12 B 35492, 12 A 01889
Pro se debtor Gabriela Carter commenced an adversary proceeding seeking to discharge her educational loan debt owed to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission and Educational Credit Management Corporation pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8). The issue addressed by the Court was whether the Debtor met the three-pronged Brunner test requiring her to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that paying the loans would cause “undue hardship.” The Court found that the evidence demonstrated that the Debtor cannot maintain, based on current income and expenses, a minimal standard of living if forced to repay the student loans, thus satisfying the first prong of the test. The Court also found, however, that the Debtor failed to present evidence of additional, exceptional circumstances indicating that the state of affairs is likely to persist for a significant portion of the repayment period. Because the Debtor was not able to satisfy this second prong, the Court found that she did not meet her burden to prove that repayment of the loans would constitute an undue hardship under the statutory exception and held that the student loan debt is nondischargeable under § 523(a)(8).
Judge Janet S. Baer - Opinions
Judge Janet S. Baer
September 30, 2014
12 B 35492, 12 A 01889
March 6, 2014
12 B 30867
In response to a memorandum opinion allowing creditor bank costs of collection in their bankruptcy case, the debtors filed a motion to alter or amend the opinion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) and Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 9023, requesting that the Court reduce the amounts awarded. The debtors alleged that the Court erred by basing its opinion on the fact that numerous confirmation hearings and modified plans were required before a plan could be confirmed rather than focusing on the reasons for the delay. The Court found that because the debtors merely rehashed old matters and attempted to advance a version of the evidence that could and should have been presented prior to judgment, they failed to establish the existence of manifest errors of fact or newly discovered evidence required under Rule 59(e). Accordingly, the Court denied the debtors’ motion.
September 25, 2013
12 B 02903
Counsel for the Debtors filed an amended fee application in this chapter 13 case, requesting fees of $3,500 pursuant to the firm’s Attorney-Client Agreement for Legal Services. The Debtors objected to the application, alleging that the firm should receive no fees because its attorneys betrayed the Debtors’ trust in the representation, particularly with respect to negotiations in two lien strip adversary proceedings. The issue before the Court was whether the fees requested were reasonable compensation for actual, necessary services rendered pursuant to section 330 of the Code or whether the fees charged exceeded the reasonable value of the services provided pursuant to section 329. The Court found that the time spent by counsel in providing legal services to the Debtors was both appropriate and necessary for the administration of the case and that the rates charged for those services were commensurate with those charged by comparably skill attorneys. The Court also found, however, that a reduction in fees was justified because of the firm’s role in a miscommunication between attorney and client in the negotiation of a settlement in the lien strip adversaries. Accordingly, the Court sustained the Debtors’ objection in part, awarded counsel fees of $3,000, and disallowed the remaining fees of $500.
12 B 02903, 12 A 00440, 12 A 00441
Pro se debtors commenced two adversary proceedings to determine the value of two pieces of real property and to strip down the unsecured portions of the first mortgage liens on those properties pursuant to §§ 506(a) and 1322(b)(2). The debtors also filed a motion to strip off the creditor’s second mortgage lien from one of the properties under § 506(d). Based on the evidence presented and the credibility of the witnesses who testified at trial, the Court valued each property and gave the debtors permission to file an amended plan consistent with the Court’s ruling stripping down the first mortgages. As for the debtors’ motion to strip off the second mortgage lien under § 506(d), the Court denied the motion without prejudice, finding that the statute cited does not provide the vehicle for lien stripping in chapter 13 cases in the wake of the Seventh Circuit’s recent decision in Ryan
12 B 07352, 12 A 00765
The debtors filed an adversary proceeding to determine the nature and extent of creditor’s lien on their residence. The Court found that the creditor’s third priority lien was wholly unsecured and thus subject to being stripped off the debtors’ residence and treated as an unsecured claim. The Court found that the sales comparison approach was the appropriate method of valuation in this case and held that the petition date was the relevant date for valuation.
