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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 Rachel M. Blise -- 2021 - present
  • Judge William H. Frawley -- 1973 - 1986
  • Judge G. Michael Halfenger -- 2020 - present
  • Judge Beth E. Hanan -- 2023 - present
  • Judge Brett H. Ludwig -- 2017 - 2020
  • Judge Thomas M. Lynch -- 2018 - present
  • Judge Robert D. Martin -- 1990 - 2016
  • Judge Katherine M. Perhach -- 2020 - present
  • Judge Thomas S. Utschig -- 1986 - 2012

Chief Judge Catherine J. Furay

Case Summary:
Creditor filed an adversary proceeding against Debtor alleging that he was the sole owner to a piece of property the Debtor listed as “jointly owned” in his schedules. Despite what was listed on the Debtor’s schedules, Debtor responded by alleging creditor was merely a lienholder on the property. Both parties asked the Court for a declaratory judgment determining who owned the Property. Further, each party believed that they were a 100 percent owner of the Property and asked the Court to order the property be put in either party’s name alone. As a preliminary matter, the Court held that a just disposition of the case would be best achieved by considering the Debtor’s late-filed answer to the Complaint. The Court found that deciding dispositive issues against a party because of a delay in responding to requests to admit where the defendant was an elderly, ill, and unrepresented party does not strike a balance between the diligence in litigation and the interest of justice. Rather, justice was best served by deeming proffered facts not admitted and considering the Debtor’s responses. Additionally, Plaintiff did not assert how the delay would prejudice his litigation of the case. Turning to the merits of the cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court found that the warranty deed was clear that both parties were joint tenants on the property and that there was no genuine issue of material fact about the issue of which party owns the property. Therefore, the Court granted the motion and cross-motion for summary judgment to the extent that each party requested a declaratory judgment of who owned the property, holding that the parties jointly owned the property. The Court, however, denied both the motion and cross-motion for summary judgment to the extent that the parties asked the Court to determine either party was a 100 percent owner of the property and that the Court order the property be put in either party’s name alone.

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 541 -- Property of the Estate

Key Terms:
Joint Tenancy


Case Summary:
Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s adversary proceeding regarding property damage and breach of contract. Defendant argued that Plaintiff lacked standing to assert such claims because it transferred the real property and equipment to its primary secured lender after it failed to find a suitable buyer within the time limit imposed by its confirmed plan. The Plaintiff objected, stating that the Plan expressly reserved its right to prosecute claims, including property damage, against Defendant. The Court found that Plaintiff had standing to assert the claims against Defendant because the language in the confirmed plan expressly contemplated the Plaintiff pursuing claims against Defendant for property damage. Defendant was aware that the claims were not transferred, and the basis for the claims accrued before any surrender or transfer of the property to the primary secured lender. Further, the Court held that the Plaintiff had constitutional standing to bring the claims because the Plaintiff suffered “injury-in-fact,” and the damage was “concrete and particularized.”

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 541 -- Property of the Estate
11 U.S.C. § 1123 -- Contents of Plan
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) -- Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

Key Terms:
Jurisdiction
Standing


Case Summary:
Creditor argued its administrative expense priority claim from the Debtor's previously dismissed bankruptcy proceeding carried over to a Debtor's subsequently filed bankruptcy, entitling the creditor to an administrative expense priority claim in the second bankruptcy. The Court found that administrative expense claims under section 503 of the Bankruptcy Code are tied to the estate in a particular bankruptcy case, and so the creditor must show that its administrative claims asserted in the second bankruptcy case relate solely to the estate in that second bankruptcy. Because the creditor could not do so, its claims against the Debtor must be treated as general unsecured claims.

