The debtors' proposed chapter 13 plans contained lien-retention language in the non-standard provisions which deviated from the lien-retention requirements in 11 U.S.C. §1325(a)(5)(B). The court found the language in the non-standard provisions was not a barrier to confirmation because the affected secured creditors had accepted the plans, concluding that a properly served secured creditor that declines to object to confirmation has accepted the proposed plan for purposes of §1325(a)(5)(A). Nevertheless, because the issue was not ripe, the court declined to interpret the non-standard provisions.
In re Velicia Buchanan, Case No. 16-30201 (August 2019) -- Chief Judge G.M. Halfenger
A mortgage creditor filed an affidavit of default and debtor’s counsel filed an “objection” that explained that counsel had not been able to contact the debtor but that counsel believed that there may have been extenuating circumstances for the debtor’s failure to make mortgage payments. The court overruled the debtor’s objection as baseless and granted the mortgage creditor relief from the automatic stay. The debtor filed a letter requesting that the court “rescind” the order granting the creditor relief from the automatic stay. The court refused to act on the debtor’s request to rescind the order, noting that the request was not properly made because it was made by letter, rather than by motion on notice as required by Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure 9013 and 9014. The court also noted that the letter did not state with particularity the grounds for the relief the debtor sought, nor did it state the authority on which it was based, as required by Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 9013 and Local Rule 9013, respectively.
In re Victoria Toliver, Case No. 17-20724 (August 2019) -- Chief Judge G.M. Halfenger
The confirmed chapter 13 plan provides for payment with interest by the trustee of Consumer Portfolio Services Inc.'s claim secured by the debtor's vehicle. The debtor filed a request to modify the plan to surrender the vehicle and discontinue payments on CPS's secured claim. CPS objected to the proposed modification asserting that 11 U.S.C. §1329(a) does not permit such a modification and that the modification was not proposed in good faith, as required by 11 U.S.C. §§1329(b) & 1325(a)(3). The court concluded that the debtor's proposed modification is to "reduce the amount of payments on claims of a particular class provided for by the plan", as allowed by §1329(a)(1), and that the good-faith inquiry requires an evidentiary hearing.
In re Pansier, Case No. 18-22297, 2019 WL 3561593 (August 2019) -- Judge B.E. Hanan
The pro se debtors sought the bankruptcy judge’s disqualification under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a)—which requires a judge to disqualify herself in any proceeding in which her impartiality might reasonably be questioned—based solely on the Court’s adverse legal rulings and excerpts of statements the Court made at related hearings. After carefully considering each of the 12 alleged bases for recusal identified in the motion, the Court denied the debtors’ request, concluding that a thoughtful and well-informed observer would not view the judge as displaying a deep-seated favoritism or antagonism that would make fair judgment impossible. The Court also observed that granting the debtors’ motion in the circumstances would set a dangerous precedent and create a system where unhappy litigants could demand recusal by any judge who issues one or more adverse rulings or otherwise disagrees with a litigant’s legal theories.
In re Velma Lowe, Case No. 19-20287 (August 2019) -- Chief Judge G.M. Halfenger
The debtor moved to enlarge the time to file a tax return required by 11 U.S.C. §1308(a) after the time to file the return expired, asserting that the debtor's failure to file the return was the result of "excusable neglect" and that an enlargement is, therefore, permitted by Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 9006(b). The court denied the motion because Rule 9006(b) only applies "when an act is required or allowed to be done at or within a specified period by these rules or by a notice given thereunder or by order of court". Fed. R. Bankr. P. 9006(b)(1) (emphasis added). Rule 9006(b) does not apply where, as here, the debtor was required to act within a period specified by a statute, such as §1308.
In re Robert and Lois Long, Case No. 19-20186 (July 2019) -- Chief Judge G.M. Halfenger
The trustee objected to confirmation of the chapter 13 debtors’ plan under 11 U.S.C. §1325(a)(9), which imposes a plan-confirmation requirement that the debtor file all tax returns “as required by” §1308. Section 1308(a) requires the debtor to file with appropriate tax authorities all tax returns for all taxable periods that ended during the four-year period preceding the filing of the petition by no later than the day before the date on which the meeting of creditors is first scheduled to be held “if the debtor was required to file a tax return under applicable nonbankruptcy law”. The court overruled the trustee’s objection, which was based on the debtors’ failure to file federal income-tax returns for the 2018 taxable year, holding that, because the meeting of creditors was first scheduled to be held before April 15, 2019, and applicable nonbankruptcy law did not require the debtors to file federal income-tax returns for 2018 until April 15, 2019, §1308(a) does not apply to those returns.
18-2259-beh Cuene v. Peterson (In re Peterson), Case No. 18-29081-beh, Adv. No. 18-2259-beh, 2019 WL 3000796 (appeal filed) (July 2019) -- Judge B.E. Hanan
A judgment creditor sought a determination that its debt was nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. section 523(a)(2)(B) and (a)(6), as well as a denial of the debtor’s discharge under 11 U.S.C. section 727(a)(4)(A), based on the debtor’s failure to disclose his interests in real property titled to trusts that a state court judge ruled were the debtor’s alter-egos. The creditor moved for summary judgment on his claims under 523(a)(2)(B) and 727(a)(4)(A), asserting that final judgments in two prior state court proceedings should be given preclusive effect in determining whether relief should be granted as a matter of law.
