Opinions

The Middle District of Georgia offers opinions in PDF format, listed by year and judge. For a more detailed search, enter the keyword or case number in the search box above.

Please note: These opinions are not a complete inventory of all judges' decisions and are not documents of record. Official court records are available at the clerk's office.

Judge Austin E. Carter

The Debtor asserted that a pawned vehicle was property of the estate and moved for turnover under § 542(a).  The redemption period expired prior to the petition date—passing title to Respondent under state law—but Respondent failed to repossess the vehicle at that time, so it was in the Debtor’s possession when she filed her case.  The Debtor’s confirmed plan provided for surrender of the vehicle, which was shown as inoperable.  After confirmation, Respondent did not attempt to retrieve the vehicle.  Several months later, the Debtor had repairs made, which substantially increased the vehicle’s value.  Much later, the Respondent repossessed the vehicle, after which the Debtor filed a motion to modify her plan to retain the vehicle and pay the Respondent’s claim through monthly payments.  The modified plan drew no objection and was confirmed.  The Debtor argues that the modified plan is res judicata and deems the vehicle estate property subject to turnover.  The Debtor argues, alternatively, that: (1) Respondent abandoned its ownership interest in the vehicle via its failure to repossess; (2) Debtor’s repairs to vehicle give her an ownership interest or an equitable or mechanic’s lien; and (3) Debtor is owed recovery under unjust enrichment or quantum meruit due to the increase in value from the Debtor’s repairs.  The Court held that, because the redemption period expired before the petition date, the vehicle was excluded from the estate and the Debtor could not transform it into estate property through plan modification. In addition, the Court found that the equities did not favor the Debtor because she repaired a vehicle owned by the Respondent under Georgia title pawn law, and that she was obligated to surrender through her confirmed plan.  Additionally, Debtor benefited from use of the repaired vehicle while representing that it was inoperable in two proposed modified plans filed after repairs were made.

In the Debtor’s previous Chapter 12 case, the Court valued farmland for the purpose of confirmation.  When the creditor whose claim was secured by the farmland sought to enforce a settlement agreement that had earlier been announced to support plan confirmation, the Debtor dismissed the case under 11 U.S.C. § 1208(b).  In the current case, the Debtor sought a continuance of the confirmation hearing under § 1224 to conduct a new appraisal of the farmland.  The creditor objected to the continuance and brought a motion to dismiss for “cause” under § 1112(b) due to the Debtor’s lack of good faith in filing the petition and abuse of the bankruptcy process.  The creditor argued that the value of the farmland was fixed by the Court’s valuation in the previous case under the doctrine of res judicata.  The Court found that no “cause” existed to continue the confirmation hearing.  The Court also found that “cause” existed to dismiss the case as the petition was filed in bad faith.  Although res judicata did not apply to the valuation of the farmland in the current case due to dismissal of the previous case, the Court held that the Debtor was improperly attempting to manipulate the bankruptcy code by taking action in the current case (i.e., revalue the farmland) that could not have been accomplished in the previous one.

Judge John T. Laney, III

This matter came to the Court on cross motions for summary judgment filed by the Plaintiff and Defendant. The sale for the Plaintiff’s house was cried out and the deed was executed before the passage of the CARES Act, but the foreclosure deed was not recorded until after the CARES Act was signed into law. The parties disagreed as to whether the foreclosure moratorium prohibits the recordation of a foreclosure deed. The Court found under Georgia law the foreclosure sale was complete before the passage of the CARES Act, therefore, the CARES Act foreclosure moratorium did not apply. Thus, the Court granted the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment and denied the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment.In

Creditor Commercial Capital Bank filed a motion to dismiss the Chapter 7 case of the Debtors Eric and Jerrie Lee for abuse of the bankruptcy system under 11 U.S.C. §§ 707(a), 707(b)(2), and 707(b)(3). The Court found that the presumption of abuse did not arise under § 707(b)(2), but the totality of the circumstances showed their case should be dismissed under § 707(b)(3). The Court did not rule on the motion under § 707(a).

Kelley, Lovett, Blakey & Sanders P.C. (“KLBS”) requested writs of execution against clients Hood Farms, Inc. and Hood Landscaping, Inc. for unpaid attorneys’ fees. KLBS had previously been granted administrative claims in both bankruptcy cases for their attorneys’ fees. Guardian Bank, which also held administrative claims, objected. The Court found a writ of execution to collect attorneys’ fees is impermissible, sustained Guardian Bank’s objections, and denied KLSB’s requests.

Kelley, Lovett, Blakey & Sanders P.C. (“KLBS”) requested writs of execution against clients Hood Farms, Inc. and Hood Landscaping, Inc. for unpaid attorneys’ fees. KLBS had previously been granted administrative claims in both bankruptcy cases for their attorneys’ fees. Guardian Bank, which also held administrative claims, objected. The Court found a writ of execution to collect attorneys’ fees is impermissible, sustained Guardian Bank’s objections, and denied KLSB’s requests.

This matter came before the Court by the Debtors’ objection to the IRS’s proof of claim number three. The IRS’s amended proof of claim included $2,780 owed for Shared Responsibility Payments under the Affordable Care Act. The IRS claimed the Shared Responsibility Payments were entitled to priority under § 507(a)(8) as either “an excise tax on a transaction…” or “a tax on or measured by income.” The Court found that the Shared Responsibility Payments are not levied on a transaction, therefore not entitled to priority under § 507(a)(8)(E), but are measured by income and entitled to priority under § 507(a)(8)(A).

Movant, Regions Bank, filed a motion for adequate protection or, in the alternative, relief from the stay. The Trustee objected. The Trustee presented evidence that the Movant’s financing statements, which listed Debtor’s name with the Debtor’s middle initial not the Debtor’s full name as listed on his driver’s license, were seriously misleading. The Court found the Trustee’s evidence persuasive and denied the motion. The Court also addressed the Movant’s unpersuasive arguments that the Trustee’s objections were barred by res judicata and judicial estoppel and that the Debtor filed his plan in bad faith.

Chief Judge James P. Smith

Pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 544(b)(1), Trustee sought to step into the shoes of the IRS and use Georgia’s fraudulent transfer law, O.C.G.A. § 18-2-74, to avoid the debtor’s ten-year old transfer of real property to her brother.  Some thirteen years prior to the debtor’s bankruptcy, the brother had conveyed the property to the debtor because the brother and his wife were having marital problems.  The brother retained all the benefits and burdens of ownership of the property.  The brother and his wife later reconciled and the debtor reconveyed the property to her brother.  Trustee argued the reconveyance was a fraudulent transfer because the debtor had an actual or constructive intent to defraud her creditors.  The court held that the debtor had held the property in constructive trust for her brother and that she had held bare legal title .  Property of the estate does not include property in which the debtor holds only legal title and not an equitable interest. 11 U.S.C. § 541(d).  The court held that the reconveyance was not a transfer of an interest of the debtor’s property under § 544.
 

ETC was the successful bidder at an ad valorem tax sale on Debtor’s residence.  ETC then held title to the property as a defeasible fee interest, subject to Debtor’s right of redemption.  After Debtor failed to redeem the property within one year of the tax sale (O.C.G.A. § 48-4-40(1)), Debtor was personally served with a barment notice to foreclose her redemption rights.  Debtor again failed to redeem and filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy offering to pay the redemption price through her plan.  The Court held that Debtor’s rights in the property had expired and that there was no “claim” to modify under § 1322(b)(2).  The Court also held that service of the barment notice upon Debtor, although not perfect, met due process requirements.  The Court denied confirmation of Debtor’s Chapter 13 plan.

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