In re Liptak

Decision Date22 January 2004
Docket NumberNo. 03 B 29854.,03 B 29854.
Citation304 B.R. 820
CourtU.S. Bankruptcy Court — Northern District of Illinois
PartiesIn re Virgil LIPTAK d/b/a Designed Financial Services, Debtor.

Michael Atchley, for Movant/Creditor.

Forrest Ingram, for Debtor.

Dean C. Harvalis, for U.S. Trustee.

AMENDED MEMORANDUM OPINION

JACQUELINE P. COX, Bankruptcy Judge.

Chapter 11 debtor Virgil Liptak ("Liptak"), a resident of Dallas, Texas, filed this Chapter 11 bankruptcy case in Chicago on July 16, 2003, as a business bankruptcy case involving his sole proprietorship Designed Financial Services, a provider of financial-planning and business-management services. The assets and liabilities regarding this case, however, have no direct links to Liptak's business; his most recent source of income is the interest and dividends from savings and investments, including approximately $100,000 during the two years prior to filing this case and $1800 per month at the time of filing.

The controversy herein stems from the debtor's 1993 divorce from Elizabeth Thornhill ("Thornhill") and the June 11, 2001 judgment she received against him in the District Court of Dallas County in Texas that essentially vacated and amended parts of the December 1993 Agreed Decree of Divorce and Agreement Clarifying Agreed Decree of Divorce. In the original property settlement which he drafted, Liptak received a 35% interest in a partnership, R.E. Colgin I, Ltd., and the right to receive 63.8% of the profits from the same while in active management. He also obtained a right to receive 39% of the first $500,000 in proceeds from a personal-injury lawsuit in which he and Thornhill were co-plaintiffs against Showa Denko at the time of the divorce. By the time the parties settled and dismissed the lawsuit against Showa Denko in 1995, the divorce decree and property settlement were already final, and Liptak received $195,000 of the proceeds of that lawsuit in accordance with the property-division stipulation of the divorce decree. Liptak continued to provide financial and management services for R.E. Colgin I, Ltd. until Thornhill as the majority interest holder terminated his employment with the business and sued him in the 95th Judicial District of Texas to enforce the termination provision of his employment contract and to require the turnover of business documents.

A variety of state-court litigation involving both the property-division decree from the divorce and Liptak's work for R.E. Colgin I, Ltd. ensued over the next seven years in state and federal courts, most of which was not clearly delineated, explained, or documented for this Court by either party. Apparently, though, Thornhill ultimately prevailed in most if not all of this litigation. Liptak, not being as fortunate, according to the assertions of Thornhill's attorney, resorted to suing every person to whom he could attribute fault for his litigation losses — state-court judges, law firms, Thornhill's next husband, a sheriff, a court reporter, and a district court clerk — with the end result being that he was deemed a vexatious litigant under Texas's statutory law. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem.Code Ann. § 11.054 (Vernon Supp.2002); Liptak v. Thornhill, 2002 WL 31730926, at *3 (Tex.App.2002). Liptak did not rebut or deny any of these assertions.

The one prior lawsuit and resulting judgment clearly presented to this Court was Thornhill's aforementioned "bill of review" action, which alleged that Liptak fraudulently withheld information and assets from her during their divorce proceeding. The resulting judgment attached to Thornhill's proof of claim, see Bankruptcy Rule 3001(c), was ultimately successful in attacking their agreed 1993 property settlement and comprises virtually all of the debt in this Chapter 11 case and therefore would present the centerpiece for dispute in this bankruptcy case. Based on the jury's answer to various questions, the judge presiding over the "bill of review" action redistributed portions of the their marital estate by awarding Thornhill (1) the $195,000 plus prejudgment interest for the settlement proceeds from their joint lawsuit against Showa Denko; (2) the 35% interest in Richard E. Colgin I, Ltd.; (3) $1,100,000 in exemplary damages; (4) attorneys' fees for all present and future stages of the bill-of-review lawsuit in the amount of $303,000; and (5) courts costs in the amount of $2043.17. The June 11, 2001 judgment explicitly voided and superseded portions of the December 1993 "Agreed Decree of Divorce and Agreement Clarifying Agreed Decree of Divorce" and additionally dismissed with prejudice Liptak's counterclaims and third-party claims against Elizabeth Thornhill, Kerry Thornhill, and Richard E. Colgin Company. The Texas Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the judgment, which is now awaiting a decision concerning whether discretionary review by the Texas Supreme Court will proceed.

