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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 Bankruptcy 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 Thomas M. Lynch -- 2018 - present
  • Judge Katherine M. Perhach -- 2020 - present
  • Judge Robert D. Martin (retired) -- 1990 - 2016
  • Judge Thomas S. Utschig (retired) -- 1986 - 2012

Chief Judge Catherine J. Furay

Case Summary:
Chapter 12 Trustee filed a motion to dismiss the Debtors’ case due to the Debtors’ insufficient income from farming operations to satisfy Chapter 12 eligibility requirements. Debtors’ gross farm income in 2019 was $47,650. Their farm income has two components: (1) cattle sales and breeding ($14,650), and horse boarding ($33,000). While recognizing the recent evolutions of farming and the agriculture industry, the Court determined the Debtors’ horse boarding operation was not a farming operation because the Debtors did not bear the risks traditionally associated with farming activity. Debtors did not raise the horses or sell them. They simply boarded horses for other individuals and took care of neglected horses through their non-profit entity that is funded through donations and fundraising events. Debtors’ 2019 farm income was insufficient to meet the Chapter 12 eligibility requirements. Debtors’ case was dismissed.

Statute/Rule References: 
11 U.S.C. § 101(18) -- Definition of Family Farmer 
11 U.S.C. § 101(21) -- Definition of Farming Operation 
11 U.S.C. § 109(f) -- Chapter 12 Eligibility

Key Terms:
Custom Framing
Farming Operation
Horse Boading


Case Summary:
Plaintiffs contracted with Defendant’s business entity to install solar panels. Each Plaintiff made advance payments of $77,083.50 between July and September 2017. However, the solar panels were not installed as promised and the Plaintiffs did not receive refunds. Plaintiffs motioned for summary judgment on their claims. The Court took judicial notice of its own prior litigation during the United States Trustee’s trial denying the Defendant a discharge under 11 U.S.C. §§ 727(a)(3) and (a)(5) in September 2019. The Court also took judicial notice of a Minnesota State Court proceeding involving the Defendant and his business entity. Here, the Court determined there was no genuine dispute as to any material fact that the debt owed to the Plaintiffs, in the total amount of $124,618.32, was exempted from discharge under sections 523(a)(2)(A) and 523(a)(4). The facts and evidence of this case resembled the Defendant’s troubling business practices established through the United States Trustee’s trial. Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment was granted.

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2)(A) -- Nondischargeability – False Pretenses, False Representation, or Fraud
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(4) -- Nondischargeability - Embezzlement
Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7056 -- Summary Judgment
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) -- Summary Judgment

Key Terms:
Collateral Estoppel
Judicial Notice
Nondischargeability
Res Judicata
Summary Judgment


Case Summary:
Plaintiff filed this adversary proceeding to recover money from the Debtors for alleged damages to collateral under state law causes of action. Plaintiff had received a judgment of strict foreclosure in state court and discovered damages to the property after retaking possession. Plaintiff named the Debtors’ insurer as a co-defendant. The insurer moved for Judgment on the Pleadings to dismiss the claims asserted against it. The Court granted the motion because the Plaintiff’s allegations, as pled and asserted in its amended complaint, described intentional damages by the Debtors that did not trigger an initial grant of coverage under the insurance policy. The Court examined the substance of the allegations and determined that it was not bound to blindly accept the “negligence” labels attached to the Plaintiff’s claims. The Court also determined that the Plaintiff’s first-party property damage claim was barred by the twelve-month statute of limitations under Wis. Stat. § 631.83(1)(a). The Court’s decision made no findings about the merits of the Plaintiff’s adversary action against the Debtors.

Rule References:
Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7012(b) -- Judgment on the Pleadings
Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c)-- Form of Pleadings
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) -- Judgment on the Pleadings
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d) -- Presenting Matters Outside of Pleadings

Key Terms:
Facial Plausibility
Initial Grant of Insurance Coverage
Judgment on the Pleadings


Case Summary:
Debtor was a licensed attorney in Wisconsin and the subject of multiple professional disciplinary proceedings brought by the OLR. Debtor was disciplined by the State Supreme Court in 2009 and was ordered to pay the OLR the costs of his disciplinary proceeding in the amount of $12,500.64. Debtor eventually filed bankruptcy and discharged this debt. Debtor petitioned to reinstate his law license, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to act on the reinstatement petition until the dischargeability status of the disciplinary costs were determined by this Court. Debtor reopened his bankruptcy case and filed an adversary proceeding to determine that his debt was not excepted from discharge under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(7). Both the Debtor and the OLR agreed that summary judgment was appropriate to resolve this adversary. The Court found that the disciplinary costs were a fine or forfeiture that did not compensate the OLR for actual pecuniary loss. There was no genuine dispute as to any material fact that the debt owed to the OLR was excepted from discharge under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(7). The Court entered summary judgment in favor of the OLR. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprived the Court of subject matter jurisdiction over the Debtor’s constitutional claim under the Eight Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. 

