Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Bankruptcy
Wheeler Financial, Inc. v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A.
JPMorgan loaned the debtors $1.3 million on the security of a Cook County restaurant. After the debtors stopped paying real estate taxes, Wheeler paid on their behalf and received the right to a tax deed once a redemption period expired. JPMorgan did not pay the taxes or redeem from Wheeler. The debtors filed a bankruptcy petition. They listed some tax debts but did not identify Cook County or Wheeler as creditors. Neither was served with notice or a summons. JPMorgan knew about the unpaid taxes but failed to ensure that the County or Wheeler was served. The bankruptcy judge approved a plan of reorganization. The debtors did not pay; Wheeler got the judge to lift the automatic stay in order to get a tax deed. A state judge issued the requested deed. The federal district court held that the stay should have been left in place because the confirmed plan superseded Wheeler’s unpaid lien. On remand, the bankruptcy court declared the tax deed “void” and approved a revised plan of reorganization, calling for JPMorgan to pay Wheeler $65,000.In a second appeal, the district court concluded that the order approving the revised plan and knocking out Wheeler’s lien was valid. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wheeler is a party, the plan has been confirmed, and Wheeler has bypassed its principal opportunities to contest the plan. View "Wheeler Financial, Inc. v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A." on Justia Law
Posted in: Bankruptcy
City of Chicago v. Mance
Outstanding debt for Chicago traffic tickets surpassed $1.8 billion last year. Under a 2016 Chicago ordinance, when a driver incurs the needed number of outstanding tickets and final liability determinations, Chicago is authorized to impound her vehicle and to attach a possessory lien. Many drivers cannot afford to pay their outstanding tickets and fees, let alone the liens imposed on their cars through this process. Mance incurred several unpaid parking tickets; her car was impounded and subject to a possessory lien of $12,245, more than four times her car’s value. With a monthly income of $197 in food stamps, Mance filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and sought to avoid the lien under 11 U.S.C 522(f). When a vehicle owner files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, she can avoid a lien under 522(f) if the lien qualifies as judicial and its value exceeds the value of her exempt property (the car). If the lien is statutory, it is not avoidable under the same provision.The bankruptcy and district courts and the Seventh Circuit concluded that the lien was judicial and avoidable. The lien was tied inextricably to the prior adjudications of Mance’s parking and other infractions, so it did not arise solely by statute, as the Bankruptcy Code requires for a statutory lien. View "City of Chicago v. Mance" on Justia Law
Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. v. Country Visions Cooperative
In 2007, Olsen granted Country Visions a 10-year right of first refusal on Wisconsin land. The right was recorded in local property records. Olsen subsequently dissolved and, in 2010, its former partners filed for bankruptcy. Country Visions was not notified and was not listed in the bankruptcy proceedings. Under an agreed plan, ADM became the owner of the Wisconsin land. Country Visions was not given an opportunity to exercise its right of first refusal. In 2015, ADM arranged to resell the property. Country Vision sought compensation in state court.ADM asked the bankruptcy court to enforce the “free and clear” sale and prohibit the state court litigation, citing 11 U.S.C. 363(m). The bankruptcy court and district court denied ADM’s request. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Good-faith purchasers are protected by section 363(m) but ADM was not a good-faith purchaser and must defend the state court litigation. ADM had actual notice of the right, in a title report, but did not notify the bankruptcy court; as a non-party, Country Visions could not be expected to appeal the order approving the sale. View "Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. v. Country Visions Cooperative" on Justia Law
Harshaw v. Harshaw
Anne and Donald divorced in 1996 after 25 years of marriage. They later reconciled but did not re‐marry, then separated again. Because divorce laws no longer applied, Anne sued Donald in Indiana state court under equitable theories to seek redress for her contributions to the relationship during their second period together. They agreed to binding arbitration. The arbitrator awarded Anne $435,000, half the increase in value of Donald’s retirement savings during their unmarried cohabitation. Donald declared bankruptcy and sought to discharge the arbitrator’s award as a money judgment. Anne argued that the arbitrator had awarded her an interest in specific property so that the award could not be discharged in Donald’s bankruptcy.The bankruptcy court sided with Anne. The district court reversed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, in favor of Donald. Anne was awarded a money judgment, not a property interest. The award does not identify a required source of funds or manner of payment but only lists options for satisfying the obligation. The payment of cash would suffice; the award provided for post-judgment interest. The arbitrator’s award said that “this judgment should not be dischargeable in bankruptcy” but that language is not controlling. View "Harshaw v. Harshaw" on Justia Law
