OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING THE BANKRUPTCY COURTS DISMISSAL FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION re 1 Bankruptcy Appeal Signed by District Judge Marianne O. Battani. (KDoa)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Civil Case No. 15-cv-12932
HON. MARIANNE O. BATTANI
Bankruptcy Case No. 14-54351
Adversary Proceeding No. 15-04318
HON. THOMAS J. TUCKER
OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING THE BANKRUPTCY COURT’S
DISMISSAL FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION
This matter is before the Court on Appellant Joel Rosenfeld’s appeal of the
Bankruptcy Court’s Opinion Regarding Subject Matter Jurisdiction. (Doc. 3, p. 295).
The Bankruptcy Court dismissed Appellant’s adversary proceeding objecting to
discharge under 11 U.S.C. § 727(a), due to a lack of standing and lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. Because the debt purportedly owed by Appellee Amy Rosenfeld to
Appellant was undisputedly nondischargeable, the Bankruptcy Court concluded that
Appellant lacked the requisite personal stake in the outcome of the litigation. Presently,
Appellant argues that the Bankruptcy Court erred because whether he has a personal
stake in the outcome of the proceeding is immaterial, as § 727(a) is intended to be
punitive in nature and not merely remedial.
Having reviewed and considered the parties’ briefs, supporting documents, and
the entire record of this matter, the Court has determined that oral argument is not
necessary. Therefore, pursuant to E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2), this matter will be decided
on the briefs. For the reasons that follow, the Bankruptcy Court’s Opinion shall be, and
hereby is, AFFIRMED.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Appellant Joel Rosenfeld is the ex-husband of Appellee Amy Rosenfeld. On July
1, 2013, a judgment of divorce was entered between the parties in Oakland County
Circuit Court, pursuant to which the marital home was awarded to Appellee. (Doc. 10,
App. 5, pp. 56-57). After entry of the divorce judgment, it was discovered that the
marital home was contaminated with mold, that was endangering the health of the
parties’ minor children. On January 9, 2014, Appellant filed a motion with the Circuit
Court seeking to have this problem remediated. The parties ultimately reached a
settlement, and, on February 12, 2014, the Circuit Court entered a stipulated order
requiring the children to reside with their maternal grandparents during the time they
were with Appellee until further order of the Court. (Id. at pp. 96-97). On motion by
Appellant, the Circuit Court later found Appellee to be in contempt of this stipulated
order on October 8, 2014. (Id. at p. 102). The issues of sanctions and attorney fees
were to be resolved at an evidentiary hearing, which has not yet taken place.
On September 10, 2014, Appellee filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition with the
Eastern District of Michigan Bankruptcy Court. Subsequently, on March 31, 2015,
Appellant filed an adversary proceeding objecting to discharge under several provisions
of 11 U.S.C. § 727(a). (Doc. 3, p. 3). Part of Appellant’s basis for objecting to
discharge was the identification of several inconsistencies and alleged fraud in
Appellee’s petition. Appellant also filed a Proof of Claim alleging a debt against
Appellee in the amount of $597,060.00. (Id. at p. 33). This Proof of Claim had three
components: (i) indemnification for claims related to the marital home in the amount of
$499,000.00, which arises under the divorce judgment; (ii) Appellee’s obligation to give
Appellant 50% of the marital property, valued at $68,060.00, which arises under the
divorce judgment; and (iii) attorney’s fees and costs relating to the motion for contempt
of the stipulated order in the amount of $30,000.00. (Id.)
On June 5, 2015, the Bankruptcy Court sua sponte entered an order requiring
Appellant to show cause why his adversarial proceeding seeking denial of Appellee’s
discharge should not be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Id. at p. 23).
In this order, the Bankruptcy Court noted that the debts potentially owed to Appellant
appeared to arise from a state court judgment of divorce, which would render them
nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(5) or 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(15). Appellant
responded, arguing (i) that the debt connected with the attorney fees and costs does not
arise from the divorce judgment but rather with enforcement of the stipulated order and
(ii) that because a § 727 action is not merely a personal action intended to redress
individual injury, Appellant’s adversarial proceeding serves the legitimate purpose of
demonstrating that Appellee is legally barred from obtaining a discharge.
In its Opinion, the Bankruptcy Court determined that it lacked subject matter
jurisdiction because it was unable to award any meaningful relief to Appellant. The
[E]ven if the Plaintiff is successful in obtaining an order denying Debtor a
discharge under 11 U.S.C. § 727(a), which is the only relief Plaintiff is
requesting in this adversary proceeding, he would gain nothing for himself,
beyond what he already has . . . . But Plaintiff already has this relief,
because . . . any debt the Debtor owes to Plaintiff is nondischargeable
under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(15), and thus will not be discharged in this
Chapter 7 bankruptcy case.