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 503 -- Administrative expenses

Key Terms:
Administrative Expenses
Administrative Priority Claim


Case Summary:
Creditor filed an adversary proceeding seeking a determination that a Chapter 7 Debtor's debt to creditor is nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2)(B) and 523(a)(6). Following the close of evidence at trial, the creditor moved to amend to include a claim under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2)(A) to conform to the evidence. As a preliminary matter, the Court permitted the creditor to amend its complaint to conform to the evidence and add a claim against the Debtor under section 523(a)(2)(A) because the Debtor had a full and fair opportunity to defend against this potential claim and there was nothing on the record that suggests the Debtor would have presented additional evidence had he known sooner the substance of the amendment. Further, the Court found the debt owed to the creditor was nondischargeable under both sections 523(a)(2)(A) and (a)(6). Specifically, the Court found the debt was nondischargeable under 523(a)(2)(A) because the Debtor intentionally misrepresented to the creditor that funds loaned to Debtor by creditor would be used to expand the Debtor's business, purchase new equipment, and upgrade catering equipment, when in actuality Debtor's bank records and testimony showed that the money was used to pay payroll, vendors, and other operating expenses including tax liabilities that were not disclosed to the creditor. The Court also found the Debtor's intentional failure to make daily required payments to the creditor, instead using the funds to make payments to other creditors, constituted willful and malicious behavior making the debt nondischargeable under section 523(a)(6) as well. But, the Court ruled for Trapp on the section 523(a)(2)(B) count, finding that the written materials provided to creditor were not materially false or that the statements about prior months' earnings were made with intent to deceive.

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

Key Terms:
Intent
Materiality


Case Summary:
Plaintiff won summary judgment in a state court lawsuit against Debtor/Defendant based on breach of contract, misrepresentation, and theft by contractor. State court judgment awarded Plaintiff treble damages under statute, but did not include substantive analysis for doing so. Debtor filed bankruptcy, and Plaintiff sought nondischargeability determination under Code section 523(a)(4). The Court found that elements for defalcation while acting in fiduciary capacity under section 523(a)(4) were actually litigated and determined in state court suit, and therefore ruled in favor of the Plaintiff. The Court declined to rule that the treble damages award was nondischargeable, however, because the factors supporting such an award were not presented by Plaintiff, responded to by the Debtor, or analyzed and applied to the facts by the state court.

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C § 523(a)(4) -- Nondischargeability – fraud or defalcation in fiduciary capacity
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 -- Summary Judgment

Key Terms:
Claim Preclusion
Collateral Estoppel
Res Judicata


Case Summary:
Plaintiff, the former spouse of the Debtor-Defendant, filed an adversary proceeding to determine whether Debtor’s assumption of a home equity line of credit stemming from divorce proceedings was classified as a property division subject to discharge under 11 U.S.C. § 1328 or was classified as a nondischargeable domestic support obligation under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(5). The Court found that the totality of the circumstances, including intent, the financial situation of the respective parties, the type of debt assumed, and the credibility of the parties, all show that Debtor’s obligation to pay the home equity line of credit was in the nature of domestic support and thus nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(5). The parties’ financial circumstances at the time of the divorce proceedings establish that Plaintiff would not have been able to maintain the family home without Debtor’s payment of the home equity line of credit given the significant income disparities at the time of the separation. Further, the Court found that the great weight of authority holds that a spouse's assumption of debts enabling members of the family to remain in the marital residence is a nondischargeable obligation in the nature of support, maintenance, or alimony rather than a dischargeable property division.

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 101(14A) -- Definition of “Domestic Support Obligation”
11 U.S.C. § 1328(a)(2) -- Discharge
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(5) -- Nondischargeability – Domestic Support Obligation

Key Terms:
Domestic Support Obligation


Case Summary:
Three Debtors-Defendants each filed a voluntary Chapter 7 petition. Two Plaintiffs filed adversary proceedings against Debtors seeking a determination that debts owed by Debtors were nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2). The adversaries were consolidated for hearing. The Court rendered its judgment for Plaintiffs against two of the Debtors and dismissed the complaint against the third. Plaintiffs’ attorney subsequently filed a Petition for Attorney’s Fees. Debtors objected to the Petition. The Court first found that to be entitled to attorney’s fees under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2), attorney’s fees must be supported by a state statute governing the nature of the section 523 claim. Here, the supporting state statutes that governed the nature of the claim were Wis. Stats. §§ 943.20(1)(d) and 895.446(1) and (3)(b). Because these statutes allowed a prevailing party to recover attorney’s fees, Plaintiffs were entitled to attorney’s fees. Further, the Court disagreed with Debtors’ contention that there should be a one-third overall reduction in attorney’s fees because the complaint was dismissed against one of the three Debtors, stating that Debtors failed to consider that many tasks would have been performed even if the third Debtor had never been a defendant. Finally, the Court declined to exercise its discretion in awarding exemplary damages due to the fact that the Debtors were of modest means and there was no evidence that the improper conduct of either Debtor created a seriousness of the hazard to the public.

