No Harm in Failure to Disclose

Posted by NCBRC - March 16, 2023

The debtor was entitled to reopen her bankruptcy case to disclose a post-confirmation, pre-discharge lawsuit where she successfully completed her 100% plan so there was no harm to creditors by her failure to timely disclose the lawsuit, and the debtor would benefit from the opportunity to comply with Eleventh Circuit disclosure requirements. In re Calixto, No. 17-18317 (Bankr. S.D. Fla. Jan. 31, 2023).

Approximately one year before the end of her chapter 13 plan, the debtor slipped and fell on property owned by Gulfstream Park Racing Association, Inc. One month after she successfully completed her plan and received her discharge, she sued Gulfstream in state court for negligence. Gulfstream moved for summary judgment arguing that the debtor was judicially estopped from pursuing the case because she failed to disclose the lawsuit to the bankruptcy court. The debtor moved to reopen her bankruptcy in order to disclose the claim.

The court began with sections 541 under which a lawsuit is property of a chapter 13 bankruptcy estate, and 1306(a)(1) which incorporates property acquired by the debtor post-confirmation into the bankruptcy estate. It noted that while the Code does not obligate debtors to make ongoing post-confirmation disclosures when they acquire new property, Eleventh Circuit precedent has established that debtors have a continuing duty to disclose a post-confirmation litigation claim.

Having found that the litigation was property of the estate and that the debtor had a duty to disclose it and failed to do so, the court went on to consider the equities of allowing her to reopen her bankruptcy to do so now. It weighed the benefits of reopening against prejudice to any of the parties.

While the court noted that it views nondisclosure with a jaundiced eye, in this case, the debtor’s schedules were accurate when she filed them and when her case was confirmed. Furthermore, all her creditors were paid the full amount of their claims so none were prejudiced by the debtor’s failure to disclose the lawsuit during her bankruptcy and none stood to benefit from the disclosure now. Nor was the trustee prejudiced by the failure to disclose because the debtor retained her right to personally pursue the litigation while her bankruptcy case was pending. Thus, “even if the Debtor had previously disclosed the litigation claim – or if the Court permits her to reopen her case now to disclose it – it would not have, and will not have, any effect on her bankruptcy estate or her creditors.”

On the other hand, by reopening, the debtor stood to benefit from the opportunity to satisfy the procedural technicality established by the Eleventh Circuit and pursue her rights against Gulfstream in state court.

The court found that requiring Gulfstream to address the merits of the debtor’s case in state court did not constitute prejudice.

The court granted the debtor’s motion to reopen.

Calixto Bankr SD Fla Jan 2023

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