Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

by
Debtor-landlord did not retain sufficient rights in rents assigned to lender for those rents to be included in landlord's bankruptcy estate. Town Center owns a 53-unit Shelby Township residential complex; its construction was financed by a $5.3 million loan owned by ECP. The mortgage included an assignment of rents to the creditor in the event of default. Rents from the complex are Town Center’s only income. Town Center defaulted. ECP sent notice to tenants in compliance with the agreement and with Mich. Comp. Laws 554.231, which allows creditors to collect rents directly from tenants of certain mortgaged properties. ECP recorded the notice documents as required by the statute. ECP filed a foreclosure complaint. A week later, Town Center filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy relief, then owing ECP $5,329,329 plus fees and costs. The parties reached an agreement to allow Town Center to collect rents, with $15,000 per month to pay down the debt to ECP and the remainder for authorized expenses. Town Center’s bankruptcy petition resulted in an automatic stay on the state-court case, 11 U.S.C. 362(a). ECP unsuccessfully moved to prohibit Town Center from using rents collected after the petition was filed. The district vacated. The Sixth Circuit reversed; Town Center did not retain sufficient rights in the assigned rents under Michigan law for those rents to be included in the bankruptcy estate. View "In re: Town Center Flats, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Sixth Circuit affirmed the Bankruptcy Court’s order in Conco’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, interpreting Conco’s Confirmed Plan to prohibit the sale of the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP)-held Conco stock (Equity Interests) and enjoining any such sale through December 31, 2018. The creditor’s committee had agreed to support the Plan, which provided both defined distributions and contingent distributions, to be funded by the operation of the Conco’s business, to continue through December 31, 2018. The Plan guaranteed the creditors a higher recovery than if the business were sold. ESOP participants sued Conco, its Board of Directors, the ESOP, and ESOP Trustees (ERISA Litigation) claiming breach of fiduciary duties by not evaluating and responding to offers by to purchase the Equity Security Interests. The Bankruptcy Court found, and the Sixth Circuit agreed, that the four corners of the Confirmed Plan, and the creditors’ abandonment of an objection under the absolute priority rule of 11 U.S.C. 1129(b)1 to the ESOP’s retention of the Equity Interests, evidenced an intent for the Equity Interests not to be sold through December 31, 2018. View "In re: Conco, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In his 2010 Chapter 7 petition, the debtor listed a claim against Simms based on an injury while under Simms’ employ, but did not claim an exemption on Schedule C. In 2011, a complaint was filed against Simms; in 2012, a companion action was filed against BWC. The debtor filed amended schedules, valuing the Simms claim at $21,625, but claiming no exemption. The debtor never listed the BWC claim. In 2013, the certified that the estate had been fully administered except for the Simms claim, stating: The ... settlement shall remain property of the bankruptcy estate upon the entry of a final decree; if money becomes available ... the case will be re-opened. The bankruptcy court closed the case; the order contained no reservations regarding the claim. In 2015, the trustee was notified of a settlement offer and moved to reopen the case. The debtor argued that the trustee had abandoned any interest in the personal injury litigation and that the settlement encompassed the claim against BWC in which the trustee had no interest. The court approved a settlement of $180,000. At a hearing, without evidence or testimony, the bankruptcy court found that the claims were not abandoned. The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel reversed in part. The court made no findings to support approval of the settlement over the debtor’s objections. Because no court order preserved the personal injury claim as an asset, the bankruptcy court erred by holding that the trustee did not abandon that claim under 11 U.S.C. 554(c); the unscheduled BWC claim was not abandoned. View "In re: Wayne Wright" on Justia Law

by
In 2014, Brown filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, disclosing her ownership of a residence in Ypsilanti, Michigan, valued at $170,000 and subject to $219,000 in secured mortgage claims held by two separate creditors. Brown’s initial petition stated her intent to surrender her residence to the estate and did not claim any exemptions for the value of her redemption rights under Michigan law. The Trustee sought the court’s permission to sell the house for $160,000 and to distribute the proceeds among Brown’s creditors and professionals involved in selling the home. Brown objected and sought to amend her initial disclosures to claim exemptions for the value of her redemption rights (about $23,000) under Mich. Comp. Laws 600.3240, citing 11 U.S.C. 522(d). The bankruptcy court granted the Trustee permission to sell the property and denied Brown’s requested exemptions. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that Brown lacked any equity in the property after it sold for substantially less than the value of the secured claims. View "Brown v. Ellmann" on Justia Law

