“STAYING” AWAY FROM CONTEMPT SANCTIONS
Suppose you find yourself in this situation. You’ve been involved in litigation for months against a party you believe defrauded you out of thousands of dollars. After protracted legal proceedings, your judge finally sets a trial date. You are finally going to have your day in court against this person.
But shortly before you go to trial, you receive a tip that your defendant has filed for bankruptcy. And not only that, but you also find out that this person filed for bankruptcy a couple of years ago, in the middle of your case, and did not tell you or your judge. And not only that, but you also find out that the person received a discharge (cancellation of all pre-bankruptcy unsecured debt), and that the trustee determined that the person had no assets. The bankruptcy case is CLOSED.
No problem. You think that, because you have a trial date, all you have to do is go before your state court judge and plead your case for fraud. Surely, your state court judge can grant you relief, and force this fraudulent, thieving defendant to pay you your damages.
What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, a lot.
Because the case has closed, there is no more “automatic stay” of 11 USC Sec. 362. There is, however, a “discharge injunction” 11 USC Sec. 524(a), which means that creditors are barred from attempting to collect discharged debts.
Furthermore, the Bankruptcy Court has exclusive jurisdiction over the question of whether these discharged debts are related to fraud. 11 USC Sec. 524 (a)(2), (4) & (6); Grogan v. Garner, 498 U.S. 279, 284 n. 10, 111 S.Ct. 654, 112 L.Ed.2d 755 (1991); Aldrich v. Imbrogno (In re Aldrich), 34 B.R. 776, 779 (9th Cir. B.A.P.1983), cited in Ackerman v. Eber (In re Eber) 687 F.3d 1123 (9th Cir. 2012).
Based on these authorities, you will likely seek to file a dischargeability complaint under 11 USC Sec. 524 (a)(2), (4) or (6), in the Bankruptcy Court; or an action to revoke the discharge under 11 USC Sec. 727 (d), for example, if there are multiple false statements or multiple examples of deception in the defendant/debtor’s bankruptcy papers, such that it appears that the discharge itself was obtained through fraud.
Additionally, the US Supreme Court has ruled that if the Plaintiff or Plaintiff’s attorney is well-versed in bankruptcy law, the failure to observe the discharge injunction (in this case, failure to seek a ruling on fraud in the bankruptcy court) is considered much more knowing and culpable. Taggart v. Lorenzen, 139 S. Ct. 1795 (2019) [Slip Opinion, p. 7]. In other words, to paraphrase a line from Michael Mann’s film, The Insider, “The more you know, the worse (the contempt sanction) gets.”
The point is that you want your client to have the maximum ability to seek a ruling on the defendant’s alleged fraud in State Court. This, however, must await a ruling from the Bankruptcy Court in this regard, and any attempt to circumvent the Bankruptcy Court could easily backfire and be very costly.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the bankruptcy court and held that a disbarred attorney’s obligation to repay victims of his misconduct was dischargeable, while simultaneously upholding the bankruptcy court’s ruling that the cost of the disbarred attorney’s disciplinary proceedings were not dischargeable, and had to be repaid to the California State Bar.
Kassas v. State Bar of California
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.
Argued and Submitted April 12, 2022 @ San Francisco, California.
Filed August 1, 2022
When representing clients, attorneys rely on the words of the law (a “statute”) and ask the court to implement the plain, obvious meaning of its words.
When it comes to federal statutes, however, it is easy to overlook the “comments” by Congressional committees that draft the statutes, or the agencies which implement them. Such comments can be critical in court.
For example, a recent unanimous Court of Appeal used a statute’s agency staff comments to protect a consumer from a deceitful lender.
In Gilliam v. Levine, Case No. 18-56373 (9th Circuit, 2020), the court recounts that the borrower obtained a loan as trustee for a family trust. The purpose of the loan was to make home repairs. The home itself was the sole asset of the trust. Another family member, who occupied the home, was the trust beneficiary.
