Justia Bankruptcy Opinion Summaries
Kelley v. Boosalis
This case arose from a Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Thomas Petters from 1994 to 2008 through his company, PCI. These appeals involve the Trustee’s separate claw back claims against defendants. The Trustee asserted claims under 11 U.S.C. 544(b)(1), which permits a trustee to "avoid any transfer of an interest of the debtor . . . that is voidable under applicable law by a creditor holding an unsecured claim." In this case, the applicable law is the Minnesota Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act (MUFTA).The Eighth Circuit held that the district court erred in applying the Supreme Court of Minnesota's controlling MUFTA decision in Finn v. Alliance Bank, 860 N.W.2d 638 (Minn. 2015), and the Minnesota law of void contracts. Therefore, the court reversed summary judgment against Papadimos and Kanios. The court also reversed and remanded in the Boosalis case because the district erred in instructing the jury on the MUFTA elements of "good faith" and "reasonably equivalent value." In both cases, the court held that the district court erred in concluding that Minnesota rather than federal law governed the award of prejudgment interest. The court rejected defendants' other arguments. View "Kelley v. Boosalis" on Justia Law
In re: Pena
Pena filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012, then owning 30 parcels of real estate. After Pena used cash collateral in an unauthorized manner, the bankruptcy court converted his case to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and appointed a trustee, who managed Pena’s California rental properties. The trustee tendered the rents as cash collateral to the security holders of the respective security interests. The security holders did not accept the funds. In 2014, the trustee abandoned the rental parcels as part of her administration of the bankruptcy estate; her unsuccessful efforts to distribute the rents ended in 2016. She deposited $52,000 in unclaimed funds in the bankruptcy court registry and closed Pena’s bankruptcy case, listing the unclaimed funds (and their rightful owners) in her final account. Pena did not object to the court’s decree approving the trustee’s actions.In 2018, Pena unsuccessfully sought to recover the funds without reopening the bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court noted that when the bankruptcy closed, Pena still had $411,000 in unpaid, unsecured debt. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, finding that Pena had prudential standing and was a “person aggrieved” and that the absence of an opposing party, due to the trustee’s dismissal did not prevent it from exercising jurisdiction. The trustee did not abandon the rents by abandoning the properties from which they were collected; the funds remained the property of the bankruptcy estate and did not constitute an estate surplus. View "In re: Pena" on Justia Law
Ridgeway v. Stryker Corp.
In 2001-2013, Ridgeway worked for Stryker, which believed that Ridgeway intended to use its confidential business information at his next job. Stryker sued Ridgeway. A jury found that Ridgeway had breached his contractual obligations, breached his fiduciary duty, and violated Michigan’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act (MUTSA) and that the MUTSA violation was willful and malicious for purposes of an award of attorney’s fees. Ridgeway filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The automatic stay caused by the filing of the petition prevented Stryker from making an attorney’s fee request in the Michigan proceedings. Stryker filed a proof of claim for $2,272,369.54, supported by hundreds of pages of time entries; the amount claimed and the corresponding time entries do not just relate to the lawyers’ work on the MUTSA claim. Stryker argued that, under the “Common Core” doctrine, its win on the MUTSA claim entitles it to attorney’s fees for all of its claims. Ridgeway argued that fee recovery under the Common Core doctrine “is reserved for fee awards in civil rights cases.”The bankruptcy court allowed Stryker’s proof of claim, including fees claimed under the Common Core doctrine. The district court and Fifth Circuit affirmed. Ridgeway has not shown that Michigan law requires statutory attorney’s fees to be “proved at trial.” The court upheld the striking of Ridgeway's "Common Core" objection as a sanction. Ridgeway did not comply with a court order to specify to which charges his objection applied. View "Ridgeway v. Stryker Corp." on Justia Law
Black v. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