(Id. at p. 301). The court rejected Appellant’s attempt to distinguish the alleged debt
arising from the motion for contempt during the course of divorce proceedings from the
terms of 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(15), which renders nondischargeable a debt to a former
spouse arising “in connection with a . . . divorce decree or other order of a court of
record.” (Id. at p. 303). With respect to Appellant’s second argument, the Bankruptcy
Court determined that Appellant was foreclosed from litigating the rights of other
creditors because such generalized grievances do not warrant the exercise of Article III
federal jurisdiction. The present appeal followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
This Court will review the Bankruptcy Court’s denial of a motion to dismiss de
novo. See Mezibov v. Allen, 411 F.3d 712, 716 (6th Cir. 2005). With regard to a motion
for summary judgment, the Court will review the Bankruptcy Court’s factual findings for
clear error and its legal conclusions de novo. See Stevenson v. J.C. Bradford &
Company, 277 F.3d 838, 849 (6th Cir. 2002).
On appeal, Appellant does not challenge the Bankruptcy court’s determination
that the potential debt relating to the motion for contempt in Circuit Court would be
nondischargeable pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(15). Rather, he reiterates his second
argument, claiming that because denials of discharge under § 727 are intended to be
punitive and not simply remedial in nature, his lack of a personal financial stake in the
outcome of his adversarial proceeding does not foreclose standing to bring such an
Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and have a duty to examine their
authority to hear a case before a judgment on the merits may be rendered. Steel Co. v.
Citizens for a Better Env’t, 523 U.S. 83, 93-94 (1998). Encompassed within this duty is
the obligation to dismiss an action sua sponte where a court finds that it lacks
jurisdiction. Gonzales v. Thaler, 132 S. Ct. 641, 648 (2012). The jurisdictional limits
imposed by Article III “apply equally to bankruptcy courts.” Mapley v. Mapley (In re
Mapley), 437 B.R. 225, 227 (Bankr. E.D. Mich. 2010) (quoting Day v. Klingler (In re
Klingler), 301 B.R. 519, 523 (Bankr. N.D. Ill. 2003)); see also Carto v. Oakley (In re
Oakley), 503 B.R. 407, 421 (Bankr. E.D. Pa. 2013). Article III limits the jurisdiction of
federal courts to disputes presenting justiciable “cases and controversies.” Allen v.
Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750 (1984). In assessing whether a claim is justiciable, courts
look to several doctrines, including standing, mootness, ripeness, and political question.
The issues of standing and mootness are directly relevant to the present matter.
In order to achieve standing, a litigant “must allege personal injury fairly traceable to the
defendant's allegedly unlawful conduct and likely to be redressed by the requested
relief.” Id. at 751 (citing Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for
Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S.. 464, 471-476 (1982)). The “[s]tanding
doctrine embraces several judicially self-imposed limits on the exercise of federal
jurisdiction, such as the general prohibition on a litigant's raising another person's legal
rights, [and] the rule barring adjudication of generalized grievances more appropriately
addressed in the representative branches . . . .” Id.
In comparison, “[w]hen—for whatever reason—the dispute discontinues or [the
court is] no longer able to grant meaningful relief to the prevailing party, the action is
moot, and we must dismiss for lack of jurisdiction." United States v. Blewett, 746 F.3d
647, 661 (6th Cir. 2013) (Moore, J., concurring) (citing Knox v. Serv. Emp. Int'l Union,
132 S. Ct. 2277, 2287 (2012)).
Mootness thus prevents courts from hearing cases “when the issues
presented are no longer 'live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable
interest in the outcome." United States Parole Comm’n v. Geraghty, 445
U.S. 388, 396 (1980) (quoting Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496
(1969)). A party has a legally cognizable interest when he or she has a
personal stake in the outcome of the dispute. Geraghty, 445 U.S. at 396.
In short, “federal courts are without power to decide questions that cannot
affect the rights of litigants in the case before them." North Carolina v.
Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246 (1971).
Unan v. Lyon, No. 2:14-cv-13470, 2016 U.S Dist. LEXIS 2702, at *15 (E.D. Mich. Jan.
The circumstances of the present appeal are identical to those litigated in Mapley
v. Mapley, cited in the Bankruptcy Court’s opinion. In that case, the plaintiff brought an
adversarial proceeding in response to her ex-husband’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition.
Mapley, 437 B.R. at 226. Her complaint objected to discharge of a debt owed to her
pursuant to a circuit court’s order in a divorce action. Id. The Court found that the
action was moot because the debt owed to the plaintiff was nondischargeable under 11
U.S.C. § 523(a)(15), as it arose in connection with a divorce decree. Id. at 228.
Accordingly, the court could provide no meaningful relief the plaintiff did not already
have because she would suffer no injury even if her ex-husband obtained a discharge.
Id. This reasoning – as well as the reasoning in the Bankruptcy Court’s Opinion – is
persuasive. It is undisputed in the present appeal that the debts allegedly owed to
Appellant are nondischargeable. Therefore, Appellant’s adversarial proceeding is moot
because the court can grant no effective relief where Appellant has already received all
the relief he could. See Klingler, 301 B.R. at 524 (citations omitted).
