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Baker Botts L.L.P. v. ASARCO LLC, 14-109 (Jun 15) U.S. Sup.Ct.

Background

ASARCO hired the plaintiff law firms to assist it in carrying out its duties as a Chapter 11 Debtor in Possession (DiP) per 11 U.S.C. 327(a). When ASARCO emerged from Bankruptcy the law firms filed Fee Applications pursuant to 11 U.S.C. 330(a)(1), which permits the Bankruptcy Court to “award …reasonable compensation for actual, necessary services” by professionals.

Lower Court Rulings

ASARCO objected to the Fee Applications brought by its Attorneys. The Bankruptcy Court rejected ASARCO’s objections and went on to award fees for time spent defending the Fee Applications. On appeal from the Bankruptcy Court Order, The District Court held that the Law Firms could be awarded fees for defending their Fee Applications. On appeal from the District Court’s Order, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. Continue reading →

7th Circuit Court Seal

Carhart v. Carhart-Halaska Int’l, LLC 14-2968 (Jun 08)(7th Cir.)

Background

Federal Case

Carhart and Halaska own CHI. CHI terminated sales agent MRO. MRO filed a Federal suit for breach of contract. Carhart bought MRO’s Federal claim for $150,000 and became nominal Plaintiff. That lawsuit was actually against a company of which he was 1/2 owner.

State Case

Halaska sued Carhart in Wisconsin State Court, alleging that Carhart had breached his fiduciary duty by becoming the Plaintiff in the MRO Federal case, by writing checks against CHI accounts without approval, by depositing payments owed to CHI into Carhart’s account, and by withholding accounting and financial information.  The Wisconsin State Court appointed a Receiver, who informed the Federal court that CHI had no assets with which to pay a lawyer and consented to the entry of a $242,000 default judgment (the sum sought by Carhart), giving Carhart a profit of $92,000 on the purchase. Continue reading →

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BoA v. Caulkett, 13–1421 (Jun 1) Supreme Court of the United States

Background

This case came to the Supreme Court due to a Circuit split on the issue of “Lien Stripping.” In this pair of cases the Debtors both filed Chapter 7 Bankruptcy cases, owned houses encumbered with senior mortgages and “underwater” junior mortgages held by the Petitioner banks. Because the amount owed on each senior mortgage was greater than each house’s current market value, the Banks would have received nothing if they foreclosed on the junior liens (i.e. underwater).

Debtors sought to void their junior mortgage liens under the terms of Bankruptcy Code §506, which provides that “To the extent that a lien secures a claim against the debtor that is not an allowed secured claim, such lien is void.” 11 USC §506(d). In each case, the Bankruptcy Court granted the Debtor’s respective motions, and both the District Court and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

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United States Supreme Court, Docket: 14-116 Opinion Date: May 4, 2015

Appellant Bullard filed a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy case and proposed Plan. The Debtor’s mortgage lender objected to the treatment of its claim under the Plan and the Bankruptcy Court sustained that objection, denying confirmation of the Plan with leave to amend.

First Appeal

The Debtor appealed the denial of confirmation to the 1st Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel, which concluded that denial of confirmation was not a final, appealable order under 28 U.S.C.158(a)(1). Nonetheless, the BAP heard the issue as an interlocutory appeal – the operative provision in the Bankruptcy Code requiring “with leave of the court.” Tha BAP agreed that Bullard’s proposed Plan did not accord proper treatment to the mortgage company and upheld the ruling of the Bankruptcy Court.

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The Facts

In 2004 Miller sought to build a 4-unit condominium project on her lot in Monona, Wisconsin. The process stalled while Miller bought another lot, amended the plan, and abated an unexpected asbestos problem. Then her real problems began.

Miller negotiated unsuccessfully with her neighbor, a former mayor, who trespassed onto her property at the direction of city officials and took photographs for use at a planning commission meeting to oppose her project. Citations were issued for creating a public nuisance and working without the proper permit; the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued a “Stop Work” Order due to the asbestos. Miller was also required to erect a fence, was told that weeds were too high, and was ordered to remove various structures.

State Courts

A Wisconsin State Court rejected 3 of the citations issued against her, stating that while “some of the efforts to enforce compliance were unreasonable” Miller had not pointed to any similarly situated person who had been treated differently. With the Court on its side, Monona refused to adjust taxes on the property to reflect the demolition of existing structures, and Officials continued to trespass by parking cars on her property. Continue reading →

Dual Tracking is the industry name for the practice of letting a foreclosure case tick on even while the homeowner seeks to modify their mortgage loan. The idea is simple: the Bank will take whichever solution comes through first – a modification or a foreclosure. The problem is that the Bank holds all the cards: the Bank’s Loss Mitigation Department decides how long it takes to review and approve an application to modify your loan, while the Foreclosure process in Court has been greatly simplified and streamlined for the benefit of the Banks. Illinois mortgage foreclosure laws, even Illinois Supreme Court Rules, now permit foreclosing banks to roll over homeowners and get to a judgment.

