Is Fraud under California Law the Same as Fraud under 523(a)(2)? Yes says Judge Maureen Tighe.

In Moussighi v. Talasazan (In re Talasazan), 1:16-ap-01119-MT (Bkrcy June 2018, C.A. Cal Tighe J.), Judge Tighe said,

Fraud under California law and § 523(a)(2)(A) are identical for purposes of collateral estoppel. In re Younie, 211 B.R. 367, 373 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. 1997), aff’d, 163 F.3d 609 (9th Cir. 1998); In re Jung Sup Lee, 335 B.R. 130, 136 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. 2005).

This came up in an argument I had with someone recently re res judicata.  I stated that a state court judgment that says ONLY “Plaintiff wins $1 million based on the fraud of defendant,” is res judicata in bankruptcy court whether entered by default or not.   I was told I was mistaken in no uncertain terms because fraud under California law is not the same as fraud under 523(a)(2).  Wrong!

By the way, the judgment example above IS res judicata as to the amount owed in any event – at least for claims purposes.  The typical state court judgment says “Plaintiff wins $1 million” (nothing else).  Collateral estoppel in that case as to fraud still MIGHT apply depending on whether it was actually litigated etc.  Underlying documents, rulings etc are needed.  But the judgment ITSELF is res judicata as to how much defendant/debtor owes the creditor.  That statement does NOT mean that if there was fraud, the damages for fraud are $1 million.  But it does mean debtor owes creditor $1 million (which is discharged unless 523(a) applies).

The Talasazan matter has an interesting twist.  The debtor moved for summary judgment on the grounds that fraud was litigated in state court and the ruling was in the debtor’s favor and therefore could not be relitigated.  The problem is that the state court judge did not say that.   Judge Tighe wrote:

“[W]hile fraud was pled, argued, and briefed after trial, the Third Amended Judgment does not include fraud in the list of causes of action on which Plaintiffs prevailed.

It appears that the Superior Court ruled in Plaintiffs’ favor on the negligent misrepresentation cause of action rather than fraud.

For purposes of collateral estoppel, as detailed below, the Superior Court’s silence with respect to the fraud action, in the context of undisputed evidence from both sides that the issue was fully litigated, was a ruling in favor of the Debtor and not the Plaintiffs.”

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