Title IV of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) creates an insurance program to protect employees’ pension benefits. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)—a wholly-owned corporation of the U.S. government—is charged with administering the pension-insurance program. PBGC terminated the “Salaried Plan,” a defined-benefit plan sponsored by Delphi by an agreement between PBGC and Delphi pursuant to 29 U.S.C. 1342(c). Delphi had filed a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition and had stopped making contributions to the plan. The district court rejected challenges by retirees affected by the termination.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Subsection 1342(c) permits termination of distressed pension plans by agreement between PBGC and the plan administrator without court adjudication. Rejecting a due process argument, the court stated that the retirees have not demonstrated that they have a property interest in the full amount of their vested, but unfunded, pension benefits. PBGC’s decision to terminate the Salaried Plan was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Black v. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp." on Justia Law
In re: Sisk
The Ninth Circuit previously reversed, in part, bankruptcy appellate panel decisions. The court subsequently denied the debtors’ applications, as prevailing parties, for attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412(d). The EAJA did not authorize attorney fees because a bankruptcy court does not fall within the EAJA’s definition of “United States,” and uncontested Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases are not “civil actions brought by or against the United States.” The EAJA is a limited waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity; it must be strictly construed in favor of maintaining immunity not specifically and clearly waived. View "In re: Sisk" on Justia Law
McDaniel v. Navient Solutions
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
Diaz v. Viegelahn
The Fifth Circuit held that section 4.1 of the Local Plan, which requires debtors in the Western District of Texas turn over to the bankruptcy trustee any tax refund amounts they receive in excess of $2,000, is invalid because it abridges debtors' substantive rights and conflicts with the Supreme Court's guidance on 11 U.S.C. 1325(b)(2).In this case, the bankruptcy court confirmed debtor's revised Chapter 13 plan which did not strike Section 4.1 or contain any nonstandard provision in Section 8. Therefore, the court vacated the bankruptcy court's confirmation of debtor's revised plan and remanded to allow her to file a new plan. View "Diaz v. Viegelahn" on Justia Law
In re: Tribune Co.
In Tribune’s reorganization bankruptcy plan, Senior Noteholders were assigned their own class (1E) of unsecured creditors. When they did not accept the Plan but other classes did, the Bankruptcy Court confirmed it under the cramdown provision.The provision at issue, 11 U.S.C. 1129(b)(1), provides: Notwithstanding section 510(a) … [making subordination agreements enforceable in bankruptcy to the extent they would be in nonbankruptcy law], if all of the applicable requirements of subsection (a) of this section  other than paragraph (8) [which requires that each class of claims has accepted the plan] are met with respect to a plan, the court, on request of the proponent of the plan, shall confirm the plan notwithstanding the requirements of such paragraph  if the plan does not discriminate unfairly, and is fair and equitable, with respect to each class of claims or interests that is impaired under, and has not accepted, the plan.The Third Circuit agreed with the district court that the text of section 1129(b)(1) supplants strict enforcement of subordination agreements. When “cramdown plans play with subordinated sums, the comparison of similarly situated creditors is tested through a more flexible unfair discrimination standard.” Subsection 1129(b)(1) does not require subordination agreements to be enforced strictly. The difference in the Senior Noteholders’ recovery is not material. Although the Plan discriminates, it is not presumptively unfair. View "In re: Tribune Co." on Justia Law
Whaley v. Guillen
The trustee objected to the modification of debtor's Chapter 13 modification plan, arguing that the doctrine of res judicata barred debtor's modification. The bankruptcy court confirmed the modified plan, finding that 11 U.S.C. 1329 creates an exception to the finality of confirmed Chapter 13 plans, and that debtor's modified plan satisfied the express requirements of section 1329.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed and held that section 1329 does not impose a change-of-circumstances requirement on debtors. Therefore, debtor need not make any threshold showing of a change in circumstances before proposing a modification to a confirmed plan under section 1329. View "Whaley v. Guillen" on Justia Law
Walters v. Stevens, Littman, Biddison
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