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(7) -- Nondischargeability - Fines/Penalties/Forfeitures
Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7056 -- Summary Judgment
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) -- Summary Judgment

Key Terms:
Attorney Disciplinary Costs
Nondischargeable Debt
Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
Subject Matter Jurisdiction


Case Summary:
Debtor was the sole member and owner of a Wisconsin Limited Liability Company. The LLC was indebted to a creditor bank by virtue of three commercial loans (“Notes”) in the amount of $620,121.97. The Notes were secured by all the LLC’s assets. Debtor personally guaranteed the LLC’s repayment through a Commercial Guaranty. The LLC defaulted under the Notes. Creditor filed a lawsuit against the LLC and the Debtor in Dane County Circuit Court seeking the appointment of a receiver under Wis. Stat. Ch. 128. On the morning of the receivership hearing, Debtor dissolved the LLC and transferred all assets and debts of the LLC to himself. Debtor filed his personal Chapter 13 petition on the same day. Creditor bank moved to dismiss the bankruptcy case because the Debtor’s noncontingent, liquidated unsecured claims exceeded the statutory amount of $419,275 set forth in section 109(e). Assuming the attempted transfer of assets was valid, the Court found that the Debtor, as the new owner of the assets, now owned assets subject to the creditor’s liens. As the guarantor of the Notes, Debtor’s liability to creditor bank remained an unsecured obligation. The case was dismissed under section 109(e) of the Code.

Statute References:
11 U.S.C. § 109(e) -- Chapter 13 Eligibility
11 U.S.C. § 1307(c) -- Conversion or Dismissal

Key Terms:
Debt Limit
Dismissal
Ineligible
LLC Asset Transfer
Unsecured Debt


Case Summary:
Plaintiff filed this adversary proceeding to recover money from the Debtors for alleged damages to collateral under state law causes of action. Plaintiff had received a judgment of strict foreclosure in state court and discovered damages to the property after retaking possession. Plaintiff named the Debtors’ insurer as a co-defendant. Debtors filed a Motion to Abstain and Remand or, in the Alternative, to Dismiss the Adversary Proceeding. Debtors’ insurer and the Plaintiff consented to this Court’s jurisdiction. Debtors’ Motion and arguments raised four issues: (1) whether the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman; (2) whether the Court must abstain under mandatory abstention; (3) whether the court should abstain under permissive abstention; and (4) whether the Court should dismiss the adversary proceeding. The Court’s decision made no findings about the merits of the Plaintiff’s adversary action. The Court found that: (1) it does not lack subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s damage, negligence, conversion, and statutory theft claims; (2) it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s delinquent real estate tax claim; (3) mandatory abstention is not required; (4) permissive abstention is not appropriate; (5) Plaintiff’s complaint states claims sufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss except for its delinquent real estate tax claim. The Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s delinquent real estate tax claim.

Statute/Rule References:
28 U.S.C. § 1334
Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7012(b)(6), adopting Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) -- Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted

Key Terms:
Mandatory Abstention
Permissive Abstention 
Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
Subject Matter Jurisdiction


Case Summary:
Plaintiff and Defendant were involved in a romantic relationship that ended in 2012. They lived together for a period time but were never married. The couple held several joint checking and business accounts with the Plaintiff making a substantial portion of the deposits. Defendant regularly withdrew sums from the joint accounts to pay the Plaintiff’s personal bills and expenses. However, the Plaintiff’s adversary complaint accuses the Defendant of intentionally taking and retaining money that did not belong to her. Plaintiff objects to discharge under 11 U.S.C. §§ 523(a)(2), (a)(4), and (a)(6). Defendant filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings seeking a determination that she should not be denied a discharge. Defendant’s motion asserts she did not need the Plaintiff’s permission to access funds and that it is impossible to convert or misappropriate funds that also belonged to her under Wisconsin’s joint bank account laws. The Court denied the motion for judgment on the pleadings because the Plaintiff’s adversary complaint states claims that have facial plausibility. There is a question of actual ownership over the funds since the former couple were never married. There is also a question of whether the Plaintiff had donative intent with respect to the funds. The Court made no findings about the merits of the Plaintiff’s adversary action. This decision was merely a finding that the Plaintiff’s complaint pleads facts that support his claims for relief. Both parties will have an opportunity to present their case at trial.

