Justia Bankruptcy Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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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

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Appellant Tom Connolly, the trustee for the Chapter 7 case of Appellee Samuel Morreale, sought compensation based upon moneys disbursed in Morreale’s Chapter 7 case and in a related Chapter 11 case. Morreale owned the sole membership interest in Morreale Hotels, LLC (Hotels LLC), which in turn owned two properties in Denver, Colorado. Morreale also acted as Hotels LLC’s manager and personally guaranteed certain loans that Hotels LLC obtained on the properties it owned. In 2012, Hotels LLC filed a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and pursued reorganization. In 2013, Morreale filed his own Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, which the bankruptcy court later converted to Chapter 7. The U.S. Trustee appointed Connolly as the Chapter 7 trustee in the Chapter 7 Case. As trustee, Connolly assumed Morreale’s membership interest in Hotels LLC. Exercising that interest, Connolly appointed himself the new manager of Hotels LLC, thereby replacing Morreale. The bankruptcy court approved this replacement. Connolly abandoned reorganization of Hotels LLC and decided instead to liquidate Hotels LLC’s properties. In his application for compensation, Connolly sought $260,000, an amount based on the moneys disbursed in both the Chapter 7 Case and to creditors who also held claims in the Chapter 11 Case. The bankruptcy court and the Tenth Circuit’s bankruptcy appellate panel (the BAP) both rejected Connolly’s request, concluding that the language of 11 U.S.C. section 326(a) did not support it. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the plain language of section 326(a) permitted awarding compensation to a Chapter 7 trustee based only on moneys disbursed in the case in which that trustee served, and not on moneys disbursed in a related Chapter 11 case in which the trustee did not serve. View "Connolly v. Morreale" on Justia Law

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Debtor Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas (ABBK), an American subsidiary of the Spanish engineering conglomerate, Abengoa, S.A., financed construction of an ethanol conversion facility in Hugoton, Kansas. Financing was accomplished through inter-company loans from other American subsidiaries of Abengoa, S.A. ABBK experienced financial difficulties and eventually filed for bankruptcy protection in Kansas. Four other Abengoa subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy protection in Missouri. The ABBK trustee pursued a plan of liquidation, which classified the inter-company loans ABBK had received beneath claims of general unsecured creditors, effectively ensuring no recovery for inter-company creditors. Acting as liquidating trustee in the Missouri bankruptcy, Drivetrain, LLC objected to this plan of liquidation. The bankruptcy court nevertheless confirmed the plan. Drivetrain sought a stay of enforcement and implementation of the plan of liquidation, pending appeal to the district court. But both the bankruptcy court and the district court, on appeal, denied Drivetrain’s motion for a stay. At this point, the ABBK trustee began to implement the plan, paying priority claims and distributing settled unsecured claims. After substantially consummating the plan, the ABBK trustee moved to dismiss Drivetrain’s appeal of the confirmed plan as equitably moot. The district court granted that motion, citing the potential harm that innocent third-party creditors would face from unwinding the plan at this juncture. Drivetrain appealed, but the Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding the potential harm to innocent third-party creditors justified this dismissal. View "Drivetrain v. Kozel" on Justia Law

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Rumsey Land Company, LLC (“Rumsey”) owned a property subject to a first deed of trust held by Pueblo Bank & Trust Company, LLC (“PBT”). In 2010, Rumsey filed for bankruptcy. Resource Land Holdings, LLC (“RLH”) offered to purchase the property, but the bankruptcy court did not approve the sale. Shortly thereafter, PBT purchased the property at a bankruptcy auction. PBT then transferred the land to RLH. In 2015, Rumsey discovered that during the bankruptcy proceedings, RLH had entered a loan purchase agreement to purchase PBT’s interest in the property. The agreement eventually led to litigation in state court between RLH and PBT, which culminated with a settlement agreement allowing RLH to purchase Rumsey’s property from PBT for $4.75 million. Rumsey believed the loan agreement, lawsuit, and settlement influenced the price at its bankruptcy auction. It initiated this adversarial proceeding in bankruptcy court against RLH and PBT (collectively “Defendants”), alleging: (1) fraudulent concealment in violation of state law; and (2) collusive bidding activities in violation of 11 U.S.C. 363(n). The case was transferred to federal district court, which granted summary judgment to defendants on both claims. The Tenth Circuit affirmed finding: (1) Rumsey forfeited its arguments about PBT’s duty to disclose its transaction with RLH and did not argue plain error on appeal; and (2) in the section 363(n) collusive bidding claim, it was time-barred by a one-year limitations period in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(c)(1), and Rumsey failed to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material face as to whether Defendants intended to control the sale price at the bankruptcy auction. View "Rumsey Land Company v. Resource Land Holdings" on Justia Law

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Gregory and Andrea Chernushin owned a second home in Colorado in joint tenancy with right of survivorship. Eventually, Mr. Chernushin (not Ms. Chernushin) filed for bankruptcy. During the bankruptcy proceedings, Mr. Chernushin died. The bankruptcy trustee, Robertson Cohen, then filed an adversary complaint against Ms. Chernushin, seeking to sell the home. Ms. Chernushin argued the bankruptcy estate no longer included any interest in the home because Mr. Chernushin’s joint tenancy interest ended at his death. The bankruptcy court agreed with Ms. Chernushin, as did the district court on appeal. The trustee appealed, but the Tenth Circuit concurred the bankruptcy estate had no more interest in the home than Mr. Chernushin and Mr. Chernushin’s interest extinguished when he died. View "Cohen v. Chernushin" on Justia Law

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Debtor Mark Taylor sought to avoid a set of liens that the William F. Sandoval Irrevocable Trust (the “Trust”) recorded on his home, which Taylor jointly owned with his former wife. The Bankruptcy Code provided that a debtor may avoid certain liens that impair an exemption, and set forth a formula to determine the extent to which an exemption is impaired. At issue before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was how that formula applied to a homestead exemption when a home is jointly owned with a non-debtor. Based on the plain language of 11 U.S.C. 522(f) and the structure of the Bankruptcy Code as a whole, the Court concluded the impairment calculation had to use the value of other liens on the home corresponding to the debtor’s percentage of ownership, rather than the full amount of the liens. View "William F. Sandoval Trust v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of a bankruptcy adversary proceeding, and centered on the ownership of a federal tax refund. The tax refund was issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to United Western Bancorp, Inc. (UWBI), a thrift holding company that had, under the terms of a written “Tax Allocation Agreement,” filed consolidated returns on behalf of itself and several subsidiary corporations. The tax refund was the result, however, of net operating losses incurred by United Western Bank (the Bank), one of UWBI’s subsidiaries. Simon Rodriguez, in his capacity as the Chapter 7 Trustee for the bankruptcy estate of UWBI, initiated this adversary proceeding against the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), as receiver for the Bank, alleging that the tax refund was owned by UWBI and was thus part of the bankruptcy estate. The bankruptcy court agreed and entered summary judgment in favor of the Trustee. The FDIC appealed to the district court, which reversed the decision of the bankruptcy court. The Trustee appealed the district court’s decision. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the tax refund belonged to the FDIC, as receiver for the Bank. Consequently, the Court affirmed the district court and remanded to the bankruptcy court for further proceedings. View "Rodriguez v. FDIC" on Justia Law