In re Maria G. Rivera, Debtor,
Orange County Probation Department, Appellee. Maria G. Rivera, Appellant,
and Submitted June 6, 2016 Pasadena, California
from the Ninth Circuit BAP No. 13-1476 Bankruptcy Appellate
Panel Kirscher, Pappas, and Latham, Bankruptcy Judges,
H. Ramsaur (argued) and Todd E. Lundell, Snell & Wilmer,
Costa Mesa, California, for Appellant.
C. Clanton (argued), Deputy; Laurie A. Shade, Senior Deputy;
Nicholas S. Chrisos, County Counsel; Orange County Counsel,
Santa Ana, California; for Appellee.
Before: Stephen Reinhardt, and Kim McLane Wardlaw, Circuit
Judges, and Mark W. Bennett, [*] District Judge.
panel reversed the judgment of the Bankruptcy Appellate
Panel, which had affirmed the bankruptcy court's denial
of a debtor's motion to sanction Orange County for
persisting post-discharge in its efforts to collect a debt
arising from the debtor's son's involuntary juvenile
panel held that the debtor's liability for the costs of
support of her son while in detention was not a
"domestic support obligation" and thus was not
excepted from discharge in bankruptcy under 11 U.S.C. §
REINHARDT, Circuit Judge:
decide whether a mother's debt to Orange County arising
from her son's involuntary juvenile detention is a
"domestic support obligation" and thus excepted
from discharge in bankruptcy. We conclude that it is not.
Maria Rivera is the mother of a minor who was held in
juvenile detention in Orange County for more than a year,
from 2008-2010. Upon her son's release, the County
Probation Department sent Rivera a bill.
law makes the parents of juvenile detainees "liable for
the reasonable costs of support of the minor while the minor
is" held in detention. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code
§ 903(a). A county may seek reimbursement under §
903 only "for food and food preparation, clothing,
personal supplies, and medical expenses, " id.,
and the statute imposes a cap of $30 per day. § 903(c).
Within those constraints, the statute limits the bill to the
parents' "ability to pay" at the time the debt
is imposed. Id.
result, Rivera's bill did not cover the entire cost to
the County of her son's detention, but it was a large sum
nevertheless. The County sought to recover $23.90 from Rivera
for each day her son was detained, and $2, 199 for legal
expenses. The total bill came to $16, 372.
did her best to pay. After selling her house, she paid $9,
508 on May 10, 2010. Part of the debt remained, however, and
the County continued sending Rivera regular bills.
Eventually, she was served with an order to appear before the
juvenile court, and when she failed to do so, the court
entered a default judgment against her. The judgment stated
that she still owed the County $9, 905, despite her earlier
months later, in September 2011, Rivera filed for bankruptcy
under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. She had no assets to
distribute, only debts to discharge. In January 2012, Rivera
received a full discharge and, thus, the "fresh
start" that the protections of the Bankruptcy Code seek
to provide. Harris v. Viegelahn, 135 S.Ct. 1829,
County, however, persisted in its efforts to collect
Rivera's debt even after the conclusion of her bankruptcy
case. The County believed that Rivera's debt was a
"domestic support obligation" ("DSO")
like alimony or child support - the kind of debt that is not
dischargable in bankruptcy under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(5).
believed that any remaining debt to the County had been fully
discharged. In her bankruptcy petition, she had listed her
unpaid obligation to the County as a priority unsecured debt,
not a DSO, and the County did not object in writing to this
characterization. Rivera moved to reopen her bankruptcy case
and asked the bankruptcy court to sanction the County for
attempting to ...