Justia Bankruptcy Opinion Summaries

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Ritzen sued Jackson in Tennessee state court for breach of contract. Jackson filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Under 11 U.S.C. 362(a), filing a bankruptcy petition automatically “operates as a stay” of creditors’ debt-collection efforts outside the bankruptcy case. The Bankruptcy Court denied Ritzen’s motion for relief from the automatic stay. Ritzen did not appeal but filed a proof of claim, which was disallowed. Ritzen then challenged the denial of relief from the automatic stay. The district court rejected Ritzen’s appeal as untimely under 28 U.S.C. 158(c)(2) and Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 8002(a), which require appeals from a bankruptcy court order to be filed “within 14 days after entry of [that] order.” The Sixth Circuit and a unanimous Supreme Court affirmed. A bankruptcy court’s order unreservedly denying relief from the automatic stay constitutes a final, immediately appealable order under section 158(a). Adjudication of a creditor’s motion for relief from the stay is a discrete “proceeding” that disposes of a procedural unit anterior to, and separate from, claim-resolution proceedings. The order can have large practical consequences, including whether a creditor can isolate its claim from those of other creditors and proceed outside bankruptcy. Rather than disrupting the efficiency of the bankruptcy process, an immediate appeal may permit creditors to establish their rights expeditiously outside the bankruptcy process, affecting the relief awarded later in the bankruptcy case. View "Ritzen Group, Inc. v. Jackson Masonry, LLC" on Justia Law

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Attorney Boland was a technology expert for defendants charged with possessing child pornography. Boland started with innocuous online stock photographs of young girls (Doe and Roe) and manipulated the photographs on his computer to create images of the girls engaged in sex acts, to support arguments that it was possible the pornography his clients downloaded was also doctored. An Oklahoma federal prosecutor claimed that the exhibits were actionable. The judge told Boland to delete the images. Boland instead shipped his computer to Ohio and continued using the exhibits in court although 18 U.S.C. 2256(8)(C) defines “child pornography” as any image which is morphed to make it appear that a real minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct. Ohio federal prosecutors offered Boland pre-trial diversion in lieu of prosecution; Boland admitted he violated federal law. Federal prosecutors identified the girls and told their parents what Boland had done. They sued Boland under 18 U.S.C. 2255, which provides minimum damages of $150,000 to child pornography victims. They won a combined $300,000 judgment. Boland filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The Sixth Circuit reversed the discharge of the debt, citing 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(6). The debt arose from “willful and malicious injury by the debtor.” The court rejected Boland’s “implausible pleas of ignorance.” The act itself is the injury. Doe and Roe had to prove only that Boland knew he was dealing with child pornography and knew the girls' images depicted real minors. View "In re: Boland" on Justia Law

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HomeBanc, in the residential mortgage loan business, obtained financing from Bear Stearns under 2005 repurchase agreements and transferred multiple securities to Bear Stearns. In 2007 HomeBanc failed to repurchase the securities or pay for an extension of the due date. Bear Stearns issued a notice of default. HomeBanc filed voluntary bankruptcy petitions. Bear Stearns, claiming outright ownership of the securities, auctioned them to determine their fair market value. After the auction closed, Bear Stearns’s finance desk determined that Bear Stearns’s mortgage trading desk had won. Bear Stearns allocated the $60.5 million bid across 36 securities. HomeBanc believed itself entitled to the August 2007 principal and interest payments from the securities. HomeBanc claimed conversion, breach of contract, and violation of the automatic bankruptcy stay. Following multiple rounds of litigation, the district court found that Bear Stearns acted reasonably and in good faith. The Third Circuit affirmed. A bankruptcy court’s determination of good faith regarding an obligatory post-default valuation of collateral subject to a repurchase agreement receives mixed review. Factual findings are reviewed for clear-error while the ultimate issue of good faith receives plenary review. Bear Stearns liquidated the securities at issue in good faith compliance with the Repurchasing Agreement. Bear Stearns never claimed damages; 11 U.S.C. 101(47)(A)(v) “damages,” which may trigger the requirements of 11 U.S.C. 562, require a non-breaching party to bring a legal claim for damages. The broader safe harbor protections of 11 U.S.C. 559 were relevant. View "Wells Fargo, N.A. v. Bear Stearns & Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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In this adversary proceeding, the Fifth Circuit held that appellant received fraudulently transferred funds and had an obligation to return the transferred funds to debtor, the transferor, for the benefit of his creditors. The court explained that appellant could satisfy that obligation by transferring the funds back to him prior to his bankruptcy filing, and nothing required her to hold onto the funds until after he filed for bankruptcy. Furthermore, if appellant had satisfied her obligation, there was nothing left for the trustee to recover. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's judgment holding otherwise and remanded for further proceedings. View "Whitlock v. Lowe" on Justia Law

