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Taggart owned an interest in an Oregon company. That company and its other owners (respondents) sued, claiming that Taggart had breached the company’s operating agreement. Before trial, Taggart filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The Bankruptcy Court issued a discharge order that released Taggart from liability for most pre-bankruptcy debts. The Oregon state court subsequently entered judgment against Taggart in the pre-bankruptcy suit and awarded attorney’s fees to respondents. The Bankruptcy Court found respondents in civil contempt for collecting attorney’s fees in violation of the discharge order. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel and the Ninth Circuit applied a subjective standard to hold that a “creditor’s good faith belief” that the discharge order does not apply to the claim precludes a finding of contempt, even if that belief was unreasonable. The Supreme Court vacated. Neither a standard akin to strict liability nor a purely subjective standard is appropriate. A court may hold a creditor in civil contempt for violating a discharge order if there is no fair ground of doubt as to whether the order barred the creditor’s conduct. Civil contempt principles apply to the bankruptcy statutes, which specify that a discharge order “operates as an injunction,” 11 U.S.C. 524(a)(2), and that a court may issue any “order” or “judgment” that is “necessary or appropriate” to “carry out” other bankruptcy provisions. A party’s subjective belief that she was complying with an order ordinarily will not insulate her from civil contempt if that belief was objectively unreasonable. The Court remanded, noting that subjective intent is not always irrelevant. Civil contempt sanctions may be warranted when a party acts in bad faith, and a party’s good faith may help to determine an appropriate sanction. View "Taggart v. Lorenzen" on Justia Law

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This case arose from the Chapter 11 bankruptcies of Life Partners Holdings, LPI, and LPI Financial Services (collectively, the LP Entities). The LP Entities operated an investment business through which they defrauded investors and violated securities laws by using a multi-level marketing structure to sell their life insurance investments and contracting with individuals and entities they called "Licensees" to refer potential investors in exchange for sales commissions. The district court granted the Licensees' motions to dismiss all of the creditors' trust's claims and declined to allow repleading. Count 1 alleged actual fraudulent transfer under the Texas Business & Commerce Code, Count 2 alleged constructive fraudulent transfer under the Texas Business & Commerce Code, Count 3 alleged actual fraudulent transfer under 11 U.S.C. 548(a)(1)(A), Count 4 alleged constructive fraudulent transfer under 11 U.S.C. 548(a)(1)(B), Count 5 alleged preferences under 11 U.S.C. 547, Count 6 alleged recovery of avoided transfers under 11 U.S.C. 550, County 7 alleged breach of contract, Count 8 alleged equitable subordination of the Licensees' claims against the LP Entities' bankruptcy estates; Count 9 alleged disallowance of the Licensees' claims, Count 10 alleged negligent misrepresentation, Count 11 alleged breach of the Texas Securities Act, and Count 12 alleged breach of fiduciary duties. The Fifth Circuit affirmed as to Counts 5, 8, 11, and 12, but reversed the dismissal of Counts 1-4, 6, 9, and 10, holding that these claims were adequately pleaded. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Life Partners Creditors' Trust v. Cowley" on Justia Law

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The plain text of 11 U.S.C. 1322(c)(2) authorizes modification of covered homestead mortgage claims, not just payments, including bifurcation of undersecured homestead mortgages into secured and unsecured components. The Fifth Circuit overruled Witt v. United Cos. Lending Corp., 113 F.3d 508 (4th Cir. 1997), which held that Chapter 13 debtors may not bifurcate a narrow subset of undersecured home mortgage loans into separate secured and unsecured claims and cram down the unsecured portion of such loans. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hurlburt v. Black" on Justia Law

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Schier represented Capital in a state court suit filed by Longhorn. Capital was hit with a $5-million judgment and landed in bankruptcy. Its Chapter 7 proceedings stayed the Longhorn litigation with post-trial motions pending. Longhorn filed a bankruptcy claim. When Schier filed a claim for Capital’s unpaid legal fees, the bankruptcy trustee countered with a malpractice suit against Schier, which eventually settled. Schier agreed to pay the estate $600,000 and to withdraw its attorney’s fees claim. The bankruptcy court approved this settlement. Schier withdrew its claim. When the trustee filed a final report, Schier alleged that Capital’s right to appeal Longhorn’s state-court judgment qualified as an “asset” that the trustee should have administered or abandoned. The bankruptcy court overruled Schier’s objection, reasoning that Schier should have raised this issue while Schier had a pending fees request and was a “creditor” with “standing.” The district court dismissed an appeal, stating that “[i]n order to have standing to appeal a bankruptcy court order, an appellant must have been directly and adversely affected pecuniarily by the order,” a more demanding standard than Article III standing. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting the Supreme Court’s 2014 “Lexmark” decision, which jettisoned the label “prudential standing.” Citing “the post-Lexmark uncertainty about various standing concepts,” the court held that Schier lacked the type of standing that Lexmark did not affect: Article III standing. View "In re Capital Contracting Co." on Justia Law

