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

Articles Posted in Bankruptcy
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The Hazeltons sought sanctions against the University for collecting an educational debt after their debts were discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The district court reversed a bankruptcy court holding that the debt was nondischargeable and remanded. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal, citing its jurisdiction in bankruptcy cases under 28 U.S.C. 158(d)(1), which is limited to orders that resolve “discrete disputes” within the bankruptcy case. The district court did not resolve the dispute regarding sanctions but decided a subsidiary legal issue. View "Hazelton v. Board of Regents for the University of Wisconsin System" on Justia Law

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In 2011 Wells Fargo entered into a loan and security agreement with hhgregg to provide the retailer with operating credit. Wells Fargo had a perfected first-priority, floating lien on nearly all of hhgregg’s assets. In 2017, hhgregg petitioned for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, owing Wells Fargo $66 million. Wells Fargo agreed to provide debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing in return for a priming, first-priority security interest on substantially all of hhgregg’s assets, including existing and after-acquired inventory and its proceeds. The bankruptcy judge approved the DIP financing agreement and the super-priority security interest. Whirlpool had long delivered home appliances to hhgregg on credit for resale. Three days after the approval of the DIP financing, Whirlpool sent a reclamation demand seeking the return of $16.3 million of unpaid inventory delivered during 45 days before the petition date and filed an adversary complaint, seeking a declaration that its reclamation claim was first in priority as to the reclaimed goods. Reorganization proved unsuccessful. The bankruptcy judge authorized hhgregg to sell its inventory—including the Whirlpool goods—in going-out-of-business sales and entered summary judgment for Wells Fargo. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Reclamation is a limited remedy that permits a seller to recover possession of goods delivered to an insolvent purchaser, subject to significant restrictions, 11 U.S.C. 546(c). A seller’s right to reclaim goods is “subject to the prior rights of a holder of a security interest in such goods or the proceeds thereof.” Whirlpool’s later-in-time reclamation demand is “subject to” Wells Fargo’s prior rights as a secured creditor; its reclamation claim is subordinate to the DIP financing lien. View "Whirlpool Corp. v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Burciaga lost his job and filed for bankruptcy a week later. On the date the bankruptcy proceeding began, Burciaga’s former employer owed him approximately $24,000 for unused vacation time. Illinois treats vacation pay as a form of wages. Exemptions for debtors in Illinois rest on state law, 11 U.S.C. 522(b)(2). Burciaga asked the district court to treat 85% of the vacation pay as exempt from creditors’ claims. Illinois permits creditors to reach 15% of unpaid wages but forbids debt collection from the rest. The Chapter 7 Trustee, objected. The bankruptcy judge and district court sided with the Trustee. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding nothing ambiguous about Illinois law or section 522(b)(2) and (3)(A); 85% of unpaid wages are exempt from creditors’ claims in Illinois, and vacation pay is a form of wages. View "Burciaga v. Moglia" on Justia Law

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Trumpf, the U.S. subsidiary of an international business, hired Lynch to handle Trumpf’s appearance at a Chicago trade show. Lynch subcontracted with CSI for some of the services. CSI claims that it told Trumpf that it was unsure of Lynch’s reliability and that Trumpf agreed to pay CSI directly or guarantee the payment. There was no written agreement between Trumpf and CSI. Lynch did not pay CSI, which claimed $530,000 in Lynch’s ensuing bankruptcy. CSI also sued Trumpf, asserting promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment. The district court dismissed, reasoning that CSI was estopped, as a result of its bankruptcy claim, from suing Trumpf. The Seventh Circuit reversed, reasoning that Lynch has not prevailed on that claim and that the claim is not inconsistent with Trumpf guaranteeing payment. Filing a claim in bankruptcy does not foreclose claims against non-bankrupt obligors, 11 U.S.C. 524(e). View "CSI Worldwide, LLC v. Trumpf, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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Around 2009, Saccameno defaulted on her mortgage. U.S. Bank began foreclosure proceedings. She began a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan under which she was to cure her default over 42 months while maintaining her monthly mortgage payments, 11 U.S.C. 1322(b)(5). In 2011, Ocwen acquired her previous servicer. Ocwen, inexplicably, informed her that she owed $16,000 immediately. Saccameno continued making payments based on her plan. Her statements continued to fluctuate. In 2013, the bankruptcy court issued a notice that Saccameno had completed her payments. Ocwen never responded; the court entered a discharge order. Within days an Ocwen employee mistakenly treated the discharge as a dismissal and reactivated the foreclosure. For about twp years, Saccameno and her attorney faxed her documents many times and spoke to many Ocwen employees. The foreclosure protocol remained open. Ocewen eventually began rejecting her payments. Saccameno sued, citing breach of contract; the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act; the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act; and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (ICFDBPA), citing consent decrees that Ocwen previously had entered with regulatory bodies, concerning inadequate recordkeeping, misapplication of payments, and poor customer service. The jury awarded $500,000 for the breach of contract, FDCPA, and RESPA claims, plus, under ICFDBPA, $12,000 in economic, $70,000 in non-economic, and $3,000,000 in punitive damages. The Seventh Circuit remanded. While the jury was within its rights to punish Ocwen, the amount of the award is excessive. View "Saccameno v. U.S. Bank National Association" on Justia Law