12 B 26295, 12 A 01630
The Court held that wages withheld pre-petition under an Illinois Citation to Discover Assets, and an order for installment payment of judgment, are not exempt assets and thus may not be recovered by the debtor as a preferential transfer. Personal property exemptions do not apply to wages that are required to be withheld in a wage deduction proceeding under Part 8 of Article XII of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. The issue before the Court was whether the same was true of wages withheld pursuant to a citation to discover assets, which is a special proceeding under Part 14 of Article II, as opposed to a wage deduction proceeding under Part 8 of Article XII. In holding that the debtor could not claim an exemption in wages withheld pursuant to a citation to discover assets, the Court based its decision on the language in 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/2–1402(k-5) that directs the Court, in the event property held by a third party respondent is wages, to proceed as if a wage deduction proceeding had been filed. Accordingly, the Court granted the creditor’s motion to dismiss the preference action.
April 18, 2013
After his chapter 13 case was dismissed without a plan being confirmed, the debtor moved to compel the trustee to release funds he was holding in payment to the debtor’s attorney, alleging that section 1326(a)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code mandates the disbursement of those funds. The issue addressed by the Court was whether a third-party citation to discover assets, which was served upon the trustee by creditor Brendan Financial, Inc. and which initiated supplementary proceedings in the Circuit Court of Cook County, trumps the release of funds to the debtor’s attorney. The Court found that Brendan Financial violated the Barton doctrine by initiating supplementary proceedings in the state court without obtaining leave of the Bankruptcy Court. The Court also concluded that section 1326(a)(2) governs the matter and that the plain language of that statute mandates the disbursement of funds to the debtor’s attorney. Accordingly, the Court granted the debtor’s motion and directed the trustee to release funds to the debtor’s attorney in accordance with the Court’s order which granted the attorney’s application for compensation.
March 14, 2013
10 B 57906
Counsel for the Debtor filed an amended fee application in this chapter 13 case. Notwithstanding counsel’s agreement to the flat fee pursuant to the Court-Approved Retention Agreement, he sought approval of a fee of $23,379, which was $19,879 over the court-authorized flat fee. The issue before the Court was whether this case presented “extraordinary circumstances” that would warrant the additional fee. In reviewing both the history of activity in the case and counsel’s itemized time records, the Court found certain services to be extraordinary and granted fees of $14,140 in addition to the $3,500 flat fee, as well as $323 for reimbursement of expenses. The Court denied fees as to the remaining amounts requested in the amended fee application.
January 30, 2013
10 B 44866
The debtor moved for sanctions against TCF Bank pursuant to section 362(k) of the Bankruptcy Code, alleging that after he filed his bankruptcy petition, TCF willfully violated the automatic stay by proceeding with a state court lawsuit filed against him and other parties. The sole issue addressed by the Court was whether the debtor has standing to pursue the sanctions motion. The Court found that because the debtor’s claim for damages in the sanctions motion is property of his bankruptcy estate and has not been abandoned by the chapter 7 trustee, the trustee is the real party in interest with standing to pursue the cause of action against TCF. Accordingly, the Court denied the motion for sanctions due to the debtor’s lack of standing.
January 18, 2013
12 B 26203, 12 B 21218
Tax purchasers moved for relief from the automatic stay to continue with their petitions for issuance of a tax deed in the Circuit Court of Cook County. The issue before the Court was whether the debtors in these two cases could cure delinquent property taxes through their chapter 13 plans even though the redemption periods expired during pendency of the bankruptcy cases. The Court acknowledged the split of authority in this jurisdiction concerning the interplay between 11 U.S.C. § 1322(b)(2) and 11 U.S.C. § 108(b), as well as the nature of a tax purchaser’s interest arising out of the Illinois tax sale procedure. Agreeing with the recently issued opinion in La Mont, the Court found that the debtors could provide for payment of the purchasers’ claims in installments through their chapter 13 plans. Accordingly, the Court denied the tax purchasers’ motions.