Justia Bankruptcy Opinion Summaries

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In 2005, revelations surfaced that Body Armor—a publicly-traded company—was manufacturing its body armor, which it sold to law enforcement agencies and the U.S. military, using substandard materials. Its stock price plummeted, prompting shareholders to bring numerous actions that were consolidated into a shareholders’ class action and a derivative action on behalf of Body Armor against specified officers and directors. Since then, the matter has traveled, through bankruptcy, trial, and appellate courts throughout three U.S. jurisdictions. In its second review of the case, the Third Circuit affirmed a 2015 Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware order, approving a settlement entered in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case of S.S. Body Armor I. The court reversed in part the Bankruptcy Court’s order that granted the objector fees on a contingent basis and remanded for a determination of the appropriate amount of the fee award. The court affirmed the part of that order that denied the objector’s claim to attorneys’ fees and expenses under the Bankruptcy Code and an order awarding fees to counsel in one of the underlying lawsuits. View "In re: SS Body Armor I Inc." on Justia Law

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The language of 11 U.S.C. 365(p)(1) is crystal clear: "If a lease of personal property is rejected or not timely assumed by the trustee . . . the leased property is no longer property of the estate." The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision upholding the bankruptcy court's denial of Microf's claim for administrative-expense priority. Where, as here, it is undisputed that the trustee did not assume the Microf lease, section 365(p)(1) means that the Microf lease dropped out of the bankruptcy estate upon confirmation of debtor's Chapter 13 plan. Because Microf has not otherwise shown that the lease confers a benefit on the estate, the court held that its claim of administrative-expense priority was properly denied. View "Microf LLC v. Cumbess" on Justia Law

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Davis sought relief under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. She had fewer than $39,000 in assets but more than $200,000 in debt--more than $189,000 was unsecured. Chapter 13 allows Davis to satisfy her unsecured debts by paying all her disposable income to her unsecured creditors during a 60-month period, 11 U.S.C. 1325(b)(1)(B). Davis proposed to pay her unsecured creditors a total of $19,380—60 monthly payments of $323. To obtain court approval, her plan needed to provide for payment of all her “projected disposable income” to her unsecured creditors. Although she reported gross monthly income of $5,627, Davis claimed $5,304 in allowable monthly expenses, including a $220.66 monthly 401(k) retirement contribution withheld from her monthly wages. The bankruptcy court concluded that wages withheld as voluntary 401(k) contributions are considered disposable income, even if the debtor began making those contributions before bankruptcy. Davis filed an amended bankruptcy plan that would pay her unsecured creditors $519 each month. The bankruptcy court confirmed the amended plan over Davis’s objection. The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded. The statutory text excludes voluntary retirement contributions from disposable income View "In re: Davis" on Justia Law

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A bankruptcy court may not void a lien under 11 U.S.C. 506(d) when a claim relating to the lien is disallowed because the creditor who filed the proof of claim did not prove that it was the person entitled to enforce the debt the lien secures. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy appellate panel's opinion reversing the bankruptcy court's summary judgment for the Chapter 13 debtor in the debtor's adversary proceeding seeking a declaration that a lien securing a disallowed claim was void. Because debtor conceded that if the panel affirmed the BAP on this issue, then the order reversing the fee award should also be affirmed. Therefore, the panel affirmed the BAP's decision to reverse the fee award. View "Lane v. The Bank of New York Mellon" on Justia Law

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The court-appointed receiver filed suit against JPMC, seeking to recover funds that were fraudulently diverted from the Receivership Entities' bank accounts in connection with a Ponzi scheme. The complaint sought to avoid the fraudulent transfers and recover the diverted funds on behalf of the Receivership Entities under the Florida Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (FUFTA), and to collect damages from JPMC for JPMC's alleged aiding and abetting of three torts: breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, and fraud. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, holding that the receiver failed to state a claim under FUFTA because he failed to allege an applicable conveyance or fraudulent transfer. The court also held that the receiver lacked standing to assert, on behalf of the Receivership Entities, claims against JPMC for allegedly aiding and abetting the Ponzi schemers' breach of fiduciary duties, conversion, and fraud. Finally, the court noted that the district court did not abuse its discretion in staying discovery pending resolution of JPMC's motion to dismiss. View "Isaiah v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Appellant Tom Connolly, the trustee for the Chapter 7 case of Appellee Samuel Morreale, sought compensation based upon moneys disbursed in Morreale’s Chapter 7 case and in a related Chapter 11 case. Morreale owned the sole membership interest in Morreale Hotels, LLC (Hotels LLC), which in turn owned two properties in Denver, Colorado. Morreale also acted as Hotels LLC’s manager and personally guaranteed certain loans that Hotels LLC obtained on the properties it owned. In 2012, Hotels LLC filed a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and pursued reorganization. In 2013, Morreale filed his own Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, which the bankruptcy court later converted to Chapter 7. The U.S. Trustee appointed Connolly as the Chapter 7 trustee in the Chapter 7 Case. As trustee, Connolly assumed Morreale’s membership interest in Hotels LLC. Exercising that interest, Connolly appointed himself the new manager of Hotels LLC, thereby replacing Morreale. The bankruptcy court approved this replacement. Connolly abandoned reorganization of Hotels LLC and decided instead to liquidate Hotels LLC’s properties. In his application for compensation, Connolly sought $260,000, an amount based on the moneys disbursed in both the Chapter 7 Case and to creditors who also held claims in the Chapter 11 Case. The bankruptcy court and the Tenth Circuit’s bankruptcy appellate panel (the BAP) both rejected Connolly’s request, concluding that the language of 11 U.S.C. section 326(a) did not support it. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the plain language of section 326(a) permitted awarding compensation to a Chapter 7 trustee based only on moneys disbursed in the case in which that trustee served, and not on moneys disbursed in a related Chapter 11 case in which the trustee did not serve. View "Connolly v. Morreale" on Justia Law

