Articles Posted in Bankruptcy Caselaw

In bankruptcy actions, trustees will often manage the estate, which may include selling any assets that can be liquidated. The bankruptcy courts will generally approve such sales, as long as they comply with the procedural requirements, as illustrated in a recent California ruling. If you have would like to hear more about whether you may be eligible for bankruptcy relief, it is wise to contact a California bankruptcy attorney.

Factual and Procedural History of the Case

It is reported that the debtor’s husband and debtor wife, who were legally separated, filed separate petitions in September 2021, during their legal separation. Their bankruptcy cases were then consolidated. The trustee, who oversaw the consolidated bankruptcy estates, moved for the approval of two settlement and sale agreements. “Agreement A” encompassed the sale of a single business entity that was owned by the debtor husband and the settlement of three related legal matters the debtor husband, formerly legal counsel for the creditor, had been involved in.  The trustee advocated for the approval of the settlement and sale, contending that they were in the estate’s best interest. The debtor husband objected to Agreement A however. The bankruptcy court ultimately approved the agreement, and debtor husband appealed.

Approval of Sales and Settlements in Bankruptcy Actions

On appeal, the court evaluated the bankruptcy court’s approval of Agreement A, encompassing both a sale and a compromise, under § 363 and Rule 9019. To approve a § 363(b)(1) sale, the trustee must establish a sound business purpose, fair sale price, proper notice to creditors, and good-faith negotiation. Rule 9019(a) allows the court to approve compromises or settlements, considering factors such as the probability of success, collection difficulties, litigation complexity, and creditor interests. The court may make general findings supporting the settlement if the record indicates favorability. The trustee bore the burden of proving these elements.

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In bankruptcy cases, it is not uncommon for the debtor and the trustee to propose a compromise to the bankruptcy court. The court will generally review a proposed compromise to determine if it is fair and equitable, in consideration of numerous factors, as discussed in a recent California case. If you need assistance with a bankruptcy matter, it is in your best interest to consult a California bankruptcy lawyer.

History of the Case

It is alleged that the bankruptcy court considered a proposed compromise between the debtor and the Chapter 7 trustee of a medical institute. The terms of the proposed compromise included the debtor subordinating his $1.35 million proof of claim in the medical institute’s bankruptcy to the allowed claims of all non-insiders.

Reportedly, his company would purchase the medical institute’s rights to pursue certain claims against two creditors for $200,000 in cash and a share of the potential net recovery on those claims. In return, the trustee agreed to settle all of the medical institute’s claims against the debtor and two of the debtor’s companies and withdraw the medical institute’s claim in the debtor’s bankruptcy with prejudice.

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Generally, the bankruptcy courts have jurisdiction over bankruptcy matters and claims arising in bankruptcy actions. Certain bankruptcy-related actions and claims filed in bankruptcy courts are better handled by other courts, however; as such, in some instances, a bankruptcy court will refer a matter to a state or federal court. If a bankruptcy court refers a case to another court, the plaintiff has the option of moving to withdraw the reference, but proving the such motions should be granted can be challenging, as demonstrated in a recent California case. If you struggle to pay your debts and wonder if filing for bankruptcy is right for you, it is wise to talk to a California bankruptcy lawyer at your earliest opportunity.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions in bankruptcy court against the defendants, including claims under federal non-bankruptcy statutes. The bankruptcy court automatically referred the case to the district court. The plaintiff moved to withdraw the reference, seeking both mandatory and permissive withdrawal to have the district court decide the sanctions motion.

Reference of Claims in Bankruptcy Matters

The district court denied the motion to withdraw the reference. In doing so, it explained that the mandatory withdrawal provision should be interpreted narrowly rather than as an escape hatch allowing most bankruptcy matters to be removed to the district court. Withdrawal is only required when materially considering non-bankruptcy federal law. Courts have found withdrawal mandatory when non- bankruptcy issues necessitate interpreting, not just applying, non-bankruptcy law or undertaking analysis of major unsettled non-bankruptcy law questions. Under this approach, the party seeking withdrawal must show more than the possibility novel non-bankruptcy law issues could arise in the bankruptcy case.