Osicka v. Office of Lawyer Regulation
The Seventh Circuit upheld the bankruptcy court's ruling that the costs of plaintiff's attorney disciplinary proceedings imposed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court were not dischargeable under a provision of the Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(7). The court explained that, although there are several types of proceedings in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court may order costs, see Wis. S.C.R. 22.24(1), attorney discipline uniquely requires a "finding of misconduct" as a precondition for doing so. The court stated that the structure of Rule 22.24(1m) unambiguously singles out attorney discipline as a penal endeavor, and that conclusion has a statutory consequence under section 523(a)(7). Furthermore, the cost order amounts to compensation for actual pecuniary loss under section 523(a)(7). Finally, the court's conclusion that plaintiff's disciplinary costs are nondischaregable under section 523(a)(7) finds firm support in Supreme Court precedent and the court's own case law. View "Osicka v. Office of Lawyer Regulation" on Justia Law
Persinger v. Southwest Credit Systems, L.P.
In 2017, a bankruptcy court discharged Persinger’s debts, under 11 U.S.C. 727. A few months later, Southwest Credit began collection efforts on a pre‐petition debt of Persinger’s, including by acquiring a type of credit information called her “propensity‐to‐pay score.” Alleging that this information had been secured without a permissible purpose, Persinger sued Southwest under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681.The district court granted Southwest summary judgment, holding that Southwest’s compliance procedures were reasonable and met FCRA’s requirements. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first holding that Persinger has standing to sue. Southwest invaded her privacy when it reviewed her credit information but no reasonable juror could conclude that the inquiry into Persinger’s propensity‐to‐pay score resulted in actual damages. If a plaintiff cannot prove actual damages, she may still recover statutory or punitive damages by proving that the defendant willfully violated FCRA. Viewed as a whole, Southwest’s procedures for handling bankruptcy notifications and for ordering bankruptcy scrubs from LexisNexis were reasonable compliance efforts, not willful violations of the FCRA. At the time Southwest ordered the credit score, it was unaware that the debt at issue had been discharged. View "Persinger v. Southwest Credit Systems, L.P." on Justia Law
Davis v. CitiMortgage, Inc.
The Davises took out a mortgage on their residence in 2005. After they defaulted on the loan and filed for bankruptcy, Jerome Davis, a licensed attorney who represented himself, received a bankruptcy discharge. The bankruptcy court later held that the discharge did not extend to the debt Davis owed CitiMortgage. Rather than appeal, Davis first attempted to remove CitiMortgage’s foreclosure action to federal court, alleging that CitiMortgage’s efforts to obtain a personal deficiency judgment contravened his bankruptcy discharge. He then filed a separate suit alleging unfair debt collection practices against CitiMortgage. Davis lost in each of those proceedings. CitiMortgage was awarded attorney fees and costs, 28 U.S.C. 1447(c) when the court remanded the foreclosure proceeding for lack of federal question jurisdiction.The Seventh Circuit dismissed Davis’s appeal, stating that it lacked jurisdiction to review the remand order. Davis waived his arguments challenging the attorney fees and costs award. The court upheld the dismissal of Davis’s suit against CitiMortgage; all of Davis’s claims center on his contention that the debt owed CitiMortgage was subject to his 2018 discharge. The court took judicial notice that the bankruptcy court had held the opposite in Davis’s adversary proceeding. View "Davis v. CitiMortgage, Inc." on Justia Law
Dimas v. Stergiadis
Stergiadis, Dimas, and Theo formed 1600 South LLC, executed an operating agreement, purchased land on which to build a fruit market, and began construction. The 2008 recession stopped construction and eventually led to the LLC’s 2009 dissolution. The partners disagreed about whether they impliedly agreed to equalize their capital contributions. The operating agreement provided that the three each held a one-third membership interest in the LLC; each member agreed to make an initial capital contribution on the date of execution but the amount was left blank. In 2008 Stergiadis sued Dimas in state court seeking to equalize the capital contributions. Dimas filed for bankruptcy, triggering the automatic stay. Dimas ultimately filed seven such petitions and received a discharge in 2016. The U.S. Trustee moved to reopen the bankruptcy to recover the value of an undisclosed property. The bankruptcy court agreed. Stergiadis filed a proof of claim in Dimas’s reopened bankruptcy seeking the same amount he was seeking in state court. The partners disputed the amounts of their respective contributions.The bankruptcy court allowed Stergiadis’s claim, awarding $618,974, finding that the members had an implied equalization agreement. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the LLC’s operating agreement precluded an implied equalization contract. The bankruptcy court properly relied on extrinsic evidence in finding such a contract. View "Dimas v. Stergiadis" on Justia Law
Sandton Rail Company LLC v. San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad, Inc.
