Justia Bankruptcy Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Bear Creek Trail, LLC, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. The bankruptcy court granted a motion to convert the proceeding to a Chapter 7 liquidation and appointed a trustee. Bear Creek’s attorney in the bankruptcy proceedings asked the district court to review the bankruptcy court’s conversion order. The district court dismissed, holding that only the trustee could seek review. The Tenth Circuit concluded Bear Creek's former management and the attorney lacked authority to challenge the conversion order in district court on behalf of the Debtor. Accordingly, the district court's judgment dismissing the appeal was affirmed. View "Bear Creek Trail, et al. v. BOKF, et al." on Justia Law

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Debtors Julio Barrera and Maria de La Luz Moro filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code hoping to reorganize their assets and finances. Instead of selling most of their assets to obtain an immediate discharge of their debts, they opted to keep their assets, try a reorganization plan to repay creditors, and receive a discharge later. For some time they continued to meet the terms of their reorganization plan. But they changed their minds following the sale of their home, which had appreciated in value significantly since they filed for bankruptcy. Barrera and Moro converted their Chapter 13 bankruptcy to a liquidation of their estate under Chapter 7. The Chapter 7 trustee (Trustee) claimed a right to a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the home, including the appreciation that occurred after their Chapter 13 petition was filed. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals' review centered on who was entitled to the proceeds from the sale of the home. Specifically, did the sale proceeds from the real property of the estate belong to the Chapter 7 estate or to the debtors? The Court concluded that under 11 U.S.C. 348(f)(1)(A), the sale proceeds from the home belonged to the debtors. View "Rodriguez v. Barrera, et al." on Justia Law

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Appellants, seventy-six Chapter 11 debtors associated with John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts (Debtors), argued they incurred more than $2.5 million of quarterly Chapter 11 disbursement fees from January 2018 through December 2020. Debtors faulted the bankruptcy court’s statutory interpretation, arguing that it applied the quarterly fees retroactively to pending cases against Congress’s intent. Alternatively, Debtors faulted Congress, arguing that charging different Chapter 11 disbursement fees depending on the location of the bankruptcy filing violated the uniformity requirement of the Bankruptcy Clause, U.S. Const. art I, sec. 8, cl. 4. The Tenth Circuit concluded the presumption against retroactivity did not apply here, because Congress increased the quarterly bankruptcy fees prospectively. On Debtors' second point, the Court concluded that Debtors had to prevail: the 2017 Amendment’s fee disparities failed under the uniformity requirement of the Bankruptcy Clause. The Amendment imposed higher quarterly fees on large debtors in Trustee districts. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a determination of Debtors' quarterly Chapter 11 fees and a refund of overpayment. View "In re: John Q. Hammons Fall, et al." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose because debtor-appellant Margaret Kinney failed to make some of the required mortgage payments within her Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan’s five-year period. Shortly after the five-year period ended, however, she made the back payments and requested a discharge. The bankruptcy court denied the request and dismissed the case. The issue on appeal was whether the bankruptcy court could grant a discharge, and the answer turned on how the Tenth Circuit characterized Kinney’s late payments. She characterized them as a cure for her earlier default; HSBC Bank characterized them as an impermissible effort to modify the plan. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the bank and affirmed dismissal. View "Kinney v. HSBC Bank USA" on Justia Law

