Justia Bankruptcy Opinion Summaries

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision vacating the bankruptcy court's determination concerning whether General Motors assumed liability, through a judicial admission, for claims like appellant's. Appellant filed a wrongful death lawsuit against New GM after his wife was involved in an accident that left her incapacitated. She was driving a 2004 Pontiac Grand Am, a vehicle manufactured by Old GM, which allegedly had a faulty ignition switch. The Second Circuit held that for a statement to constitute a judicial admission, it must be intentional, clear, and unambiguous. In this case, the court held that the inadvertent inclusion of language from an outdated, non-operative version of a sale agreement was not intentional, clear, and unambiguous, and thus was not a judicial admission. Therefore, General Motors was not bound by the language. View "In re Motors Liquidation Co. (Pillars)" on Justia Law

by
Debtor Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas (ABBK), an American subsidiary of the Spanish engineering conglomerate, Abengoa, S.A., financed construction of an ethanol conversion facility in Hugoton, Kansas. Financing was accomplished through inter-company loans from other American subsidiaries of Abengoa, S.A. ABBK experienced financial difficulties and eventually filed for bankruptcy protection in Kansas. Four other Abengoa subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy protection in Missouri. The ABBK trustee pursued a plan of liquidation, which classified the inter-company loans ABBK had received beneath claims of general unsecured creditors, effectively ensuring no recovery for inter-company creditors. Acting as liquidating trustee in the Missouri bankruptcy, Drivetrain, LLC objected to this plan of liquidation. The bankruptcy court nevertheless confirmed the plan. Drivetrain sought a stay of enforcement and implementation of the plan of liquidation, pending appeal to the district court. But both the bankruptcy court and the district court, on appeal, denied Drivetrain’s motion for a stay. At this point, the ABBK trustee began to implement the plan, paying priority claims and distributing settled unsecured claims. After substantially consummating the plan, the ABBK trustee moved to dismiss Drivetrain’s appeal of the confirmed plan as equitably moot. The district court granted that motion, citing the potential harm that innocent third-party creditors would face from unwinding the plan at this juncture. Drivetrain appealed, but the Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding the potential harm to innocent third-party creditors justified this dismissal. View "Drivetrain v. Kozel" on Justia Law

by
In 2010, Hill, a principal of Meridian and the other principals sold Meridian to CMCO; the former Meridian principals were to work for CMCO. In 2012, Hill accepted employment with CMCO’s competitor, Peoples. CMCO filed suit, alleging that he breached his contract and shared trade secrets. CMCO settled its claims against Peoples. Hill proceeded pro se. Hill failed to attend a pretrial conference. The state court granted a default judgment. Hill also declined to appear for the damages trial. Hill asserts that he never received the order scheduling a pretrial conference but admits that he was initially aware of the date. Hill further acknowledged that he knew of the trial date because he spoke with the judge by phone and was warned that if he did not appear “adverse things [were] likely [to] happen.” He contends that a bankruptcy attorney he was consulting advised him that he need not participate because any judgments would “go away” in bankruptcy. The court granted CMCO judgment, finding Hill’s actions willful, intentional, in bad faith, egregious, and done with malice. The court awarded $3,417,477. Hill then filed his Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. The bankruptcy court lifted the automatic stay, 11 U.S.C. 362(d), with respect to CMCO’s judgment.CMCO filed an adversary proceeding. The court found the damages judgment nondischargeable, 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(2)(A), (a)(4), (a)(6), applying collateral estoppel based on the state court finding that Hill’s actions caused “willful and malicious injury.” Hill unsuccessfully sought to vacate the state court judgment. The district and Sixth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court’s grant of summary judgment to CMCO. ” The state court damages judgment provided preclusive effect to the determination of the nondischargeability of Hill’s debt. View "In re: Hill" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court's determination that the interested parties were equitably estopped from asserting ownership of machinery and equipment in debtor's bankruptcy case. In this case, the interested parties allowed the misrepresentations concerning debtor's assets to continue throughout the bankruptcy case and now seek to protect their alleged pecuniary interests. The court found that the interested parties' arguments lacked merit and were not properly before the district court. The court also affirmed the bankruptcy court's denial of the interested parties' request for the bankruptcy court to alter or amend its ruling or for a new trial. View "Richards v. Rabo ArgiFinance, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit alleging that DISH violated the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA) in its attempts to collect debt it knew had been discharged in bankruptcy and in its direct contacts with plaintiff knowing she was represented by counsel. Plaintiff also alleged that DISH violated the Telephone Consumer Practices Act (TCPA) by contacting plaintiff about the debt with an automated dialing system after she revoked her consent to receive such calls. The Eleventh Circuit first determined that DISH's claim for the Pause debt was discharged. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to the FCCPA claims. In this case, DISH attempted to collect debt it had no legal right to collect because the debt had been discharged in bankruptcy, and DISH directly contacted plaintiff after having received notice that she was represented by counsel. Accordingly, the court remanded on the FCCPA claims for the district court to consider whether DISH actually knew that the Pause charges were invalid and that plaintiff was represented by counsel with regard to the debt it was attempting to collect, and if so, whether such errors were unintentional and the result of bona fide error. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to the TCPA claim, holding that the TCPA does not allow unilateral revocation of consent given in a bargained-for contract. The court reasoned that, by permitting plaintiff to unilaterally revoke a mutually-agreed-upon term in a contract would run counter to black-letter contract law in effect at the time Congress enacted the TCPA. View "Medley v. Dish Network, LLC" on Justia Law