Judge Janet S. Baer - Opinions

Judge Janet S. Baer

12 B 17133, 18 A 00021
Plaintiffs Richard and Elizabeth Reuland (the “Reulands”) filed an adversary complaint against the Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”), seeking (1) a determination that the IRS had violated the discharge injunction by attempting to collect certain tax debt that had been discharged through their chapter 13 bankruptcy case, (2) a permanent injunction against the IRS barring future attempts to collect that debt, and (3) attorney’s fees and costs.  The IRS moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because the tax debt at issue is not dischargeable pursuant to 11 U.S.C. §§ 1328(a)(2) and 523(a)(1)(B)(ii) (excepting from discharge debts for tax returns filed both late and less than two years before bankruptcy).  The Reulands conceded that the tax debt was nondischargeable pursuant to those provisions.  They argued, however, that under United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. Espinosa, 559 U.S. 260 (2010), the tax debt at issue was discharged because their plan provided for the debt and the IRS failed to object to or appeal confirmation.  In response, the IRS argued that Espinosa was inapplicable because the Reulands’ plan did not contain any specific language purporting to discharge the tax debt.  After distinguishing Espinosa from the Reulands’ case and considering other cases with similar facts, the Court held that the tax debt at issue had not been discharged because it is nondischargeable under §§ 1328(a)(2) and 523(a)(1)(B) and the Reulands’ plan did not contain specific language that provided for the discharge of the debt.  Thus, the Court granted the IRS’s motion, and dismissed the Reulands’ complaint with prejudice because, as a matter of law, it failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

15 B 26538, 15 A 00771
Raymond Michael Chuipek filed an adversary complaint against his former employer Scott C. Gilmore, seeking a determination that a debt owed to him by Gilmore by virtue of a state court judgment entered on a jury verdict was not dischargeable pursuant to § 523(a)(2)(6). Chuipek subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the questions answered by the jury were sufficient to meet the willful and malicious standard of § 523(a)(2)(6) and that, thus, Gilmore was precluded from re-litigating the factual issues decided in the state court under the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Gilmore contended that although the jury found in Chuipek’s favor, there was no finding of subjective intent to willfully and maliciously injure Chuipek. Therefore, Gilmore asserted, collateral estoppel could not be applied. Based on a close inspection of the entire state court record, the Court found that the facts necessarily implied by the jury’s verdict established that Gilmore’s conduct was willful and malicious and that it caused injury to Chuipek for purposes of § 523(a)(6). Accordingly, the Court concluded that the prior case presented the same issues and that collateral estoppel applied to the factual record in the nondischargeability action, thus barring Gilmore from relitigating the underlying facts decided in the state court case. As such, the Court granted Chuipek’s motion and entered judgment in his favor.

15 B 28696, 16 A 00026
Plaintiff Tillman Enterprises, LLC (“Tillman”) filed a three-count adversary complaint against Todd S. Horlbeck (“Horlbeck”), seeking a determination that a debt owed to it by Horlbeck for alleged securities violations and fraud was not dischargeable pursuant to 11 U.S.C. §§ 523(a)(19), (a)(2)(A), and (a)(2)(B).  After Tillman amended the complaint and Horlbeck’s motion to dismiss was denied, the parties’ filed cross-motions for summary judgment.  No material facts were in dispute.  Tillman argued that Horlbeck had violated securities laws by reporting inflated account values while managing a hedge fund in which Tillman had invested.  In addition, Tillman alleged that Horlbeck misrepresented and omitted material information while the parties negotiated the settlement of those securities claims.  Horlbeck admitted to reporting inaccurate values but contested whether Tillman could prove the requisite elements of its claims.  After establishing that it had jurisdiction to determine liability for the violation of securities laws under § 523(a)(19), the Court found that Tillman had failed to prove that Horlbeck violated any securities laws.  As such, the Court granted Horlbeck’s motion for summary judgment under § 523(a)(19) and denied Tillman’s cross-motion.  Turning to §§ 523(a)(2)(A) and (a)(2)(B), the Court first found that Tillman could maintain claims under both subsections because they were based on separate alleged misrepresentations.  On the merits, the Court found that Horlbeck had failed to disclose liabilities on a financial statement, and that he had misrepresented information about a regulatory investigation and his management of the hedge fund.  Tillman, in turn, had relied on those misrepresentations and omissions while deciding to enter into a settlement agreement and extend credit under a promissory note.  Thus, the Court found that the debt Horlbeck owes under the settlement agreement and promissory note is not dischargeable under §§ 523(a)(2)(A) and (a)(2)(B), granted Tillman’s motion for summary judgment, and entered judgment in its favor.