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Generally, bankruptcy allows for the discharge of debts. There are some exceptions to the general rule, however. For example, any debt obtained via fraud or false representations is not dischargeable. While it is obvious that people could not discharge debts incurred due to their own fraud, it was not clear whether people could be deemed responsible for debts arising out of another party’s fraud if they were unaware of the fraudulent activity. The United States Supreme Court recently resolved the issue, though, holding that debtors cannot discharge debts brought about by fraud, regardless of whether it was their fraud or another individual’s deceitful acts. If you are interested in learning more about debt relief, it is wise to meet with a California bankruptcy lawyer to evaluate your options.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the debtors, a married couple, renovated a house in San Francisco and sold it to a buyer who later sued them after discovering defects. The buyer won the case and was awarded damages. The couple then filed for bankruptcy. During the bankruptcy proceedings, the buyer argued that the debt from his judgment against the debtors was not dischargeable because it was obtained through fraud.

Allegedly, the bankruptcy court agreed. The court found that the husband had knowledge of the factual misrepresentations. Further, it held that his fraudulent conduct could be imputed onto his wife due to their partnership. The debtors appealed, and the appellate court remanded the imputed liability finding back to the bankruptcy court, instructing them to determine whether the wife “knew or should have known” of the fraud. The court held that the wife did not know of the fraud and thus was not liable for her husband’s fraudulent conduct. The appellate court affirmed, but the buyer appealed.

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In bankruptcy actions, the courts aim not only to help debtors alleviate their overall debt load but also to protect the interests of the debtor’s creditors. Among other things, this means that creditor claims in bankruptcy actions are essentially ranked by priority, with some claims being subordinated to others. In a recent ruling, a California court rejected a creditor’s objection to the subordination of his claim and, in doing so, explained when subordinating claims is appropriate. If you need assistance with a bankruptcy matter, it is in your best interest to meet with a California bankruptcy lawyer as soon as possible.

Procedural Background of the Case

It is reported that the claimant obtained a judgment against the debtor in a state court action. The basis of the claimant’s case was the debtor’s failure to fully reimburse the claimant, who was an equity holder in the debtor’s company, for the value of his stake. The debtor subsequently filed a bankruptcy action. The claimant filed a creditor’s claim, which the bankruptcy court subsequently subordinated; the court subordinated the claimant’s judgment lien as well. The claimant appealed, and the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed the court’s decisions. He then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Subordination of Bankruptcy Claims

On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court rulings, finding that the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel did not err in finding that the claimant’s bankruptcy claim was properly subordinated. Specifically, the court explained that the applicable law stated that a bankruptcy claim for damages arising out of the sale or purchase of a security has to be subordinated to all interests or claims that are equal or senior to the interest or claim such security represents.

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One of the benefits of bankruptcy is that it allows parties to discharge their debts so that they can regain financial security and move forward with their lives. Certain debts cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, however, such as those that arise out of the malicious or willful injury to another party. Recently, a California court explained what conduct constitutes willful and malicious behavior so as to render a debt nondischargeable in a case in which it ultimately rejected the debtor’s appeal. If you have significant debts, you could qualify for relief via bankruptcy, and it is smart to talk to a California bankruptcy attorney about your options.

Procedural History of the Case

It is alleged that the debtor filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief. One of the debts he sought to have discharged was a subrogation claim from an insurance company. The insurance company moved to have the debt deemed nondischargeable on the grounds that it arose out of the debtor’s willful and malicious acts. The bankruptcy court ruled in favor of the insurance company, deeming the debt nondischargeable, and the debtor appealed. The bankruptcy appellant panel affirmed the bankruptcy court’s decision, and the debtor filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Grounds for Deeming a Debt Nondischargeable

Upon review, the court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s ruling. In doing so, it explained that the court did not make a clear mistake in finding that the debtor’s conduct was tortious as required for reversal. Specifically, the court explained that the defendant illegally converted another person’s vehicle without her permission, depriving her of her property and causing her to suffer damages.

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One of the many benefits of filing for bankruptcy is that a stay is automatically entered upon filing, preventing any creditors from taking legal action against the debtor. If an automatic stay is violated, a debtor can seek relief from the court. Issues can arise, however, when it is unclear when a bankruptcy action was filed. In such instances, the court may be unable to determine if a stay was violated and whether the debtor is entitled to the relief sought, as demonstrated in a recent California ruling issued in a bankruptcy action. If you are overwhelmed with debts, it is wise to talk to a California bankruptcy lawyer want to determine if bankruptcy is a suitable option for you.