by
Stubbs filed a pro se Chapter 7 petition before she filed her 2014 tax returns. The Trustee completed the creditors’ meeting in February 2015, instructing Stubbs to send him a copy of her tax returns when filed and to not spend any refund. Stubbs received her discharge in April 2015. The Trustee did not receive the tax returns nor hear from Stubbs by September; he obtained an order for a Rule 2004 examination, requiring Stubbs to bring copies of her returns. Stubbs did not appear. The Trustee filed an adversary proceeding to revoke Stubbs’ discharge. Despite proper service, Stubbs failed to respond. The Trustee moved for default judgment. Stubbs did not appear. The court entered a sua sponte order to show cause why she should not be found in contempt. Stubbs did not respond nor appear at a subsequent hearing. The court sua sponte vacated the order scheduling the Rule 2004 examination; denied the default motion, and dismissed the adversary proceeding. The order criticized the Trustee for not seeking to hold Stubbs in contempt for failure to cooperate (11 U.S.C. 521) or otherwise preventing her discharge, indicating a preference to have the case dismissed. The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel vacated. A 2004 examination is a reasonable and usual method to compel a Chapter 7 debtor to provide information that a trustee or creditor cannot obtain voluntarily. View "In re Stubbs" on Justia Law

by
Bratt filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, proposing to pay overdue taxes to Nashville, which held a $5,136 over-secured lien on Bratt’s real property. Under 11 U.S.C. 511(a), the interest rate for tax claims should “enable a creditor to receive the present value of the allowed amount of a tax claim” and be “determined under applicable nonbankruptcy law.” The Code does not allow assessment of post-petition penalties. Tennessee Code 67-5-2010 set an interest rate of 12% per year for overdue taxes, with a 6% per year penalty. A Tennessee bankruptcy court held that only the post-petition interest and not the penalty portion could be collected for over-secured claims in bankruptcy proceedings. In response, the Tennessee legislature added subsection (d): For purposes of any claim in a bankruptcy proceeding pertaining to delinquent property taxes, the assessment of penalties pursuant to this section constitutes the assessment of interest. Bratt argued that the amendment should not apply. Tennessee admitted that the 18% rate exceeded what was required to maintain the tax claim's present value. The bankruptcy court held that subsection (d) violated the Supremacy Clause. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed that 12% was the appropriate interest rate, reasoning that subsection (d) is not a “nonbankruptcy law” and is not applicable for determining the interest rate under section 511(a). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, adopting the BAP’s reasoning. View "Tennessee v. Corrin" on Justia Law

by
Watson, the chairman of Cyberco, created Teleservices as a “paper company” to run a Ponzi scheme. Teleservices had no separate officers, directors, or employees. Watson borrowed money and instructed lenders to send the money to Teleservices to pay for computer equipment. Watson then moved the money from Teleservices account to Cyberco’s account at Huntington. He used that money to pay salaries and earlier debts. By 2004, Cyberco owed Huntington $16 million. In September 2003, Cyberco tried to deposit a $2.3 million Teleservices check; the check bounced. Huntington employees became suspicious. In January 2004, Huntington asked Cyberco to find a new bank, noting “‘red flags.” As Huntington investigated, Cyberco paid its debt to Huntington. Later, the FBI raided Cyberco’s offices. Watson committed suicide. Cyberco’s creditors commenced an involuntary Chapter 7 proceeding; an appointed receiver filed for Teleservices’s bankruptcy. Teleservices’s bankruptcy trustee sought to recover from Huntington all direct and indirect loan repayments and excess deposits. The bankruptcy court concluded that the trustee could recover $72 million; that Huntington had received transfers in good faith until April 2004; but that Huntington gained inquiry notice of Cyberco’s fraud on September 2003. The district court affirmed. The Sixth Circuit reversed, in part. Cyberco, free to withdraw money from its account, retained “dominion and control,” despite Huntington’s security interest. Huntington gained dominion and control only over money that it received in satisfaction of Cyberco’s debt to it; Huntington was a transferee of direct and indirect loan repayments, but not of the excess deposits. Huntington failed to prove that it received transfers from Teleservices in good faith after April, but precedent does not require recoverability of earlier transfers, just because Huntington had earlier inquiry notice. View "Meoli v. Huntington National Bank" on Justia Law