15 B 35985, 17 A 00192
Plaintiff David R. Brown (the “Trustee”) filed an adversary complaint against Robert J. Ferrari (the “Debtor”), seeking a denial of the Debtor’s discharge pursuant to 11 U.S.C. §§ 727(a)(2)(A), (a)(3), and (a)(5).  The Trustee argued that the Debtor was not entitled to a discharge because: (1) he transferred or removed equity in his home within one year of filing his bankruptcy petition with intent to hinder, delay, or defraud creditors by executing a junior mortgage on the home in favor of his friend; (2) he failed to keep or preserve books and records from which his financial condition could be ascertained; and (3) he failed to satisfactorily explain the loss or disposition of almost $250,000 that he allegedly borrowed from his friend.  After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the Court found that, given the documentary evidence and testimony at trial, the Debtor’s records were inadequate to allow the Court, the Trustee, and the Debtor’s creditors to trace his financial dealings with any kind of accuracy and that the Debtor did not offer any reasonable justification for his failure to keep or preserve financial records.  Thus, the Court held that that failure supported denial of the Debtor’s discharge under § 727(a)(3).  The Court further found that the Debtor failed to provide a satisfactory explanation for the disposition of both the equity in his home and the loan proceeds from his friend.  Accordingly, the Court also held that the Debtor was not entitled to a discharge pursuant to § 727(a)(5).  Although the Court found that the removal of equity from the Debtor’s home was a transfer for purposes of § 727(a)(2)(A), the evidence did not sufficiently establish that the Debtor actually intended to defraud his creditors.  As such, the Court did not find in the Trustee’s favor on the § 727(a)(2)(A) count of the complaint and, thus, that count was dismissed.

15 B 17676, 16 A 00020
Plaintiff City of Chicago (the “City”) filed an adversary complaint against debtor Ronald Spielman (“Spielman”), seeking a determination that a debt owed to it by Spielman by virtue of a federal district court default judgment was not dischargeable pursuant to §§ 523(a)(2)(A) and (a)(7).  The City subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment on both counts of its complaint.  No material facts were in dispute.  The City contended that the district court’s order for default judgment against Spielman under the City’s False Claims Ordinance precluded relitigation of the claims in the adversary proceeding due to principles of collateral estoppel.  Spielman argued that because a default judgment was entered, the claims were not actually litigated and that, thus, collateral estoppel could not be applied against him.  The Court found that the district court’s default judgment precluded further litigation of the claims because the district court made findings of fact, Spielman had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the claims, and, in fact, he did litigate the City’s final motion for default judgment, which was decided on its merits.  Accordingly, the Court granted the City’s motion on both counts of the complaint and entered judgment in favor of the City.

16 B 28526, 16 A 00624
Plaintiff Old Republic National Title Insurance Company (“Old Republic”) filed an adversary complaint against debtor Fares Fakhuri (“Fakhuri”), seeking a determination that a debt owed to it by Fakhuri by virtue of a state court judgment was not dischargeable pursuant to §§ 523(a)(2)(A) and (a)(2)(B).  Old Republic subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment on both counts of its complaint.  No material facts were in dispute.  Old Republic contended that the state court made findings that Fakhuri committed fraud and that Fakhuri falsely represented that the title to his property was clear, while concealing the fact that there was a lien on the property.  Fakhuri failed to contest these arguments.  The Court found that the state court’s default judgment was not preclusive as it made no findings of fact, but that Old Republic established that Fakhuri made false representations in connection with the title to the property within the meaning of § 523(a)(2)(A).  As §§ 523(a)(2)(A) and (a)(2)(B) are mutually exclusive causes of action, judgment could not also be granted as to § 523(a)(2)(B).  Accordingly, the Court granted Old Republic’s motion as to the § 523(a)(2)(A) count, entered judgment on that count in its favor, and dismissed the § 523(a)(2)(B) count.

13 B 09806, 13 A 00917
Jacob Thazhathuputhenpurac (the “Plaintiff”) filed an adversary complaint against former business partner Thomas Abraham (the “Debtor”), seeking a determination that a debt owed to him by the Debtor by virtue of a state court judgment was not dischargeable pursuant to §§ 523(a)(2)(A) and (a)(4) and objecting to the Debtor’s discharge under § 727(a)(3).  Both parties subsequently filed cross-motions for summary judgment, the Plaintiff on the two nondischargeability counts and the Debtor on all three.  No material facts were in dispute.  The Plaintiff argued that the Debtor was precluded from re-litigating the factual issues decided by the state court under the doctrine of collateral estoppel.  The Debtor contended that the elements needed to prevail pursuant to the statute under which the state court complaint had been brought were not identical to those required under §§ 523(a)(2)(A) and (a)(4) and that, thus, collateral estoppel was not applicable.  The Court found that the factual issues sought to be precluded were the same as those that came before the state court for purposes of collateral estoppel and that the state court’s findings of fact established, as a matter of law, all of the elements required for nondischargeability under §§ 523(a)(2)(A) and (a)(4).  Accordingly, the Court granted the Plaintiff’s motion, entered judgment in his favor, and denied the Debtor’s motion.

