Justia Bankruptcy Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Sheehan v. Breccia Unlimited Co.
Sheehan emigrated from Ireland decades ago and currently lives in Winfield, Illinois. Sheehan obtained loans from an Irish bank to buy interests in an Irish medical company (Blackrock), and to purchase property located in Ballyheigue, Sheehan defaulted on both loans. Breccia, an Irish entity, acquired the loans and took steps to foreclose on the underlying collateral. Sheehan sued but an Irish court authorized Breccia to enforce its security interest in the Blackrock Shares and the Ballyheigue property. Breccia registered the Blackrock Shares in its name and appointed a receiver, Murran, to take possession of the Ballyheigue property. Sheehan filed a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, triggering an automatic stay, 11 U.S.C. 362 (a)(3). Sheehan notified the Irish receiver, Murran, and Breccia of the automatic stay. Breccia continued, through Murran, to take the necessary steps toward selling the collateral, entering into a contract with IADC (another Irish company) to sell the Blackrock Shares.The bankruptcy court dismissed Sheehan's subsequent adversary complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction over the Irish defendants, as none of them conducted any activity related to the adversary claims in the U.S.; the only link between the defendants and the forum was the fact that Sheehan lived in Illinois. The email notice Sheehan provided the defendants was not sufficient process under the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed. None of the defendants had minimum contacts with the United States. View "Sheehan v. Breccia Unlimited Co." on Justia Law
Laney v. Second Chance Auto, Inc.
In 2019, Laney financed a Ford Edge from Second Chance, agreeing to pay attorney’s fees in the event of default. Four months later, Laney filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. The bankruptcy court ordered Laney to amend his original plan to account for Chance's “Claim 3” for the Edge as a “910 claim” (debts for personal vehicles purchased less than 910 days before the filed bankruptcy petition must be paid in full, 11 U.S.C. 1325(a)). Laney amended the plan but failed to provide for full payment. Chance again objected and requested attorney’s fees for filing the same objection twice. The bankruptcy court again ordered Laney to amend the plan and allowed Chance to file an affidavit of attorney’s fees. Laney’s second amended plan accounted for the full outstanding principal and interest but not for attorney’s fees.The bankruptcy court confirmed the plan, which listed the Edge claim to be paid in full with interest. At the court’s request, Second Chance amended Claim 3 to include attorney’s fees, but labeled it as “Claim 9,” which led Laney to object. The court concluded that Claim 9 would be treated as an amendment to Claim 3. Laney unsuccessfully argued that the claim violated 11 U.S.C. 1327(a). The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed. The bankruptcy court provided compelling reasons for allowing the post-confirmation amendment; the attorney’s fees were reasonable and necessary. View "Laney v. Second Chance Auto, Inc." on Justia Law
Helmstetter v. Herzog
In 2014, Helmstetter filed a state court lawsuit against his former employer, Kingdom. Kingdom filed counterclaims and a separate lawsuit. Helmstetter's 2019 bankruptcy petition automatically stayed the state court litigation. Helmstetter filed schedules of assets and liabilities under penalty of perjury, valuing his total assets at $8.5 million, which included his projected state court recovery at between $5-7.5 million. Helmstetter valued his liabilities at $6.5-$10.5 million. After Helmstetter filed his first amended schedules, bankruptcy trustee Herzog obtained approval of a settlement with Kingdom, which agreed to pay the estate $550,000. Subsequently, Helmstetter filed amended schedules, valuing his total assets at $43 million and his liabilities at $20 million; he included $16 million for the state court litigation. Helmstetter provided no evidence to support the estimates, and his accountants’ report did not explain the methodologies they used.The bankruptcy court approved the settlement agreement over Helmstetter’s objection. Without seeking a stay of the order, Helmstetter appealed. The district court dismissed. Herzog and Kingdom executed the settlement agreement and dismissed the state court litigation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Helmstetter failed to show how it is likely, not merely speculative, that his purported injury would be redressed by a favorable decision; he lacks Article III standing to appeal the decision. View "Helmstetter v. Herzog" on Justia Law
