The AG’s Verdict: No Escape from New York

The AG’s Verdict: No Escape from New York

Much is being made of whether or not a bankruptcy will be filed, with regard to the recent large judgment issued by the Supreme Court of New York, the Hon. Arthur Engoron, against the former president and his company.

Much has also been made as to whether this will cause a certain amount of delay in the collection of the judgment.

The Complaint filed by Attorney General Letitia James against Donald Trump, his children and associates, and various corporate organizations associated with him, consisted of various allegations of fraud: Count 1- persistent and repeated fraud; Count 2- falsifying business records; Count 3- conspiracy to falsify business records; Count 4 – illegally issuing false financial statements;  Count 5 – conspiracy to falsify false financial statements; Count 6 – insurance fraud; Count 7 – conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

In other words, the Attorney General’s complaint, and the verdict rendered thereunder, are explicitly and overwhelmingly devoted to fraudulent actions against the defendants. Fraud is the gravamen of the case.

Furthermore, the Bankruptcy Code, 11 USC Section 523(a)(2)(A), explicitly states that there is no bankruptcy discharge for “money, property, services, or an extension, renewal, or refinancing credit, to the extent obtained by false pretenses, a false representation, or actual fraud . . . “

Because the New York Supreme Court has adjudicated the statements made by the defendants to be fraudulent, they would appear to be no question but that the discharge in bankruptcy would not apply to the attorney general’s judgment made against Trump and his co-defendants. The judgment would remain collectible after the bankruptcy proceedings conclude.

Therefore, a Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 bankruptcy filed by Trump or any of his co-defendants would appear doomed to ultimate failure: there would be no discharge for debts connected to fraud, and all of the debts in this case are connected to fraud.

Of course, the Bankruptcy Court is a federal court, and a separate jurisdiction. Theoretically, there could be a delay in enforcement of the judgment, while the Attorney General files and prosecutes what is known as an “adversary proceeding,” in the bankruptcy court, to seek a holding that the debts in question are based upon fraud, and non-dischargeable under the Bankruptcy Code.

The ultimate result would not appear in question, although no one can ever predict the outcome of litigation. However, given the factual and legal findings of the New York Supreme Court, it seems exceedingly unlikely that a bankruptcy court would find that the Attorney General’s judgment, and this collectible debt, is not connected to fraud.

Additionally, as Mr. Giuliani has found out in his bankruptcy proceedings, the debtor is required to submit truthful information regarding his/her/its holdings, and this has been something that Mr. Trump and his associates have found very difficult to do. Statements regarding assets are under penalty of perjury, and failure to make truthful statements could only further endanger the declarant with the Federal authorities.

Thus, even though there may be an upside for anyone filing bankruptcy related to this judgment, in causing a small amount of delay, the downside would be that any debtor who files bankruptcy with regard to debts that are already adjudicated as fraudulent will risk further prejudicing himself, herself, or itself, if any statements made to the bankruptcy court are anything but 100% true and accurate.

 

THIS ANALYSIS IS A COMMENTARY AND NOT LEGAL ADVICE

 

What Could Go Wrong?

What Could Go Wrong?

“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.

BANKRUPTCY LAW: The Curious Case of Alex Jones & InfoWars

BANKRUPTCY LAW: The Curious Case of Alex Jones & InfoWars

Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding that liquidates (eliminates) the unsecured debts of the debtor (debts not backed by collateral). It is important to note, however, that the debtor may have a particular legal status, and that legal status is what determines which bankruptcy is used, or which entity is able to cancel its debt.

For example, if a corporation files for bankruptcy, and is properly formed and documented, then it may file for bankruptcy without the necessity of its owners also filing for bankruptcy. And the corporation’s unsecured debts may be eliminated or re-structured, depending on the particular type of relief applied for.

However, if both the corporation and the individual are equally liable on the debt, such as through a personal guarantee by the owner, then the filing of a bankruptcy petition for the corporation will not insulate the individual. The individual would also need to separately file for bankruptcy protection, if that is the type of relief sought.

The case of Alex Jones is a illustrative. Mr. Jones, through his media outlet, InfoWars, has become infamous for making the false claim that the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was some type of staged or phony incident. Several parents of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary sued Mr. Jones and InfoWars for defamation, on the theory that by maintaining such a claim, Mr. Jones apparently implied that the grieving parents were lying about the deaths of their children.

For whatever reason, Mr. Jones did not contest the lawsuit, choosing instead to allow the court to take a default against him. Such an action, however, did not prevent the court from continuing its proceedings against Mr. Jones and his company or companies.

The court would eventually enter judgments for large sums of money in favor of the parents, both against Mr. Jones, and against some or all of his companies, including Infowars.

See, for example, cases collected by the First Amendment Watch at NYU: https://firstamendmentwatch.org/deep-dive/alex-jones-infowars-and-the-sandy-hook-defamation-suits/

Mr. Jones responded to being hit with these large judgments by filing a bankruptcy petition for Infowars. Bankruptcy of course means that no further action collection against the debtor’s personal unsecured debts, unless the debts (in Jones’s case, the judgments) relates to fraud, moral turpitude, or is otherwise considered non-dischargeable.

Setting aside the question of whether the judgments for defamation are connected to moral turpitude, where these false statements relate to the deaths of the plaintiff’s children, there appears to be a disconnect between the judgments and the bankruptcy filing by Mr. Jones. He declared bankruptcy for Infowars, but apparently not for himself personally. The judgments were against him personally, as well as against Infowars and other entities. In other words, if there is a judgment against Infowars, bankruptcy might have the effect of making the judgment uncollectible against Infowars, but the judgment against Jones himself would be unaffected.