Big Shoulders sued the railroads (SLRG), with federal jurisdiction ostensibly based on diversity of citizenship, and requested that the district court appoint a receiver to handle SLRG’s assets. That court did so, which brought the case to the attention of several creditors. One of them, Sandton, intervened and challenged the appointment of the receiver and the district court’s jurisdiction. Sandton alleged that Big Shoulders failed to join necessary parties who, if added, would destroy diversity of citizenship. Meanwhile, other creditors (Petitioning Creditors) filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition on behalf of SLRG in federal bankruptcy court in Colorado. The receiver objected. Because the judicially approved receivership agreement contained an anti-litigation injunction, the district court initially concluded that the bankruptcy petition was void. On reconsideration, however, the district court determined that it did not have the authority to enjoin the bankruptcy. The bankruptcy continued. After Big Shoulders refused to continue to fund the receivership, the district court approved its termination.The Seventh Circuit consolidated several appeals, each of which involved questions of standing or mootness. The court concluded that those justiciability questions required the dismissal of all but Sandton’s appeal. As for Sandton’s argument that diversity jurisdiction is lacking, the court remanded to the district court for an application in the first instance of the “nerve center test” to determine if SLRG and Mt. Hood are citizens of Illinois. View "Sandton Rail Company LLC v. San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad, Inc." on Justia Law
Halperin v. Richards
While Appvion was in financial distress, 2012-2016, the defendants allegedly fraudulently inflated stock valuations to enrich the directors and officers, whose pay was tied to the valuations of its ERISA-covered Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). They allegedly carried out this scheme with knowing aid from the ESOP trustee, Argent, and its independent appraiser, Stout. Appvion directors allegedly provided unlawful dividends to its parent company by forgiving intercompany notes. Appvion filed for bankruptcy protection. Appvion’s bankruptcy creditors were given authority to pursue certain corporation-law claims on behalf of Appvion to recover losses from the defendants’ alleged wrongs against the corporation; they brought state law claims against the directors and officers for breaching their corporate fiduciary duties; alleged that Argent and Stout aided and abetted those breaches, and asserted state-law unlawful dividend claims. The defendants argued that their roles in Appvion’s ESOP valuations were governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which preempted state corporation-law liability and that, despite their dual roles as corporate and ERISA fiduciaries, they acted exclusively under ERISA when carrying out ESOP activities, 29 U.S.C. 1002(21)(A). The district court agreed and dismissed.The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. ERISA does not preempt the claims against directors and officers. ERISA expressly contemplates parallel corporate liability against those who serve dual roles as both corporate and ERISA fiduciaries. ERISA preempts the claims against Argent and Stout. Corporation-law aiding and abetting liability against these defendants would interfere with the cornerstone of ERISA’s fiduciary duties—Section 404's exclusive benefit rule. View "Halperin v. Richards" on Justia Law