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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 Rachel M. Blise -- 2021 - present
  • Judge William V. Altenberger -- 2016 - present
  • Judge Thomas M. Lynch -- 2018 - present
  • Judge Katherine M. Perhach -- 2020 - present
  • Judge Brett H. Ludwig -- 2017 - 2020
  • Judge Robert D. Martin -- 1990 - 2016
  • Judge Thomas S. Utschig -- 1986 - 2012
  • Judge William H. Frawley -- 1973 - 1986

Chief Judge Catherine J. Furay

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


Case Summary:
Debtor received a Chapter 7 discharge in November 2015. Four years later, he filed a Motion for Contempt with this Court against three individuals: his ex-wife; her attorney during their divorce; and the State Court Judge who presided over their divorce. Debtor alleged the continued pursuit of a state court action, stemming from the divorce, by his ex-wife and her attorney, as well as the orders entered by the Judge, violated the discharge injunction under 11 U.S.C. § 524. Debtor’s ex-wife, her attorney, and the Judge all moved to deny the Motion for Contempt. The Court reserved judgment as it pertains to the ex-wife and her attorney. A further hearing will be scheduled to adjudicate their motions to deny the Debtor’s Motion for Contempt. The Court found that the Judge is entitled to Judicial Immunity because he acted within his judicial capacity and had proper jurisdiction over the divorce proceedings. The Court denied the Motion for Contempt against the Judge.

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 524 -- Effect of Discharge

Key Terms:
Discharge Injunction
Judicial Immunity
Motion for Contempt


Case Summary:
Defendant acted in the capacity of financial power of attorney for his mother, who passed away in 2013. Plaintiff is the Personal Representative of the late mother’s estate. Defendant could not account for $240,927.70 belonging to the mother’s estate. In October 2017, a state court Judge entered an order pursuant to a stipulation between the parties and awarded the Plaintiff $120,463.85. Defendant filed a voluntary Chapter 7 in December 2018. Plaintiff brought this adversary seeking a nondischargeability determination with respect to the state court order under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(4). Defendant filed a pro se answer and moved to dismiss the adversary complaint without any statutory citations. The Court interpreted the Defendant’s answer to move for dismissal under Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 7012(b), adopting Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Court ruled that the Plaintiff’s complaint is well pleaded and states a plausible claim that the Plaintiff is entitled to relief. The Court denied the Defendant’s motion to dismiss.

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(4) -- Nondischargeability - Fraud or Defalcation in Fiduciary Capacity
Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7012(b) -- Defenses and Objections
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) -- Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

Key Terms:
Motion to Dismiss
Nondischargeability
Plausibility Standard


Case Summary:
The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry ("MNDLI") is a state-based agency with the authority to license and regulate electrical contractors and electricians within Minnesota. In June 2018, MNDLI filed a civil lawsuit against the Defendant. A Minnesota state court granted summary judgment in favor of MNDLI and ordered the Defendant to pay the Restitution Judgment of $1,560,311.12. Defendant filed a voluntary Chapter 7 petition in October 2018. MNDLI filed this adversary seeking a nondischargeability determination for the Restitution Judgment under 11 U.S.C. §§ 523(a)(2) and/or 523(a)(6). Defendant's answer moved for dismissal without any statutory citations. The Court interpreted the Defendant's answer to move for dismissal under Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 7012(b), adopting Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Court denied the motion to dismiss because MNDLI's complaint met the plausibility standard to overcome a 12(b)(6) motion.

Defendant also filed a counterclaim, seeking damages in the approximate amount of $7 million stemming from a host of torts he alleged MNDLI committed, including defamation. MNDLI moved to dismiss the counterclaim on three grounds: (1) the Court's lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman; (2) principles of collateral estoppel and res judicata barred the re-litigation of issues in the counterclaim; and (3) Defendant failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

The Court dismissed the Defendant's defamation counterclaim under Rule 12(b)(6) because the claim failed to state that the alleged defamatory statements were untrue. The Court also held it was barred from relitigating the remaining counterclaim allegations because of collateral estoppel and/or res judicata. Defendant had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issues he presented in the counterclaim, however, he chose to not appear in the state court action. The Court further held that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The Court made no findings about the merits of MNDLI's nondischargeability action against the Defendant. This decision was merely a finding that the Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the Defendant's counterclaim.

