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Lewis v. Long

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division

November 24, 2014

CRYSTAL D. LEWIS, Appellant,
v.
CLYDE A. LONG, JR., Appellee.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GLEN E. CONRAD, Chief District Judge.

In this appeal from the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Virginia, Crystal D. Lewis seeks review of the bankruptcy court's memorandum opinion and order granting Clyde A. Long, Jr.'s motion for judgment on partial findings and denying her action for determination of a debt as nondischargeable. For the reasons that follow, the bankruptcy court's decision will be affirmed.

Background

This case, as the bankruptcy court emphasized in its memorandum opinion, originates from disturbing and troubling facts. Lewis and Long were involved sexually at various times in 1999 and 2000. During the course of their sexual relationship, Lewis was only 12 or 13 years old, and Long was 22 or 23 years old. They conceived a child, who was born in November of 2000.

On August 15, 2001, Long pled guilty to two counts of carnal knowledge of a child between thirteen and fifteen years of age, in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-63. He was sentenced to a total term of imprisonment of ten years, with seven years suspended.

Thereafter, Lewis filed a civil suit against Long in the Circuit Court of Culpeper County, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress, sexual assault and battery, and carnal knowledge of a minor. Long did not make an appearance in the case until he appeared pro se at a default judgment hearing. The Circuit Court entered a default judgment on liability and set the matter for a jury trial to determine damages. Prior to trial, Long, proceeding pro se, and Lewis, through counsel, executed a promissory installment note with a confession of judgment in the amount of $1, 254, 000.00. That judgment is the underlying debt in the instant matter.

On January 10, 2013, Long filed a petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and listed the confessed judgment as a debt. Lewis then brought this adversary proceeding to contest the dischargeability of the judgment under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6), which makes debts that arise from willful and malicious injuries nondischargeable in bankruptcy.

The parties appeared before the bankruptcy court for a bench trial on October 21, 2013. Lewis called Long as her only witness. On direct examination, Long admitted that he and Lewis conceived a child when he was 23 years old and Lewis was 13 years old. However, Long testified that it was not until "after the fact [that he] was told her age." Oct. 21, 2013 Trial Tr. 19. Long also admitted that he pled guilty to two counts of carnal knowledge of a minor in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-3. When asked about the civil proceedings in state court, Long testified that he appeared in court on the day that the default judgment was entered against him. Although Long indicated that the state court "asked [him] some question[s], " the contents of those questions and Long's answers thereto were not elicited or otherwise presented by Lewis. Oct. 21, 2013 Trial Tr. 20. Long further testified that, after answering the state court's questions, the state court entered the default judgment because Long lacked any statutory basis to prevent entry of default. Id. at 21.

At the close of Lewis's evidence, Long made a "motion to strike." Id. at 23. The bankruptcy court construed the motion as a motion for judgment on partial findings under Rule 52(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fed.R.Bankr.P. 7052 ("Rule 52 [of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure] applies in adversary proceedings."). The bankruptcy court took the motion under advisement and allowed Long to put on evidence in his defense.

On January 28, 2014, the bankruptcy court issued a memorandum opinion and order granting Long's Rule 52(c) motion. The bankruptcy court rejected Lewis's argument that the state court proceedings against Long are entitled to preclusive effect under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, and held that Lewis's evidence was insufficient to establish that Long's debt to her arose from a willful and malicious injury. Accordingly, the bankruptcy court ruled that the debt was not excepted from discharge under § 523(a)(6), and, thus, that Long was entitled to judgment in the adversary proceeding.

Lewis timely appealed the bankruptcy court's decision. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.[1]

Standard of Review

This court has appellate jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 158(a). On appeal, the court reviews the bankruptcy court's factual findings for clear error and its legal conclusions de ...


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