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Appellant Victor Kearney was the lifetime income beneficiary of two spendthrift trusts when he filed for bankruptcy in 2017. The United States Trustee’s office appointed an unsecured creditors committee (“UCC”) which proposed a reorganization plan contemplating a one-time trust distribution to pay off appellant's debts. After a New Mexico state court modified the trusts to authorize the distribution, the bankruptcy court approved the plan. Appellant appealed. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (“BAP”) of the Tenth Circuit concluded that the bankruptcy court did not deny appellant due process, made no errors in its findings of fact, and did not abuse its discretion in settling appellant's claims. On appeal of that decision, appellant argued that using spendthrift trust assets to fund the reorganization plan violated the trusts’ spendthrift provision and the law, and that approving the settlement of his claims amounted to an abuse of the bankruptcy court’s discretion. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the BAP. View "Kearney v. Unsecured Creditors Committee" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a bankruptcy filing by Thomas Crow, who owned substantial property and investment accounts in Wyoming. His bankruptcy petition sought an exemption for approximately $2 million contained in a Fidelity account, which he claimed was jointly held with his wife (who did not file for bankruptcy) and therefore was shielded from creditors under Wyoming law. The Trustee and a creditor, Radiance Capital Receivables Nineteen, L.L.C., objected to the claimed exemption. After a hearing, the bankruptcy court upheld the exemption, and a Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (BAP) affirmed. On appeal, Radiance appealed the BAP’s affirmance. Crow argued the Tenth Circuit lacked jurisdiction over this appeal because the BAP’s affirmance of the bankruptcy court’s ruling on the claimed exemption was not “final” within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. 158(d)(1). Radiance also challenged the BAP’s affirmance of the bankruptcy court’s ruling that an adversary proceeding was required to determine the amount of joint debt held by the Crows before any portion of the Fidelity account must be turned over to the Trustee. Finding it had jurisdiction, and deciding on the merits, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Applying Wyoming law, Court concluded the Crows jointly held the Fidelity account with a right of survivorship (“tenancy by the entirety” at common law) and was therefore exempt from the bankrupt estate. Furthermore, the tenancy by the entirety was not severed by the Crows’ subsequent conduct. The Court determined Radiance lacked standing to challenge that portion of the BAP’s ruling with regard to the adversary proceeding, and therefore dismissed that aspect of its appeal. View "Radiance Capital v. Crow" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellees Byron and Laura McDaniel claimed they discharged some private student loans in their Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Defendant-Appellant Navient Solutions, LLC (“Navient”), the loans’ creditor, moved to dismiss the McDaniels’ claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), contending that the loans were excepted from discharge under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(8)(A)(ii). This case raised a question of first impression to the Tenth Circuit of whether an educational loan constituted “an obligation to repay funds received as an educational benefit,” within the meaning of section 523(a)(8)(A)(ii). The Court concluded that it did not, therefore, the Court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s interlocutory order denying Navient’s motion, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "McDaniel v. Navient Solutions" on Justia Law

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Eric Wagenknecht and his wife, Susan Colbert, filed for relief under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code in January 2016 (the “Petition Date”). The case was converted to Chapter 7 in April 2017. Jared Walters was appointed as the Chapter 7 trustee for the estate (the “Trustee”). Prior to the Petition Date, the Law Firm provided legal services to Eric. By the end of 2015, Eric owed the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg, LLC (the “Law Firm”) over $20,000. Eric borrowed money from his mother to pay the Law Firm, and executed a promissory note to repay her. In January 2018, the Trustee initiated an adversary proceeding against the Law Firm. The Trustee alleged that the payment to the Law Firm was a preferential transfer under 11 U.S.C. 547. The Trustee therefore sought to avoid and recover the payment under 11 U.S.C. sections 547 and 550. The parties cross-moved for summary judgment, and the bankruptcy court entered an order denying the Law Firm’s motion for summary judgment and granting the Trustee’s cross-motion for summary judgment. The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding that because Eric did not exercise control or dominion over the payment to the Law Firm, and because the payment did not diminish Eric’s bankruptcy estate, the payment did not constitute a “transfer of an interest of the debtor in property” under section 547(b). Therefore, the bankruptcy court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of the Trustee. View "Walters v. Stevens, Littman, Biddison" on Justia Law

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Attorney Ruston Welch received approximately $350,000 in fees for representing David and Terry Stewart in their Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings. This appeal stemmed from Welch's failure to disclose his fee arrangements and payments until ordered to do so by the bankruptcy court more than two years after he should have disclosed his fee agreement, and more than a year after he should have disclosed the payments. For these violations the bankruptcy court sanctioned Welch, requiring him to pay $25,000 to the bankruptcy estate. The bankruptcy appellate panel (BAP) affirmed the sanction after the Stewarts’ largest creditor, SE Property Holdings (SEPH), which had initiated the proceedings as an involuntary bankruptcy, challenged the sanction as so inadequate as to constitute an abuse of discretion. SEPH appealed that decision. The Tenth Circuit concurred, reversed and remanded the matter for further consideration. "The presumptive sanction ... is forfeiture of the entire fee. For good reason the bankruptcy court can impose a lesser sanction. But the court thus far has not provided good reason. It assumed facts that were not in evidence and, most importantly, apparently assumed good faith without examining the possible motives for nondisclosure." View "SE Property Holdings v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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Eric Rajala, the bankruptcy trustee for Generation Resources Holding Company, LLC, initiated separate adversary proceedings against Spencer Fane LLP and Husch Blackwell LLP (collectively, “the firms”) to recover legal fees he alleged were proceeds of a fraudulent transfer. The bankruptcy court denied the firms’ motions to dismiss, but then certified the decisions for immediate appeal. The Tenth Circuit consolidated the appeals and agreed to hear them on an interlocutory basis. The Tenth Circuit concluded that because the firms were not “transferees,” as that term is used in 11 U.S.C. 550, the Court reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss Rajala’s adversary complaints. Consequently, Rajala may not recover the fees from the firms. View "Rajala v. Spencer Fane" on Justia Law