Justia Bankruptcy Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Bullock v. Simon
Bullock petitioned for Chapter 13 bankruptcy but failed to disclose on his Schedule B list of assets a pending workers’ compensation claim. On his Schedule C list of exemptions, he failed to declare an exemption for the claim. Bullock proposed a 60-month plan of reorganization to pay $148 per month plus possible tax refunds. The bankruptcy court confirmed the plan in October 2014. In 2017, Bullock received a workers’ compensation settlement award for $92,430.84. The trustee moved to compel Bullock to disclose it. Bullock then listed the settlement proceeds as personal property on Schedule B and declared the proceeds exempt on Schedule C under 820 ILCS 305/21; 735 ILCS. 5/12-1001(b). The trustee successfully moved to compel Bullock to file an amended plan under 11 U.S.C. 1329(a) that would provide for the turnover of Bullock’s workers’ compensation award for distributions to general unsecured creditors. Bullock had already spent the award proceeds. The bankruptcy court confirmed Bullock’s amended plan, requiring Bullock to pay a lump-sum of approximately $15,000 before the plan’s expiration. Bullock failed to make the final payment under the plan. An appeal from the dismissal of the bankruptcy case is pending. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the adversary proceeding on mootness grounds. That issue is mooted because he complied with the very order requiring the reorganization plan’s amendment that he now seeks to challenge and because his underlying bankruptcy case was dismissed. View "Bullock v. Simon" on Justia Law
City of Chicago v. Kiera Cherry
Chicago assesses fines for parking and other vehicular offenses against the owner. If the owner filed bankruptcy, keeping the car in the estate meant that the automatic stay prevented the city from using collection devices such as towing or booting. The Seventh Circuit previously held 11 U.S.C. 1327(b), which provides that “confirmation of a plan vests all of the property of the estate in the debtor” precludes debtors from avoiding such fines by keeping the car in the estate except when a court enters a case-specific order, supported by good case-specific reasons. Bankruptcy judges then changed their form confirmation order, adding a checkbox through which debtors could elect a departure from the statutory presumption. The Seventh Circuit then held that vehicular fines are administrative expenses that bankruptcy estates must pay even though not listed on debtors’ 11 U.S.C.507(a)(2) schedules. Whether a car’s title returns to the owner on confirmation of the plan or remains in the estate, vehicular fines must be paid.The Seventh Circuit then reversed confirmation orders that were based only on the debtor’s choice. Immunity from traffic laws is not an outcome plausibly attributed to the Bankruptcy Code. A bankruptcy court must confirm any plan that satisfies 11 U.S.C. 1325(a) and "other applicable provisions of this title”; section 1327(b) is an applicable provision. A bankruptcy court may confirm a plan that holds property in the estate only after finding good case-specific reasons for that action. View "City of Chicago v. Kiera Cherry" on Justia Law
Bastanipour v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.
After filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition, Bastani asked the judge to stay a pending state court foreclosure procedure. Bastani’s previous bankruptcy petition had been dismissed less than a year earlier, creating a presumption that the new filing was not in good faith, 11 U.S.C. 362(c)(3)(C)(i), and meaning that the automatic stay would end 30 days after the new proceeding began. The bankruptcy and district courts denied Bastani’s motion.The Seventh Circuit denied relief and also denied Bastani’s motion for leave to file in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. 1915. Chapter 13 is designed for people who can pay most of their debts; someone eligible for Chapter 13 relief cannot establish that she cannot pay judicial fees in the absence of extraordinary circumstances. The court further concluded that Bastani’s second bankruptcy petition was filed in actual bad faith; Bastani appeared to be trying to achieve a Chapter 13 benefit (keeping her home) without the detriment of having to pay her debts. View "Bastanipour v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law
Hazelton v. Board of Regents for the University of Wisconsin System
The Hazeltons sought sanctions against the University for collecting an educational debt after their debts were discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The district court reversed a bankruptcy court holding that the debt was nondischargeable and remanded. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal, citing its jurisdiction in bankruptcy cases under 28 U.S.C. 158(d)(1), which is limited to orders that resolve “discrete disputes” within the bankruptcy case. The district court did not resolve the dispute regarding sanctions but decided a subsidiary legal issue. View "Hazelton v. Board of Regents for the University of Wisconsin System" on Justia Law
Whirlpool Corp. v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.
