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Rivera v. Orange Country Probation Dept. (In re Rivera)

-- F.3d -- (9th Cir. 2016)
The Ninth Circuit reversed the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel, which had affirmed the bankruptcy court's denial of Maria Rivera ("Debtor") motion for sanctions against Orange County Probation Department ("Orange County") post-discharge collection efforts. The obligation to Orange County is not characterized as "in the nature of support". Therefore, not excepted from discharge.
Procedural context:
Debtor reopened her Chapter 7 bankruptcy to pursue sanctions against Orange County based on post-discharge collections efforts related to costs associated with the detention of Debtor's minor son. The bankruptcy court ruled that the obligation due to Orange County was in the nature of domestic support obligation ("DSO") and denied Debtor's motion. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed the bankruptcy court's ruling.
Debtor's son was detained by Orange County from approximately 2008 - 2010. Pursuant to California State statute, Orange County may seek reimbursement "for food and food preparation, clothing, personal supplies, and medical expenses." However, the statute limits the "reimbursement" to the parents' "ability to pay". Orange Count sought recovery of $16,372 from the Debtor (approximately $23.90 per day plus legal fees). After selling her home Debtor remitted $9,508 to Orange County; however, since the full amount had not been remitted Orange County continued to forward invoices and eventually obtained a judgment against Debtor. Debtor filed Chapter 7 in September 2011, received her discharge in January 2012; however, Orange County continued its collection. The Ninth Circuit discussed the balance of public policy between a debtor obtaining a fresh start and that of the overriding public policy in favor of enforcing familial obligations. Despite the amendments to the Bankruptcy Code, the definition of DSO did not change.
Honorable Stephen Reinhardt, and Kim McLane Wardlaw, Circuit Judges, and Mark W. Bennett, District Judge.

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