Kelley v. Stevanovich
Capital held tens of millions of dollars for a sole investor, with Stevanovich as its sole director. Capital invested in the multi-billion-dollar Petters Ponzi scheme, getting out before the scheme collapsed in 2008. Some investors lost everything[ Capital earned tens of millions. The Petters bankruptcy court entered a $578,366,822 default judgment against Capital in 2015, but it had dissolved. In 2018, the Trustee filed a post-judgment supplementary proceeding in the Northern District of Illinois against Stevanovich, an Illinois resident. Under Illinois law, a judgment creditor may recover assets from a third party if the judgment debtor has an Illinois state law claim of embezzlement against the third party. In his turnover motion, the Trustee argued that Stevanovich embezzled Capital’s funds to purchase high-end wine for his personal use and transferred the goods to Stevanovich’s personal wine cellar in Switzerland. The Trustee submitted ample evidence to support his claim for $1,948,670.79. The district court granted the turnover order without conducting an evidentiary hearing and found that Stevanovich embezzled the funds. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Stevanovich’s claims that the wine purchases were an investment strategy for Capital and that the five-year statute of limitations for embezzlement applied, accruing from the dates of the wine purchases. The court applied the seven-year statute of limitations for supplementary proceedings accruing from the date of the bankruptcy court judgment. Stevanovich failed to present any evidence creating an issue of fact that necessitated a hearing. View "Kelley v. Stevanovich" on Justia Law
Jane Doe JJ v. USA Gymnastics
During a decade as a member of USA Gymnastics, J.J. was one of the hundreds of gymnasts sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar, the organization’s physician. In response to the claims based on Nassar’s conduct, USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court set a deadline for filing proofs of claim. USA Gymnastics mailed notices to all known survivors who had filed or threatened to file lawsuits, had reported abuse, had entered into a settlement agreement, or had received payment as a result of an allegation of abuse--more than 1,300 individuals. USA Gymnastics also emailed copies of the notice to more than 360,000 current and former USA Gymnastics members, and placed information about the bar date on its website, social media pages, in USA Today, and in gymnastics journals, podcasts, and websites J.J. did not receive actual notice and filed her proof of claim five months late.The bankruptcy court treated her claim as untimely. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed. J.J. argued that she was entitled to actual notice; she claimed USA Gymnastics should have known that she was a potential claimant because it needed to retain medical records under Michigan law and should have known that she had seen Nassar for medical care. The court found no evidence that USA Gymnastics had these records; J.J.’s argument that Michigan law required retention of any relevant documents “is dubious.” View "Jane Doe JJ v. USA Gymnastics" on Justia Law
State of Wisconsin Department of Children and Families v. Terrell
After filing for bankruptcy, the Terrells proposed a plan that classified about $30,000 they owed to Wisconsin as a “priority debt,” 11 U.S.C. 507(a)(1)(B) based on an overpayment of public assistance. The existence of a priority debt meant that the Chapter 13 plan had to continue for 60 months, after which unpaid debts would be discharged. After the plan was confirmed, the Seventh Circuit held that public assistance debts are not entitled to priority status, which raised the possibility of cutting the duration of the Terrell plan to 36 months and reducing the amount they paid. The bankruptcy court eventually amended the plan accordingly.The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting that the Terrells waited almost two years after the confirmation of their plan to seek a modification. A bankruptcy court needs authority from a statute, a rule, or the litigants’ consent to modify a confirmed plan. The Terrells acted too late to use Rule 60(b), the best and possibly the only source of authority for the relief they sought. View "State of Wisconsin Department of Children and Families v. Terrell" on Justia Law
Wheeler Financial, Inc. v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A.
