Justia Bankruptcy Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The bankruptcy court found nondischargeable (1) indebtedness arising from a disbarred attorney’s obligation to reimburse the State Bar for payments made by the Bar’s Client Security Fund to victims of his misconduct while practicing law and (2) the costs for the disciplinary proceedings conducted against the attorney, a Chapter 7 debtor.   The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order denying Appellant’s petition for panel rehearing, granting Appellee’s petition for panel rehearing, and denying, on behalf of the court, the parties’ petitions for rehearing en banc; and (2) an amended opinion affirming in part and reversing in part the bankruptcy court’s judgment in an adversary proceeding.   Reversing in part, the panel held that the indebtedness arising from the attorney’s obligation to reimburse the State Bar for the payments made to victims of his misconduct was not excepted from discharge under 11 U.S.C. Section 523(a)(7), which provides that a debtor is not discharged from any debt that “is for a fine, penalty, or forfeiture payable to and for the benefit of a governmental unit, and is not compensation for actual pecuniary loss.” Considering the totality of the Client Security Fund program, the panel concluded that any reimbursement to the Fund was payable to and for the benefit of the State Bar and was compensation for the Fund’s actual pecuniary loss in compensating the victims for their actual pecuniary losses. View "ANTHONY KASSAS V. STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA" on Justia Law

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Pacific Gas & Electric Company (“PG&E”), sought chapter 11 protection in a bid to proactively address massive potential liabilities related to a series of wildfires in Northern California. But PG&E was solvent. Its assets at the time of the bankruptcy filing exceeded its known liabilities by nearly $20 billion. As a result, several creditors—including Plaintiffs, the Ad Hoc Committee of Holders of Trade Claims—claimed PG&E must pay post-petition interest at the rates required by their contracts in order for their claims to be “unimpaired” by the reorganization plan   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s order. The panel held that under the “solvent-debtor exception,” the creditors possessed an equitable right to receive post-petition interest at the contractual or default state rate, subject to any other equitable considerations before PG&E collected surplus value from the bankruptcy estate. The solvent-debtor exception is a common-law exception to the Bankruptcy Act’s prohibition on the collection of post-petition interest as part of a creditor’s claim.   The panel concluded that Cardelucci merely interpreted 11 U.S.C. Section 726(a)(5), which requires that creditors of a solvent debtor receive post-petition interest at “the legal rate.” Section 726(a)(5), however, applies only to impaired chapter 11 claims, and the panel concluded that Cardelucci, therefore, did not address what rate of post-petition interest must be paid on the Ad Hoc Committee’s unimpaired claims. The panel reversed and remanded to the bankruptcy court to weigh the equities and determine what rate of interest the creditors were entitled to. View "PG&E CORPORATION V. AD HOC COMMITTEE OF HOLDERS" on Justia Law

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Appellant a Chapter 7 debtor, was disbarred by the California Supreme Court in 2014 for violations of the State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct and the California Business and Professions Code. The California Supreme Court ordered Appellant to pay restitution to 56 former clients, costs for his disciplinary proceedings, and any funds that would eventually be paid out by the State Bar’s Client Security Fund (CSF) to victims of his conduct. Appellant subsequently filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and received a discharge.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the bankruptcy court’s judgment. Reversing in part, the court held that the indebtedness arising from the attorney’s obligation to reimburse the State Bar for the payments made to victims of his misconduct was not excepted from discharge under 11 U.S.C. Section 523(a)(7), which provides that a debtor is not discharged from any debt that “is for a fine, penalty, or forfeiture payable to and for the benefit of a governmental unit, and is not compensation for actual pecuniary loss.” Considering the totality of the Client Security Fund program, the court concluded that any reimbursement to the Fund was payable to and for the benefit of the State Bar and was compensation for the Fund’s actual pecuniary loss in compensating the victims for their actual pecuniary losses. Affirming in part the court held that, pursuant to In re Findley, 593 F.3d 1048 (9th Cir. 2010), the costs associated with the attorney’s disciplinary proceedings were nondischargeable under Section 523(a)(7). View "ANTHONY KASSAS V. STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA" on Justia Law

