PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for Third Circuit has ruled a man’s debt tied to a finding of intentional infliction of emotional distress was not permitted to be discharged in the midst of his Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings.

On Jan. 13, judges Theodore A. McKee, Thomas M. Hardiman and Marjorie O. Rendell chose to uphold the District Court’s order stating the Bankruptcy Court’s decision holding defendant Joseph Mauz’s $217,100 debt owed to plaintiffs William and Kimberly Link is not dischargeable because it arose from a willful and malicious injury.

The case stems from years-long hostility between Mauz and the Links, who were neighboring property owners. Over the years, Mauz filed 10 complaints against the Links in state court. Each was either dismissed, withdrawn, or resulted in a finding of not guilty. Mauz further made over 30 complaints against the Links with the local police department and various municipal offices.

None of these complaints resulted in charges against the Links, and in attempting to stop Mauz’s behavior, the Links sued Mauz in the York County Court of Common Pleas for intentional infliction of emotional distress – where after a bench trial, the Links were awarded $217,000 in damages.

Mauz then filed a Chapter 7 petition for voluntary bankruptcy. With Mauz’s bankruptcy proceedings pending, the Links commenced an Adversary Proceeding against Mauz – where they alleged Mauz could not discharge the state court judgment, because it was based on a finding of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The Bankruptcy Court and the District Court agreed with the Links and held Mauz’s debt to the Links was not dischargeable under 11 U.S.C. Section 523(a)(6), which caused Mauz to appeal. 

McKee said the Third Circuit would use the same standard as the District Court in examining the case, as “factual findings may only be overturned if they are completely devoid of credible evidentiary basis or bear no rational relationship to the supporting data”, but added “determining dischargeability of a debt arising from willful and malicious injury is a question of law.”

McKee explained Section 523 of the Bankruptcy Code exempts from discharge “any debt” accrued “for willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another entity or the property of another entity” and “an injury is willful and malicious under the Code only if the actor purposefully inflicted the injury or acted with substantial certainty that the injury would result.”

“A creditor must prove a willful and malicious injury by a preponderance of the evidence. Here, the Bankruptcy Court determined in a succinct and well-reasoned opinion that Mauz’s ‘outrageous’ number of ‘spurious’ complaints caused emotional and physical injury to the Links and their property and that Mauz had acted willfully with the purpose of injuring the Links. The District Court agreed,” McKee said.

“Having reviewed the record, we agree that it is a ‘waste of judicial resources to spill any further ink on Mauz’s meritless contentions,’ and we will therefore affirm the judgment of the District Court substantially for the reasons set forth in the Court’s well-reasoned opinion,” McKee stated.

The plaintiffs are represented by Barry A. Solodky of Nikolaus & Hohenadel, in Lancaster.

The defendant is represented by Sara A. Austin of Austin Law Firm, in York.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 16-1250

U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania case 1:15-cv-01363

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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