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Lucas v. Liu

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

September 12, 2017

ANTHONY LUCAS, Plaintiff/Appellant,
v.
JIN XIU LIU, Defendant/Appellee.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          J. RONNIE GREER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The plaintiff/appellant, Anthony Lucas (“Lucas”), appearing pro se, appeals three rulings of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. The first appealed ruling denied appellant's motion for judgment on the pleadings. The second appealed ruling awarded attorney fees against appellant as a discovery sanction. The final appealed ruling dismissed appellant's adversary proceeding with prejudice. The matter has now been fully briefed by the parties, [Docs. 3, 5, and 6][1], and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, the appeal will be DISMISSED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On August 23, 2012, Jin Xiu Liu, the defendant/appellee, (“Liu”) commenced a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case by filing a voluntary petition in the United States Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of Tennessee [Br Doc. 1]. Lucas was a named creditor listed as disputed on the Schedule F filing [Br Doc. 21]. On November 28, 2012, Liu was granted a discharge by the bankruptcy court [Br Doc. 42]. After denial of his request to revoke the discharge order [Br Doc. 62], Lucas filed an adversary proceeding against Liu in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee on November 25, 2013 [AP Doc. 1]. The appeal before this Court arises from this adversary proceeding.

         In his Complaint, Lucas alleged that he had provided advertising, management, and administration services to Liu's business, a restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2010 and early 2011 [AP Doc. 1]. Further, that sometime in early 2011, Liu closed the restaurant and thereafter filed for bankruptcy [AP Doc. 1]. Lucas filed a claim in the bankruptcy proceeding, and shortly after Liu had been discharged, Lucas “learned that [Liu] had failed to list among her assets in her bankruptcy schedules cash, notes, bank accounts, real estate and a number of valuable assets that she either owned outright or controlled” [AP Doc. 1 at 4]. Lucas alleged that the value of these concealed assets exceeded $600, 000, and sought relief in the form of a non-dischargeable money judgment as well as a revocation of Liu's discharge [AP Doc. 1].

         On June 26, 2015, Lucas filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that a prior Tennessee state court judgment fully satisfied the elements of the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel, entitling Lucas to judgment as a matter of law in the adversary proceeding [AP Doc. 93]. The bankruptcy court denied Lucas's motion on the grounds that Liu had never been served process in the prior state case, and additionally because the state court judgment was never entered against her [AP Doc. 131].

         On May 11, 2015, the bankruptcy court entered an order granting the defendant's motion to compel Lucas to respond to discovery requests and to fully comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [AP Doc. 81]. Also within this order was specific warning to the plaintiff that “[f]ailure to comply with this order may result in sanctions, including an award of attorneys' fees and expenses and/or striking pleadings” [AP Doc. 81 at 2].

         On June 6, 2015, Liu filed a second motion to compel discovery [AP Doc. 89]. Lucas also filed a motion to compel discovery responses from the defendant [AP Doc. 83]. The bankruptcy court, in great detail, ordered each party to supplement particular discovery responses completely and with specificity [AP Doc. 128]. Further, the bankruptcy court's order clearly articulated that

“[t]he parties are warned that failure to comply with the court's discovery order may result in the court issuing sanctions included but not limited to contempt of court, striking the pleadings, directing that certain facts be taken as established, prohibiting the introduction of certain evidence at trial, or dismissing the action”

[AP Doc. 128]. The bankruptcy court declined to grant sanctions against either party [AP Doc. 128].

         After the deadline to supplement the discovery requests had passed, Liu filed a motion for discovery sanctions and to dismiss the action against Lucas [AP Doc. 152]. The bankruptcy court granted the defendant's motion for sanctions, awarding the defendant's attorney's fees against Lucas, but declined to dismiss the matter entirely [AP Doc. 173]. The bankruptcy court expressly reiterated its warning to both parties that “failure to comply fully with the court's discovery orders will result in the court imposing further sanctions” [AP Doc. 173 at 2].

         On February 8, 2016, Liu's attorney filed an affidavit and itemization of her fees and expenses for pursuing the motion for sanctions totaling $2, 314.58 in fees and $110.70 in mileage expenses [AP Doc. 178]. Lucas subsequently filed a motion to alter, amend, or reconsider the court's award of fees [AP Doc. 179]. After consideration, the bankruptcy court issued a memorandum opinion [AP Doc. 192] and order [AP Doc. 193] denying the plaintiff's motion to reconsider. Lucas was ordered to pay the sum of $2, 425.28 to the defendant no later than June 29, 2016 [AP Doc. 194].

         On May 31, 2016, Lucas filed a subsequent motion to alter, amend, or reconsider the court's order sanctioning him [AP Doc. 221]. On June 6, 2016, the plaintiff withdrew this motion [AP Doc. 228], but on July 1, 2016, the plaintiff filed a document which stated that his withdrawal of the subsequent motion “was ill-considered, and is revoked” [AP Doc. 240]. In its order, the bankruptcy court noted that although the plaintiff's revival of his motion was procedurally improper, the court afforded him “a certain amount of leniency with the technical aspects of his pleadings” because the plaintiff was proceeding pro se [AP Doc. 247], and considered the plaintiff's motion on its merits. The bankruptcy court determined that the award of sanctions against the plaintiff came “after the plaintiff had failed to obey two prior orders on motions to compel discovery” [AP Doc. 247 at 4]. The bankruptcy court denied the plaintiff's revived motion, and explicitly stated that “plaintiff's continued failure to pay the sanctions is at his peril” [AP Doc. 247].

         On August 3, 2016, the bankruptcy court held a hearing considering the defendant's amended motion for contempt [AP Doc. 244] for the plaintiff failing to pay the sanctions. On August 4, 2016, the bankruptcy court entered an order ...


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