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If you live in Illinois you know that the Economy has been sputtering: struggling valiantly but with little to show for it. Case in point: Is your home still underwater? For most people the answer is still yes – even as markets around the country rebound. So today we address a deceptively simple question: What is a mortgage and how does it work? Why don’t mortgages relate to the value of our homes? Here are a few things to consider: a mortgage is a loan secured by real estate. While the term “mortgage” is used colloquially to refer to both the loan and the security, there are actually 2 separate legal documents at work here: a Note and a security instrument – the Mortgage lien.

Note: When money is borrowed to purchase real estate, some States title the underlying property in the name of the Lender and permit that interest to hypothetically transfer over time to the Borrower. The arrangement is a bit like lay-a-way. These States are using the “Title Theory.” But Illinois, like many other States, places the underling property in the name of the homeowner and gives the Lender a lien on the owner’s interest – these States are using the “Lien Theory.”

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Think you know about Lien Strips, the controversial practice featured in our post here? Well think again, because the law may be changing. Lucky for you we have an update ready to go.

WHAT IS A LIEN STRIP?

11 USC 1322(b) provides that wholly undersecured liens on real property may be removed or “stripped,” and the debt to which they relate treated as unsecured in a Chapter 13 Plan of Reorganization. Lien stripping has 2 distinct, and very desirable, benefits for debtors:

  1. The lien strip removes the junior lien from the property entirely; and
  1. The debtor only pays a percentage of the claim (as if it were an unsecured debt).

CAN A PARTIAL LIEN STRIP SUCCEED?

There is no such thing as a partial lien strip. Bankruptcy Courts will only allow a lien to be stripped if it is wholly undersecured (i.e. unsecured): that is, the secured potion is zero or negative. Moreover, lien stripping is permissible only for claims secured by the Debtor’s principle residence because a lien strip modifies the “total package of rights for which the claim holder bargained.”

QUALIFYING FOR A LIEN STRIP

For a lien to be stripped, the value of the debtor’s property as of filing, minus fully-secured non-target debts, must be = or < $0. Once upon a time meeting these requirements could be challenging; but today, when many homeowners are “underwater” as to their first mortgage and have a HELOC or 2nd mortgage on top of that, the conditions necessary for a lien strip to take place are relatively straightforward and can sometimes be met without much resistance from the affected creditor.

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This post provides a brief snapshot of Mechanics Liens in Illinois. While I recommend this short post for those involved in the construction industry (Contractors, Subcontractors, Suppliers, etc.) as well as for Attorneys that represent such parties, I strongly suggest that anyone facing a potential lien claim or seeking to enforce one find an experienced practitioner. As you will see below, there are more ways to fail at enforcing a Mechanics Lien than to succeed. For still more information, see our Mechanics Lien Primer.

General Considerations

Under Illinois law a “mechanic” – usually a General Contractor, Subcontractor, Supplier, or Architect – is one that improves real property and is entitled to a lien in the property until paid. That inchoate lien may be perfected by the filing of notice and enforced through the filing of suit to foreclose. This is what we know as a Mechanics Lien.

The right to bring a Mechanics Lien is granted exclusively by statute – no such right exists at common law. With respect to improvements on private property, the Illinois Mechanics Lien Act controls; while the Liens Against Public Funds Act applies to liens on public property. Since Mechanics Liens arise only from statute, the law must be strictly construed in all respects – the most important being the absolute deadlines specified in Illinois law. Failure to adhere to the statutory deadlines is fatal to the right of the complaining party

Change Orders

When changes are made in the process of a construction project, those changes should be documented as “Change Orders.” Illinois law requires the following five (5) factors in order for a Change Order to be enforceable:

1.The extra must be outside the scope of the original contract;
2.The extra must have been ordered by the property owner;
3.The owner must agree to pay for the extra by word or deed;
4.The extra must not have been volunteered by the contractor; and
5.Extras cannot be charged to correct faulty or incomplete work.

Failure to meet these criteria will bar any claim for that extra. In short, while it is not necessary to obtain change orders in writing, it is obviously a good idea to do so and to prominently display how much the work and materials will cost, as well as the anticipated effect on the overall construction schedule.

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On February 9, 2015 the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division ruled in the case of Brandt vs. Rohr-Alpha, a case involving fraudulent transfers and whether certain debts can be avoided in Bankruptcy.

What is a “Fraudulent Transfer?”

A pre-petition payment is avoidable as constructively fraudulent according to 548(a)(1)(B) when the Debtor:

  1. Transfers property or an interest in property;
  2. Within the 2 years preceding its bankruptcy;
  3. Got less than reasonably equivalent value; and
  4. Was insolvent or rendered insolvent as a result.

Reasonably Equivalent Value

To determine whether reasonably equivalent value was exchanged the Court must determine:

  1. Whether at time of transfer the Debtor received value; and, if so,
  2. Whether that value was equivalent to what the debtor gave up.

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