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Appellant defaulted under her Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan by refusing to pay Appellee Bank of New York Mellon (Bank of NYM) after she lost her adversary proceeding challenging the bank’s secured claim. As a result, the bankruptcy court granted Bank of NYM’s motion to convert the bankruptcy case from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7 and ordered Appellant to turn over undistributed assets in her possession to the Chapter 7 bankruptcy estate. Appellant challenged these two decisions in separate appeals.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court’s orders converting Appellant’s bankruptcy case from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7 and ordering her to turn over undistributed assets in her possession to the Chapter 7 bankruptcy estate. The court held the bankruptcy court properly exercised its discretion in converting the case to Chapter 7 for cause under 11 U.S.C. Section 1112(b)(1). The court held that the party seeking relief under Section 1112(b)(1) has the initial burden of persuasion to establish that cause exists for granting such relief. The court held that failing to make required payments can be a material default of a Chapter 11 plan, even if the debtor has made payments for an extended period before the default or taken other significant steps to perform the plan. The court concluded that the bankruptcy court did not err in finding that Appellant’s default in paying Bank of New York Mellon’s secured claim was cause for conversion because both the amount and duration of this default were significant. View "ALLANA BARONI V. DAVID SEROR" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs alleged that the energy companies’ extraction of fossil fuels and other activities were a substantial factor in causing global warming and a rise in the sea level, bringing causes of action for public and private nuisance, strict liability, strict liability, negligence, negligent failure to warn, and trespass.The court held that the district court lacked federal question jurisdiction under Sec. 1331 because, at the time of removal, the complaints asserted only state-law tort claims against the energy companies. The court held that Plaintiffs’ global-warming claims did not fall within the Grable exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule. In addition, Plaintiffs’ state law claims did not fall under the “artful-pleading” doctrine, another exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule, because they were not completely preempted by the Clean Air Act.Further, the court found Plaintiffs’ claims were not removable under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. The court also held that the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction under the federal-officer removal statute, Sec. 1442(a)(1), because the energy companies were not “acting under” a federal officer’s directions. The court then rejected the energy companies’ argument that the district court had removal jurisdiction over the complaints under Sec. 1452(a) because they were related to bankruptcy cases involving Peabody Energy Corp., Arch Coal, and Texaco, Inc. Finally, the court held that the district court did not have admiralty jurisdiction because maritime claims brought in state court are not removable to federal court absent an independent jurisdictional basis. View "COUNTY OF SAN MATEO V. CHEVRON CORP." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of debtor's motion for leave to appeal the bankruptcy court's order denying without prejudice a creditor's request for relief from the automatic stay. In Ritzen Group, Inc. v. Jackson Masonry, LLC, 140 S. Ct. 582 (2020), the Supreme Court addressed the finality of a bankruptcy court order denying a creditor's request for relief from the automatic stay. The panel concluded that, under the circumstances presented here and the considerations set forth in Ritzen and court precedent, the bankruptcy court's order was final and appealable because the bankruptcy court's denial of the creditor's motion conclusively resolved the request for stay relief. View "Harrington v. Mayer" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision reversing the bankruptcy court's order allowing creditor's claim in the bankruptcy proceedings of Rejuvi, a chapter 11 debtor. Creditor seeks recognition and enforcement of a default money judgment for personal injuries against Rejuvi granted by an Australian district court. The panel held that Rejuvi waived any objection to personal jurisdiction by voluntarily appearing in the South Australian district court when it sought relief from the default judgment. Accordingly, the panel remanded to the district court for further proceedings. The panel granted creditor's motion to take judicial notice of Rules 230 and 242 of the 2006 Civil Rules of the District Court of South Australia. View "Corso v. Rejuvi Laboratory, Inc." on Justia Law