The borrower later discovered that the due date for the final loan payment was 1 year earlier than she had been led to believe. The borrower was alarmed, and sued to cancel (rescind) the loan under federal law, Truth in Lending Act (TILA), 15 U.S.C. § 1601, et seq., and the Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA), 12 U.S.C. § 2601. The borrower also asserted a claim under California’s Fair Lending Law [Rosenthal Act], 1788.1(b) of California’s Rosenthal Act, California Civil Code §§ 1788.1(b).
The trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, because, according to that judge, the loan went to the trust, not to a person, and hence was not a consumer loan.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the trial court, noting the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Official Staff Commentary to Regulation Z (mortgage loans), which states that “[c]redit extended for consumer purposes to certain trusts is considered to be credit extended to a natural person rather than credit extended to an organization.” 12 C.F.R. pt.1026, Supp. 1, § 1026.3 Comment 3(a)-10. (And under California law, the trustee, not the trust, holds title to trust property – – Author)
The “certain trusts,” which fall under the rubric of “natural persons,” included the trust in this case, which was formed for tax or estate planning purposes [which benefit people]. The trust in question was “primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.” 15 U.S.C. § 1602(i). The borrower was the aunt (as Trustee); the niece was the beneficiary; and the trust property was a private home. As a result, the loan was a “consumer credit transaction,” which was subject to the Fair Lending Laws.
And the Comment makes the point: Look to the substance of the transaction. Here it was to benefit a consumer, not a company. 12 C.F.R. pt. 1026, Supp. 1, and § 1026.3 Comment 3(a)-10.i. Because this was a consumer loan, the Trustee had the right to rescind this deceptive loan.
WARNING: THIS POST DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE; PLEASE CONSULT AN ATTORNEY
Where trustee failed to file the adversary proceeding within the time required by law, he could not undo the error by claiming that he had timely filed an adversary complaint in the wrong case. The facts of the InterWorks bankruptcy had nothing to do with the improper file, and thus there was no “relation back” effect based on the late-filed adversary proceeding in the Interworks case. Additionally, the fact that the trustee dismissed the adversary proceedings that he started in the improper case nullified any application of the relation back doctrine; when he dismissed the improper case, there was nothing for the new pleading to “relate back” to.
Furthermore, there was no equitable tolling, so the adversary action was barred. FRCP 15(c)(1)(B); 11 USC 108(a) & 546 (a).
In re Interworks (Chapter 7) CC-22-1027-STL [Unpublished decision of the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the 9th Circuit, filed 8/19/2022]
A debtor may file a bankruptcy case where the debtor resides, is domiciled, or has its principal place of business or principal assets. But a debtor can claim exemptions only under the law of the debtor’s domiciliary state. 28 U.S.C. § 1408; In re Larsen, Case No. BAP No. NV-20-1133-FBG (Unpublished) Bankruptcy Appellate Panel, 9th Circuit, filed November 3, 2020.
A debtor who seeks discharge, for himself or for a business, must maintain adequate financial books records to allow the bankruptcy Court to determine the debtor’s true financial condition. For example, pursuant to 11 USC §727(a)(3), the debtor is not entitled to a chapter 7 discharge if that debtor “has concealed, destroyed, mutilated, falsified, or failed to keep or preserve any recorded information, including books, documents, records, and papers, from which the debtor’s financial condition or business transactions might be ascertained, unless such act or failure to act was justified under all of the circumstances of the case[.]” The statute has the consequence of making the discharge dependent on the debtor’s true presentation of his or her financial affairs, and complete disclosure is a condition precedent to the granting of the discharge.
Caneva v. Sun Cmtys. Operating Ltd. P’ship (In re Caneva), 550 F.3d 755, 761-62 (9th Cir. 2008), cited in In re: Frank Daniel Kresock, Appeal from the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Arizona, BAP No. AZ-20-1270-BSL (Filed December 22, 2021; Unpublished)