Statute/Rule References:
Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7012(b) -- Defenses and Objections
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) -- Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

Key Terms:
Collateral Estoppel
Counterclaim
Motion to Dismiss
Nondischargeability
Res Judicata
Rooker-Feldman
Subject-Matter Jurisdiction


Case Summary:
Debtor and State Bank of Cross Plains (“State Bank”) executed a mortgage on real property containing the Debtor's homestead and business workshop in 2014. They renewed the Note in 2018. Debtor defaulted by failing to pay the required balloon payment. He then filed a Chapter 13. He had no unsecured debt and the only debt he defaulted on was the balloon payment. The parties agreed the Plan must pay State Bank's claim in full over the life of the Plan. The Plan provided, on account of State Bank's claim, monthly payments followed by an eventual refinance and balloon payment before the end of the Plan. State Bank objected to the Plan on three grounds: (1) the Debtor lacked the income necessary to make Plan payments whether or not the balloon payment was allowed; (2) the balloon payment was an impermissible modification of State Bank's claim; and (3) a future refinance was too speculative. The Court confirmed the Plan over State Bank's objection. The Plan was feasible. While the Debtor had good months and bad months, the good months more than compensated for the bad months. Given the unique facts of the case, notably the Debtor's substantial equity in the real property collateral, the Court found the balloon payment was permissible under sections 1322(b)(2) and 1325(a)(5). Further, a future refinance and balloon payment was not unduly speculative given the Debtor's equity and quality job outlook.

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 1322(b)(2) -- Modification of Rights of Secured Claimants
11 U.S.C. § 1325(a)(5) -- Providing for Curing of Default
11 U.S.C. § 1325(a)(6) -- Feasibility

Key Terms:
Balloon Payment
Confirmation
Feasibility
Modification


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).


Case Summary:
Section 362(d)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code requires the court to grant a secured creditor’s request for relief from the automatic stay for cause, including the lack of adequate protection.  In a Chapter 13 case, a secured creditor is entitled to relief from the automatic stay, even when its proofs of claim were filed untimely, when the debtors failed to file a proof of claim on the secured creditor’s behalf pursuant to Rule 3004 and then also failed to provide the secured creditor with adequate protection.


Judge Thomas M. Lynch

Case Summary:
Judgment Creditor moves for modification of the automatic stay and abandonment of the estate's interest in a strip mall. Movant asserts that he holds a blanket lien in the Debtor's interest in the property under Chapter 816 of the Wisconsin Code by virtue of an order entered by the state court in supplemental proceedings. That order states that the strip mall shall be sold and the proceeds of sale up to a fixed amount shall be paid to the creditor in partial satisfaction of his judgment. The creditor further asserts that the property has been damaged by fire and is subject to an in rem foreclosure action for unpaid property taxes to argue that the property lacks equity and is not necessary for effective reorganization and the lack of adequate protection for his lien interest. The Debtor and the Unsecured Creditors Committee oppose the motion, arguing in part that the creditor does not have a lien in the property. The court finds that the creditor failed to demonstrate his lien in property held by the estate. As the Wisconsin Supreme Court discussed in Associated Bank N.A. v. Collier, 852 N.W.2d 443 (Wisc. 2014), supplemental proceedings do not give rise to a blanket lien on all of a judgment debtor's personal property. To obtain a lien on such property a creditor must docket its money judgment, identify the specific personal property and levy that property. Such levy can be accomplished by at least three different means, including "obtaining an order to apply specific personal property to the satisfaction of the judgment, which a creditor may do with the assistance of a supplemental receiver." Id. at 445. In this case, the parties stipulate that the interest in the strip mall is owned by a limited liability company in which the Debtor held a membership interest. Further, established caselaw holds that any ownership interest the estate may have in a debtor's membership in a limited liability company does not extend to the assets owned by the company. The creditor failed to demonstrate that the property referenced in the state court order is personal property now owned by the bankruptcy estate and that the automatic stay applies to that property. So finding, it is not necessary to determine whether the state court order created an effective judgment lien over the property. Accordingly, the motion to lift stay/ abandon interest in Wisconsin strip mall is DENIED.

Statute/Rule References:
11 U.S.C. § 362(d) -- Relief from the Automatic Stay
11 U.S.C. § 362(g) -- Burden of Proof
11 U.S.C. § 554 -- Abandonment of Property of the Estate
Wis. Stat. Ann. § 816.08 -- Order to Apply Non-Exempt Property Toward Satisfaction of a Judgment

Key Terms:
Abandonment of Property of the Estate
Automatic Stay
Interest in Non-exempt Personal Property
Judgment Lien
Levy and Execution
Limited Partnership
Property of the Estate
Supplementary Proceedings


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