A bankruptcy petition for Infowars is not the same as a bankruptcy for Alex Jones, because the individual and the company are separate, assuming that the company is created in a proper, recognized corporate form, such as a Corporation, LLC, or other distinct legal entity.

Mr. Jones cannot protect himself personally by filing a bankruptcy for Infowars. He would have to file bankruptcy for himself as well. It may be that he did not want to file bankruptcy for himself, and believed that somehow corporate bankruptcy would protect his personal fortune.This is not the case.

Thus, when an individual and corporation are both fully liable on the debt, corporate bankruptcy will not protect the individual. This occurs, for example, where an individual personally guarantees the debt of a company, or the corporation and the individual are jointly liable.

So apparently here in the case of Infowars, Infowars can be pursued for the Judgment, but in the absence of Infowars, Mr. Jones may also be pursued, unless he files for personal bankruptcy, and the bankruptcy court accepts the filing as appropriate, and not involving moral turpitude, or affected by some other disqualifying factor.

THIS POST DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE, AND READING IT DOES NOT CREATE AN ATTORNEY CLIENT RELATIONSHIP. PLEASE CONSULT DIRECTLY WITH AN ATTORNEY FOR ANY LEGAL ADVICE!!

 

 

This image was originally posted to Flickr by Tyler Merbler at https://flickr.com/photos/37527185@N05/9072625782 (archive). It was reviewed on by FlickreviewR 2 and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.

Automatic Stay: Bank Freeze

Automatic Stay: Bank Freeze

AUTOMATIC STAY: The Bank froze the debtor’s accounts after the filing of the bankruptcy, and notified the trustee and the debtor. The bank did not use the funds as a set off for any debt. This is sometimes referred to as an administrative hold upon the debtor’s account. The court held that this action, all by itself, did not constitute a violation of the automatic stay; the bank requested information from the trustee, after making the trustee aware of the freeze on the account. The trustee did not respond. The actions of the bank constituted no violation of law. Mwangi v. Wells Fargo Bank 764 F.3d 1168 (CA9, 2014)

HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION: California Increases Protection

HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION: California Increases Protection

As of January 2021, California’s Homestead Exemption increases from a minimum of $300,000, to a maximum of $600,000. This means that many more homeowners in liquidation, Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings can keep their homes.
The California Civil Code will be amended as follows:
Sec. 704.730. (a) The amount of the homestead exemption is the greater of the following:
(1) The countywide median sale price for a single-family home in the calendar year prior to the calendar year in which the judgment debtor claims the exemption, not to exceed six hundred thousand dollars ($600,000).
(2) Three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000).
(b) The amounts specified in this section shall adjust annually for inflation, beginning on January 1, 2022, based on the change in the annual California Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers for the prior fiscal year, published by the Department of Industrial Relations.
The statute does not say whether this will apply in bankruptcy as the “automatic homestead,” or whether the debtor must file a Declaration of Homestead. Based thereon, the debtor should strongly consider filing the Declaration with the County Recorder.

SCOTUS: Violating Bankruptcy Discharge Serves Up Creditor for Contempt

SCOTUS: Violating Bankruptcy Discharge Serves Up Creditor for Contempt

The primary purpose of the bankruptcy stay [11 USC Sec. 362] is to protect the debtor. (In re Fuel Oil Supply and Terminaling, Inc., 30 BR 360, 362 (Bankr.N.D.Tex.1983), cited in In re Globe Investment & Loan Co., Inc., 867 F.2d 556 (1989)). By stopping all collection actions against the debtor, the bankruptcy stay acts 1) as an injunction to preserve the estate, and 2) to prevent the creditors from trying to go around the bankruptcy process to collect.
Once the debtor receive the discharge (11 USC Sec. 727), creditors are no longer able to collect the discharged debts. A creditor who, despite the discharge, seeks to collect a pre-bankruptcy debt, runs the risk of a contempt citation and punishment by the federal court.
And so it was held recently by the US Supreme Court which held that a business dispute with the debtor, that had begun prior to the debtor’s filing for bankruptcy, was discharged by the bankruptcy, and no further collection activity would be allowed.
Writing for a unanimous US Supreme Court, Associate Justice Breyer opined that the business creditors, who had initiated the lawsuit against the debtor (Mr. Taggart) had no reasonable basis to believe that the bankruptcy stay, and the subsequent discharge would not act to bar the continued litigation against the debtor. The debt was considered wiped away, and the creditors actions, seen objectively, were not only impermissible, but gave rise to contempt sanctions:
“Under the fair ground of doubt standard, civil contempt therefore may be appropriate when the creditor violates a discharge order based on an objectively unreasonable understanding of the discharge order or the statutes that govern its scope.”
Taggart v. Lorenzen, ___ U.S. ___, 139 S.Ct. 1795, 1801, 204 L.Ed.2d 129 (2019).
The facts showed that the creditors had a working knowledge of the effects of bankruptcy law, and objectively should have realized that the pre-bankruptcy debt was no longer collectible. Therefore, the Supreme Court remanded the matter back to the 9th Circuit, to impose appropriate sanctions:
“We conclude that the Court of Appeals erred in applying a subjective standard for civil contempt. Based on the traditional principles that govern civil contempt, the proper standard is an objective one. A court may hold a creditor in civil contempt for violating a discharge order where there is not a “fair ground of doubt” as to whether the creditor’s conduct might be lawful under the discharge order.”
The Takeaway: Creditors Who Know that a Debtor has Filed for Bankruptcy Should Take No Action Against the Discharged Debtor, without First Having a Very Detailed, Careful Conversation with an Attorney, Lest Those Creditors End Up Held in Contempt!!

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