Articles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Hall, the debtor in bankruptcy, is a former distributor of asbestos products. Tens of thousands of asbestos claims were filed against Hall, which had $10 million remaining in insurance coverage from one of its insurers, Integrity, itself bankrupt. Integrity challenged whether the policy covered the loss for which Hall was seeking indemnity. The parties agreed to settle for $4.125 million; the bankruptcy judge approved the settlement. Columbia, an excess insurer of Hall’s asbestos liabilities, with maximum coverage of $6 million, was concerned that Hall, having settled against Integrity rather than persisting in litigation, increased the likelihood of Columbia’s having to honor its secondary‐coverage obligation. Columbia filed an objection to the settlement. The bankruptcy judge refused to consider the objection, on the ground that Columbia had no right to object. The district judge affirmed. The Seventh Circuit, affirmed, stating that the matter was not a question of “standing,” but whether the Bankruptcy Code, in providing that “a party in interest, including the debtor, the trustee, a creditors’ committee, an equity security holders’ committee, a creditor, an equity security holder, or any indenture trustee, may raise and may appear and be heard on any issue in a case [arising] under” the Code, 11 U.S.C. 1109(b), conferred a right to be heard on a debtor’s insurer. View "In Re: C.P. Hall Co." on Justia Law

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Sentinel specialized in short-term cash management, promising to invest customers’ cash in safe securities for good returns with high liquidity. Customers did not acquire rights to specific securities, but received a pro rata share of the value of securities in an investment pool (Segment) based on the type of customer and regulations that applied to that customer. Segment 1 was protected by the Commodity Exchange Act; Segment 3 customers by the Investment Advisors Act and SEC regulations. Despite those laws, Sentinel lumped cash together, used it to purchase risky securities, and issued misleading statements. Some securities were collateral for a loan (BONY). In 2007 customers began demanding cash and BONY pressured Sentinel for payment. Sentinel moved $166 million in corporate securities out of a Segment 1 trust to a lienable account as collateral for BONY and sold Segment 1 and 3 securities to pay BONY. Sentinel filed for bankruptcy after returning $264 million to Segment 1 from a lienable account and moving $290 million from the Segment 3 trust to the lienable account. After informing customers that it would not honor redemption requests, Sentinel distributed the full cash value of their accounts to some Segment 1 groups. After filing for bankruptcy Sentinel obtained bankruptcy court permission to have BONY distribute $300 million from Sentinel accounts to favored customers. The trustee obtained district court approval to avoid the transfers, 11 U.S.C. 547; 11 U.S.C. 549. The Seventh Circuit, noting the unique conflict between the rights of two groups of wronged customers, reversed. Sentinel’s pre-petition transfer fell within the securities exception in 11 U.S.C. 546(e); the post-petition transfer was authorized by the bankruptcy court, 11 U.S.C. 549. Neither can be avoided. View "Grede v. FCStone LLC" on Justia Law

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Beginning in 2007, Mississippi Valley agreed to sell cattle to Swift, planning to fulfill that agreement in part with cattle it had received from J&R. Mississippi Valley was merely the holder of J&R’s cattle, not the purchaser or owner. Because the relationship between Swift and J&R had soured, Mississippi Valley did not inform Swift that some of the cattle were actually J&R’s. Swift paid for the purchases with checks made out to Mississippi Valley, which deposited the checks in its general operating account and periodically sent J&R checks for sales of J&R cattle. Mississippi Valley stopped making timely payments. As the debt mounted, J&R sent increasingly frantic demands for payment. Mississippi Valley sent seven checks to J&R totaling $862,747.31. Less than 90 days later, creditors filed an involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition against Mississippi Valley. The bankruptcy trustee sought to avoid the seven payments as preferential transfers, 11 U.S.C. 547(b), but J&R argued that Mississippi Valley never had a property interest in the funds but only held the sale proceeds for J&R’s benefit. The bankruptcy court granted J&R summary judgment. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit remanded, stating that it is unclear how much money could properly be traced to a constructive trust in favor of J&R. View "In re: MS Livestock, Inc." on Justia Law

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The claimant alleges that Father Hanser, a former pastor at a Catholic Parish in Brookfield,Wisconsin, sexually abused him in the late 1970s when he was seven years old. In 2007 the claimant participated in a voluntary mediation program conducted by the Archdiocese to address claims of sexual abuse by priests. The mediation produced a settlement. The Archdiocese paid the claimant $100,000, and he released the Archdiocese from all claims relating to abuse by Father Hanser. When the Archdiocese filed its Chapter 11 petition four years later, the claimant submitted a claim based on the same allegations of abuse by Father Hanser, claiming that an Archdiocesan representative had fraudulently induced him to settle by giving him inaccurate information about when the Archdiocese first received reports of abuse by Father Hanser. The bankruptcy judge refused to set the agreement aside because the claimant had not shown that but for the alleged misrepresentations, he would not have accepted the settlement. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed. The claimant failed to show that the alleged misrepresentations were a substantial factor in his decision to accept the settlement and never made an offer of proof explaining what an expanded record would show. View " Doe v. Archdiocese of Milwaukee" on Justia Law