The Court granted summary judgment on the creditor’s claim under section 727(a)(4)(A). Recognizing that summary judgment on a fraud-based claim is rare, the Court nevertheless concluded that it was warranted in the circumstances. The debtor’s only defense to the claim was his willful refusal to recognize the state court’s “alter-ego” ruling as valid, claiming that the state court judgment was illegitimate and void because the state court lacked jurisdiction to rule on “common law, pure contract trusts.” No trial was necessary to reject the debtor’s defense as baseless.
As to the creditor’s claim under section 523(a)(2)(B), the Court alternately held that the creditor had established all elements of the claim, except for “reasonable reliance,” as a matter of law. The Court first considered whether to apply issue preclusion to a state court default judgment against the debtor for intentional misrepresentation, and found that application would not be “fundamentally unfair” in the circumstances, given the debtor’s extensive participation in the underlying proceeding and his apparent tactical decision not to present evidence at a hearing on damages. But because a claim for intentional misrepresentation under Wisconsin common law requires only justifiable, rather than reasonable, reliance, the state court judgment could not preclusively establish the reliance element of the claim.
In re Hoang and Kim Nguyen, Case No. 17-27906 (July 2019) -- Chief Judge G.M. Halfenger
The debtors failed to confirm a debt management plan. Before the court dismissed the case, debtors’ counsel applied for an award of $9,645 in compensation, an amount approaching ten times the presumptively reasonable amount in a chapter 13 case dismissed before plan confirmation. The court found that (1) neither the application nor counsel’s record of time spent on the case demonstrated that this was “an unusually complex case” that “reasonably require[d] significantly more work than the presumptively reasonable fee contemplates”, see Local Rule 2016.1 app. at 1, and (2) counsel failed to show how the services rendered “were of value to the debtors,” given that the plan was never confirmed. In re Ward, 511 B.R. 909, 914 (Bankr. E.D. Wis. 2014). Considering all relevant factors, including the nature of the services rendered and the results obtained, the court concluded that the $2,000 directly paid to counsel pre-petition reasonably compensated counsel for all actual, necessary services rendered, awarded that amount as reasonable compensation under §330(a)(1)(A), allowed that amount as an administrative expense under 11 U.S.C. § 502(b)(2), and afforded counsel 14 days to request an evidentiary hearing with respect to the disallowed compensation.
In re Michael Frantz, Case No. 19-23077 (July 2019) -- Chief Judge G.M. Halfenger
Soon after the debtor commenced this chapter 7 case, James Raders moved under 11 U.S.C. §362(d) for relief from the stay imposed by 11 U.S.C. §362(a) to allow him to continue litigating against the debtor in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida or, in the alternative, for an order confirming that the §362(a) stay does not prevent him from deposing the debtor in connection with that litigation solely in his capacity as a member or manager of two limited liability companies that are defendants in the same action. The court denied Raders’s motion for relief from stay for lack of cause under §362(d). Although Raders would benefit from litigating in Florida, his preferred venue, the debtor faces similar claims to those asserted by Raders in other courts and the purpose of the §362(a) stay is to protect debtors from having to litigate claims by a multitude of creditors in several different forums. In addition, Raders has suggested that he intends to pursue a non-dischargeability claim under 11 U.S.C. §523(a)(2) against the debtor. Section 523(c) requires Raders to litigate his nondischargeability claim in the bankruptcy court; thus, Raders will have to litigate in this court to get full relief against the debtor in all events. Finally, the court denied Raders’s motion for an order confirming that the §362(a) does not prevent him from deposing the debtor in connection with the litigation pending in Florida as too amorphous to adjudicate. The court also explained that, although the §362(a) does not generally bar actions against non-debtors, courts recognize an exception to this rule where a judgment against a non-debtor would effectively be a judgment against the debtor given the degree of identity between them. The court observed that Raders’s amended complaint in the Florida litigation attributes to the debtor the conduct of which he complains. His complaint further alleges that one of the non-debtor companies is administratively dissolved and the other is the debtor’s alter ego. As a result, Raders’ acts to continue the litigation against these companies might be an “act to collect, assess, or recover a claim against the debtor” or to “exercise control over property of the estate” in violation of §362(a)(3) or (6). The bankruptcy court left these matter for the District Court in Florida to consider in the first instance.
In re Pansier, Case No. 18-22297-BEH, 2019 WL 1495100 (appeal pending) (April 2019) -- Judge B.E. Hanan
The debtors sought reconsideration of the Court’s February 25, 2019 decision lifting the automatic stay in favor of the Internal Revenue Service, asserting that (1) the Court erred by failing to consider the merits of their argument that the statute of limitations to collect the debtors’ 1995 through 1998 tax liabilities had expired, and (2) “newly discovered evidence” in the form of a Notice of Federal Tax Lien that the IRS filed on October 31, 2018, warranted reconsideration. Although the Court concluded that the debtors had failed to carry their burden of demonstrating that the Court overlooked any dispositive factual matters or controlling decisions of law in making its decision, or that any newly discovered evidence existed that would probably change the outcome, the Court on its own re-examined the relevant law and facts. On reconsideration, the Court determined that its prior decision that the IRS had established cause to modify the stay was correct and affirmed that portion of its prior ruling, but for equitable reasons, the Court amended its prior order to allow the IRS to enforce its levy rights with respect to only the debtors’ 1999 through 2006 and 2014 tax liabilities.