Articles Posted in Bankruptcy

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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

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In 2003, Valley View and, Bedford Downs, wanted to operate “racinos,” combination horse tracks and casinos. Each would need the last harness-racing license available in Pennsylvania to do so. Valley View agreed to acquire Bedford for $55 million, with Citizens Bank acting as escrow agent. Valley View borrowed money from Credit Suisse. Valley View then obtained the harness-racing license, but failed to secure the needed gambling license and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Trustee sued Merit, a 30% shareholder in Bedford, alleging that Bedford’s transfer to Valley View was avoidable under 11 U.S.C. 544, 548(a)(1)(b), and 550, and the money was properly part of the bankruptcy estate. Merit maintained that the transfer was protected under the safe harbor, 11 U.S.C. 546(e), which protects transfers that are “margin payment[s]” or “settlement payment[s]” “made by or to (or for the benefit of)” certain entities including commodity brokers, securities clearing agencies, and “financial institutions” and transfers “made by or to (or for the benefit of)” the same types of entities “in connection with a securities contract.” Merit relied on the involvement of Citizens Bank and Credit Suisse. The district court agreed with Merit. The Seventh Circuit reversed; section 546(e) does not protect transfers that are simply conducted through financial institutions (or the other section 546(e) entities), where the entity is neither the debtor nor the transferee but only the conduit. View "FTI Consulting, Inc. v. Merit Mgmt. Group, LP" on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Bankruptcy

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Wierzbicki owned a 40‐acre Wisconsin farm, where she lived for a time with her three minor children and their father, Griswold. In 2012 Wierzbicki gave Griswold a quitclaim deed to the farm. Fourteen months later she filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy trustee brought an adversary proceeding to avoid the transfer as fraudulent, alleging that Wierzbicki was insolvent at the time of the transfer and that she had not received reasonably equivalent value, 11 U.S.C. 548(a)(1)(B). Wierzbicki and Griswold had been engaged in state court litigation, 2009-2012. Although a state court had dismissed Griswold’s principal appeal, Wierzbicki claims that the quitclaim deed was given in exchange for an end to the litigation. Griswold accepted liability for about $149,000 in debt secured by the property. The bankruptcy judge avoided the transfer. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed. The fair market value of the farm was $300,000, so Wierzbicki had equity of approximately $151,000 at the time of the transfer. Griswold’s promise to cease his “meritless appeals” in exchange for that interest had no material value. The benefit of avoiding further family conflict was too “nebulous” to “support a finding of reasonable equivalence” in the bankruptcy context, View "Griswold v. Zeddun" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy

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The Koenigs filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in 2014, claiming exemptions under Wisconsin’s bankruptcy exemption statute for three annuities then worth a total of $292,185.97. The annuities had been purchased in the approximately 18 months before their bankruptcy petition. Wis. Stat. 815.18(3)(j) fully exempts retirement assets, including annuities, that meet certain requirements. Paragraph (3)(f) protects a broader category of annuities, but the exemption is limited to $150,000, except that the cap is just $4,000 for annuities issued less than 24 months before the debtor claims the exemption. The trustee argued that an annuity, to qualify for the exemption, must comply with 26 U.S.C. 401–09, which generally deal with tax‐deferred “qualified” retirement plans. The Koenigs argued that an annuity is exempt under section 815.18(3)(j) as long as the annuity qualifies for favorable tax treatment under 26 U.S.C. 72, which deals with annuities more generally. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the bankruptcy court, in favor of the Koenigs, stating that the key statutory text is ambiguous on the decisive point, and citing the statute’s structure and purpose, along with the legislature’s instruction to construe exemptions in favor of debtors, View "Wittman v. Koenig" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy

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GT owed its bank, Comerica, $7.8 million, secured by a lien on all of GT’s assets. GT filed for bankruptcy. Its assets were auctioned off. If the assets sold for more than $7.8 million, the excess would go to the estate. If the assets sold for less than $7.8 million, all of the purchase money would go to Comerica, which would have an unsecured claim for the difference. The successful bidder would take the assets free of Comerica’s lien. Arlington's $2.7 million bid was successful. The bankruptcy trustee believed that Arlington had colluded with GT insiders to keep the price down, and hired the Law Firms to pursue claims under 11 U.S.C. 363(n) to undo the sale or recover the difference. The trustee contended that GT’s assets had been worth $5 million. The GT insiders settled, but Arlington won at trial and was awarded costs. Arlington became a general unsecured creditor for about $5,000. The Law Firms asked the bankruptcy court to approve their fees. Arlington objected, contending that the Firms’ services had not been reasonably likely to benefit the estate, 11 U.S.C. 330(a)(4)(A)(ii)(I).), reasoning that the trustee did not allege that GT’s assets were worth more than $7.8 million. The bankruptcy court and district court agreed with the Law Firms and approved the fee petitions. The Seventh Circuit remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of standing. Arlington did not show that it stands to benefit if the fees are denied. View "Arlington Capital, LLC v. Bainton McCarthy, LLP" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy

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Stoller, the beneficiary of a trust that holds title to a house, assigned his beneficial interest to his daughter but reserved a “power of direction” with the right to obtain loans for himself, secured by the property. He directed the trust to rent out the property; he received the income. IStoller filed for bankruptcy. None of his filings mentioned the property. A question specifically asked about “all property owned by another person that [he] [held] or control[led].” Under penalty of perjury, he answered “none.” Stoller was charged with two counts of knowingly and fraudulently concealing property that belonged to a bankruptcy estate, 18 U.S.C. 152(1), and seven counts of knowingly and fraudulently making a false statement in a bankruptcy proceeding, 18 U.S.C. 152(3). Represented by an appointed lawyer, he pled guilty to one count of making a false statement; the government dismissed the remaining counts. Before sentencing, Stoller considered moving to withdraw his plea on the ground that he was not mentally competent. A new lawyer was appointed. Stoller was examined by a board‐certified neuropsychologist, who concluded that Stoller was competent to plead guilty. Stoller’s lawyer then unsuccessfully moved to withdraw the plea based on alleged defects in the plea colloquy. Stoller was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Stoller was competent to plead guilty, his plea was not coerced, the colloquy included most of the basics, and Stoller was not prejudiced by any deficiency. View "United States v. Stoller" on Justia Law

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In 2011, the bankruptcy court confirmed a Chapter 13 plan, under which the debtors were to pay $660 per month to the trustee for seven months, and then, for 53 months, $758 per month, later reduced to $670 per month. From these payments, the trustee would pay the claims of secured creditors and distribute approximately $22,000 to general unsecured creditors. In 2013, the trustee received the debtors’ 2012 income tax return, showing that their income had increased by $50,000. The trustee moved to modify the plan under 11 U.S.C. 1329, to increase the monthly payments to $1,416 per month for the 23 remaining months. The bankruptcy court denied the motion, stating that the Code did not allow modification of a Chapter 13 plan for the cited reasons, and that, even if the court had the power to modify the plan, the facts did not support the request. The district court upheld the bankruptcy court’s determination that it lacked authority to grant the motion. The Seventh Circuit vacated. While section 1329 does not explicitly identify the circumstances under which modification is appropriate and no Code provision expressly permits modification when a change in financial circumstances makes an increase affordable, it does not follow that modification in this circumstance is forbidden. View "Germeraad v. Powers" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy