All posts in Automatic Stay

BAP Reverses Judge Bluebond’s $400,000 Stay Violation Award — Taggart All Over!

In an unpublished BAP opinion of The Preserve LLC, Judge Bluebond awarded the Chapter 7 Trustee and his attorneys $400,000 for a stay violation.  The BAP reversed saying the wrong procedure was used (adversary proceeding in lieu of motion) and that a trustee is ineligible to receive damages under section 362(k) because the trustee is not an “individual” within the meaning that section.  Instead, a trustee can recover damages for a stay violation for a sanction for civil contempt, which is a different standard.   I read Judge Bluebond’s original order and it was really well thought out with findings of facts and conclusions of law, I am surprised at the BAP’s reversal.   The Taggart case is all over this.

The BAP opinion does a great job breaking down the difference between the standard for awarding damages for civil contempt versus the standard for awarding damages under § 362(k).

Read more…

More Taggart Fallout

Bruce v. Fazilat (In re Bruce), —- B.R. —-,   8:15-ap-01028 (Bkrtcy, C. D. Cal. July, 2018, J. Wallace)

Issue:   Did the creditor here violate the automatic stay and/or the discharge injunction and if so, what are the appropriate damages?

Holding:   Yes as to both violation of the automatic stay and violation of the discharge injunction.  Actual damages of $15,000 for violation of the stay but no damages as to violation of the discharge injunction.

Judge Mark Wallace

The creditor here was the debtor’s landlord and was trying to evict him from the rental property where he lived.  The creditor, with knowledge of the bankruptcy petition, “turned off the electricity and then placed a new padlock on the electrical box,” and later sent someone to the property who “began banging on the door in an attempt to breach the door and enter the Property’s interior.”  That person told the debtor he owed them money.  The creditor contacted the debtor’s employer for the purpose of getting him fired – which worked.  Before the discharge was entered, the creditor filed a motion for relief seeking permission to proceed with the unlawful detainer.  That motion was granted but the “portion of the Lift Stay Motion requesting that the state court be permitted to award ‘[a]ll postpetition rents, attorney’s fees, and costs’” to creditor was specifically denied.  Nevertheless, the creditor sought and obtained a judgment for money against the debtor, after the discharge was entered.  At trial, the creditor’s attorney argued that the lease had terminated prepetition and that he had the right to holdover damages.

Judge Wallace ruled that the creditor violated the stay (obviously).  The state court judgment is void.  As to damages, the debtor’s “evidence of damages is somewhat thin.”  Judge Wallace ruled:

The Court concludes that Plaintiff is entitled to actual damages of $12,500.00 plus punitive damages of $2,500.00 (for a total of $15,000.00) in respect of the stay violations described above. Additionally, attorney’s fees and costs are awarded to Plaintiff.

With respect to monetary sanctions for a discharge injunction violation, the Court notes that the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has recently held that in the context of a discharge injunction violation, monetary sanctions can be imposed only if the movant shows that the creditor “knew the discharge injunction was applicable.” Lorenzen v. Taggart (In re Taggert), 888 F.3d 438, 443 (9th Cir. 2018). Additionally, “the creditor’s good faith belief that the discharge injunction does not apply to the creditor’s claim precludes a finding of contempt, even if the creditor’s belief is unreasonable.”

Here, there is no doubt that Mr. Sproul (Defendant’s attorney) had a good faith belief that he was properly bringing an action in state court for holdover damages and attorney’s fees.  The Court therefore declines to impose monetary sanctions for the discharge injunction violation that occurred. 11 U.S.C. § 524(a)(2).  However, this in no way disturbs the Court’s determination that the 2017 Judgment is void and of no effect pursuant to the plain language and meaning of 11 U.S.C. § 524(a)(1).

More Fallout from Taggart

In my Amicus Brief supporting the Debtor’s request for a rehearing en banc in In re Taggart, 888 F.3d 438, 443 (9th Cir. 2018), I said:

In its opinion, the [Taggart] panel held,

“the creditor’s good faith belief that the discharge injunction does not apply to the creditor’s claim precludes a finding of contempt, even if the creditor’s belief is unreasonable.” [emphasis added] 888 F.3d at 444

The statement is an incremental extension of a footnote in the Ninth Circuit case of ZiLog, Inc. v. Corning (In re ZiLog, Inc.), 450 F.3d 996 (9th Cir. 2006), a case easily distinguishable from Taggart on the facts. The statement disrupts the long-standing rule that a creditor who receives notice of the debtor’s discharge and still pursues the debtor for discharged debts may not plead ignorance of the discharge as a defense. The statement, if allowed to stand, will forever be treated by creditors as a blackletter rule which will quickly come to be known as the Taggart Rule. Creditors, using the above statement will respond to discharge violations by saying, “Taggart says we win!” “We weren’t sure about the discharge injunction and therefore we win because the Ninth Circuit said so!” There will be little reason to even have an evidentiary hearing regarding the creditor’s good faith belief because the Ninth Circuit said that even if the subjective good faith belief is unreasonable, there can be no consequences to violating the discharge.