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In a previous appeal, the Seventh Circuit held that the confirmation of a Chapter 13 payment plan causes the debtor’s assets, including automobiles, to revert to the debtor’s personal ownership unless the judge has made a debtor-specific finding under 11 U.S.C.1327(b). After bankruptcy judges confirmed their Chapter 13 payment plans, the debtors used their cars in ways that led to fines for running red lights, illegal parking, and similar offenses. They refused to pay, observing that the confirmed plans do not require them to pay fines (as opposed to other expenses). Chicago argued that the fines were administrative expenses of the estates in bankruptcy, as long as the vehicles remain assets of the estates, and entitled to priority payment, 11 U.S.C. 507(a)(2). On rehearing, the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of the city, holding that automotive fines incurred by estates during confirmed Chapter 13 payment plans should be treated as administrative expenses that must be paid promptly and in full. The question is whether operating a vehicle is necessary to earn the money needed to perform the Chapter 13 plan. The debtors insisted that cars are essential. View "City of Chicago v. Marshall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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The Bushes owed $100,000 in taxes. The IRS sought a 75% fraud penalty (26 U.S.C. 6663(a)); the Bushes proposed a 20% negligence penalty (section 6662(a)). On the date set for Tax Court trial, the Bushes filed for bankruptcy. The automatic stay prevented the Tax Court from proceeding. The government filed a proof of claim, proposing that the tax debt be given priority over other unsecured debts and that the penalty was nondischargeable. The Bushes initiated an adversary proceeding, asking for a 20% penalty, citing 11 U.S.C. 505(a)(1), which states that the court may determine the amount or legality of any tax, any fine or penalty relating to a tax ... whether or not contested before … [an] administrative tribunal. The IRS argued that section 505 does not grant subject-matter jurisdiction to bankruptcy judges and that only a potential effect on creditors’ distributions justifies a decision by a bankruptcy judge about any tax dispute. The Seventh Circuit held that a bankruptcy court can determine the amount of a debtor’s tax obligations. Section 505 does not address jurisdiction bu simply sets out a task for bankruptcy judges. Whether the judge should exercise that authority to determine tax liability is a distinct question. The bankruptcy is apparently done; the estate’s available assets have been used to pay debts and the stay has expired. This residual dispute should not remain with the bankruptcy judge but should be left to the Tax Court. View "Bush v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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The debtor obtained a commercial loan from Bank. The agreement dated March 9, 2015, granted Bank a security interest in substantially all of the debtor’s assets, described in 26 categories of collateral, such as accounts, cash, equipment, instruments, goods, inventory, and all proceeds of any assets. Bank filed a financing statement with the Illinois Secretary of State, to cover “[a]ll Collateral described in First Amended and Restated Security Agreement dated March 9, 2015.” Two years later, the debtor defaulted and filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. Bank sought to recover $7.6 million on the loan and filed a declaration that its security interest was properly perfected and senior to the interests of all other claimants. The trustee countered that the security interest was not properly perfected because its financing statement did not independently describe the underlying collateral, but instead incorporated the list of assets by reference, and cited 11 U.S.C. 544(a), which empowers a trustee to avoid interests in the debtor’s property that are unperfected as of the petition date. The bankruptcy court ruled that ”[a] financing statement that fails to contain any description of collateral fails to give the particularized kind of notice” required by UCC Article 9. The trustee sold the assets for $1.9 million and holds the proceeds pending resolution of this dispute. The Seventh Circuit reversed, citing the plain and ordinary meaning of the Illinois UCC statute, and how courts typically treat financing statements. View "First Midwest Bank v. Reinbold" on Justia Law

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After a creditor in a closed Chapter 7 bankruptcy case tried for a third time to bring a price-fixing claim against BMS, the district court granted BMS's motion to dismiss. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the creditor did not participate in the market for bankruptcy software services in any way that would make it a proper plaintiff to bring an antitrust claim against a firm that provides those services to bankruptcy trustees. Therefore, the creditor's injury was entirely derivative of the estate's injury and merely derivative injuries sustained by creditors of an injured company did not constitute antitrust injury sufficient to confer antitrust standing. View "McGarry & McGarry, LLC v. Bankruptcy Management Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law

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Sterling owed Southlake Health Club outstanding fees ($250). In 2001, Southlake's counsel, Austgen, instituted a state court collection action. A federal bankruptcy court discharged Sterling’s debt to Southlake in 2010. Although Sterling notified Southlake of the discharge, no one notified Austgen or the Indiana court. Sterling failed to appear in the state-court collection proceedings; that court issued a warrant for her arrest. A year later, Sterling was arrested and jailed for two days. Southlake and Austgen dropped pursuit of the debt. Sterling instituted adversary proceedings in bankruptcy court, seeking to have Southlake and Austgen held in contempt for continuing to collect a debt that had been discharged, 11 U.S.C. 524. The bankruptcy court and the district court ruled against Sterling. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part; Austgen’s lack of knowledge of the discharge prevents it from being held in contempt. Southlake, however, must be held liable for the actions taken by counsel on its behalf. Southlake, a sophisticated party, had knowledge of the discharge yet turned a blind eye to the progress of Sterling’s case. Holding otherwise “would create a loophole in the law through which creditors could avoid liability simply by remaining ignorant of their agents’ actions or by failing to notify their agents of debtors’ bankruptcy proceedings.” View "In re: Sterling" on Justia Law