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Man gets money for not paying into pension

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In a strange twist in a bankruptcy case, a businessman actually benefited financially by not paying into a pension fund for his company.

In the appeal of Barry G. Radcliffe's bankruptcy case by International Painters and Allied Trades Industry Pension Fund, No. 08-2885, International Painters appealed an order from the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana, which affirmed the judgment of the bankruptcy court finding International violated bankruptcy law and had to pay damages to Radcliffe for withholding his pension payments.

Radcliffe owned a company in which he had a labor agreement to contribute to the fund; he stopped making payments, but personally guaranteed to pay. When he didn't, International got a declaratory judgment against him; before it could recover, Radcliffe filed for bankruptcy. Prior to filing bankruptcy, Radcliffe requested his pension benefits from the fund. International withheld part of his payments in order to satisfy his debt arising from the default judgment, despite his notification he believed the setoff violated the automatic stay that took effect when he filed for bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy court, which the District Court affirmed, ordered International to pay compensatory damages, interest, punitive damages, and attorney fees.

Despite being "somewhat uneasy" with the end result that affirming the lower courts' decisions means Radcliffe gets a seemingly undeserved windfall, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

The federal appellate court found the setoff by the fund - withhold some pension benefits to satisfy the default judgment - violated the automatic stay under 11 U.S.C. Section 362(a)(6). International argued the benefits weren't property of the estate, so the offset was proper, and it didn't violate the statute because the letter it sent Radcliffe informing him of the offset wasn't coercive or harassing. The 7th Circuit judges disagreed, writing the letter did violate the statute because it made the decision to withhold funds without first seeking court approval, wrote Judge Terence Evans.

The fund acted willfully in its violation and Radcliffe is therefore entitled to damages.

The 7th Circuit agreed with the lower courts that the stay shouldn't have been lifted under Employment Retirement Income Security Act's anti-alienation provisions. None of the exemptions under the anti-alienation provisions apply to International and its reliance on Kennedy v. Plan Administrator for DuPont Savings and Investment Plan, 129 S. Ct. 865 (2009), is misplaced, wrote the judge. The bankruptcy judge was well within his discretion in refusing to lift the stay and to act otherwise would have been an exercise in futility, wrote Judge Evans.

The federal appellate judges also affirmed the bankruptcy court's calculation of compensatory damages for pre-petition pension benefits, the award of punitive damages, and the interest rate applied to the damage award.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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