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2) -- Nondischargeability
Wis. Stat. § 895.446 -- Property damage or loss caused by crime
Wis. Stats. § 943.20(1)(d) -- Theft

Key Terms:
Attorney Fees
Exemplary Damages


Case Summary:
Debtors filed a motion to stay any actions by Creditors in the Chapter 12 Proceedings relating to an Order Granting Relief From Stay and Co-Debtor Stay and Dismissal of the Chapter 12 Proceeding. A Secured Creditor objected. The Court granted the stay pending appeal pursuant to Rule 8007. Although the Debtors did not show a substantial likelihood of success on appeal, a public interest was implicated, and that parties would be harmed if the stay were imposed, the Debtors would face irreparable injury absent a stay. In particular, the Court found that were a stay not imposed, the objecting secured creditor would likely pursue a foreclosure sale on its collateral, causing the Debtors to lose their farm and farming operations and making a Chapter 12 difficult to accomplish. However, the Court found it appropriate to impose a conditional stay to balance both the potential harms to the Debtors and the objecting Secured Creditor.

Statute/Rule References:
Fed. R. Bankr. P. 8007 -- Stay Pending Appeal

Key Terms:
Bonds
Suspension of Proceedings


Case Summary:
Debtors filed a Joint Chapter 12 Plan of Reorganization providing for 8 classes of claims. The plan proposed to convert members of the Class 8 Allowed Unsecured Creditors’ (“Class 8 Creditors”) unsecured claims into secured claims 30 days after the plan was completed and extend payments to the Class 8 Creditors beyond the plan term. A member of the Class 8 Creditor Class and the Standing Chapter 12 Trustee objected to the proposed plan. The Court found that the Debtors’ proposed treatment of the Class 8 Creditors violated 11 U.S.C. §§ 1222(c) and 1222(b)(9). By waiting to grant security interests to the Class 8 Creditors until after the Plan is completed, Debtors proposed granting security interests in property that would have revested in the Debtors. The Court determined this would preclude the Class 8 Creditors from being classified as allowed secured claims, because allowed secured claims must be secured by property in which the estate has an interest. As payments would be impermissibly extended beyond the plan term to creditors who do not hold allowed secured claims, payment to the Class 8 Creditors could not be extended beyond a three-year term.

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 1222 -- Contents of Plan


Judge Rachel M. Blise

Case Summary:
The court addressed the novel question of whether a debtor whose primary activity was once the business of owning single asset real estate can change the nature of its single asset real estate property by purchasing assets of its lessee and assuming the lessee’s business operations mere hours before filing its bankruptcy petition.  Prior to the petition date, the debtor owned the real estate and building where a dinner theater was operated, and a separate LLC owned by the same persons as the debtor operated the theater business and leased the real estate from the debtor.  On the petition date, but before the petition was filed, the debtor and the related LLC entered into an agreement whereby the debtor purchased the production and hospitality assets and operations of the related LLC.  A secured creditor filed an objection to the debtor proceeding under subchapter V on the grounds that 11 U.S.C. § 1182(1)(A) requires that the debtor’s primary activity must be something other than the business of owning single asset real estate.  After an evidentiary hearing, the court held that the debtor had not carried its burden to prove that its primary activity on the petition date was not the business of owning single asset real estate.  The court found the real property constituted a single property; the property generated substantially all the gross income of the debtor; and the debtor conducted no substantial business other than operating the real property and activities incidental thereto.  Accordingly, the debtor was not eligible to be a debtor under subchapter V.  


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