Given the nature and extent of the litigation occurring between the two parties, Thornhill not surprisingly had great difficulty collecting her judgment during the two and a half years following her court victory, even though Liptak never actually posted an appeal bond to stay enforcement and collection of the June 2001 judgment. Thornhill proceeded with her collection attempts by initiating various garnishment and foreign-money-judgment collection lawsuits against the third parties holding Liptak's accounts. Thornhill successfully collected $2014.28 through a garnishment suit against World Savings & Loan Association in Dallas County; froze $390,000 that is currently being held by the district court clerk for Dallas County; and also sued the Vanguard Group in a garnishment suit in Pennsylvania to recover one of Liptak's accounts worth approximately $1,774,000 to $1,784,000.

Liptak managed to stall two of the pending collection proceedings by filing the instant Chapter 11 bankruptcy case with its concomitant automatic-stay protections in § 362(a), but only after failing in his effort to obtain an emergency stay of Thornhill's Pennsylvania action against the Vanguard Group from the 68th Judicial District of Texas. In the 68th District, he argued that the court had an obligation to reopen the Showa Denko lawsuit to protect its award of $195,000 to Liptak against Showa Denko (not against Thornhill). Liptak then tried to get this same argument in front of the federal court administering his bankruptcy case by filing a notice of removal for the Showa Denko lawsuit and then asking a bankruptcy judge for the federal judicial district embracing the 68th Judicial District of Texas to transfer it as an "adversary proceeding"1 to the Northern District of Illinois where his bankruptcy case was pending. On September 15, 2003, the bankruptcy judge for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas remanded2 the civil action back to the Texas state court where it had been dismissed eight years earlier rather than transfer the venue of the "adversary proceeding" under 28 U.S.C. § 1412 to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois. As part of his bankruptcy case, Liptak filed the exact same lawsuit as Adversary Proceeding # 03-03732 against Thornhill in this Chapter 11 case. The ensuing confusion over the Texas bankruptcy court's remand of the same basic lawsuit has produced cross motions for dismissal or for partial summary judgment on Adversary Proceeding # 03-03732.

Liptak filed another notice of removal in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas for his pending lawsuit in the 255th Judicial District of Texas against Mark Stewart, Sheriff Jim Bowles, and Bank One. The status of this adversary proceeding is not known to the Court at this time, but it has no separate docket entry or adversary number indicating that removal and transfer were effectively accomplished.

Thornhill filed a motion to dismiss Liptak's Chapter 11 bankruptcy case for "cause" pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 1112(b), alleging that Liptak did not file this case in good faith as required by law. She also requests dismissal or transfer of the case for improper and inconvenient venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1408(1) and Bankruptcy Rule 1014(a). The Court heard three hours of evidence during the afternoon of November 19, 2003, on Thornhill's motion to dismiss for cause or to transfer the bankruptcy case to the more convenient forum of the Northern District of Texas. Only Liptak presented evidence during this hearing on the contested motion,3 with Thornhill's attorney and the U.S. Trustee being satisfied to meet their burden of proof using only their legal arguments based on Liptak's evidence as well as his Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition and schedules and records from the Texas U.S. Bankruptcy Court. An accurate picture of the various Texas legal proceedings was difficult to grasp in no small part because some of Liptak's evidence presented incomplete information. For instance, he offered evidence to show that Thornhill's bill of review action was originally dismissed on January 29, 1996, for failure to present a prima facie case of what would have been a meritorious claim or defense in the divorce proceeding; however, Thornhill subsequently prevailed as evidenced by the June 11, 2001 bill of review judgment.

In considering the totality of the circumstances and all of the evidence and arguments presented at the hearing, the Court believes that this is the extraordinary situation where the creditor has met her burden of proof on a motion to dismiss by using the debtor's evidence, verbal and written admissions, bankruptcy schedules, and statement of financial affairs to show that the debtor failed to meet the good-faith filing requirement for Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases.

Discussion and Conclusions of Law

Even though § 1112(b) permits involuntary dismissal for an enumerated, nonexclusive list of ten grounds, its...

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