Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Bankruptcy
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Attorney Romanzi referred a personal injury case to his employer, the Fieger law firm; meanwhile, creditors were winning default judgments against Romanzi. The case settled for $11.9 million; about $3.55 million was awarded as attorney’s fees after Romanzi quit the firm. Romanzi’s employment at the firm entitled him to a third of the fees. Before Romanzi could claim his due, his creditors forced him into Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The trustee commenced an adversary proceeding against the firm to recover Romanzi’s third of the settlement fees for the bankruptcy estate. The parties agreed to arbitration.Two of the three arbitrators found for the trustee in a single-paragraph decision that was not "reasoned" to the firm’s satisfaction. The district court remanded for clarification rather than vacating the award. On remand, the panel asked for submissions from both parties, which the trustee provided; the firm refused to participate. The arbitrators’ subsequent supplemental award, approved by the district court, awarded the trustee the fees plus interest. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the arbitrators’ original award was compromised according to at least one factor allowing vacation under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 10(a); that the act of remanding and the powers exercised by the arbitrators on remand violated the doctrine of functus officio; and that the supplemental award should have been vacated under the section 10(a) factors. The district court’s and panel’s actions fall under the clarification exception to functus officio. View "In re: Romanzi" on Justia Law

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Anne and Donald divorced in 1996 after 25 years of marriage. They later reconciled but did not re‐marry, then separated again. Because divorce laws no longer applied, Anne sued Donald in Indiana state court under equitable theories to seek redress for her contributions to the relationship during their second period together. They agreed to binding arbitration. The arbitrator awarded Anne $435,000, half the increase in value of Donald’s retirement savings during their unmarried cohabitation. Donald declared bankruptcy and sought to discharge the arbitrator’s award as a money judgment. Anne argued that the arbitrator had awarded her an interest in specific property so that the award could not be discharged in Donald’s bankruptcy.The bankruptcy court sided with Anne. The district court reversed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, in favor of Donald. Anne was awarded a money judgment, not a property interest. The award does not identify a required source of funds or manner of payment but only lists options for satisfying the obligation. The payment of cash would suffice; the award provided for post-judgment interest. The arbitrator’s award said that “this judgment should not be dischargeable in bankruptcy” but that language is not controlling. View "Harshaw v. Harshaw" on Justia Law

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In 2005, U.S. Home Corporation entered into a contract to purchase two contiguous tracts of land, one of which was owned by West Pleasant-CPGT, Inc. Under the contract, West Pleasant and the other landowner were to gain certain approvals permitting development of the properties. Pursuant to the contract, U.S. Home paid advances to the landowners totaling over $1.5 million. As security for the advances, West Pleasant executed a mortgage and note on its property; the other landowner did not. When a contract dispute arose in 2006, U.S. Home sought to terminate the contract and get a return of its total advance. U.S. Home prevailed in arbitration and was awarded a judgment in the full amount of the advance, plus interest. The Appellate Division affirmed the judgment in 2009. When the judgment was not satisfied, U.S. Home commenced foreclosure actions against the properties. The foreclosure proceedings were stayed when West Pleasant and the other property owner filed for bankruptcy. In West Pleasant’s bankruptcy action, U.S. Home moved to dismiss and for relief from the automatic stay. West Pleasant and U.S. Home executed a Consent Order, in which West Pleasant dismissed its bankruptcy proceeding, waived a fair market valuation and its right to object to a sheriff’s sale of its property, and released U.S. Home from any claims in law or equity. U.S. Home never proceeded with any deficiency action against either landowner. Nonetheless, the landowners commenced the affirmative litigation that gave rise to this appeal, seeking a declaration that the arbitration award was fully satisfied, as well as compensation “in the amount of the excess fair market value of the properties obtained by defendant[] U.S. Home over the amount of its outstanding judgment.” The second property owner then assigned its rights to West Pleasant. After trial, the court valued the second property as worth almost $2.4 million and West Pleasant’s property as worth almost $2 million. The court ordered U.S. Home to pay the fair market value of the West Pleasant property, plus interest, and extinguished the arbitration award on the second property. On appeal, the Appellate Division determined that West Pleasant had waived its right to a fair market valuation on its property but that it was owed a fair market value credit for the second property. The Appellate Division remanded the matter to the trial court for recalculation of damages. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding use of fair market value credit by this debtor to obtain a money judgment against a creditor, in the absence of a deficiency claim threatened or pursued or any objection being raised at the time of the sheriff’s sales, was "inconsistent with sound foreclosure processes and, moreover, inequitable in the circumstances presented." The judgment of the Appellate Division was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "West Pleasant-CPGT, Inc. v. U.S. Home Corporation" on Justia Law

