The trustee and a creditor objected to the debtor's claim of exemptions, primarily asserting that the debtor's exemptions under Wisconsin law should be denied pursuant to a state statute that affords a court the discretion to deny exemptions if the debtor has procured or transferred assets with the intention of defrauding creditors. After an evidentiary hearing, the court found no evidence of fraud or fraudulent intent and principally reasoned that the debtor engaged in permissible transactions to convert property from non-exemptible to exemptible forms before commencing his bankruptcy case, a practice broadly accepted in relevant state and federal caselaw as not fraudulent in itself. The court overruled the objections.
In re Michael and Sandra Lampe, Case No. 19-30044 (September 2021) -- Chief Judge G.M. Halfenger
The trustee objected to the chapter 7 debtors' claim of real property in Wisconsin as an exempt homestead under that state's law because the debtors did not occupy the property at the relevant time as Wisconsin law requires. The court concluded that, despite Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 4003(c) assigning the burden of proof to the trustee, Wisconsin law governed that assignment under these circumstances and the debtors were required to prove that they did not impair their homestead exemptions because their removal from the property was temporary and with the intention to reoccupy the premises as a homestead. After an evidentiary hearing, the court sustained the trustee's objections, finding that the debtors failed to show that their removal from their claimed homestead was temporary or that they had a sufficiently certain intention to return and reside there.
In re Antonio and Angel Terrell, Case No. 18-28674 (September 2021) -- Chief Judge G.M. Halfenger
After the court confirmed the chapter 13 debtors' plan, the debtors objected to a claim of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, requesting a determination that the claim is not entitled to priority under 11 U.S.C. §507(a)(1)(B) based on new, post-confirmation precedent. The Department's response argued that the court should overrule the objection because the debtors' confirmed chapter 13 plan provided for the claim as a priority claim. The court sustained the objection, ruling that the applicable doctrines of law of the case and judicial estoppel did not preclude adjudicating the objection based on the post-confirmation precedent.
In re Lupton Consulting, LLC, Case No. 20-27482-BEH, 2021 WL 3890593 (August 2021) -- Judge B.E. Hanan
A secured creditor and the U.S. Trustee objected to confirmation of a Chapter 11 (subchapter V) joint plan of reorganization filed by two fitness clubs, alleging that the plan contained impermissible third-party releases and injunctions. The U.S. Trustee further asserted that the plan could not be confirmed because it was not feasible and was not proposed in good faith. The Court sustained the objections and denied confirmation. The Court concluded that each of the plan’s three separate non-consensual injunctive provisions—providing for (1) the extinguishment of liens on non-estate property as of the confirmation date; (2) a temporary injunction of actions against guarantors during the term of the plan; and (3) a release of guarantors after completion of the plan—was neither narrowly tailored nor essential to the reorganization as a whole, as required under Seventh Circuit precedent. The Court also concluded that the debtors had failed to meet their burden to establish that the plan was feasible because their financial projections were not borne out by the available historical data, and they offered no credible evidence to explain away material discrepancies. Finally, the Court was unable to find that the plan was proposed in good faith, due to a combination of factors: (1) the debtors initially failed to disclose accurately the amount of prepetition insider transfers made to or for the benefit of the debtors’ manager (primarily due to the manager’s poor record-keeping practices and use of personal loans to fund business expenses); (2) the plan did not provide for payments to all creditors and appeared to afford preferential treatment to some general unsecured claims; and (3) the plan provided for the payment of what appeared to be excessive personal expenses of the debtors’ manager and his family, while simultaneously providing fractional distributions to unsecured creditors and proposing to release the debtors’ manager from his guarantees of significant amounts of unsecured debt.
Grose v. City of Milwaukee (In re Grose), Case No. 20-25361, Adv. No. 20-02110, 2021 WL 2955041 (July 2021) -- Judge B.E. Hanan
The debtor filed a complaint, seeking a declaration that the defendant, the City of Milwaukee, engaged in a transaction that is voidable under 11 U.S.C. § 548(a)(1)(B) when it foreclosed real property to satisfy outstanding property tax obligations, and to set aside that transfer pursuant to § 522(h). The City of Milwaukee filed a motion to dismiss, which was converted to a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the debtor lacked standing to bring the complaint. The City asserted that once the owner of record failed to redeem the property, she was divested of her ownership interest and was unable to transfer the property to the debtor via quitclaim deed. The debtor argued that it is the foreclosure judgment date, and not the redemption deadline, that transfers ownership interest. The Court found that the original owner retained an interest sufficient to transfer her interest to the debtor. Alternatively, even if the redemption deadline served to divest the original owner of her interest, the City’s subsequent communications were sufficient to extend the redemption deadline.
