This decision explains Judge Halfenger's fee-waiver methodology and why he denied this debtor's application to waive the chapter 7 filing fee. When considering applications to waive the filing fee, Judge Halfenger begins with the statutory fee-waiver requirements: (1) whether the debtor's income falls below 150% of the applicable official income poverty line, and (2) whether the debtor is unable to pay the filing fee in installments. If the debtor's submission establishes that she meets these criteria, the grant of a fee waiver becomes a matter of judicial discretion. In exercising this discretion, Judge Halfenger considers whether there is reason to believe that the debtor faces special circumstances such that a bankruptcy discharge will afford her benefits beyond relief from typical collection efforts. In this case, although the debtor's income was below 150% of the income official poverty line, she did not show that she was unable to pay the filing fee in installments or that a discharge would provide unusual benefits.
In re Johnson (13-22870) (April 2013) -- Judge G.M. Halfenger
The Court dismissed the debtor's case after he failed to pay the first filing fee installment. One day later, the debtor filed a motion to vacate the order of dismissal, reinstate the case, and extend the time to pay the filing fee. The motion, which was supported only by a hand-written letter of the debtor, asserted that the debtor could not timely pay the filing fee because he could not recover previously garnished funds and other bills were due. The Court denied the motion on two independently sufficient grounds: (1) the debtor failed to pay the $306 filing fee with the motion, a condition of vacatur imposed by the dismissal order, and (2) the reasons provided did not explain how the missed payment was the result of excusable neglect, as required by Rules 9024 and 9006(b)(1).
In re Duckett (13-22312) (April 2013) -- Judge G.M. Halfenger
The court dismissed the debtor's case after she failed to pay the first installment of the filing fee. Three days later, the debtor filed a motion to vacate the order of dismissal. The motion, which was unsupported by an affidavit, asserted without elaboration that debtor's counsel did not believe she had received the order granting the debtor's request to pay the fee in installments. The court denied the motion. The court reasoned that the lack of detail made it impossible to determine whether the default was the result of mistake, inadvertence, or excusable neglect, as required by Rule 9024. The court further ruled that the debtor's failure to pay the filing fee in full with the motion, a prerequisite to seeking relief from the order of dismissal, constituted an independently sufficient ground to deny the motion.
In re Panos (13-21338) (April 2013) -- Judge G.M. Halfenger
Commerce State Bank initiated a state-court, pre-petition garnishment action against the debtor's lawyers to collect on its judgment against the debtor. Before the debtor commenced this bankruptcy case, Commerce filed a motion for default judgment against the lawyers, alleging that they had failed to timely answer the garnishment complaint. Before the state court could conduct a scheduled hearing on Commerce's default judgment motion, the debtor commenced this case and requested that Commerce cancel the motion hearing. After Commerce refused that request, the debtor moved for sanctions claiming that Commerce's refusal violated the automatic stay. This Court denied the debtor's motion. It held that §362(a) did not stay the state-court motion hearing (a fortiori imposing no duty to cancel that hearing) because, under Wisconsin law, the default judgment motion only sought relief personal to the debtor's lawyers, rather than from the debtor, the debtor's property, or the debtor's bankruptcy estate.
In re Brown (13-23093) (April 2013) -- Judge G.M. Halfenger
Debtor filed a petition without the required schedules. On the 14th day, rather than filing the documents required by Rule 1007, the debtor, through her counsel, filed a motion to extend time stating only that “[t]he Debtor is currently gathering documentation in order to file her completed bankruptcy schedules.” The court has received other motions using identical boilerplate language. The court found that the motion did not show “cause” for an extension as required by Rule 1007 but held the debtor's motion in abeyance for 2 days to allow the debtor an opportunity to show cause why additional time is needed. The court further ordered that any future motions to extend based on unspecified emergencies and claims that documents are being gathered will be denied.