My prediction is coming true.  The 9th Circuit BAP has even extended this to the automatic stay, reversing a ruling by Judge Sheri Bluebond who had awarded some $400,000 in fees for violating the automatic stay.  The BAP said in Ress Financial Corp v. Beaumont 1600, LLC (In re The Preserve, LLC), Adv. No. 2:13-ap-01406-BB, unpublished (9th BAP Sept 7, 2018), Read more…

Butner Principle From a Different Perspective – Simon Says May I?

I was reading this law review article on the Butner case and it provided a different view on the case that I wanted to share.  In essence,  Professor Adler questions why Butner  became so famous and a “guiding principle” when the underlying arguments and holdings are so obvious.   Butner says that since the Bankruptcy Code does not establish or define property rights, the parties must turn to nonapplicable law (state law) to answer it.  Well of course! Where else would you turn to!? That makes so much sense, why did we need nine Justices to clarify that?

This is akin to me telling you “in order to fix my plumbing problem, don’t look in the ‘House Operations Manual’ but instead look at the plumbing manual that will tell you how to fix my plumbing problem.“  We need a Supreme Court to tell us that?  The answer is so blatantly obvious let alone to become a “guiding principle!” Read more…

Automatic Stay and Discharge Injunction Violations Program This Saturday – June 9, 2018 at 11am.

Saturday, June 9, 2018
11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Southwestern Law School
 Automatic Stay and Discharge Injunction Violations
SPEAKERS:
  • Christopher P. Burke
  • Raymond H. Aver
  • M. Jonathan Hayes, Moderator
     There have been two stunning decisions recently dealing with the common issue of violations of the automatic stay and the discharge injunction. The first is In re Sundquistwhere Judge Christopher Klein in Sacramento awarded $45 million in damages and sanctions against a bank that held a foreclosure sale notwithstanding the prior bankruptcy filing. In In re Marino, Judge Bruce Beesley in Reno, Nevada awarded $119,000 in sanctions and damages when the bank continued contacting the debtor post discharge. Read more…

Automatic Stay: a Deep Dive

I wanted to see how much I knew about the automatic stay besides it’s general parameters so I opened section 362 and realized that at 6,518 words, section 362 is the longest section in the Code broken up into 15 parts (a-o).   There are 8 things that are “stayed” followed by 28 things not stayed.  Below are parts a-k for now and the rest to follow.  Pop quiz — I discovered a way to invoke the powers of the “stay” without ever filing bankruptcy (that’s my next blog post).

Let’s take a deep dive into the labyrinth:

Part (a) – 8 things that are Stayed 

  1. Commencement or continuation of any action against the debtor that could have been commenced prepetition;
  2. Enforcement of prepetition judgment
  3. Obtain possession or exercise control over property of the estate
  4. Recover re: lien against property;
  5. Recover re: prepetition secured claim
  6. Recover prepetition claim
  7. Set off
  8. US Tax Court re: corporate debtor re: tax liability

Read more…

Notifying the State Court of the Automatic Stay

More stuff I didn’t know.  A person on the California Bankruptcy Specialists listserve complained that the Superior Court in Orange wanted him to pay a first appearance fee in order to file a Notice of Automatic Stay.  A tip of the hat to Frank X. Ruggier for his response, ”If you haven’t appeared, it is the other parties responsibility to file Notice of Stay.”

ATTORNEY’S RESPONSIBILITIES FOR GIVING OF REQUIRED NOTICE TO COURT
Rule 3.650(a) of the California Rules of Court requires the party who requested or caused a stay of the proceedings to notify the court of its existence, unless that party has not appeared or is not subject to the jurisdiction of the court, in which case the plaintiff in the pending action must immediately notify the court of the stay.  Therefore, if you or your assignee commenced a civil action to recover attorney’s fees and/or costs from the client, and the clients has not appeared in the action, it is the responsibility of you or your assignee to notify the court of the automatic stay.  Judicial Council Form CM-180 has been adopted for mandatory use in giving notice of a stay of proceedings, and a copy is attached for your use.