Michigan Bankruptcy Blog

Timing is Everything: Sixth Circuit Reverses Bankruptcy Court and Rules that Lawsuit Settlement is Not Property of the Debtor's Estate

When someone files for bankruptcy, an estate is created that consists of, among other things, any and all assets owned by, or to which the debtor filing the bankruptcy case has a right to or interest in. This includes tangible things such as real estate, vehicles, money, clothing, and jewelry, as well as rights to property such as litigation claims.

In a Chapter 7 case, all assets belong to the trustee on the date a case is filed unless an exemption is claimed, and the trustee gets to keep, sell or otherwise administer assets for the benefit of creditors.

When it comes to determining "property of the estate," timing is important. Generally speaking, a debtor gets to retain property acquired after the bankruptcy filing occurs. Read More ›

Categories: 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Chapter 7

Are Student Loans Dischargeable in Bankruptcy? Only if You Can Prove Undue Hardship

Many students don't realize the scope and extent of the lifelong financial burden they saddle themselves with when taking out student loans. It is only after getting into the "real world" that they realize that living expenses are higher, and after tax income is lower, than they anticipated, making student loan debt repayment difficult if not impossible.

Some look to bankruptcy for relief and a fresh start. But all debt is not treated equally in bankruptcy. Student loan debt is not the same as, for instance, credit card debt. It is not dischargeable pursuant to Bankruptcy Code section 523(a)(8) except in one narrow circumstance. Specifically, to discharge student loan debt, a debtor must show undue hardship - a very high bar. Read More ›

Categories: Chapter 7, Western District of Michigan

Sixth Circuit BAP Rules that "Chapter 20" Debtor May Strip Off Valueless Liens

Lien stripping is a process that involves eliminating junior liens (such as a second mortgage) through the bankruptcy process. In a recent appeal to a Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel ("BAP"), the BAP overturned a bankruptcy court's denial of a Chapter 13 debtor's motion to avoid the lien of an inferior mortgage lien holder. Read More ›

Categories: Chapter 13, Chapter 7

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