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Alforookh manages and operates restaurants under franchise agreements with IHOP. He created companies to hold the franchises, including A&F. Alforookh and A&F are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. Their primary assets are 17 IHOP franchise agreements and corresponding building and equipment leases. Generally, Chapter 11 debtors may assume or reject executory contracts any time before confirmation of a plan, 11 U.S.C. 365(d)(2). Unexpired leases of nonresidential real property, however, must be assumed within 120 days, subject to a 90-day extension. A&F did not assume the building leases within 120 days or seek an extension, so IHOP claims that those leases were rejected and that the franchise agreements and equipment leases expired. A&F argued that because the building leases are just one part of the larger franchise arrangement, section 365(d)(2)’s more generous time limit applies to the whole arrangement, including the building leases. The bankruptcy judge deemed the building leases rejected and the franchise agreements and equipment leases expired. A&F’s request for a stay pending appeal was rejected by the bankruptcy and district courts. The Seventh Circuit granted an emergency motion and issued a stay order freezing the status quo during the pendency of the appeal and subsequently held that a continued stay was warranted. View "A&F Enters., Inc. II v. IHOP Franchising, LLC" on Justia Law

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EAR, a subchapter S corporation, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In the years before its petition, EAR made federal income tax payments on behalf of its shareholders; eight of the payments in the two years preceding its petition. Once in Chapter 11, EAR, acting as debtor in possession, filed an adversary complaint against the government seeking to recover all nine payments as fraudulent transfers: the eight most recent payments under 11 U.S.C. 548(a)(1), which provides for recovery of transfers made within two years of the filing, and the ninth under 11 U.S.C. 544(b), which enables a trustee to bring a state‐law fraudulent‐transfer action. EAR asserted that the IRS was precluded from raising sovereign immunity as a defense. The U.S. agreed to disgorge the eight payments, but contested EAR’s ability to recover the ninth payment under 544(b). The bankruptcy court rejected the government’s theory, finding that 11 U.S.C. 106(a)(1) abolished federal immunity from suit under listed bankruptcy causes of action, including section 544. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that 106(a)(1) does not displace the actual‐creditor requirement in section 544(b)(1). Ordinarily, a creditor cannot bring an Illinois fraudulent‐transfer claim against the IRS; therefore, under 544(b)(1), neither can the debtor in possession. View "United States v. Equip. Acquisition Res., Inc." on Justia Law

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New Energy operated a South Bend ethanol plant. In bankruptcy, it proposed to sell assets by auction, which was held in 2013. A joint venture, New Energy, submitted the winning bid of $2.5 million. New Energy, the trustee, and the Department of Energy, the largest creditor, asked the bankruptcy court to confirm this result. Natural Chem, which had not participated in the auction, opposed confirmation, arguing that establishment of the joint venture amounted to collusion. The Bankruptcy Court confirmed the sale. Natural Chem did not seek a stay and the sale closed. A district judge affirmed, observing that after the closing only a protest by the trustee permits a sale to be undone on grounds that “the sale price was controlled by an agreement among potential bidders,” 11 U.S.C.363(n). The Seventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that Natural Chem did not suffer an injury and that, under section 363, any injury would not be redressable. Collusion is a form of monopsony that depresses the price realized at auctions and would have made it easier for Natural Chem to secure the property. A reduction in the bid would have harmed New Energy’s creditors, not Natural Chem, which is why the trustee rather than a bidder is the right party to protest collusive sales. View "In re: New Energy Corp." on Justia Law

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If an owner of Illinois real estate does not timely pay county property taxes, the county may “sell” the property to a tax purchaser. The tax purchaser does not receive title to the property, but receives a “Certificate of Purchase” which can be used to obtain title if the delinquent taxpayer does not redeem his property within about two years. In this case, the property owner entered bankruptcy during the redemption period. The bankruptcy court held that, if there is still time to redeem, the tax purchaser’s interest is a secured claim that is treatable in bankruptcy and modifiable in a Chapter 13 plan. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed, first noting that the owner’s Chapter 13 plan was a success; because the tax purchaser’s interest was properly treated as a secured claim, the owner has satisfied the obligation, 11 U.S.C. 1327. Because Illinois courts call a Certificate of Purchase a lien or a species of personal property, the court rejected the purchaser’s argument that it was a future interest or an executory interest in real property. In effect, the tax sale procedure sells the county’s equitable remedy to the tax purchaser. View "Alexandrov v. LaMont" on Justia Law

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Creditor appealed the bankruptcy court's denial of her claim against the estate of debtor, her former husband and business partner. The state courts had determined that debtor still owed money to creditor after they divorced and unwound their "monster truck" business. The court had jurisdiction over the appeal under 28 U.S.C. 158(d) because the decisions of the bankruptcy court and the district court were final orders as to creditor's claim. The court found that the issues concerning the validity of creditor's claim were previously adjudicated in the state courts and that the doctrine of issue preclusion prevented the bankruptcy court from rehearing those issues. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Adams v. Adams" on Justia Law

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The debtors borrowed money secured by mortgages on real estate. The mortgages were recorded by the lenders to ensure the priority of their liens. The recorded mortgages did not state the maturity date of the secured debt or the interest rate. Those terms were included in the promissory notes, which were incorporated by reference in the mortgages. The debtors filed for bankruptcy. The trustees filed adversary complaints under 11 U.S.C. 544(a)(3), seeking to avoid the mortgages because they did not state the maturity dates or interest rates. In one case, the bankruptcy court granted summary judgment in favor of the trustee, but the district court reversed and granted judgment for the lender. In the other case, the bankruptcy court granted summary judgment in favor of the lender. The Seventh Circuit held that the trustee’s so-called “strong-arm” power to “avoid … any obligation incurred by the debtor that is voidable by—a bona fide purchaser of real property … from the debtor” could not be used to avoid the mortgages under a 2013 amendment to the Illinois statute on the form for recorded mortgage, 765 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/11. View "Bruegge v. Farmer State Bank of Hoffman" on Justia Law