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Tempnology licensed Mission to use Tempnology’s trademarks in connection with the distribution of clothing. Tempnology filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and sought to reject its agreement with Mission as an “executory contract” under 11 U.S.C. 365, which provides that rejection “constitutes a breach of such contract.” The Bankruptcy Court approved Tempnology’s rejection, holding that the rejection terminated Mission’s rights to use Tempnology’s trademarks. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel reversed, holding that rejection does not terminate rights that would survive a breach of contract outside bankruptcy. The First Circuit reinstated the Bankruptcy Court’s decision. The Supreme Court reversed, first holding that the case is not moot. Mission presented a plausible claim for damages, sufficient to preserve a live controversy. A debtor’s rejection of an executory contract under Bankruptcy Code Section 365 has the same effect as a breach of that contract outside bankruptcy and cannot rescind rights that the contract previously granted. A licensor’s breach cannot revoke continuing rights given under a contract (assuming no special contract term or state law) outside of bankruptcy; the same result follows from rejection in bankruptcy. Section 365 reflects the general bankruptcy rule that the estate cannot possess anything more than the debtor did outside bankruptcy. The distinctive features of trademarks do not mandate a different result. In delineating the burdens a debtor may and may not escape, Section 365’s edict that rejection is breach expresses a more complex set of aims than facilitating reorganization. View "Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC" on Justia Law

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This dispute between the bankruptcy court and Chapter 13 debtor's attorneys involved no-money-down business models where the debtor's attorney agrees to advance the costs of filing fees, credit counseling course fees, and credit report fees on behalf of the debtor. The bankruptcy court concluded that these fees were non-reimbursable under the district's no-look fee order and that counsel could never be reimbursed by statute. The Fifth Circuit held that debtor's counsel in this case was not entitled to additional reimbursement for advancing the costs of the filing fees, credit counseling fees, and credit report fees as administrative expenses necessary for preserving the estate under 11 U.S.C. 503(b)(1). However, 11 U.S.C. 503(b) and 330 provide bankruptcy courts with the discretion to compensate debtor's counsel for advancing the costs of filing fees, credit counseling fees, and credit report fees if they choose to do so. Therefore, the court held that the bankruptcy court did not err in interpreting its own standing order on no-look fee compensation, but that it did err in its conclusion that bankruptcy courts lack the discretion to ever award reimbursement of those fees. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and vacated in part. View "McBride v. Riley" on Justia Law

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42 U.S.C. 405(h)—which states that no claim arising under the Social Security Act can be brought under 28 U.S.C. 1331 and 1346—does not bar bankruptcy courts from exercising their jurisdiction under section 1334 to hear Social Security claims. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's holding otherwise and, joining the Ninth Circuit, held that the plain text of section 405(h)'s third sentence only bars actions under section 1331 and 1346, not section 1334. In this case, the bankruptcy court should examine debtor's claims and determine if they were channeled by section 405(h)'s second sentence into section 405(g). If they are, the district court must determine if jurisdiction under section 405(g) exists. If not, then the bankruptcy court has jurisdiction under section 1334 to hear debtor's claims. View "Benjamin v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's decision affirming the bankruptcy court's conclusion that Alaska's award of damages to TKCA necessarily meant that debtor willfully and maliciously injured TKCA for purposes of section 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code. The Supreme Court, in Kawaauhau v. Geiger, 523 U.S. 57, 61 (1998), held that section 523(a)(6) requires "a deliberate or intentional injury, not merely a deliberate or intentional act that leads to injury." The court held that, because neither the Alaska district court, nor the bankruptcy court, determined the precise issue of whether debtor intended to injure TKCA, collateral estoppel and summary judgment were inappropriate. Therefore, the court remanded to the district court with instructions to remand to the bankruptcy court for further proceedings. View "TKC Aerospace Inc. v. Muhs" on Justia Law

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A chapter 7 trustee sought a declaration that a refinanced mortgage only encumbered the interest of the person specifically defined within the body of the mortgage as a “Borrower/Mortgagor.” The mortgage instrument listed the co-debtor's wife as a “Borrower” in the signature block but the mortgage did not specifically name her as a “Borrower” within the text of document other than in the signature block. The bankruptcy court regarded the mortgage as ambiguous under these circumstances, considered extrinsic evidence, and concluded that the property was fully encumbered by the mortgage. Pending appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court answered certified questions, stating that the failure to identify a signatory by name within the body of the mortgage instrument did not render the agreement unenforceable against the signatory’s in rem rights as a matter of law and that when a mortgage is properly signed, initialed and acknowledged by a signatory who is not named within the document itself, the mortgage is not invalid as a matter of law. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed, concluding that the mortgage encumbered the rights of both husband and wife. View "In re Perry" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a whistleblower action under Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act against CGI, alleging that he was unlawfully fired in retaliation for his complaints about and objections to an allegedly fraudulent scheme developed by CGI's executives. The district court held that the Sarbanes-Oxley claim survived summary judgment, but later dismissed plaintiff for lack of standing due to his parallel bankruptcy proceeding. After the bankruptcy case closed, plaintiff moved to be substituted in as the proper party-in-interest. The district court granted plaintiff's motion and then dismissed the case on grounds of judicial estoppel. The Second Circuit held that the district court exceeded its discretion by invoking the judicial estoppel doctrine. The court held that where, as here, a pro se debtor has listed his pending litigation on the Statement of Financial Affairs (SOFA), rather than the Schedule B as it was constituted at the time of plaintiff's filing, and then disclosed it to the trustee and the bankruptcy court prior to discharge of his debt, and the trustee and the bankruptcy court were on sufficient notice to take steps to protect the creditors' interests, the debtor is not estopped from pursuing that litigation by virtue of the doctrine of judicial estoppel. The court explained that, for estoppel to apply, there must be greater indicia than presented here of an intent to deceive the court for the debtor's benefit. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment and remanded for further proceedings. The court affirmed the district court's grant of partial summary judgment to CGI on the state-law breach of contract claim, holding that the dismissal order was rendered moot by virtue of later developments. View "Ashmore v. CGI Group" on Justia Law