JPMorgan loaned the debtors $1.3 million on the security of a Cook County restaurant. After the debtors stopped paying real estate taxes, Wheeler paid on their behalf and received the right to a tax deed once a redemption period expired. JPMorgan did not pay the taxes or redeem from Wheeler. The debtors filed a bankruptcy petition. They listed some tax debts but did not identify Cook County or Wheeler as creditors. Neither was served with notice or a summons. JPMorgan knew about the unpaid taxes but failed to ensure that the County or Wheeler was served. The bankruptcy judge approved a plan of reorganization. The debtors did not pay; Wheeler got the judge to lift the automatic stay in order to get a tax deed. A state judge issued the requested deed. The federal district court held that the stay should have been left in place because the confirmed plan superseded Wheeler’s unpaid lien. On remand, the bankruptcy court declared the tax deed “void” and approved a revised plan of reorganization, calling for JPMorgan to pay Wheeler $65,000.In a second appeal, the district court concluded that the order approving the revised plan and knocking out Wheeler’s lien was valid. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wheeler is a party, the plan has been confirmed, and Wheeler has bypassed its principal opportunities to contest the plan. View "Wheeler Financial, Inc. v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A." on Justia Law
City of Chicago v. Mance
Outstanding debt for Chicago traffic tickets surpassed $1.8 billion last year. Under a 2016 Chicago ordinance, when a driver incurs the needed number of outstanding tickets and final liability determinations, Chicago is authorized to impound her vehicle and to attach a possessory lien. Many drivers cannot afford to pay their outstanding tickets and fees, let alone the liens imposed on their cars through this process. Mance incurred several unpaid parking tickets; her car was impounded and subject to a possessory lien of $12,245, more than four times her car’s value. With a monthly income of $197 in food stamps, Mance filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and sought to avoid the lien under 11 U.S.C 522(f). When a vehicle owner files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, she can avoid a lien under 522(f) if the lien qualifies as judicial and its value exceeds the value of her exempt property (the car). If the lien is statutory, it is not avoidable under the same provision.The bankruptcy and district courts and the Seventh Circuit concluded that the lien was judicial and avoidable. The lien was tied inextricably to the prior adjudications of Mance’s parking and other infractions, so it did not arise solely by statute, as the Bankruptcy Code requires for a statutory lien. View "City of Chicago v. Mance" on Justia Law
Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. v. Country Visions Cooperative
In 2007, Olsen granted Country Visions a 10-year right of first refusal on Wisconsin land. The right was recorded in local property records. Olsen subsequently dissolved and, in 2010, its former partners filed for bankruptcy. Country Visions was not notified and was not listed in the bankruptcy proceedings. Under an agreed plan, ADM became the owner of the Wisconsin land. Country Visions was not given an opportunity to exercise its right of first refusal. In 2015, ADM arranged to resell the property. Country Vision sought compensation in state court.ADM asked the bankruptcy court to enforce the “free and clear” sale and prohibit the state court litigation, citing 11 U.S.C. 363(m). The bankruptcy court and district court denied ADM’s request. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Good-faith purchasers are protected by section 363(m) but ADM was not a good-faith purchaser and must defend the state court litigation. ADM had actual notice of the right, in a title report, but did not notify the bankruptcy court; as a non-party, Country Visions could not be expected to appeal the order approving the sale. View "Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. v. Country Visions Cooperative" on Justia Law
Harshaw v. Harshaw
Anne and Donald divorced in 1996 after 25 years of marriage. They later reconciled but did not re‐marry, then separated again. Because divorce laws no longer applied, Anne sued Donald in Indiana state court under equitable theories to seek redress for her contributions to the relationship during their second period together. They agreed to binding arbitration. The arbitrator awarded Anne $435,000, half the increase in value of Donald’s retirement savings during their unmarried cohabitation. Donald declared bankruptcy and sought to discharge the arbitrator’s award as a money judgment. Anne argued that the arbitrator had awarded her an interest in specific property so that the award could not be discharged in Donald’s bankruptcy.The bankruptcy court sided with Anne. The district court reversed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, in favor of Donald. Anne was awarded a money judgment, not a property interest. The award does not identify a required source of funds or manner of payment but only lists options for satisfying the obligation. The payment of cash would suffice; the award provided for post-judgment interest. The arbitrator’s award said that “this judgment should not be dischargeable in bankruptcy” but that language is not controlling. View "Harshaw v. Harshaw" on Justia Law