by
Qi obtained a $2,500,000 state court judgment against the Zengas and filed involuntary chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions against them. They moved to dismiss, asserting that because they had 12 or more creditors, the involuntary petitions required at least three petitioning creditors (11 U.S.C. 303(b)(1)), and that the cases were not in the best interest of creditors. Qi argued that the Zengas were estopped from presenting evidence that they had more than 11 creditors due to their responses to post-judgment sworn interrogatories in the state court proceedings. The bankruptcy court denied the motions to dismiss and entered orders for relief against the Zengas. The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel vacated, holding that the threshold number of petitioning creditors is not jurisdictional. The Supreme Court’s 2014 holding in Law v. Siegel cannot be extended to prevent use of equitable doctrines when the statutory provision is not jurisdictional. Given the bankruptcy court’s failure to find actual and substantial detriment to Qi and Qi’s inability to point to any detriment other than loss of time, the court held that the bankruptcy court erred in applying equitable estoppel to bar the Zengas from introducing evidence of the existence of more than 11 creditors. View "In re: Zenga" on Justia Law

by
Debtor’s bankruptcy schedules indicated she had $1,500 in a checking account and no cash on hand. The Kentucky Medicare Fraud Unit subsequently searched her home and seized $270,000 in cash. Debtor was indicted for fraudulently claiming Social Security benefits, bankruptcy fraud, and money laundering. Debtor’s mother, Newton, who allegedly lived with Debtor, deposited $51,000 in cash into their joint bank account, then transferred $50,000 to retain a law firm as Debtor’s criminal counsel. Debtor was convicted. The chapter 7 trustee initiated an adversary proceeding to pursue the attorney fee. The bankruptcy court held that the fee was not subject to turnover, acknowledging: "Trustee offered substantial evidence that the Debtor was the source of the $50,000,” which may have been estate property before its transfer, but that the trustee’s “claim to estate property is no greater than the debtor’s claim.” The court held that because the trustee never sought to avoid that transfer under 11 U.S.C. 549, it was not estate property. The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed. The Trustee did not meet her burden of establishing that the attorney fee is property of the estate; fraudulently transferred property only becomes estate property upon avoidance of the transfer. The trustee did not establish that the fee was property of the estate under the Rules of Professional Responsibility. View "In re: Bruner" on Justia Law

by
Debtor was unable to pay $70,000 attorney fees accrued over several years. The attorney continued to provide legal services. In May 2008, Debtor gave the attorney possession of the titles to a 1954 MG and a 1977 Ferrari as security. There was no written security agreement. When a bank began putting pressure on Debtor, she turned over possession of the vehicles in 2012. Debtor did not sign over the titles or complete assignment of ownership forms until six days before Debtor’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. The vehicles were not in working order. The attorney had some repairs done and sold the vehicles to a third party for $40,000 in November 2013. Eight months later, the Chapter 7 trustee filed an adversary complaint, 11 U.S.C. 547(b). The bankruptcy court concluded that the attorney did not have a valid or perfected attorney lien under Ohio law and that the transfer occurred within the look-back period for avoidance. The bankruptcy court granted the trustee judgment for $32,000, plus prejudgment interest. The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed, upholding the determination of value. The transfer was preferential; the bankruptcy court found unsecured creditors would receive no distribution, so the attorney received more than he would have in the Chapter 7. View "In re: Hadley" on Justia Law