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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

Chief Judge Catherine J. Furay

Case No. 13-15325-13
Land contract vendors objected to confirmation of the debtors’ chapter 13 plan proposing to cure a default after the redemption date set in a judgment of strict foreclosure. Under Wisconsin law, equitable title remained with the debtors because the state court had not entered an order confirming the default after the expiration of the redemption period. Section 1322’s more specific cure provision governed the debtors’ ability to cure, not the general provisions of section 108(b) extending a non-bankruptcy deadline for curing a default. The debtors could cure the default within a “reasonable time” in their plan under section 1322(b)(5).

11 U.S.C. § 1322(b)(5)
Fed. R. Bankr. P. Rule 7054
28 U.S.C. § 1821
28 U.S.C. § 1920
Wis. Stat. § 59.36
Wis. Stat.§ 59.38

Case No. 13-10813-7
After the court denied the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment in the decision issued May 6, 2014, the court held a trial to determine whether the defendant committed defalcation under section 523(a)(4), that is, whether he acted knowing his conduct would violate his Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (“PACA”) duties. The court found he had. Although the defendant testified he did not know what PACA required of him, this testimony was not credible given his long experience in the grocery business. Additionally, every invoice the defendant received from the plaintiff stated the listed items were subject to a statutory trust pending receipt of full payment, putting him on notice of his duties.

11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(4) -- Nondischargeability - fraud in fiduciary capacity

Case No. 13-10279-7
After reaching a settlement with the trustee on his objection to their claim of exemption in real property, the debtors sold land to fund the settlement. They then filed a proof of claim for delinquent taxes, attorney’s fees incurred in litigating the objection and selling the land, and money expended to satisfy judgment liens on the property. The court sustained the trustee’s objection to the proof of claim for a number of reasons. Debtors cannot assert claims against themselves. Additionally, the claim was filed late and the trustee objected, subjecting it to disallowance under section 502(b)(9). There were a number of problems with the debtors’ claim for real estate taxes, and it did not meet the statutory criteria for the asserted section 507(a)(8) priority treatment. Finally, as for the attorney’s fees, although chapter 7 trustees may hire an attorney to be compensated from the estate, here, the debtors incurred the fees.

11 U.S.C. § 101(5) -- Definition of claim
11 U.S.C. § 330 -- Compensation of professionals
11 U.S.C. § 502(b) -- Allowance of claims or interests

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. 13-14059-13
The plaintiff sought a determination that debt for overpaid unemployment benefits was nondischargeable. On summary judgment, the court had an obligation to verify the debts were nondischargeable, even though the defendant conceded the overpayment was nondischargeable and only disputed his liability for the filing fee. The overpayment was excepted from discharge under section 523(a)(2)(A) because the defendant falsely certified he was unemployed and not receiving wages. A penalty assessed for the overpayment was intended to punish fraud, and thus was excepted from discharge under section 523(a)(7). The plaintiff could recover the fee for filing the adversary proceeding, as its recovery was permitted under a state statute. Because the underlying debt was nondischargeable, the filing fee was too.

11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2)(A) -- Nondischargeability - fraud
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(7) -- Nondischargeability - fines/penalties/forfeitures

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

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

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