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Easley v. Collection Service of Nevada

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

December 20, 2018

Charles B. Easley, Sr.; Patricia A. Easley, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Collection Service of Nevada, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted November 15, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nevada Lloyd D. George No. 2:15-cv-00395-LDG, Senior District Judge, Presiding

          Christopher P. Burke (argued), Las Vegas, Nevada, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

          Patricia Halstead (argued), Halstead Law Offices, Reno, Nevada, for Defendant-Appellee.

          Before: RAYMOND C. FISHER and MILAN D. SMITH, JR., Circuit Judges, and LAWRENCE L. PIERSOL, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Bankruptcy

         The panel reversed the district court's order denying bankruptcy debtors' motion under 11 U.S.C. § 362(k) for attorneys' fees incurred on appeal in successfully challenging the bankruptcy court's award of attorneys' fees to debtors for a willful violation of the automatic stay.

         The panel held that, in addition to authorizing the court to award reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred on appeal in defending a judgment rendered pursuant to § 362(k), § 362(k) also authorizes attorneys' fees and costs that the debtor incurred on appeal in successfully challenging an initial award made pursuant to § 362(k).

         The panel also held that the district court abused its discretion in denying the motion for attorneys' fees on the alternative ground that the debtors failed to comply with a local rule requiring the filing of points and authorities. The panel concluded that the memorandum of points and authorities filed with the district court sufficiently clarified the attorneys' fees and costs sought in debtors' motion.

         The panel reversed the order of the district court and remanded to the district court with instructions to remand to the bankruptcy court to calculate appellate attorneys' fees and costs.

          OPINION

          M. SMITH, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         The Bankruptcy Code (the Code) provides hard-pressed debtors with an opportunity to obtain some relief from their financial burdens. One critical tool in the Code aiding an orderly bankruptcy process is an automatic stay of creditor actions to collect preexisting debts from debtors who have filed for bankruptcy protection. See 11 U.S.C. § 362(a). The Code provides that injured debtors may sue for "actual damages, including costs and attorneys' fees" for willful violations of the stay. Id. § 362(k)(1). We previously held in In re Schwartz-Tallard, 803 F.3d 1095, 1101 (9th Cir. 2015) (en banc), that this provision authorizes the court to award reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred on appeal in defending a judgment rendered pursuant to § 362(k). We now clarify that § 362(k) also authorizes attorneys' fees and costs to the debtor incurred on appeal in successfully challenging an initial award made pursuant to § 362(k).

          FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiffs-Appellants Charles and Patricia Easley (Appellants) filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy on October 31, 2012, which resulted in the imposition of an automatic stay pursuant to § 362. Appellants listed Bennett Medical Services (Bennett) as a Schedule F creditor holding unsecured, nonpriority claims for $3, 535, even though Bennett had previously assigned the debt to Defendant-Appellee Collection ...


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