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The Security National Bank of Sioux City, IA v. Vera T. Welte Testamentary Trust

Summarizing by Amir Shachmurove

Saracino v. Northpark East Assoc. (In re Saracino)

Citation:
Saracino v. Northpark East Assoc. (In re Saracino), BAP No. CO-13-031 (10th Cir. BAP March 14, 2014)
Tag(s):
Ruling:
The bankruptcy appellate panel affirmed a decision dismissing the debtor's motion for contempt, finding insufficient evidence of any willful violations of the automatic stay.
Procedural context:
The debtor filed a chapter 7 case and received a discharge. After the case was closed, the debtor sought to reopen the case, alleging that a homeowner's association had willfully violated the automatic stay by seeking to collect homeowner's dues. The debtor was initially represented by an attorney, but the attorney subsequently withdrew. The bankruptcy court granted a motion to strike various exhibits offered by the debtor and found that the association did not willfully violate the stay. On appeal, the debtor argued that the bankruptcy court erred in allowing her attorney to withdraw, violated her due process rights, should not have granted the association's motion to strike, and was biased against her as a pro se litigant. The bankruptcy appellate panel ruled against the debtor on each of these issues, and affirmed the dismissal of her contempt motion.
Facts:
The debtor filed a standard "no asset" chapter 7 and received a discharge. Shortly after the case was closed, she moved to reopen and filed a contempt motion which sought actual and punitive damages against a homeowner's association for sending a letter demanding payment of homeowner's dues and filing a complaint for damages and foreclosure of an assessment lien in state court. The debtor was initially represented by an attorney, but the attorney withdrew prior to any hearing on the matter. The association's attorneys supplied the debtor with a copy of the joint pre-hearing statement, but the debtor did not respond or object to the statement until shortly before the hearing. She also belatedly filed a list of witnesses and exhibits. The association moved to strike the documents, which the bankruptcy court granted. The bankruptcy court also found that the association only intended to collect post-petition dues and dismissed the debtor's motion for contempt as "groundless." On appeal, the bankruptcy appellate panel concluded that the order permitting the withdrawal of the debtor's attorney could not be reviewed. The bankruptcy court did not violate the debtor's due process rights because the debtor had the opportunity to comply with the procedural requirements and did not do so. A litigant's pro se status does not relieve the "obligation to comply with fundamental procedural requirements that govern other litigants." As such, the bankruptcy court properly granted the motion to strike. As to the merits, the court noted that "only in the most unusual circumstances" can the isolated event of mailing a single letter cause actual damages, and nothing in the record indicated that this was such a situation. Affirmed.
Judge(s):
Michael, Nugent, and Somers

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