Illinois ‘Reverse Piercing’ Law: Can You or Can’t You?

image“Reverse piercing” involves the creditor of an individual shareholder attempting to reach assets of a corporation operated by that shareholder.  Illinois reverse-piercing law is unsettled.  Some cases allow  the remedy; others don’t.  When it is allowed, it usually involves a one-person corporation.

In Fish v. Hennessy, 2013 WL 577012 (N.D.Ill 2013), the Northern District rejected a creditor’s attempt to reverse-pierce in supplementary proceedings. The plaintiff obtained a nearly $1 million judgment against the defendant in Ohio Federal court and registered the judgment in the Illinois Northern District.  The plaintiff then filed a motion to reverse-pierce the corporate veil in order to reach the assets of two companies controlled by the debtor.  The debtor argued that the Court lacked jurisdiction to reverse-pierce the debtor.

Result: The Court dismissed the plaintiff’s reverse-piercing motion for lack of jurisdiction.  Plaintiff is given leave to file separate reverse-piercing action.

Rules/reasoning:

Illinois law (735 ILCS 5/2-1402, SCR 277) governs supplementary proceedings in Northern District cases.  FRCP 69(a).  Because Illinois supplementary proceedings are limited to finding assets of a debtor – either in his possession or in the hands of a third party -creditor piercing efforts are usually beyond the scope of supplementary proceedings.  Because of this, Illinois law requires the creditor to sue separately to pierce the corporate veil; naming the shareholder as a defendant in the underlying claims that would normally lie against a corporation.

The Court held that while some Illinois courts permit reverse-piercing, the creditor must file a  stand-alone action against the shareholder. Fish, *2.  Here, since the creditor tried to reverse-pierce in post-judgment proceedings, the motion was improper and the Court dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction.  Id.

The plaintiff creditor argued that after its 2008 amendment, Code Section 2-1402(c)(3) allows a creditor can bring a (straight) piercing motion in supplementary proceedings against a corporate debtor.  However, since defendant was an individual, not a corporate debtor, this section didn’t apply.  In addition, the Court found no Illinois case reading amended Section 2-1402(c)(3) to allow reverse-piercing in post-judgment proceedings.  Id., *2.

Take-aways: A creditor of an individual can’t reverse-pierce (to attach corporate assets of companies run by the debtor) in judgment enforcement proceedings.  Instead, the creditor must file a separate lawsuit against the corporate entity controlled by the shareholder.  Fish‘s discussion of Code Section 2-1402(c)(3) suggests that a judgment creditor may now be able to bring a piercing-type claim against a corporate debtor in supplementary proceedings.  While this is welcome news to creditors’ counsel (since they won’t have to file entire new piercing suits), it still runs counter to “good” Illinois caselaw (see Pyshos (above), Conserv v. Von Bergen Trucking, 2011 IL App (2d) 101225U (2011)), that clearly disallow piercing claims in supplementary proceedings.  Even so, the Fish Court didn’t have to categorically rule on this issue since the defendant was an individual and not a corporate debtor.  As a result, amended Section 2-1402(c)(3) didn’t apply to the case’s facts.

 

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PaulP

Litigation attorney at Fisher Kanaris, P.C. representing businesses and individuals in all types of commercial disputes.