In re Ryan 1000, LLC, Case No. 21-21326-beh, and In re Ryan 8641, LLC, Case No. 21-21327-beh, 2021 WL 2787603 (July 2021) -- Judge B.E. Hanan
Chapter 11 debtors-in-possession sought to employ bankruptcy counsel more than two months after the petition date. The U.S. Trustee objected to the debtors’ applications to employ and simultaneously moved to dismiss the cases under 11 U.S.C. section 1112(b)(4)(D), based on the debtors’ unauthorized use of cash collateral that, according to the U.S. Trustee, was substantially harmful to one or more creditors. The Court denied the debtors’ applications to employ and the U.S. Trustee’s motions to dismiss. In declining to approve the employment of counsel for the debtors, the Court found that (1) counsel’s representation of the debtors, while simultaneously representing their individual owners and codebtors in a pending Chapter 13 bankruptcy case, posed a conflict of interest; and (2) in light of counsel’s lack of Chapter 11 experience or demonstrated ability in the cases, counsel had not established that appointment was in the best interest of the debtors’ estates. The Court denied the U.S. Trustee’s motions to dismiss because, although the debtors had used a secured creditor’s cash collateral without consent from the creditor or authorization from the Court, the U.S. Trustee failed to prove that such use was substantially harmful to the secured creditor or any other creditors. The debtors used the cash to pay for repairs, insurance, and other regular expenses necessary for continued operations, a substantial equity cushion existed to protect the secured creditor’s interest in the debtors’ collateral, and the debtors’ most recent operating reports reflected positive net income.
In re Chapman, Case Nos. 18-30442, 19-22820, 19-26731, 2021 WL 1346046 (March 2021) -- Judge B.E. Hanan
After the debtor’s daughter filed three bankruptcy cases in her representative capacity under a durable power of attorney, the debtor sought to expunge or seal the records. The Court determined that it did not have authority to equitably expunge the bankruptcy cases. Because the debtor executed a durable power of attorney which authorized her attorney-in-fact to institute bankruptcy proceedings, and because she never formally revoked that authority, the Court found that the filings were authorized, which foreclosed any basis for sealing or annotation of the record. The Court noted, however, that cases initiated by an attorney-in-fact should take extra precautions to make clear the signer’s representative capacity.
Archer-Daniels-Midland Company v. Country Visions Cooperative, Case No. 17-cv-0313-bhl (February 2021) -- District Court
Appellant sought the reversal of a bankruptcy court order that denied appellant’s “motion to enforce” an earlier plan confirmation order issued by the same bankruptcy judge. Through its motion, the appellant asked the bankruptcy court to enforce a 2011 confirmation order against the appellee even though the appellee was not a party to the bankruptcy case at confirmation. The appellant also requested an injunction that would have prevented appellee from continuing state court litigation related to a right of first refusal on real property that the appellant purchased pursuant to the confirmation order. The bankruptcy court denied the motion, concluding that because the appellee had not received proper notice of the bankruptcy proceedings, its rights could not be affected by the confirmation order consistent with due process. The bankruptcy court also rejected appellant’s alternate theory that it was a “good faith” or “bona fide” purchaser of the property. For the reasons stated, the bankruptcy court’s ruling is affirmed.
In re Glenn Buettner, Case No. 20-24696 (February 2021) -- Chief Judge G.M. Halfenger
The trustee objected to confirmation of the chapter 13 debtor's plan, asserting that 11 U.S.C. §1325(a)(4) requires that a chapter 13 plan must pay at least as much on allowed unsecured claims as would have been paid on those claims if the case had been filed under chapter 7 and the estate had been liquidated (i.e., without regard to any administrative expenses incurred in the chapter 13 case, including attorney's fees, that would not have been incurred in a chapter 7 case). The court disagreed, concluding that, by its plain terms, §1325(a)(4) requires a determination of the amount that would have been paid on each allowed unsecured claim if the estate were liquidated under chapter 7 on the effective date of the plan (the confirmation date), which would necessarily require the payment of all allowed administrative expenses as of that date, including any attorney's fees allowed in the chapter 13 case, before payment on any lower-priority allowed unsecured claims. The court sustained the trustee's objection to confirmation of the chapter 13 plan, however, because the present value of the deferred payments on allowed unsecured claims provided for by the plan was less than the amount that would have been paid on those claims had the estate been liquidated under chapter 7 on the plan's effective date.
Verde Technologies v. C2R Global Manufacturing, Inc. (In re C2R), Case No. 18-30182-beh, Adv. No. 20-2028-beh, 2020 WL 7265867 (December 2020) -- Judge B.E. Hanan
Both parties submitted various motions to seal, supplying some evidence to support the motions, namely, declarations of officers within the companies explaining why the information to be protected falls within the scope of 11 U.S.C. § 107(b). The Court reviewed the categories of documents to determine whether they constituted trade secrets or confidential research, development, or commercial information as contemplated under the Code. In instances where the Court determined the information to be subject to public disclosure, the parties were granted 21-days’ leave to supplement the record in favor of protection.