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Opinions

The Western District of Wisconsin offers a database of opinions for the years 1986 to present, listed by year and judge. For a more detailed search, enter a keyword, statute, rule or case number in the search box above.

Opinions are also available on the Government Printing Office website for Appellate, District and Bankrupty cases. The content of this collection dates back to April 2004, though searchable electronic holdings for some courts may be incomplete for this earlier time period.

For a direct link to the Western Wisconsin Bankruptcy Court on-line opinions, visit this link.

Available Decisions:

  • Chief Judge Catherine J. Furay--2013-present
  • Judge William V. Altenberger--2016-present
  • Judge Brett H. Ludwig--2017-present
  • Judge Robert D. Martin (retired)--1990-2016
  • Judge Thomas S. Utschig (retired)--1986-2012

Judge Robert D. Martin

Case No. 12-13442-7
After a trial on the dischargeability of debt under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2)(A), § 523(a)(4), and 523(a)(6), the plaintiff filed a proposed bill of costs. The debtor-defendant objected on the grounds that the plaintiff was not the prevailing party on all claims. The court held that the complete lack of success on the first two claims must result in a reduction of two thirds of the total fees. As to the third claim, the court recognized that only a state court can determine precisely who the prevailing party was. Nonetheless, the court awarded the full one third of the fees to the plaintiff in light of the evidence presented at trial.
 

Case No. 13-11527-13
After confirmation of her Chapter 13 plan, the debtor objected to the claim of the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, arguing that the claim was not entitled to priority status because her tax obligations for 2007, 2008, and 2009 came due more than three years prior to the filing of the petition. The Department of Revenue contended that the “lookback” period was tolled during the debtor’s first chapter 13 case (filed in 2010). Under 11 U.S.C. § 507(a)(8)(A)(i), the lookback period is tolled for any period in which the stay of proceedings was in effect in a prior case. Because the debtor’s prior case was pending until its dismissal in February of 2013, the lookback period was tolled and Department had a valid priority claim.
11 U.S.C § 327(a) -- Employment of professionals
11 U.S.C. § 507(a)(8)
11 U.S.C. § 522(f) -- Lien avoidance
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(5) -- Nondischargeability - divorce decrees

Case No. 13-10756-7
The U.S. Department of Agriculture sought stay relief to set off a debt the IRS owed to the Chapter 7 debtor for a tax refund against a debt the debtor owed it on a home loan guaranty. Debtor argued that setoff should not be allowed because the USDA did not hold an enforceable claim against her. Debtor claimed that Chase Home Finance LLC waived any deficiency on the mortgage in a foreclosure proceeding in state court. Debtor also argued that because she was misled by the waiver of deficiency, she did not contest the entry of judgment, the sale process, the price obtained at the sale, or the costs assessed. The court held that the claim was enforceable because it was based on an indemnity contract signed by the debtor, and not on subrogation. The court also found that the language in the complaint was not misleading on its face, and debtor failed to demonstrate that unsophisticated consumers found the challenged statements to be misleading or deceptive.
11 U.S.C. § 553 -- Setoff
15 U.S.C. § 1692(e)

Case No. 11-17027-13
Debtors filed a Chapter 13 petition in November, 2011. The IRS sought to offset the debtors' 2012 income tax refund against the debtors’ 2011 tax liability. Debtors argued that the 2011 tax liability was attributable to a 401(k) distribution that was received during the tax year and could not be offset by their post-petition tax refund for a later year. The court allowed the setoff and held that the 2011 tax liability arose postpetition because “all events” necessary for that liability to accrue took place on the last day of the tax period, after the debtors had filed their Chapter 13 petition.
11 U.S.C. § 553 -- Setoff

Chief Judge Catherine J. Furay

Case No. 11-16005-7
A few months after filing bankruptcy, the debtor was convicted of first degree homicide for the murder of his mother. From prison, he filed a pro se adversary proceeding seeking, among other things, a finding that his bankruptcy estate had an interest in proceeds from his mother’s life insurance policies. The defendants’ motion to dismiss argued that the debtor’s interest in the life insurance proceeds was severed upon his conviction by operation of Wis. Stat. § 854.14, Wisconsin’s “slayer’s statute.” The debtor argued that he was entitled to exhaust his appellate remedies before the statute could be applied.
At the time the defendant’s motion to dismiss was filed, that question— whether the slayer statute applied upon conviction or awaited the completion of an appeal—was a matter of first impression in Wisconsin. While the motion to dismiss was pending, however, the debtor’s criminal conviction was affirmed by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Concluding that the affirmance mooted the legal question raised by the motion to dismiss, the bankruptcy court held that the slayer’s statute severed the debtor’s interest in the proceeds as of the date of his mother’s death, thereby depriving the bankruptcy estate of any interest. The court explained further that even if the affirmance had not exhausted the debtor’s appellate remedies, the slayer’s statute was triggered by the debtor’s conviction. Accordingly, it granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss.
11 U.S.C. § 541(a)(1)
WI. Stat. § 854.14 -- Slayer's statute