In 2011 Wells Fargo entered into a loan and security agreement with hhgregg to provide the retailer with operating credit. Wells Fargo had a perfected first-priority, floating lien on nearly all of hhgregg’s assets. In 2017, hhgregg petitioned for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, owing Wells Fargo $66 million. Wells Fargo agreed to provide debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing in return for a priming, first-priority security interest on substantially all of hhgregg’s assets, including existing and after-acquired inventory and its proceeds. The bankruptcy judge approved the DIP financing agreement and the super-priority security interest. Whirlpool had long delivered home appliances to hhgregg on credit for resale. Three days after the approval of the DIP financing, Whirlpool sent a reclamation demand seeking the return of $16.3 million of unpaid inventory delivered during 45 days before the petition date and filed an adversary complaint, seeking a declaration that its reclamation claim was first in priority as to the reclaimed goods. Reorganization proved unsuccessful. The bankruptcy judge authorized hhgregg to sell its inventory—including the Whirlpool goods—in going-out-of-business sales and entered summary judgment for Wells Fargo.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Reclamation is a limited remedy that permits a seller to recover possession of goods delivered to an insolvent purchaser, subject to significant restrictions, 11 U.S.C. 546(c). A seller’s right to reclaim goods is “subject to the prior rights of a holder of a security interest in such goods or the proceeds thereof.” Whirlpool’s later-in-time reclamation demand is “subject to” Wells Fargo’s prior rights as a secured creditor; its reclamation claim is subordinate to the DIP financing lien. View "Whirlpool Corp. v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law
Burciaga v. Moglia
Burciaga lost his job and filed for bankruptcy a week later. On the date the bankruptcy proceeding began, Burciaga’s former employer owed him approximately $24,000 for unused vacation time. Illinois treats vacation pay as a form of wages. Exemptions for debtors in Illinois rest on state law, 11 U.S.C. 522(b)(2). Burciaga asked the district court to treat 85% of the vacation pay as exempt from creditors’ claims. Illinois permits creditors to reach 15% of unpaid wages but forbids debt collection from the rest. The Chapter 7 Trustee, objected. The bankruptcy judge and district court sided with the Trustee. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding nothing ambiguous about Illinois law or section 522(b)(2) and (3)(A); 85% of unpaid wages are exempt from creditors’ claims in Illinois, and vacation pay is a form of wages. View "Burciaga v. Moglia" on Justia Law
CSI Worldwide, LLC v. Trumpf, Inc.
