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-beh, 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 twelve 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.
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. § 523(a)(2)(B) and (a)(6), as well as a denial of the debtor’s discharge under 11 U.S.C. § 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 § 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 § 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 Bohland, Case No. 19-21399-beh, 2019 WL 2511735 (June 2019) -- Judge B.E. Hanan
The pro se debtor was the sole member of an LLC which had as its only asset a bed and breakfast property. After the creditor obtained a default judgment against the LLC and the creditor attempted to recover her judgment against the LLC via an order for execution, the LLC transferred the property to the debtor, and the debtor filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. Shortly before the Chapter 7 trustee abandoned the property, the creditor filed a motion for relief from stay under 11 US.C. § 362(d)(1), arguing that the property was fraudulently conveyed in an attempt to avoid creditors and the petition was filed in bad faith solely to prevent collection efforts. The debtor denied any fraud and included a motion to avoid lien, asserting that the state court judgment in the creditor’s favor impaired her ability to seek the full $75,000 exemption under Wis. Stat. § 815.20. The creditor argued the property was not the debtor’s homestead at the time the judgment lien was recorded, so the request to avoid the lien should be denied.
The Court determined there was cause to grant the creditor relief from the stay, because doing so would not harm the debtor or creditors and would not interfere with the case. The Chapter 7 trustee already abandoned the property, such that it would not be liquidated for the benefit of unsecured creditors, the debtor's discharge would occur imminently, and this was a “no asset” case.
As to the debtor’s argument that the judgment lien should be avoided because it impairs her homestead exemption, the Court held the debtor could not claim any portion of her interest in the property as exempt, because she was not the title owner of the property at the time the judgment was docketed.