Appellant contends that § 727(a) is designed to protect the interests of creditors
and the integrity of the court’s own proceedings; the statute is not merely remedial in
nature but is intended to punish a debtor who behaves obstructively or fraudulently.
Therefore, Appellant contends, requiring the court to make a determination of whether a
party bringing such an action derives any benefit circumvents these purposes. It cannot
be questioned that an action brought under § 727 is subject to the Article III constraints
on jurisdiction articulated above. As the Bankruptcy Court found, Appellant does not
have standing to bring such a generalized grievance or to litigate the interests of others.
See Mapley, 437 B.R. at 229 (citing Klingler, 301 B.R. at 525) (“And Plaintiff does not
have standing to object to the Debtor’s discharge solely on behalf of other creditors.”);
see also Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499 (1975) (holding that courts should refrain
from exercising jurisdiction “when the asserted harm is a ‘generalized grievance’ shared
in substantially equal measure by all or a large class of citizens.”).
This issue was addressed by the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of
Illinois in Day v. Klingler. In that case, a creditor filed two adversary proceedings.
Klingler, 301 B.R. at 522. The first alleged fraud on the part of the debtor and objected
to the dischargeability of the debt under §§ 523(a)(2)(A) and (B) and 727(a). Id. The
second objected to discharge under § 727(d). Id. The Bankruptcy Court entered
judgment in the creditor’s favor in the first proceeding under section 523(a)(2)(A), ruling
that the debt was not dischargeable. Id. at 523. However, the court dismissed the
second proceeding as moot, reasoning:
Having prevailed in that proceeding, [the plaintiff] no longer has any
personal stake in any other discharge decision. He stands to gain nothing
in the second adversary if he prevails. At most, he is litigating now to
vindicate the rights of any remaining creditors, which he cannot do. Or
else he is simply litigating out of distaste for [the debtor], which he also
Id. at 524. Appellant seeks to distinguish Klingler on the grounds that it involves two
separate adversarial proceedings. However, in Klingler, as in the present matter, the
determination that a debt was nondischargeable is what rendered any further litigation
on the matter moot, in spite of allegations regarding fraud on the part of the debtor.
Lastly, to the extent that Appellant argues that a successful objection to discharge
brought under § 727(a) would foreclose discharge not only of his own debt but also of
all other debts, this fact was found to be immaterial in Klingler. See id.
Appellant cites to In re Levine, 287 B.R. 683, 692 (Bankr. E.D. Mich. 2002), for
the proposition that “[a]n objection to discharge is more analogous to a criminal
complaint than a civil complaint. It initiates a process to determine whether a debtor is
entitled to her discharge in much the same way as a criminal complaint is guilty of a
crime.” This case is inapposite to the present matter. Levine concerns a motion for
approval of a settlement pursuant to Fed. R. Bankr. P. 9019(a), between the Chapter 7
Trustee, the debtor, and the debtor’s wife. Id. at 686. The Court acknowledged that its
duty “to preserve the integrity of the judiciary would prevent [it] from giving judicial
approval to an agreement which is otherwise unlawful.” Id. at 690. Even if Levine were
somehow relevant, its discussion does not support Appellant’s position that dismissal of
his adversary proceeding is unwarranted. The case states:
While Section 727(c) allows the Chapter 7 trustee, creditors, and the
United States trustee to participate in the process, their participation is not
necessary. Nor is even the debtor's. No motion is required to initiate the
court's issuance of the discharge order. Moreover, no objection is needed
for the court to deny a debtor's discharge. For example, courts routinely
do not issue discharges if their own records indicate that a debtor had
already received a Chapter 7 discharge within 6 years of filing the debtor's
Put simply, it is the court which ultimately controls the discharge process,
not the creditor, the Chapter 7 trustee, or the United States trustee. Once
the objection is filed, the issue is outside of the objecting party's control.
The objecting party certainly may participate in the process. However, it
may not dictate its outcome.
Id. at 692 (citations omitted). The thrust of this passage is that the Bankruptcy Court
holds the responsibility to review the records and determine whether discharge should
be granted. If the Bankruptcy Court determines that a debtor has submitted false
statements or otherwise engaged in fraudulent conduct, it may deny the discharge.
Appellant’s participation is therefore not necessary or appropriate, given his lack of a
For the reasons discussed above, the Bankruptcy Court’s Opinion Regarding
Subject Matter Jurisdiction is AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Date: September 13, 2016
s/Marianne O. Battani
MARIANNE O. BATTANI
United States District Judge
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
The undersigned certifies that the foregoing Order was served upon counsel of record via the Court's ECF System to their
respective email addresses or First Class U.S. mail to the non-ECF participants on September 13, 2016.
s/ Kay Doaks
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