15 B 07325, 15 A 00866
Plaintiffs Estate of Rose M. Drabik, Mary Elizabeth Smith, Mary Katherine Paul, and chapter 7 trustee Brenda Porter Helms (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”) filed an adversary complaint against James T. Drabik (the “Debtor”), seeking a denial of the Debtor’s discharge pursuant to 11 U.S.C. §§ 727(a)(3) and (a)(4).  The Plaintiffs argued that the Debtor was not entitled to a discharge because he failed to keep or preserve information from which his financial condition could be ascertained and because he provided false, misleading, or inaccurate information in his initial bankruptcy petition, schedules, and statement of financial affairs.  After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the Court found that, given the documentary evidence and testimony at trial, the Debtor’s records were inadequate to allow the Court, the trustee, and the Debtor’s creditors to trace his financial dealings with any kind of accuracy and that the Debtor did not offer any reasonable justification for his failure to keep or preserve financial records.  Thus, the Court held that that failure supported denial of the Debtor’s discharge under 11 U.S.C. § 727(a)(3).  The Court further found that the Plaintiffs established that the Debtor “made a false oath or account” by filing initial bankruptcy documents with misstatements and omissions and that, together, those misrepresentations established a pattern of reckless indifference to the truth.  Accordingly, the Court also held that the Debtor was not entitled to a discharge pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 727(a)(4)(A).  Based on these findings, the Court entered judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs and against the Debtor and, as such, denied the Debtor’s discharge.

17 B 11668
The chapter 13 trustee filed a motion to dismiss the case of Christopher V. Pratola pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 1307(c).  The trustee asserted that there was cause for dismissal because Pratola owed educational debt of approximately $591,223 which exceeded the noncontingent, liquidated, unsecured debt limit of $394.725 set forth in 11 U.S.C. § 109(e).  Pratola argued that the educational debt was contingent and not subject to the debt limit because it was being paid under an income-based repayment plan.  The income-based repayment plan required monthly payments based on discretionary income and provided for the forgiveness of any remaining balance upon completion of a twenty-five year term.  The Court found that the educational debt was noncontingent for purposes of § 109(e) because it existed before the date of the filing of the petition and no future event needed to take place to fix its existence or amount.  Nevertheless, the Court found that there was no cause for dismissal under § 1307(c). After reviewing the relevant statutory language and case law, and determining that neither clearly required dismissal of the case, the Court examined the legislative history of § 109(e). The debt limits were created to stop owners of large business from filing under chapter 13 instead of chapter 11, not to preclude individuals with large amounts of educational debt from filing under chapter 13.  Accordingly, the Court denied the trustee’s motion to dismiss for lack of cause under § 1307(c).

16 B 29319, 17 A 00176
Mark Simon filed an adversary complaint against Constantino Joseph Boccarsi and Cari Ann Coglianese (the “Debtors”), seeking a determination that a debt owed to him by the Debtors by virtue of the entry of a state court default judgment was not dischargeable pursuant to §§ 523(a)(2)(A), (a)(4), and (a)(19).  Simon subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment on his securities fraud claim under § 523(a)(19).  He argued that the state court judgment was for securities fraud and that, thus, collateral estoppel barred the relitigation of his claim.  The Debtors contended that neither element required under § 523(a)(19) had been satisfied.  According to the Debtors, they did not commit securities fraud and the fact that the state court judgment was entered in default insulated the judgment from a finding of nondischargeability.  Based on the plain language of the statutory exception, the legislative history, and the reasoning in Meyer v. Rigdon, 36 F.3d 1375 (7th Cir. 1994), the Court found that the default judgment had preclusive effect in the nondischargeability action, because § 523(a)(19) preempted common law collateral estoppel.  The Court further found that the undisputed facts demonstrated that the two requirements of § 523(a)(19) had been satisfied through the entry of the judgment in the state judicial proceeding.  As such, the Court granted Simon’s motion for summary judgment and entered judgment in his favor.

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