State/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2)(A) -- Nondischargeability - False Pretenses, False Representation, or Fraud
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(4) -- Nondischargeability - Fraud or Defalcation While Acting in a Fiduciary Capacity, Embezzlement, or Larceny
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6) -- Nondischargeability - Willful and Malicious Injury
Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7012(b) -- Judgment on the Pleadings
Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c) -- Form of Pleadings -- Adoption by Reference; Exhibits
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) -- Judgment on the Pleadings

Key Terms:
Facial Plausibility
Judgment on the Pleadings
Nondischargeability
Wisconsin Joint Bank Accounts


Case Summary:
Plaintiff creditor contracted with Defendant’s business entity to install solar panels for his residence. Plaintiff made a $7,200 down payment for the installations. However, the solar panels were not installed as promised and the Plaintiff did not receive a refund. Plaintiff motioned for summary judgment on his claims. The Court took judicial notice of its own prior litigation during the United States Trustee’s trial denying the Defendant a discharge under 11 U.S.C. §§ 727(a)(3) and (a)(5) in September 2019. Here, the Court determined there was no genuine dispute as to any material fact that the debt owed to the Plaintiff was exempted from discharge under sections 523(a)(2)(A) and 523(a)(6). The facts and evidence of this case resembled the Defendant’s troubling business practices established through the United States Trustee’s trial. Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment was granted.

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2)(A) -- Nondischargeability - False Pretenses, False Representation, or Fraud
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2)(B) -- Use of a Statement in Writing
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6) -- Nondischargeability - Willful and Malicious Injury
Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7056 -- Summary Judgment
Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(b) -- General Rules of Pleading - Defenses; Admissions and Denials
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) -- Summary Judgment

Key Terms:
Judicial Notice
Nondischargeable Debt
Summary Judgment


Case Summary:
Creditor provided printing services to the Debtor and her business prior to her petition date. Debtor owed approximately $5,800 for such services. Debtor filed a voluntary Chapter 7 petition on September 19, 2019, and listed the creditor on her Schedules. Creditor filed a pro se small claims complaint two business days later, and the Debtor was served by a process server thirteen days later. On October 8, 2019, Debtor’s attorney notified the creditor of the bankruptcy filing and offered to settle the stay violation for $1,000, along with the dismissal of the small claims action. Creditor dismissed its complaint two days later but did not pay the $1,000. Debtor filed a Motion for Order for Contempt and Sanctions for Violation of the Automatic Stay more than a month later. The Court denied the Motion because the creditor did not willfully violate the stay and took prompt action to remedy its technical violation. The Court found no damages beyond minimal attorney’s fees incurred to notify the creditor about the bankruptcy. Debtor never had to appear in court to litigate the complaint. The Court found that the Debtor failed to mitigate her damages and that her attorney was not entitled to any attorney’s fees incurred after the creditor had dismissed its small claims complaint.

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 362 -- Automatic Stay
11 U.S.C. § 362(k)(1) -- Automatic Stay Damages

Key Terms:
Automatic Stay
Duty to Mitigate Damages
Technical Violation of the Automatic Stay
Willful Violation of the Automatic Stay


Judge Brett H. Ludwig

Case Summary:
Chapter 13 debtors’ counsel requested approval of his proposed fee of $14,000 out of the $15,000 settlement proceeds related to alleged violations of the automatic stay and FDCPA.  The fee agreement stated that counsel would not charge the debtors for his time related to the stay violation actions; instead, the debtors agreed that counsel could seek attorneys’ fees from defendants at hourly rates ranging from $350 to $550 per hour for attorney time in addition to a 45% contingency fee.  The court approved the settlement, but reduced the requested attorneys’ fees as unreasonable under §329(b).


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