Michigan Bankruptcy Blog

Supreme Court Applies its Stern Ruling and Issues a Narrow Decision Holding that Bankruptcy Courts Can Hear, But not Decide, “Stern Claims”

In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court (the “Court”) issued its noteworthy decision in Stern v. Marshall,1 in which it held that bankruptcy courts lack the constitutional authority to enter a final judgment on a state law counterclaim that is not related to the bankruptcy proceeding. Since Stern, a number of cases have been published - at both the bankruptcy court and court of appeals levels - where Stern jurisdictional issues have been raised and adjudicated. We recently wrote about one on this blog.

The Court, itself, had a chance to consider the implications of Stern in the case of Executive Benefits Ins. Agency v. Arkinson.2 In a unanimous decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court ruled that where Article III of the U.S. Constitution does not permit a bankruptcy court to enter final judgment on a bankruptcy related claim, the bankruptcy court may issue proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect to the claim, to be reviewed de novo by a federal district court.

Read More ›

Categories: U.S. Supreme Court

Ruling in Prior Litigation Precludes Relitigation of Factual Issues in Bankruptcy Nondischargeable Adversary Proceeding

When a debtor files for bankruptcy, it is principally to obtain a fresh start and discharge of debts from creditors. But not all debts are dischargeable. The Bankruptcy Code lists 19 categories of nondischargeable debts, which Congress has determined are not dischargeable for public policy reasons.

Some debts are always nondischargeable, including certain taxes, child support, and court fines and penalties, to name a few. Others are not deemed automatically excepted from discharge, but can be when challenged by creditors. When a case is filed, bankruptcy courts set a deadline for creditors to raise nondischargeability issues, and creditors who wish to except a debt from discharge must initiate an adversary proceeding (by filing a complaint) setting forth the basis for the discharge objection. These types of debts include those obtained by fraud or false pretenses and those resulting from a tort, among others.

Issues related to the nondischargeability of a debt in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy were recently examined by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Michigan. In the case, Trost v. Trost, Sherry Trost, the plaintiff, sought to except from discharge debt owed by the debtors (her stepson Zachary and his wife Kimberly) to her. The debt related to an ownership dispute involving videotapes and other memorabilia from a television show, Michigan Outdoors, that was created and operated by Fred Trost, Sherry's late husband and Zachary's father. Sherry alleged that she became the owner of these assets after Fred died, and that the debtors/defendants converted the property to their own use. Read More ›

Categories: Chapter 7

Sixth Circuit Rules that Individual Chapter 11 Debtors are Subject to the Absolute Priority Rule

One of the fundamental tenets of a business bankruptcy reorganization plan under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code is the "absolute priority rule." This rule, codified in section 1129(b)(2)(B)(ii) of the Bankruptcy Code, provides that every unsecured creditor must be paid in full before the debtor can retain any property under a reorganization plan. Chapter 11, however, is not solely the domain of business debtors. Individuals (who more commonly seek protection under Chapters 7 and 13) may also file for Chapter 11. So how does the absolute priority rule affect individual debtors? That issue is analyzed in a recent opinion, Ice House America, LLC v. Cardin, issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Read More ›

Categories: 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Chapter 11

The Aftermath of Stern v. Marshall: Sixth Circuit Ruling Addresses Bankruptcy Court’s Jurisdiction

One of the most interesting, and at times vexing, issues that arises in bankruptcy proceedings involves the jurisdiction of the bankruptcy courts. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in with its noteworthy decision in Stern v. Marshall, in which it held that bankruptcy courts lack the constitutional authority to enter a final judgment on a state law counterclaim that is not related to the bankruptcy proceeding. Since Stern, a number of cases have been published - at both the bankruptcy court and court of appeals level - where Stern jurisdictional issues have been raised and adjudicated. Read More ›

Categories: 6th Circuit Court of Appeals

Law Won

In Law v. Siegel, a case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in March, the Court unanimously ruled that the bankruptcy court exceeded its authority when it surcharged the debtor’s homestead exemption to pay the Chapter 7 Trustee’s attorney fees, despite the debtor’s misconduct.