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Rumsey Land Company, LLC (“Rumsey”) owned a property subject to a first deed of trust held by Pueblo Bank & Trust Company, LLC (“PBT”). In 2010, Rumsey filed for bankruptcy. Resource Land Holdings, LLC (“RLH”) offered to purchase the property, but the bankruptcy court did not approve the sale. Shortly thereafter, PBT purchased the property at a bankruptcy auction. PBT then transferred the land to RLH. In 2015, Rumsey discovered that during the bankruptcy proceedings, RLH had entered a loan purchase agreement to purchase PBT’s interest in the property. The agreement eventually led to litigation in state court between RLH and PBT, which culminated with a settlement agreement allowing RLH to purchase Rumsey’s property from PBT for $4.75 million. Rumsey believed the loan agreement, lawsuit, and settlement influenced the price at its bankruptcy auction. It initiated this adversarial proceeding in bankruptcy court against RLH and PBT (collectively “Defendants”), alleging: (1) fraudulent concealment in violation of state law; and (2) collusive bidding activities in violation of 11 U.S.C. 363(n). The case was transferred to federal district court, which granted summary judgment to defendants on both claims. The Tenth Circuit affirmed finding: (1) Rumsey forfeited its arguments about PBT’s duty to disclose its transaction with RLH and did not argue plain error on appeal; and (2) in the section 363(n) collusive bidding claim, it was time-barred by a one-year limitations period in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(c)(1), and Rumsey failed to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material face as to whether Defendants intended to control the sale price at the bankruptcy auction. View "Rumsey Land Company v. Resource Land Holdings" on Justia Law

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Millennium provides laboratory-based diagnostic services. In 2014, it entered into a $1.825 billion credit agreement with several lenders, including Voya. Millennium refinanced existing financial obligations and paid a $1.3 billion special shareholders dividend. The U.S. Department of Justice, which had been investigating since 2012, then filed a False Claims Act complaint; Millennium’s Medicare billing privileges were revoked. Millennium agreed to pay the government entities $256 million to settle. Millennium lacked adequate liquidity to pay both its debt and the settlement and began working with the lenders, including Voya, to restructure its obligations. The lenders suggested that there were potential claims based on Millenium's lack of disclosure regarding the government’s investigation. Millennium, its equity holders, and the lenders, except Voya, entered into an agreement that required Millennium’s equity holders to transfer their equity interests to the lenders, including Voya. The equity holders were to “receive full releases.” Millennium filed a petition for bankruptcy with a “Prepackaged Joint Plan of Reorganization” that contained broad releases that would bind even non-consenting lenders. Voya objected, stating that it intended to assert claims for material misrepresentations in connection with the 2014 credit agreement against Millennium and Millennium’s equity holders and that the Bankruptcy Court lacked authority to approve the releases. The Bankruptcy Court overruled Voya’s objections and confirmed the plan. Voya filed suit, asserting RICO and other claims. The district court affirmed the Bankruptcy Court’s ruling on constitutional authority. The Third Circuit affirmed. On these facts, the Bankruptcy Court can, without running afoul of Article III of the Constitution, confirm a Chapter 11 reorganization plan containing nonconsensual third-party releases and injunctions. The releases and injunctions were “integral to the restructuring of the debtor-creditor relationship.” View "In re: Millennium Lab Holdings II LLC" on Justia Law

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The bankruptcy appellate panel affirmed the bankruptcy court's grant of debtor's motion to avoid a judicial lien. The panel upheld the bankruptcy court's determination that the value of the real estate at issue was fixed on the date that the petition was filed and thus the pre-restoration value of the property was the appropriate value to use in the avoidance analysis. The panel rejected the creditor's claims of unjust enrichment and laches. View "Waltrip v. Sawyers" on Justia Law

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Representatives of certain unsecured creditors of the Chapter 11 debtor Tribune Company appealed the district court's grant of a motion to dismiss their state law, constructive fraudulent conveyance claims brought against Tribune's former shareholders. The district court held that appellants lacked statutory standing under the Bankruptcy Code. The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of appellants' state law, constructive fraudulent conveyance claims on preemption grounds rather than standing grounds. The court held that appellants were not barred by the Bankruptcy Code's automatic stay provision from bringing claims while avoidance proceedings against the same transfers brought by a party exercising the powers of a bankruptcy trustee on an intentional fraud theory are ongoing, because appellants have been freed from its restrictions by orders of the bankruptcy court and by debtors' confirmed reorganization plan. However, the court held that appellants' claims were preempted by section 546(e) of the Bankruptcy Code, because this section shields certain transactions from a bankruptcy trustee's avoidance powers, including, inter alia, transfers by or to a financial institution in connection with a securities contract, except through an intentional fraudulent conveyance claim. View "In re: Tribune Company Fraudulent Conveyance Litigation" on Justia Law

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The bankruptcy appellate panel affirmed the bankruptcy court's order dismissing debtor's request for relief for alleged violations of the automatic stay and discharge injunction. In this case, debtor's 2019 request did not clearly identify the matters at issue and how they were related to specific automatic stay or discharge injunction violations. Furthermore, debtor provided nothing to show that she was complaining of debts that were derived from something other than matters concerning the children and incidental court orders. Therefore, the panel held that debtor failed to state a cause of action based on an automatic stay violation and a discharge injunction violation. View "Doughty v. Douglas" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its previously filed opinion and substituted the following opinion. The court held that its holding in In re Nat'l Gypsum Co., 118 F.3d 1059, 1069 (5th Cir. 1997), that bankruptcy courts have discretion to refuse to compel arbitration in proceedings seeking enforcement of a discharge injunction, remains good law following the Supreme Court's decision in Epic Sys., 138 S. Ct. at 1623-24. In this case, the court affirmed the bankruptcy court's denial of Wells Fargo's motion to compel arbitration of a dispute over whether debtor's discharge applied to a student loan. View "Henry v. Educational Financial Service" on Justia Law