Trumpf, the U.S. subsidiary of an international business, hired Lynch to handle Trumpf’s appearance at a Chicago trade show. Lynch subcontracted with CSI for some of the services. CSI claims that it told Trumpf that it was unsure of Lynch’s reliability and that Trumpf agreed to pay CSI directly or guarantee the payment. There was no written agreement between Trumpf and CSI. Lynch did not pay CSI, which claimed $530,000 in Lynch’s ensuing bankruptcy. CSI also sued Trumpf, asserting promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment. The district court dismissed, reasoning that CSI was estopped, as a result of its bankruptcy claim, from suing Trumpf. The Seventh Circuit reversed, reasoning that Lynch has not prevailed on that claim and that the claim is not inconsistent with Trumpf guaranteeing payment. Filing a claim in bankruptcy does not foreclose claims against non-bankrupt obligors, 11 U.S.C. 524(e). View "CSI Worldwide, LLC v. Trumpf, Inc." on Justia Law
Saccameno v. U.S. Bank National Association
Around 2009, Saccameno defaulted on her mortgage. U.S. Bank began foreclosure proceedings. She began a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan under which she was to cure her default over 42 months while maintaining her monthly mortgage payments, 11 U.S.C. 1322(b)(5). In 2011, Ocwen acquired her previous servicer. Ocwen, inexplicably, informed her that she owed $16,000 immediately. Saccameno continued making payments based on her plan. Her statements continued to fluctuate. In 2013, the bankruptcy court issued a notice that Saccameno had completed her payments. Ocwen never responded; the court entered a discharge order. Within days an Ocwen employee mistakenly treated the discharge as a dismissal and reactivated the foreclosure. For about twp years, Saccameno and her attorney faxed her documents many times and spoke to many Ocwen employees. The foreclosure protocol remained open. Ocewen eventually began rejecting her payments. Saccameno sued, citing breach of contract; the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act; the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act; and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (ICFDBPA), citing consent decrees that Ocwen previously had entered with regulatory bodies, concerning inadequate recordkeeping, misapplication of payments, and poor customer service. The jury awarded $500,000 for the breach of contract, FDCPA, and RESPA claims, plus, under ICFDBPA, $12,000 in economic, $70,000 in non-economic, and $3,000,000 in punitive damages. The Seventh Circuit remanded. While the jury was within its rights to punish Ocwen, the amount of the award is excessive. View "Saccameno v. U.S. Bank National Association" on Justia Law
City of Chicago v. Marshall
In a previous appeal, the Seventh Circuit held that the confirmation of a Chapter 13 payment plan causes the debtor’s assets, including automobiles, to revert to the debtor’s personal ownership unless the judge has made a debtor-specific finding under 11 U.S.C.1327(b). After bankruptcy judges confirmed their Chapter 13 payment plans, the debtors used their cars in ways that led to fines for running red lights, illegal parking, and similar offenses. They refused to pay, observing that the confirmed plans do not require them to pay fines (as opposed to other expenses). Chicago argued that the fines were administrative expenses of the estates in bankruptcy, as long as the vehicles remain assets of the estates, and entitled to priority payment, 11 U.S.C. 507(a)(2). On rehearing, the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of the city, holding that automotive fines incurred by estates during confirmed Chapter 13 payment plans should be treated as administrative expenses that must be paid promptly and in full. The question is whether operating a vehicle is necessary to earn the money needed to perform the Chapter 13 plan. The debtors insisted that cars are essential. View "City of Chicago v. Marshall" on Justia Law
Bush v. United States
The Bushes owed $100,000 in taxes. The IRS sought a 75% fraud penalty (26 U.S.C. 6663(a)); the Bushes proposed a 20% negligence penalty (section 6662(a)). On the date set for Tax Court trial, the Bushes filed for bankruptcy. The automatic stay prevented the Tax Court from proceeding. The government filed a proof of claim, proposing that the tax debt be given priority over other unsecured debts and that the penalty was nondischargeable. The Bushes initiated an adversary proceeding, asking for a 20% penalty, citing 11 U.S.C. 505(a)(1), which states that the court may determine the amount or legality of any tax, any fine or penalty relating to a tax ... whether or not contested before … [an] administrative tribunal. The IRS argued that section 505 does not grant subject-matter jurisdiction to bankruptcy judges and that only a potential effect on creditors’ distributions justifies a decision by a bankruptcy judge about any tax dispute. The Seventh Circuit held that a bankruptcy court can determine the amount of a debtor’s tax obligations. Section 505 does not address jurisdiction bu simply sets out a task for bankruptcy judges. Whether the judge should exercise that authority to determine tax liability is a distinct question. The bankruptcy is apparently done; the estate’s available assets have been used to pay debts and the stay has expired. This residual dispute should not remain with the bankruptcy judge but should be left to the Tax Court. View "Bush v. United States" on Justia Law