Justia Bankruptcy Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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A group of retirement and pension funds filed a consolidated putative securities class action against PG&E Corporation and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (collectively, PG&E) and some of its current and former officers, directors, and bond underwriters (collectively, Individual Defendants). The plaintiffs alleged that all the defendants made false or misleading statements related to PG&E’s wildfire-safety policies and regulatory compliance. Shortly after the plaintiffs filed the operative complaint, PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, automatically staying this action as against PG&E but not the Individual Defendants. The district court then sua sponte stayed these proceedings as against the Individual Defendants, pending completion of PG&E’s bankruptcy case.The district court for the Northern District of California issued a stay of the securities fraud action against the Individual Defendants, pending the completion of PG&E's Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. The court reasoned that the stay would promote judicial efficiency and economy, as well as avoid the potential for inconsistent judgments. The plaintiffs appealed this decision, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by entering the stay.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that it had jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal under the Moses H. Cone doctrine because the stay was both indefinite and likely to be lengthy. The appellate court found that the district court abused its discretion in ordering the stay as to the Individual Defendants. The court held that when deciding to issue a docket management stay, the district court must weigh three non-exclusive factors: the possible damage that may result from the granting of a stay, the hardship or inequity that a party may suffer in being required to go forward, and judicial efficiency. The appellate court vacated the stay and remanded for the district court to weigh all the relevant interests in determining whether a stay was appropriate. View "PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT ASS'N OF NEW MEXICO V. EARLEY" on Justia Law

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The case under review centers around certain Chapter 7 debtors and their creditor. The debtors filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief, but provided an incorrect mailing address for their creditor's attorney in their schedule of creditors. As a result, the creditor didn't file a claim in the bankruptcy case. The creditor later sought a determination that its default judgment in an unlawful detainer case wasn't discharged due to lack of notice of the bankruptcy.The bankruptcy court ruled in favor of the creditor, stating that no portion of the unlawful detainer judgment was dischargeable. This decision was affirmed by the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel. The debtors argued that all but a certain amount of the judgment, which they calculated to be what the creditor would have received had it filed a timely claim, was discharged. They also contended that the creditor seeking to recover the full amount would constitute a windfall.However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower courts' decisions. It concluded that a debtor’s failure to properly schedule a debt renders that debt nondischargeable in its entirety, rejecting the debtors' arguments. The court clarified that the issue of whether the debt could be enforced against the debtors is a matter of state law and interpretation of the prior state court judgment, and should be resolved by the state court. View "In re Licup v. Jefferson Avenue Temecula LLC" on Justia Law

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The case in review involves Michele McKee, who claimed a homestead exemption for a property in Palm Springs where she formerly lived with her partner, Laura O’Kane. McKee argued that she should qualify for California’s homestead exemption, which partially protects the debtor’s home from creditors. However, she didn't physically reside in the property when she filed her bankruptcy petition and the court determined she didn't have the intent to return.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision of the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel, which affirmed the bankruptcy court's order denying McKee the homestead exemption. The court held that McKee did not meet her burden of proving that she either physically occupied the property or intended to return to it. The court did not accept McKee's argument that because her partner's abuse made it impossible for her to return to the property, her testimony that she wished to do so should be enough to establish a homestead. The court noted that McKee had demonstrated no signs of intent to return, such as leaving her personal belongings at the property or retaining its address on her driver's license, therefore she did not show entitlement to a homestead exemption. View "MCKEE V. ANDERSON" on Justia Law

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The district court appointed a receiver to claw back profits received by investors in a Ponzi scheme that was the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement action. The receiver filed suit against certain investors, alleging fraudulent transfers from the receivership entities to the investors. The district court concluded that the receiver was bound by arbitration agreements signed by the receivership company, which was the instrument of the Ponzi scheme. The district court relied on Kirkland v. Rune.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s order denying a motion to compel arbitration. The panel held that EPD did not control because it addressed whether a bankruptcy trustee, not a receiver, was bound by an arbitration agreement. Unlike under bankruptcy law, there was no explicit statute here establishing that the receiver was acting on behalf of the receivership entity’s creditors. The panel held that a receiver acts on behalf of the receivership entity, not defrauded creditors, and thus can be bound by an agreement signed by that entity. But here, even applying that rule, it was unclear whether the receiver was bound by the agreements at issue. The panel remanded for the district court to consider whether the defendant investors met their burden of establishing that the fraudulent transfer claims arose out of agreements with the receivership entity, whether the investors were parties to the agreements and any other remaining arbitrability issues. View "GEOFF WINKLER V. THOMAS MCCLOSKEY, JR., ET AL" on Justia Law