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The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed the bankruptcy court's orders granting the trustee's second motion to compromise controversy, denying an agreed motion to seal, and denying debtor's motion to seal. The orders relate to the trustee's settlement of debtor's sexual assault claim against the Marianist Province. The panel held that the bankruptcy court did not err by determining that debtor's sexual assault claim was part of debtor's Missouri bankruptcy estate, because the bankruptcy estate was the entity that held the contingent reversionary interest in the claim. The panel also held that the bankruptcy court did not err in approving a proposed settlement, and that the bankruptcy court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motions to seal. View "Boisaubin v. Blackwell" on Justia Law

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Under the federal tax offset program, the Secretary of the Treasury has the discretion to set-off "any" tax overpayment against a taxpayer's preexisting tax liabilities, and the bankruptcy code provides that exempt property cannot be used to satisfy "any" of the bankruptcy debtor's prepetition debts. At issue was which of these statutory directives controls when a bankruptcy debtor claims, as exempt property, a tax overpayment that the government seeks to set-off under the offset program. The Fourth Circuit agreed that debtors' interest in their tax overpayment became part of the bankruptcy estate. However, based on the plain language of the various statutes, particularly the plain language of 11 U.S.C. 553(a), the court held that the government's right to offset the debtors' tax overpayment under 26 U.S.C. 6402(a) cannot be subordinated or otherwise affected by debtors' attempts to claim the overpayment as exempt property. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's judgment, remanding for further proceedings. View "Copley v. United States" on Justia Law

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Pentagon Federal Credit Union ("PenFed") appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of Susan McMahan. McMahan and her husband purchased property in Loxley, Alabama in 2005. The purchase mortgage was provided by Wells Fargo bank, and a second mortgage was granted in favor of PenFed. In pertinent part, the PenFed mortgage stated "At no time shall this mortgage, not including sums advanced to protect the security of this mortgage, exceed $55,000.00. ... [PenFed] shall be subrogated to the rights of the holder of any previous lien, security interest, or encumbrance discharged with funds advanced by [PenFed] regardless of whether these liens, security interests or other encumbrances have been released of record." In 2014, the McMahans filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, listing both the Wells Fargo and PenFed mortgages. Both Wells Fargo and PenFed ultimately foreclosed on the mortgages. The McMahans' bankruptcy case was dismissed in late 2015. The Wells Fargo debt/lien and the PenFed debt were not discharged in the bankruptcy proceedings. PenFed filed suit against Wells Fargo to quiet title as the first lien holder to the McMahan property by virtue of the PenFed mortgage, the foreclosure deed, and the erroneous legal description in the Wells Fargo mortgage. PenFed did not notify or make McMahan a party to that lawsuit. That lawsuit was never tried to conclusion but was settled, and PenFed paid Wells Fargo $91,256.54 to satisfy the [Wells Fargo] note and in exchange for a cancellation and release of the Wells Fargo mortgage. PenFed did not acquire the right to enforce the Wells Fargo note and/or mortgage. Within one year of the foreclosure, PenFed sold the property, leaving the McMahans with a deficiency balance of $14,433.41. PenFed's calculation of the post-foreclosure-sale surplus proceeds excluded the $91,256.54 that PenFed paid to Wells Fargo to satisfy the Wells Fargo note and cancel the Wells Fargo mortgage. In 2018, McMahan sued PenFed, alleging PenFed's sale of the property to third-party purchasers created excess proceeds greater than what PenFed was entitled to received under the original note. The circuit court concluded PenFed could not exclude the surplus proceeds it paid to Wells Fargo to settle the Wells Fargo mortgage. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred in characterizing the doctrine of unjust enrichment as an affirmative defense. Accordingly, PenFed did not waive the defense of unjust enrichment by failing to plead it in its responsive pleadings. Instead, PenFed raised the argument to the circuit court at trial and in its trial brief; the argument was properly before the circuit court. Judgment was reversed for further consideration of the merits of PenFed's unjust-enrichment argument. View "Pentagon Federal Credit Union v. McMahan" on Justia Law

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After Peabody was reorganized, three California municipalities filed suit against Peabody and more than thirty other energy companies for their alleged contributions to global warming. The bankruptcy court enjoined the municipalities from pursuing their claims against Peabody. The district court affirmed. The Eighth Circuit affirmed and held that all the claims in the complaint are directed at Peabody's pre-bankruptcy conduct and are barred. The court rejected the municipalities' claim that the Environmental Law provision exempted their claims from discharge. The court held that their common-law claims against Peabody are "state or local equivalents" of "statutes, regulations and ordinances concerning pollution," holding that the bankruptcy court reasonably concluded that when the definition of Environmental Law mentioned state or local equivalents, it was talking about equivalents to the ten federal statutes listed, not equivalents to statutes, regulations and ordinances concerning pollution. Furthermore, the municipalities have not demonstrated that their common law claims are equivalent to the listed federal statutes. The court also rejected a second provision that the municipalities rely on for the survival of their claims, which exempts from discharge a governmental claim brought "under any . . . applicable police or regulatory law." The court disagreed with the municipalities' contention that, since their representative public-nuisance claim entitles them only to the equitable remedy of abatement, it is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. View "County of San Mateo v. Peabody Energy Corporation" on Justia Law