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Seventh Circuit Reminds Us That Federal Law, And Not Indiana State Law, May Apply To Some Successor/Alter-Ego Claims

Lesson. If you’re trying to collect a judgment in federal court based upon veil-piercing theories, make sure you’re applying the correct legal standard. If the underlying claim arises out of a federal statute, Indiana’s state law tests may not apply. Although similar in nature, the standards are not the same and require a different analysis.

Case cite. McCleskey v. CWG Plastering 897 F.3d 899 (7th Cir. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether Indiana state law versus federal law standards controlled the outcome of plaintiff’s successor and alter ego claims against defendant.

Vital facts. As discussed here before (see below), corporate veil piercing cases tend to be very fact sensitive, and McCleskey is no different. Please review the opinion for a summary of the operative evidence. The Court examined whether a son’s plastering business should be liable for a judgment previously entered against the plastering business of the son’s father. The judgment stemmed from the father’s failure to make certain payments to a union. The Court noted, among other things, the “inconvenient fact” that the son went into business the same day that the $190,940.73 judgment was entered against his father’s company.

Procedural history. The district court (the trial court) granted summary judgment for the defendant (son), and the plaintiff appealed.

Key rules. Generally, cases resting on federal ERISA and NLRA statutes, including 29 U.S.C. § § 1132, 1145 and 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), respectively, “are within the federal court’s subject-matter jurisdiction and typically governed by federal law.”

Under federal law, both alter ego and successor liability “incorporate a scienter [intent or knowledge of wrongdoing] component coupled with an analysis of similarities between the old and new entities.” The “notice of the obligation” by the new entity is key to successor liability. In McCleskey, liability for alter ego required more, however: “a fraudulent intent to avoid collective bargaining obligations.” The McCleskey opinion spells out the other key factors that courts consider.

Holding. First, the Court found that federal post-judgment standards of collection applied. Second, the Court concluded, “the district court was too quick to grant summary judgment” in the defendant’s (the son’s) favor.

Policy/rationale. In fact-sensitive cases like McCleskey, I find it best to defer to the Court’s opinion for any detailed application of the evidence to the law. Every case is different (and blog posts can only be so long….) Importantly, the judgment arose out of the plaintiff’s action under a collective bargaining agreement. For today’s purposes, the significant takeaway is that federal courts have their own body of law in this veil-piercing arena. Admittedly, the federal standards should never apply to a commercial mortgage foreclosure action, which cases are based on state contract and foreclosure law. Nevertheless, if you’re a party chasing money in federal court or defending a non-foreclosure collection claim in an Indiana federal forum, you should be mindful that the Indiana standards, about which I’ve written previously (see below), might not apply.

Related posts.

Indiana Collection Theories Of Piercing The Corporate Veil, Alter Ego, Successor Liability And Mere Continuation: Part I

Indiana Collection Theories Of Piercing The Corporate Veil, Alter Ego, Successor Liability And Mere Continuation: Part II
I have experience representing parties entangled in post-judgment collection actions. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.