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Creditor Clifton Capital Group, LLC Clifton was chair of an official committee of unsecured creditors appointed by the Office of the United States Trustee to monitor the activities of debtor East Coast Foods, Inc., manager of Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles. The bankruptcy court appointed Bradley D. Sharp as Chapter 11 trustee. Clifton objected to Sharp’s fee application, but the bankruptcy court awarded the statutory maximum fee. Clifton appealed. The district court concluded that Clifton had standing to appeal. On remand, the bankruptcy court again awarded the statutory maximum. Clifton again appealed, and the bankruptcy court affirmed. Clifton challenged the district court’s order affirming the bankruptcy court’s enhanced fee award of over $1 million dollars to the trustee in a funded bankruptcy.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s order affirming the bankruptcy court’s enhanced fee award. The panel wrote that the Ninth Circuit historically bypassed the Article III inquiry in the bankruptcy context, instead analyzing whether a party is a “person aggrieved” as a principle of prudential standing. The court, however, has returned emphasis to Article III standing following Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 573 U.S. 149 (2014), in which the Supreme Court questioned prudential standing. The panel held that Clifton lacked Article III standing to appeal the fee award because it failed to show that the enhanced fee award would diminish its payment under the bankruptcy plan, and thus it failed to establish an “injury in fact.” The panel concluded that Clifton did not show that the fee award impaired the likelihood or delayed the timing of its payment. View "IN RE: CLIFTON CAPITAL GROUP, LLC, ET AL V. BRADLEY SHARP" on Justia Law

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Appellant, former Chief Financial Officer of Convergence Ethanol, Inc., and former employee of Convergence and its subsidiary California MEMS USA, Inc., challenged his liability for the unpaid payroll taxes of California MEMS. The bankruptcy court denied both sides’ motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether Appellant was a “responsible person” regarding the payroll taxes under 26 U.S.C. Section 6672. Rather than proceed to trial, Appellant agreed to a stipulated judgment allowing the Internal Revenue Service’s claim, but he made clear on the record that his consent was subject to his stated intention to appeal that judgment on the grounds that his motion for summary judgment should have been granted.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order affirming the bankruptcy court’s judgment in favor of the United States. The panel concluded that the bankruptcy court’s judgment was sufficiently “final” under Section 158(d)(1) because it fully disposed of the claims raised by Appellant’s adversary complaint. The panel held that jurisdiction was not precluded by the holding of Ortiz v. Jordan, 562 U.S. 180 (2011), and Dupree v. Younger, 598 U.S. 729 (2023), that, on appeal from a final judgment after a trial on the merits, an appellate court may not review a pretrial order denying summary judgment if that denial was based on the presence of a disputed issue of material fact. The panel held that the bankruptcy court correctly concluded that Appellant failed to show that, viewing the summary judgment record in the light most favorable to the IRS, a rational trier of fact could not reasonably find in the IRS’s favor. View "IN RE: RICHARD YORK, ET AL V. USA" on Justia Law

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USA Sales, a California tobacco distributor, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2016. As a Chapter 11 debtor in a UST district, federal law required USA Sales to pay quarterly fees to the UST. 28 U.S.C. Section 1930(a)(6). USA Sales sued for a refund of all excess fees paid, arguing that the 2017 Act violated the Bankruptcy Clause and also that the 2017 Act did not apply because USA Sales had filed for bankruptcy before the Act took effect. The district court agreed with both arguments and ordered a refund.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s refund order, the panel held that USA Sales, Inc., was entitled to a refund for the unconstitutional statutory fees it paid as a bankruptcy debtor under the Bankruptcy Judgeship Act of 2017. The panel held that the 2017 Act applied to USA Sales’s bankruptcy proceeding, even though its case was already pending when the Act took effect. Turning to the remedy, and agreeing with other circuits, the panel held that U.S. Trustee district debtors are entitled to a refund of excess fees paid during the nonuniform period of statutory rates. Accordingly, USA Sales was entitled to a refund of the unconstitutional fees it paid in excess of those it would have paid in a Bankruptcy Administrator district from January 2018, when the 2017 Act fee provision took effect, to November 2019, when the bankruptcy court approved a structured dismissal of USA Sales’s case. View "USA SALES, INC. V. OFFICE OF THE U.S. TRUSTEE" on Justia Law

