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Taal v. St. Mary's Bank

United States District Court, First Circuit

January 10, 2014

Baboucar B. Taal
v.
St. Mary's Bank, et al. Opinion No. 2014 DNH 003

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

PAUL BARBADORO, District Judge.

Baboucar Taal seeks appellate review of the bankruptcy court's dismissal of his Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. St. Mary's Bank, Discover Bank, and the law firm of Niederman, Stanzel & Lindsey oppose Taal's petition. I affirm the Bankruptcy Court's dismissal order.

I. BACKGROUND

In 2009, St. Mary's and Discover independently sued Taal in New Hampshire district courts. St. Mary's received a judgment of $6, 196.62 and Discover received a judgment of $10, 454.71. Taal unsuccessfully appealed both judgments to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Although both judgments are final, St. Mary's remains involved in state court litigation concerning the propriety of its disposal of collateral Taal surrendered to satisfy the loan.

Taal has been held in contempt by state courts for failing to comply with prior orders to pay the judgments. Rather than making required payments, Taal filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition.

Taal actively participated in his Chapter 13 proceedings, filing countless motions on his own behalf. Taal's activity, however, was not necessarily aimed at a prompt resolution of his proceedings. From the beginning, Taal had difficulties complying with bankruptcy court rules. On September 24, 2012, the bankruptcy court issued a contingent notice of dismissal that was subsequently waived after Taal paid a delinquent filing fee. Taal then failed to disclose his tax records to St. Mary's upon its request, as required by the bankruptcy code. See 11 U.S.C. § 521(e)(1). In late September and early October, St. Mary's filed affidavits of noncompliance and a proposed order of dismissal for Taal's failure to turn over these documents. On October 4, 2012, after a hearing, the court directed Taal to provide the documents to St. Mary's, noting that failure to comply with its order could result in dismissal of his case. The next day, the court granted a motion to continue the confirmation hearing until November 16, presumably after Taal was to have given St. Mary's the appropriate documents. Over the next month, Taal continued to file motions to, among other things, avoid a lien and initiate an adversary proceeding against St. Mary's, both of which were denied by the court.

On November 16, 2012, the court held the hearing to discuss the potential confirmation of Taal's Chapter 13 Plan. St. Mary's had objected to confirmation on the grounds that the plan failed to meet required statutory parameters. That day, the court issued the following order:

Trustee to submit a proposed order forthwith regarding payments. Confirmation is denied. On or before January 18, 2013 the debtor(s) must file with the Court an amended plan, serve a copy of the amended plan and a notice of confirmation hearing as required by Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure 2002(b) and 3015(d) and LBR 3015-(b), and file a certificate of service with the Court, failing which the case may be dismissed. If an amended plan is timely filed and served, a confirmation hearing will be held on March 8, 2013 at 9:00 a.m.

Doc. No. 3-13. Taal subsequently filed, among other things, a motion for contempt on November 27, 2012, a motion for sanctions on December 17, 2012, and a further motion for sanctions on December 26, 2012, alleging that St. Mary's attorney had failed to file a required corporate disclosure document. On December 28, 2012, Taal filed a required bankruptcy form detailing his current income. On January 2, 2013, he filed an objection to the creditors' proofs of claim, a motion requesting production of documents that was subsequently denied, and a further motion for sanctions. The next day, Taal filed several subpoena requests. On January 7, he filed amendments to the required current income forms, and on January 14 he filed objections to the creditors' motion to quash the subpoena requests. On January 17, 2013, Taal filed a motion to amend the court's order denying his request for document production. Taal did not, however, file an amended confirmation plan by January 18, as required by the court's November 16 order.

On January 25, 2013, the court dismissed Taal's bankruptcy case, quoting its November 16 order directing Taal to file an amended confirmation plan by January 18, 2013, "failing which the case may be dismissed." The dismissal order then stated: "As of the date of this order, the Debtor has failed to file an amended plan and certificate of service with the Court in compliance with the Order. Accordingly, the case is hereby dismissed for want of prosecution." Doc. No. 5-1 (emphasis omitted). Four days later, Taal submitted a motion to amend the dismissal order, claiming that he never received notice of the November 16, 2012 order, and requesting leave until February 25, 2013 to submit an amended confirmation plan. On February 5, 2013, the court responded that a Certificate of Notice indicated that a copy of the November 16 order had been mailed to Taal's address and that Taal had received other documents mailed to the same address throughout the proceedings. The court also noted that, at the November 16 hearing, it had orally directed Taal to file his amended plan by January 18, 2013 or risk dismissal, and had explained that it would issue an order that day summarizing the hearing's outcome.

On February 12, 2013, Taal filed another motion to amend, arguing that the court unfairly dismissed his case based on a single failure to file "while excusing other parties time and time again." Taal filed a similar motion on March 12 that the court denied two days later, noting that "[t]he Debtor's arguments... do not evince any exceptional circumstance - only that the Debtor feels the Court homed in on a minor procedural flaw and unfairly dismissed the bankruptcy case because of it." Doc. No. 5-8. On April 24, 2013, Taal filed a notice of appeal with this court.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court has jurisdiction to hear appeals from final judgments, orders, and decrees issued in bankruptcy court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 158(a)(1). When reviewing a decision by a bankruptcy court, the district court reviews legal conclusions de novo and upholds findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. Fed.R.Bankr.P. 8013; Palmacci v. Umpierrez , 121 F.3d 781, 785 (1st. Cir. 1997); Askenaizer v. Moate , 406 B.R. 444, 447 (D.N.H. 2009). In discretionary matters, a bankruptcy court abuses its discretion if it "ignores a material factor deserving of significant weight, relies upon an improper factor or ...


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