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Sienega failed to file required California state income tax returns in the 1990-1992, and 1996 tax years. The IRS made upward adjustments in Sienega’s federal tax liability for those years. For each of the four tax years, Sienega’s counsel faxed to California's Franchise Tax Board (FTB) a cover sheet and IRS Form 4549-A, listing the adjustments to Sienega’s income, the corrected taxable income and tax liability, interest, and penalties. The FTB issued a notice of proposed assessment for each tax year; each stated that the FTB had “no record of receiving [Sienega’s] personal income tax return.” The notices proposed to assess state taxes based upon the federal audit report and specified that if Sienega disagreed with any of the calculations, he would need to submit a formal protest. Sienega did not file any belated tax returns or protests. The assessments became final in 2009. In 2014, Sienega filed a bankruptcy petition. The FTB filed am adversary complaint seeking to have Sienega’s outstanding state tax debts declared nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(1)(B), based on the fact that he had not filed a formal state tax return in any of the relevant years. Sienega contended that he had filed state tax returns by faxing information about the adjustments.The bankruptcy court granted the FTB summary judgment. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel and Ninth Circuit affirmed. The faxes did not constitute a return under the “hanging paragraph” in section 523(a) because the California state law process with which his faxes complied was not “similar” to 26 U.S.C. 6020(a), which authorizes the IRS to prepare a tax return when a taxpayer does not. View "Sienega v. State of California Franchise Tax Board" on Justia Law

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The IRS recorded liens for unpaid taxes, interest, and penalties against the debtors’ residence. After debtors filed for bankruptcy, the IRS filed a proof of claim. The portion of the claim that was secured by liens on the residence and attributable only to penalties was $162,000. The debtors filed an adversary proceeding, asserting that the IRS’s claim for penalties was subject to avoidance by the trustee and that because the trustee had not attempted to avoid this claim, debtors could do so under 11 U.S.C. 522(h). The trustee cross-claimed to avoid the liens and alleged their value should be recovered for the benefit of the bankruptcy estate.The bankruptcy court dismissed the adversary complaint. The trustee and the IRS agreed that the penalty portions of the liens were avoided under 11 U.S.C. 724(a). The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel and Ninth Circuit affirmed. Section 522(h) did not authorize the debtors to avoid the liens that secured the penalties claim to the extent of their $100,000 California law homestead exemption. Section 522(c)(2)(B), denies debtors the right to remove tax liens from their otherwise exempt property. Under 11 U.S.C. 551, a transfer that is avoided by the trustee under 724(a) is preserved for the benefit of the estate; this aspect of 551 is not overridden by 522(i)(2), which provides that property may be preserved for the benefit of the debtor to the extent of a homestead exemption. View "Hutchinson v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

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While their state suit against their mortgage service company was pending, the debtors filed for bankruptcy. On a schedule that asked about claims against third parties, they stated they had none. They listed the mortgage servicing company as a non-priority creditor and disclosed the lawsuit in their Statement of Financial Affairs. They discussed the state lawsuit with the bankruptcy trustee. The trustee determined there were no scheduled assets that would benefit the estate. The bankruptcy court discharged the trustee and closed the case. Later, the mortgage servicing company contacted the bankruptcy trustee, offering to settle the lawsuit. The trustee was reappointed, took over the state lawsuit, settled it, and got the settlement approved by both the state court and the bankruptcy court. The settlement proceeds went to the bankruptcy estate, not the debtors.The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel and Ninth Circuit affirmed. Under 11 U.S.C. 554(c), at the end of bankruptcy proceedings, property that has not been otherwise administered can generally be abandoned to the debtor only if it has been “scheduled.” Section 554(c) requires property to be disclosed on a literal schedule under 11 U.S.C. 521(a). Without trustee or court action, property disclosed only on a statement, such as a Statement of Financial Affairs, cannot be abandoned under section 554(c). The debtors did not meet the requirements of section 544(c), and their interest was not abandoned. View "Stevens v. Whitmore" on Justia Law