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Jenner & Block Partner Catherine L. Steege is the focus of a recent article in Inside Counsel’s “Women, Influence & Power in Law” blog. The article, titled “SCOTUS Sides with Jenner’s Steege in Wellness Case,” highlights Ms. Steege’s victory before the US Supreme Court in the bankruptcy case Wellness Int’l Network, Ltd. v Sharif.
Ms. Steege and the firm team represented Wellness International Network in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy of Chicago resident Richard Sharif, who owed Wellness half a million dollars. Wellness sued Mr. Sharif in bankruptcy court, arguing that Mr. Sharif owned assets that he claimed were held in a family trust and that those assets should be used to pay off his debuts. The bankruptcy court entered a default judgment, finding that those assets were part of the bankruptcy estate. The US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois affirmed, but the Seventh Circuit found in Mr. Sharif’s favor, finding that the bankruptcy court lacked the constitutional authority to decide whether the assets in question belonged to the bankruptcy estate.
In late May, the Court overruled the Seventh Circuit and remanded the case back to the appeals court, finding that bankruptcy courts do have the authority to adjudicate Stern v. Marshall claims and that doing so does not violate Article III of the US Constitution when parties give knowing and voluntary consent. Since Stern, the courts of appeals have been split over whether litigants can consent to a judgment by the bankruptcy court.
The article notes that the Wellness victory is Ms. Steege’s second victory before the Court in two years, having succeeded in Law v Siegel in March 2014.