The case involved Stephen Law, a consumer debtor who filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in California. Law's only significant asset was his house, worth approximately $360,000. Law exempted $75,000 of the home equity under the state homestead exemption. Law further claimed that there was no additional equity in the house because it was subject to two mortgages totaling up to more than $300,000 — more than the nonexempt value of the house. The first mortgage was real. The second mortgage, allegedly in favor of "Lin's Mortgage & Associates,” was fake. Law was perpetrating a fraud. Alfred Siegel, the Chapter 7 Trustee, uncovered the mortgage scam. Unfortunately, in the process, the trustee incurred approximately $500,000 in legal fees. Read More ›

Categories: Chapter 7, U.S. Supreme Court

Chapter 7 Debtor Required to Turnover Proceeds of Life Insurance Policy Used to Pay for Father's Burial

A recent decision in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Michigan[1] granted a Motion filed by the Chapter 7 Trustee requesting turnover by the debtor of proceeds of a life insurance policy that were used by the debtor to pay the burial expenses of her father.

In the case, the Chapter 7 Trustee filed a Motion to Compel Turnover of Non-Exempt Assets seeking $9,698.90 from the debtor, including non-exempt cash, jewelry, a whole life insurance policy, and the proceeds from an insurance policy on her father's life. The debtor disputed that she was required to turn over the $7,208.84 in life insurance on her father's life, who died two days after her bankruptcy filing. The debtor argued that she used the proceeds to pay for her father's burial, and that she was not a beneficiary of the policy, but rather the owner. Read More ›

Categories: Chapter 7, Western District of Michigan

Sixth Circuit Affirms Holding That “Carve Out” Recovered By Chapter 7 Trustee Did Not Constitute Equity in the Debtors’ Property Subject to Debtors’ Exemptions

Baldridge v. Douglas Stanley Ellmann (In re Baldridge), Appeal No. 13-1700 (6th Cir., Feb. 3, 2014).

On appeal from the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the Sixth Circuit held that a $28,000 “carve out” recovered by the Chapter 7 Trustee pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 506(c) after closing a sale on the debtors’ property was not property of the estate that could be subject to the debtors’ exemption because the property was over encumbered by two mortgages, leaving no equity for the debtors to exempt. Read More ›

Categories: 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Chapter 7

Michigan Bankruptcy Petition Preparer to Serve Jail Time for Criminal Contempt

Section 110 of the United States Bankruptcy Code provides that a non-attorney can assist in the preparation of the bankruptcy petition. However, as an Inkster, Michigan man just learned (the hard way), the Bankruptcy Code places numerous requirements on bankruptcy petition preparers and subjects those who do not comply to substantial penalties.

On Tuesday, February 25, Derrick Hills of Inkster was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Sean F. Cox to 46 months in prison after being convicted by a jury in September of five counts of criminal contempt. The contempt proceedings stemmed from repeated violations of orders issued by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes from 2007 to 2009. According to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office following Hills' conviction at trial:

The evidence presented at trial showed that Hills had acted as a bankruptcy petition preparer since 2007, assisting people in filing for bankruptcy. Hills continued to act as a bankruptcy petition preparer despite five bankruptcy court orders issued by Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, permanently enjoining Hills from doing so for various non-compliance with bankruptcy rules and complications caused by his acting in the capacity of a bankruptcy petition preparer. Hills assisted individuals with consumer debts in preparing and filing their Chapter 7 bankruptcy paperwork. However, his actions went well beyond what was allowed by law and clearly violated Judge Rhodes Orders.

Read More ›

Categories: Chapter 7, Did you Know?, Eastern District of Michigan

Chapter 11 Retainer is Property of Estate even if Paid by Third Party

In re Newcomb Print Communications, Inc., Case No. 12-08042 (Bankr. W.D. Mich., Sept. 6, 2013).

When a debtor files a case under Chapter 11 and retains legal counsel, another person or entity may fund the debtor’s retainer. But even when the debtor is not the source of the funds, the retainer is property of the bankruptcy estate – which is particularly important if the case later converts to Chapter 7. Read More ›

Categories: Chapter 11, Chapter 7

Sixth Circuit: Rejection of Chapter 11 Plan not a “Final Appealable Order” for Purposes of Appellate Jurisdiction

Lindsey v. Pinnacle Nat’l Bank (In re Lindsey), Appeal No. 12-6362 (6th Cir., Aug. 13, 2013)

The Sixth Circuit held this week in a published opinion that a bankruptcy court’s denial of confirmation of a Chapter 11 plan is not a final appealable order. In so holding, the Sixth Circuit joins four other circuits, while three other circuits have held to the contrary. Read More ›

Categories: 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Chapter 11