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Violation of a bankruptcy court discharge order is not an arbitrable dispute. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying appellants' motions to compel arbitration of a dispute with two debtors who previously held credit card accounts managed by appellants. Appellants argued that debtors were obliged to arbitrate the dispute concerning whether appellants violated the bankruptcy court's discharge orders when they failed to correct the status of debtors' credit card debt on their credit reports.Though the text and history of the Bankruptcy Code are ambiguous as to whether Congress intended to displace the Federal Arbitration Act in this context, the court held that circuit precedent is clear that the two statutes are in inherent conflict on this issue. In Anderson v. Credit One Bank, N.A., 884 F.3d 382 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 139 S. Ct. 144 (2018), the court refused to enforce the parties' arbitration agreement, finding that Congress did not intend for disputes over the violation of a discharge order to be arbitrable. View "Belton v. GE Capital Retail Bank" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its previously filed opinion and substituted the following opinion.The court held that its holding in In re Nat'l Gypsum Co., 118 F.3d 1059, 1069 (5th Cir. 1997), that bankruptcy courts have discretion to refuse to compel arbitration in proceedings seeking enforcement of a discharge injunction, remains good law following the Supreme Court's decision in Epic Sys., 138 S. Ct. at 1623-24. In this case, the court affirmed the bankruptcy court's denial of Wells Fargo's motion to compel arbitration of a dispute over whether debtor's discharge applied to a student loan. View "Henry v. Educational Financial Service" on Justia Law

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Debtor filed an adversary proceeding in bankruptcy court raising the issue of whether her bankruptcy discharge applied to a student loan. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court's denial of Wells Fargo's motion to compel arbitration.The court held that its holding In re Nat'l Gypsum Co., 118 F.3d 1059, 1069 (5th Cir. 1997), -- that bankruptcy courts have discretion to refuse to compel arbitration in proceedings seeking enforcement of a discharge injunction -- remains good law following the Supreme Court's decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 138 S. Ct. 1612 (2018). The court held that Epic Systems shows that National Gypsum's doctrinal foundation remains sound. View "Henry v. Educational Financial Service" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court's denial of Credit One's motion to compel arbitration on the basis of a clause in the cardholder agreement between Credit One and debtor. The court held that debtor's claim was not arbitrable because the dispute concerned a core bankruptcy proceeding and arbitrating the matter would present an inherent conflict with the goals of the Bankruptcy Code. In this case, the successful discharge of debt was not merely important to the Bankruptcy Code, it was its principal goal. The court explained that an attempt to coerce debtors to pay a discharged debt was thus an attempt to undo the effect of the discharge order and the bankruptcy proceeding itself. View "In re Orrin S. Anderson" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court affirming the bankruptcy court concluding that Mountain Glacier properly reserved its arbitration claim in its dispute with Nestle Waters after Mountain Glacier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy automatically stayed the companies’ arbitration. After the bankruptcy proceedings ended, Mountain Glacier attempted to resume arbitration, but Nestle Waters objected, arguing that Mountain Glacier failed properly to reserve the arbitration in its reorganization plan. The lower courts disagreed, as did the Sixth Circuit, holding (1) Mountain Glacier’s reservation enabled creditors to identify its claim and evaluate whether additional assets might be available for distribution; and (2) neither Browning v. Levy, 283 F.3d 761, 772 (6th Cir. 2002) nor 11 U.S.C. 1123(b)(3) required Mountain Glacier to provide more information than it did. View "Nestlé Waters North America. Inc. v. Mountain Glacier LLC" on Justia Law

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Oteria Moses borrowed $1,000 under a loan agreement that was illegal under North Carolina law. When Moses filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, CashCall, Inc., the loan servicer, filed a proof of claim. Moses subsequently filed an adversary proceeding against CashCall seeking a declaration that the loan was illegal and also seeking money damages for CashCall’s allegedly illegal debt collection activities. CashCall filed a motion to compel arbitration. The bankruptcy court denied CashCall’s motion to compel arbitration and retained jurisdiction over both Moses’ first claim for declaratory relief and second claim for damages. On appeal, the district court affirmed. The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the district court (1) did not err in affirming the bankruptcy court’s exercise of jurisdiction to retain in bankruptcy Moses’ first claim; but (2) erred in retaining in bankruptcy Moses’ claim for damages and denying CashCall’s motion to compel arbitration of that claim, as this claim was not constitutionally core. Remanded with instruction to grant CashCall’s motion to compel arbitration on Moses’ second claim for damages. View "Moses v. CashCall, Inc." on Justia Law

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Doe settled his sexual abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for $80,000 after participating in a voluntary mediation program. He later filed a claim against the Archdiocese in its bankruptcy proceedings for the same sexual abuse. Doe responded to the Archdiocese’s motion for summary judgment by contending that his settlement was fraudulently induced. The argument depends upon statements made during the mediation, but Wisconsin law prohibits the admission in judicial proceedings of nearly all communications made during mediation. Doe argued that an exception applies here because the later action is “distinct from the dispute whose settlement is attempted through mediation,” Wis. Stat. 904.085(4)(e). The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Archdiocese. Doe’s bankruptcy claim is not distinct from the dispute settled in mediation. The issue in both proceedings, which involved the same parties, is the Archdiocese’s responsibility for the sexual abuse Doe suffered. Doe sought damages in both the mediation and bankruptcy for the same sexual abuse; he did not seek separate or additional damages for the alleged fraudulent inducement. View "Doe v. Archdiocese of Milwaukee" on Justia Law