Procedural and Factual History of the Case

It is alleged that the parties agreed that the debtor filed a chapter 13 bankruptcy petition in October 2017. The time the petition was filed is disputed, however, as it contains two timestamps that are 32 seconds apart, with the later time stamp indicating the petition was filed at 2:00 pm. At the same time that day, the creditor conducted a foreclosure sale of the debtor’s property. The debtor did not learn of the foreclosure sale until after it occurred.

It is reported that the debtor’s bankruptcy petition was dismissed for the failure to pay filing fees. He reinstituted the bankruptcy action, however, and filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to find that the creditor violated the automatic stay and to determine that the foreclosure sale and all actions related to it were void.

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It is not uncommon in Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings for the courts to permit the Trustee to sell the property of the bankruptcy estate. While it is within the courts’ authority to allow such sales to occur, they must ensure that any property is sold for its optimal value in consideration of the circumstances. Recently, a California court addressed the issue of how a property’s optimal value is determined in a matter in which a party with a lien against the debtor’s estate argued that an asset was sold for less than it was worth. If you have questions about how filing for bankruptcy may impact your property rights, it is wise to talk to a California bankruptcy lawyer promptly.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the debtor and the claimant were business partners who engaged in a series of real estate investments in the late 1990s. Their relationship deteriorated over time, and the claimant divested himself of his interests in their joint assets. The debtor agreed to pay him for said interests but failed to do so, and the claimant ultimately obtained a $34 million judgment against him.

Allegedly, the debtor filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and an adversary proceeding seeking relief, including the mandatory subordination of the claimant’s judgment. The court granted the motion. At the same time, the Trustee filed a motion asking the court to authorize the sale of one of the debtor’s properties free and clear of liens for $18 million, even though the claimant assessed its value at $25 million. The property ultimately sold at auction for $20 million, and the claimant appealed the sale order.

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In bankruptcy matters, the debtor must set forth schedules that include all of their property, assets, income, sources of money, and debts. Among other things, this includes any pending or potential claims or lawsuits. If they fail to properly disclose such information, they may be barred from pursuing such claims after they obtain a discharge from the bankruptcy courts. Recently, a California court discussed the measures available for a party that failed to disclose a potential lawsuit in a bankruptcy proceeding. If you have questions regarding the intersection of bankruptcy and civil claims, it is smart to speak to a skilled California bankruptcy lawyer as soon as possible.

Procedural History of the Case

It is reported that the debtor filed a civil lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. After pleadings closed, the defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings arguing that the debtor could not proceed with his claims because he failed to disclose them in a recent bankruptcy proceeding. The debtor filed a response in opposition to the motion.

The Intersection of Bankruptcy and Civil Claims

The court ultimately denied the defendant’s motion without prejudice, granting it the right to renew its motion after the facts had been further developed. The court explained that, in the context of bankruptcy, the federal courts adhere to a basic default rule: if a debtor omits a lawsuit or potential claim from its bankruptcy schedules and obtains a plan confirmation or discharge, they will be barred from pursuing their lawsuit or claim via judicial estoppel.

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In most bankruptcy cases, creditors will submit proofs of claims. If parties object to such proofs, the courts will typically assess whether the objections are valid and, in some instances, may reduce a creditor’s claim. This was illustrated recently in a ruling issued in a California bankruptcy case in which the court reduced a claim by almost $30 million due to a finding that the debtor was not unjustly enriched in that amount as the creditor claimed. If you have questions about proofs of claims or unjust enrichment in a bankruptcy case, it is in your best interest to meet with a trusted California bankruptcy lawyer.

History of the Case

It is alleged that the debtor filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in 2016. The creditor filed four proofs of claim, one of which totaled close to $50 million. Other claimants moved to reduce the claim, and following a series of hearings, the court granted the motion, reducing the claim by close to $30 million on the grounds that the debtor was not unjustly enriched by that amount as claimed by the creditor. The creditor appealed, arguing that the bankruptcy court improperly applied the facts.

Unjust Enrichment and Proofs of Claims

The appellate court declined to adopt the creditor’s reasoning and affirmed the bankruptcy court’s ruling. The court explained that, under California law, if one party is unjustly enriched or receives a benefit at another party’s expense, they must make restitution. It noted, however, that simply because one person obtains benefits from another does not necessarily mean that restitution is required. Specifically, restitution is only necessary when the circumstances dictate that it would be unjust for the party to retain the benefit.

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