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Groggins v. Robbins

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

August 30, 2016

Philip Butler Groggins, Appellant,
Judy A. Robbins, U.S. Trustee for Region 4, Appellee.



         This case is on appeal (dkts. 1 & 1-1) from an order of this District's Bankruptcy Court granting appellee's motion for summary judgment and denying the debtor-appellant a discharge. (Dkt 1-2). On July 23, 2014, Debtor Philip Groggins (“Groggins”) filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition, which the Bankruptcy Court later converted to a Chapter 7 petition. (Dkt. 1-2 at 1). Subsequently, Groggins was indicted on-and pled guilty to-bankruptcy fraud in this District, based on his failure to disclose a prior bankruptcy petition filed in Maryland. See United States v. Groggins, No. 6:14-cr-00021 (W.D. Va.).

         As a result, the United States Trustee (“U.S. Trustee”) objected to any bankruptcy discharge. She argued that Groggins' bankruptcy fraud conviction collaterally estopped him from contending that he had not made a false oath in connection with his Virginia bankruptcy case, and thus a discharge was unwarranted. (Dkt. 5-7 at 3-4; dkt. 5-10 at 2-4; see 11 U.S.C. 727(a)(4)). The Bankruptcy Court agreed. (Dkt. 1-2). Because the principles of collateral estoppel apply so as to deny Groggins a discharge, the Bankruptcy Court's order will be affirmed.


         To briefly summarize the background of this case, Groggins filed a bankruptcy petition in Maryland in 2014, which was quickly dismissed. He then filed a bankruptcy petition in Virginia, but failed to disclose his Maryland petition. Based on this omission, he was charged with and pled guilty to bankruptcy fraud for making a false oath.

         More specifically, in April 2014, Groggins petitioned the bankruptcy court in Maryland, but the petition was dismissed six days later. (Dkt. 10 at ECF 52). In July 2014, he filed the bankruptcy petition in Virginia that underlies this appeal. (Id. at ECF 53). The Virginia petition failed to disclose that Groggins had filed the Maryland petition. (Id.). Based on that and other omissions, the Government indicted Groggins in the Western District of Virginia on October 16, 2014 for, inter alia, a count of bankruptcy fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 152(3). (Id. at ECF 55).

         Groggins subsequently pled guilty before me to the bankruptcy fraud count in late 2014. (Dkt. 10 at ECF 57, 65, 70). On May 22, 2015, I entered the criminal judgment, sentencing Groggins to 27 months imprisonment on the bankruptcy fraud count, to run concurrently with his sentence on another count. (Id. at ECF 71-72). Approximately two months later, the U.S. Trustee asked the Bankruptcy Court to deny Groggins a discharge in the Virginia bankruptcy case. (Id. at ECF 10-13). She argued that his guilty plea and criminal conviction in this Court for bankruptcy fraud (for omitting, in his Virginia bankruptcy petition, mention of his Maryland bankruptcy petition) conclusively established that he “made a false oath or account” in “connection with th[e Virginia bankruptcy] case, ” thus justifying a denial of discharge under 11 U.S.C. § 727(a)(4)(A). (Id.; see also id. at ECF 21-24). The Bankruptcy Court agreed, and this appeal ensued.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 applies to bankruptcy proceedings like the one that underlies this appeal. See Fed. R. Bank. P. 7056. Accordingly, summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” A material fact is one “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law . . . .” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In order to preclude summary judgment, the dispute about a material fact must be “‘genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.; see also JKC Holding Co. v. Washington Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001). However, if the evidence of a genuine issue of material fact “is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. In considering a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, a court must view the record as a whole and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See, e.g., Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986); Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994).

         Federal courts are accorded “broad discretion to determine” whether collateral estoppel is justified. Parklane Hosiery Co. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322, 331 (1979); e.g., Sales v. Grant, 158 F.3d 768, 781 (4th Cir. 1998).[1]


         I. Application of Collateral Estoppel

         There are five elements that must be satisfied to apply the ...

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