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Debtors, husband and wife filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. They listed their home among their assets with a value of $500,000, a mortgage with an outstanding balance of $375,077, and a homestead exemption of $124,923. The bankruptcy court confirmed a Chapter 13 plan, but after roughly twenty months, which included a temporary job loss and deferral of mortgage payments due to the pandemic, the husband contracted Parkinson’s Disease, and the couple could no longer make their required payments. Debtors exercised their right to convert to Chapter 7. In the interim, their home had risen in value by an estimated $200,000. The Chapter 7 trustee (“Trustee”) filed a motion to sell Debtors home to recover the value for creditors.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order which affirmed the bankruptcy court’s order, the panel held that post-petition, pre-conversion increases in the equity of an asset belonging to the bankruptcy estate rather than to debtors who, in good faith, convert their Chapter 13 reorganization petition into a Chapter 7 liquidation. The panel held that the plain language of Section 348(f)(1)(A), coupled with the Ninth Circuit’s previous interpretation of 11 U.S.C. Section 541(a), compelled the conclusion that any appreciation in the property value and corresponding increase in equity belonged to the estate upon conversion. The panel looked to the definition of “property of the estate” in Section 541(a), which addresses the contents of the bankruptcy estate upon filing under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, and the court’s prior opinions holding that the broad scope of Section 541(a) means that post-petition appreciation inures to the bankruptcy estate, not the debtor. View "IN RE: JOHN CASTLEMAN, SR., ET AL V. DENNIS BURMAN" on Justia Law

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Petitioners moved to quash trial subpoenas issued by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California, requiring them to testify via contemporaneous video transmission from their home in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The bankruptcy court denied their motions, and the Petitioners sought mandamus relief from this court. Petitioners argued that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(c)(1) prohibits the bankruptcy court from compelling them to testify, even remotely, where they reside out of state over 100 miles from the location of the trial.   The Ninth Circuit granted the petition. The panel held that the bankruptcy court erred in refusing to quash the trial subpoenas because, under the plain meaning of the text of the Rules, the geographic limitations of Rule 45(c) apply even when a witness is permitted to testify by contemporaneous video transmission. The panel concluded that Rule 45(c) governs the court’s power to require a witness to testify at trial and focuses on the location of the proceeding, while Rule 43(a) governs the mechanics of how trial testimony is presented. Weighing the Bauman factors to determine whether issuance of a writ of mandamus was appropriate, the panel concluded that the third factor, clear error, weighed in favor of granting mandamus relief. The panel concluded that the fifth Bauman factor also weighed in favor because the petition presented an important issue of first impression. The panel held that the third and fifth Bauman factors were sufficient on their own to warrant granting mandamus relief in this case. View "IN RE: JOHN KIRKLAND, ET AL V. USBC, LOS ANGELES" on Justia Law

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From 2003 to 2007, Plaintiff took out ten student loans to attend college in Washington state. Defendants National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts (collectively, “the Trusts”) ultimately purchased Plaintiff’s loans. The Trusts appointed Defendant U.S. Bank as their special servicer. The Trusts also hired Defendant Transworld Systems, Inc. (“Transworld”), to collect the defaulted loans, and hired Defendant Patenaude & Felix (“Patenaude”), a law firm specializing in debt collection, to represent them in debt collection actions. Several years after taking out the loans, Plaintiff filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy relief.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s dismissal for failure to state a claim, Plaintiff’s action alleging that Defendants’ attempts to collect debts that were discharged in bankruptcy violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Bankruptcy Code. Affirming the dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims that were based on a violation of his bankruptcy discharge order, the panel reiterated that Walls v. Wells Fargo Bank, 276 F.3d 502 (9th Cir. 2002), precludes FDCPA claims and other claims based on violations of Bankruptcy Code Section 524. The panel reversed the district court’s dismissal, as barred by the one-year statute of limitations, of Plaintiff’s remaining FDCPA claim based on the theory that Defendants knowingly brought a meritless post-discharge debt collection lawsuit because they knew they could not prove ownership of Plaintiff’s debts. The panel concluded that Plaintiff sufficiently alleged one post-filing FDCPA violation in the filing of an affidavit that presented a new basis, not contained in the complaint, to show that Defendants owned the debts. View "OSURE BROWN V. TRANSWORLD SYSTEMS, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law