Case No. 12-14091-7

Forward Financial Bank brought an adversary proceeding seeking a denial of the debtors’ discharge under several provisions of 11 U.S.C. § 727 or, alternatively, a finding that the debt owed to the bank was nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6). After a two-day trial and the submission of post-trial briefs, the court found that there was insufficient evidence to deny the debtors’ discharge or render any portion of the debt nondischargeable. The court entered judgment in favor of the debtors and dismissed the adversary proceeding.

11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6) -- Nondischargeability - willful and malicious injury
11 U.S.C. § 727 -- Discharge

Case No. 13-10813-7
In prior proceedings, the district court determined the defendant’s produce LLC had violated its Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (“PACA”) trust obligations to the plaintiff. It made no findings about whether the defendant was individually liable. The defendant then filed an individual chapter 7 petition, and the plaintiff sought to except the PACA debt from discharge under section 523(a)(4). In denying a motion to dismiss the adversary complaint, the court determined the defendant-owner was personally liable for the dissipation of the PACA trust assets. The court also ruled that a PACA trust imposed fiduciary duties within the meaning of section 523(a)(4). The plaintiff then filed a motion for summary judgment, and the only question remaining was whether the debtor’s conduct constituted fraud or defalcation within the meaning of section 523(a)(4). The court rejected the plaintiff’s arguments that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of “defalcation” in Bullock v. BankChampaign, N.A., 133 S. Ct. 1754 (2013), did not apply to statutory breaches of fiduciary duty and that a breach of fiduciary duty imposed by PACA constituted per se defalcation within the meaning of section 523(a)(4). Instead, applying Bullock, the court looked to the facts available and could not conclude whether or not the debtor had knowledge of, or acted with gross recklessness in respect to, the improper nature of the behavior that resulted in a breach of his fiduciary duties. Accordingly, the court denied summary judgment.
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(4) -- Nondischargeability - fraud in fiduciary capacity

Case No. 12-16800-7
The plaintiff in this adversary proceeding—the incapacitated mother of one of the defendants/co-debtors—secured a $60,000 state court judgment against her son and his wife for breach of fiduciary duties, conversion, and defalcation and sought a determination that the amounts owed were nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(4). The court found that the language of the state court judgment conclusively established that the plaintiff’s son had engaged in “fraud or defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity” and that his debt should be nondischargeable; however, the judgment was not clear regarding his wife’s culpability. Accordingly, summary judgment was granted as to the son but denied as to his wife.
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(4) -- Nondischargeability - fraud in fiduciary capacity

Case No. 13-10684-7
The plaintiffs obtained a state court judgment against the debtor for stealing a trailer and two automotive hoists and sought a finding that the consequent debt was nondischargeable as larceny under 11 U.S.C. § 532(a)(4). On summary judgment, the court found that the terms of the state court judgment conclusively established that the debtor committed larceny for purposes of section 523(a)(4). Accordingly, summary judgment was granted in favor of the plaintiffs and the debt was rendered nondischargeable.
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(4) -- Nondischargeability - fraud in fiduciary capacity

Case No. 12-15455-7
Chapter 7 debtors brought an adversary proceeding seeking a determination that the junior mortgage on their home was invalid. The debtors argued that although they both signed the promissory note—and although they acknowledge they received and spent the loan proceeds—one of the debtors did not remember signing the mortgage and, as a result, either the signature that appeared on the mortgage was a forgery or the result of misrepresentation and fraud. Despite its skepticism of the debtors’ “obviously self-serving” representations, the court concluded that the ultimate factual question turned on a credibility assessment that could only be made in person. Accordingly, it denied summary judgment and set the matter for trial.
Fed. R. Bankr. P. Rule 7056 -- Summary judgment
Fed. R. Civ . P. Rule 56(c)

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