Kohn, sued Smith’s husband and obtained a Wisconsin state court judgment for amounts owed on his credit card; it has not attempted to enforce the judgment. Smith initiated a successful bankruptcy court adversary proceeding, arguing that Smith’s husband’s credit card debt was covered by the co‐debtor stay due under Wisconsin marital law and alleging violations of the co‐debtor stay, 11 U.S.C. 1301(a); the Wisconsin Consumer Act; and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692(d)(e). The district court reversed, holding that “consumer debt of the debtor” does not include a debt for which the debtor is not personally liable but that may be satisfied from the debtor’s interest in marital property. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Smith’s suggested expansion of the co‐debtor stay is contrary to its plain meaning and purpose, which is to prevent undue pressure that creditors could otherwise exert by threatening action against third-parties who have co‐signed the debtor’s debts. View "Smith v. Capital One Bank (USA), N.A." on Justia Law

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Mrs. Edelson filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. She and her husband, who did not join her petition or file his own, held their Chicago home as “tenants by the entirety,” until seven months before the petition, when they conveyed it to the husband’s living trust. The conveyance states that “the beneficial interest” in the trust is held by the Edelsons, “husband and wife, as tenant[s] by the entirety.” The bankruptcy petition named Loventhal, Mrs. Edelson’s former husband, as an unsecured creditor for $92,000. Mrs. Edelson proposed a payment plan that would give Loventhal $16,000 over five years and designated the residence as exempt. Loventhal argued that the transfer to the husband’s trust eliminated the tenancy by the entirety. The bankruptcy judge, district court, and Seventh Circuit rejected his argument, citing 11 U.S.C. 522(b)(3)(B): “any interest in property in which the debtor had, immediately before the commencement of the case, an interest as a tenant by the entirety” is exempted “to the extent that such interest … is exempt from process under applicable nonbankruptcy law,” and Illinois law, which exempts tenancies by the entirety from process to satisfy judgment “against only one of the tenants.” While the trust instrument includes provisions inconsistent with tenancy by the entirety, the Joint Tenancy Act forbids any construction that would sever the tenancy by the entirety. View "Loventhal v. Edelson" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Trentadue’s ex‐wife sought to modify placement and child support, related to one of their six children. A three-year legal dispute over custody, placement, health insurance, and child support followed, involving substantial motion practice, requests for contempt findings, engagement of experts, and evidentiary hearings. The Wisconsin state court overseeing the litigation determined that Trentadue’s conduct resulted in excessive trial time to resolve the case and awarded Trentadue’s ex‐wife $25,000 in attorney’s fees for “overtrial,” to be paid to attorney Gay. Trentadue never paid Gay. Instead, he filed a chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. Gay countered by filing a $25,000 claim for the unpaid overtrial award and classified it as a nondischargeable, domestic support obligation entitled to priority. Trentadue objected that the obligation was imposed as a punishment, not a domestic support obligation. The bankruptcy court overruled his objection. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting the restorative nature of the award. which “furthers two objectives, providing compensation to the overtrial victim for fees unnecessarily incurred and deterring unnecessary use of judicial resources.” The court also noted that Trentadue’s finances are “not so bleak,” including monthly income of six to seven thousand dollars. View "Trentadue v. Gay" on Justia Law

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The Fergusons proposed to repay their farm debts under Bankruptcy Code Chapter 12, including a $300,000 loan from First Community Bank, secured by a mortgage plus a lien on farm equipment and crops, and a $176,000 loan from FS, secured by a junior lien on equipment and crops. The bankruptcy judge approved a sale of equipment and crops, which yielded $238,000. The Bank, as senior creditor, demanded those proceeds. FS argued that the Bank should be required to recoup through the mortgage, allowing FS to be repaid from the equipment sale; "marshaling" is not mentioned in the Code, but available under state law. The Fergusons wanted reorganization, to keep their farm. The judge awarded the Bank $238,000. The parties could not agree on a repayment plan. The judge converted the case to a Chapter 7 liquidation. The trustee sold the farm for $411,000, paying the Bank the balance of its claim. About $261,000 remains. FS wanted to be treated as a secured creditor and repeated its request for marshaling. The equipment sale generated federal and state tax bills, with priority among unsecured creditors, 11 U.S.C. 507(a)(8). FS’s status—as a secured creditor with marshaling, or a general unsecured creditor without it—determines whether the taxes will be paid during the bankruptcy. Tax debts are not dischargeable; the Fergusons opposed marshaling. The bankruptcy judge approved FS’s request, stating that he would have approved the original request had he known that the farm would be sold. The district court remanded, stating that marshaling is proper only if two funds exist simultaneously. One fund (equipment and crop proceeds) is gone, only the land sale fund still exists. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction; the remand was not a final order. View "Ferguson v. West Central FS, Inc." on Justia Law

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The creditors of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy debtor filed an adversary complaint, arguing that assets held by the debtor’s wife and business (defendants) rightfully belonged to the estate under 11 U.S.C. 542(a). The bankruptcy court recommended, and the district court granted, judgment on the pleadings, saying that the defendants were alter egos of the debtor and the corporate veils should be pierced and the assets “brought into the Debtor’s bankruptcy estate.” Three weeks later, the defendants, having failed to timely appeal the bankruptcy court’s turnover order, appealed the district court’s order remanding the case to the bankruptcy court to implement the district court’s ruling requiring that the defendants’ assets be turned over to the debtor’s estate. The defendants cited 28 U.S.C. 157(c)(1), arguing that the turnover claim was not a “core proceeding,” so only the district court could enter a final order resolving the claim. The Seventh Circuit dismissed their appeal. Core proceedings involve bankruptcy law; non‐core proceedings are proceedings that relate to a bankruptcy but arise under some other body of law. The turnover of the defendants’ assets to the debtor’s estate and their liquidation for the benefit of the defendants is a core proceeding; the limitations on the bankruptcy court’s authority are irrelevant. View "Gemini Int'l, Inc. v. BCL-Burr Ridge, LLC" on Justia Law

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In each of three cases, a debtor filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, represented by counsel. During the bankruptcy proceedings, a debt collector submitted a proof of claim for a “stale” debt, for which the statute of limitations had expired. As required by Bankruptcy Rule 3001, the proof of claim filed by the debt collector accurately noted the origin of the debt, the date of the last payment, and the date of the last transaction. Each debtor objected to the claim; each was disallowed and eventually discharged. Each debtor brought a separate suit against the debt collector, alleging that the act of filing a proof of claim on a time‐barred debt constituted a false, deceptive, misleading, unfair, or unconscionable means of collecting a debt in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the cases. The debt collectors’ conduct was not deceptive or misleading. The information contained in the proof of claim was not misleading, but set forth accurate and complete information about the status of the debts. View "Owens v. LVNV Funding, LLC" on Justia Law