United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. BRASHER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes to the Court on appeal from the Bankruptcy
Court's Rule 7058 Judgment holding that Deborah
Fancher's (“Debtor”) $200, 577.69 debt to
Patrick Haas (“Creditor”) is dischargeable in
Debtor's Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
argues that the Bankruptcy Court should be reversed for four
reasons. First, Creditor argues that the Bankruptcy Court
abused its discretion in reconsidering a previous order that
had deemed Creditor's requests for admission to be
admitted. Second, Creditor argues that the Bankruptcy Court
abused its discretion when it declined to strike Debtor's
opposition to Creditor's motion for summary judgment for
failing to cite to the record. Third, based on these
arguments about the admissions and opposition filing,
Creditor argues that the Bankruptcy Court should have entered
summary judgment in his favor. Finally, Creditor argues that
the Bankruptcy Court erred in determining that he had not met
his burden to establish the non-dischargeability of the debt
at trial. The Court concludes that none of these arguments
following facts are taken from the Bankruptcy Court's
Findings. See Doc. 6-34.
and Creditor were in a romantic relationship from 2000 to
2010 and lived together in the Debtor's house in Oregon.
On Christmas Day, 2010, their relationship ended poorly after
a heated argument that turned physical. Creditor left the
house with as much of his stuff as he could fit in a
suitcase. Debtor obtained a restraining order by December 28.
two months after the fight, Creditor and Debtor appeared for
a hearing on the restraining order. The court modified the
order to allow Creditor to visit the house that he and Debtor
had once shared so that he could retrieve more personal
items, including his toolbox and tools. Creditor was a heavy
equipment mechanic, his tools were expensive, and they were a
key part of practicing his trade.
month after the court modified the restraining order,
Creditor went to the house with a police officer to collect
his things. Because Debtor was not there, they left and came
back the next day. When they returned, they were met by
Debtor's son-in-law who gave Creditor a small box of his
belongings, but no tools. Creditor looked inside the garage
where he believed he left his tools, but they were not there.
When Creditor attempted to look for his tools further, a
fight broke out with the son-in-law, and the police officer
canceled the visit.
2012, Creditor sued Debtor in state court for taking his
tools. Debtor did not defend the suit, and Creditor obtained
a default judgment in 2014 in the amount of $200, 577.69 plus
nine percent interest.
2017, Debtor filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy because of this
judgment. Creditor filed an adversary proceeding in the
bankruptcy, arguing that the debt is not dischargeable under
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6). See Doc. 6-2. That
section states that a debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy
if the debt is for “willful and malicious injury by the
debtor to another entity or to the property of another
entity.” 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6).
purposes of this appeal, three important things happened in
Creditor served requests for admission on Debtor to which
Debtor did not respond within 30 days as required under Rule
36(a) of the Rules of Federal Procedure. When Debtor did not
respond, Creditor quickly moved the Bankruptcy Court for an
order declaring the requests to be admitted by operation of
law (Doc. 6-8), which the Court granted (Doc. 6-10).
after Creditor filed for summary judgment based largely on
the admissions, see Docs. 6-12 & 6-13, Debtor
did not respond substantively to the motion. Instead, Debtor
asked the Bankruptcy Court to reconsider its ruling on the
requests for admission. Debtor explained that Creditor had
filed his request for the admissions to be deemed admitted
shortly before Debtor's deposition and, at that
deposition, Debtor had (1) provided discovery responses and
(2) denied the requests for admission under oath as part of
her sworn testimony. See Doc. 6-14. The Bankruptcy
Court granted the motion to reconsider (Doc. 6-16) and gave
Debtor more time to respond to the motion for summary
judgment. Creditor moved to strike Debtor's opposition
for failing to support her statements with citations to
record evidence. The Bankruptcy Court denied the motion to
strike and denied summary judgment. (Doc. 6-21).
the Bankruptcy Court held a bench trial. (Doc. 6-33).
Creditor explained the importance of his tools, testified
that they were last stored at Debtor's house, and
introduced two emails-one ostensibly from Debtor and another
ostensibly from her daughter-in which Debtor and her daughter
threatened to sell his tools. Debtor testified that she did
not sell Creditor's tools, did not send the email at
issue, and did not appear to defend the state court lawsuit
because it ...