- Case Type:
- Case Status:
- Nos. 19-3205/3211 (6th Circuit, Jan 03,2020) Published
- Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reserved decision of Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio, which discharged debt related to civil judgment for willful and malicious injury related to child pornography.
- Procedural context:
- The Bankruptcy Court found the debts dischargeable on grounds that the debtor did not know the minors in question in the morphed child pornography or even if they were real persons. The plaintiffs appealed to the Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel, which reversed the Bankruptcy Court. Both sides appealed (though the cross-appeal of plaintiffs was not necessary since they won before the BAP). The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reviewed the bankruptcy court's factual findings for clear error.
- Debtor was an attorney and expert witness for matters related to child pornography. While serving as a technology expert in Oklahoma and Ohio defendants charged with possession child pornography, the debtor manipulated (morphed) two stock photos of young girls he found online. Through this morphing, the debtor created photographs of the young girls engaging in sex acts. After testifying of the ease to create child pornography, the prosecution turned toward him, with prosecutors claiming that the morphed photos the debtor created constituted actionable child pornography. The judge at trial told the debtor to delete the photos. The debtor did comply. Instead the debtor mailed his computer to Ohio and continued using the exhibits in testimony in Ohio. The photographs he created were, in fact, illegal. The debtor signed a pre-trial diversion agreement in lieu of prosecution in which he admitted he violated federal law in creating the images of the young girls. The young girls were identified and informed of the admission. Their families sued and obtained a combined judgment of $300,000. The debtor filed Chapter 7 and sought to discharge the civil judgment. The families of the young girls sued to except the debt from discharge. The bankruptcy court found that the civil judgment was not the result of willful and malicious injury because the debtor testified he did not know the pictures he downloaded and morphed were of actual minors and he was unaware that his actions would injure them. The Court of Appeals found that he'd previously admitted that he knew the images were of minors in the pre-trial diversion agreement and further found the action in creating the images had a substantial certainty of causing harm to the young girls. The Court of Appeals founds that the law presumes that such acts, which harm children’s “reputation,” “emotional well-being,” and privacy, cause injury.
- McKEAGUE, BUSH, and NALBANDIAN, Circuit Judges
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