Dardinger v. Dardinger (In re Dardinger), Case No. 14–50624

CourtUnited States Bankruptcy Courts. Sixth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Southern District of Ohio
Writing for the CourtJohn E. Hoffman, Jr., United States Bankruptcy Judge
Citation566 B.R. 481
Parties IN RE: Jeffrey T. DARDINGER, Debtor. Allison N. Dardinger, Plaintiff, v. Jeffrey T. Dardinger, Defendant.
Docket NumberCase No. 14–50624,Adv. Pro. No. 14–2129
Decision Date19 April 2017

566 B.R. 481

IN RE: Jeffrey T. DARDINGER, Debtor.

Allison N. Dardinger, Plaintiff,
Jeffrey T. Dardinger, Defendant.

Case No. 14–50624
Adv. Pro.
No. 14–2129

United States Bankruptcy Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division, at Columbus .

Signed April 19, 2017

566 B.R. 484

Henry E. Menninger, Jr., Dale A. Stalf, Cincinnati, OH, for Plaintiff.

Michael W. Warren, Warren Law Firm, Chillicothe, OH, for Defendant.

566 B.R. 485


John E. Hoffman, Jr., United States Bankruptcy Judge

I. Introduction

At the time of the events giving rise to this adversary proceeding, Jeffrey T. Dardinger ("Dardinger") was the stepfather and adoptive father of the plaintiff, Allison N. Dardinger ("Allison"). Following the discovery of illicit videos of her in various stages of undress, Allison brought a civil action against Dardinger in an Ohio state court, asserting, among other causes of action, claims for assault and battery, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The state court later granted summary judgment in favor of Allison as to liability and several days later issued findings of fact and conclusions of law, stating in detail the basis for its judgment. The state court then conducted a four-day damages trial before a jury, which ended with a significant award of compensatory and punitive damages to Allison and the entry of final judgment in her favor.

In this adversary proceeding, Allison seeks a determination that the debt stemming from the state court's judgment against Dardinger arose from a willful and malicious injury and is therefore excepted from discharge by § 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code. Before the Court is Allison's motion for summary judgment (the "Motion"), by which she seeks judgment as a matter of law based on the doctrine of issue preclusion. Allison argues that the state court's findings and conclusions definitively establish that Dardinger's conduct was willful and malicious and that she is thus entitled to a declaration that the debt based on the judgment is nondischargeable under § 523(a)(6).

Dardinger disagrees. He points to the state court's entry granting Allison summary judgment on the issue of his liability, in which the state court found that by failing to timely file an answer to Allison's original complaint, Dardinger had waived his denials and affirmative defenses. Seizing on the waiver language in the entry, Dardinger maintains that, in essence, the state court granted Allison a default judgment—rather than summary judgment. And based on this premise, Dardinger argues that (1) the issue of his liability was never directly and actually litigated in state court, (2) the prior judgment therefore should not be granted preclusive effect by this Court, and (3) Allison accordingly is not entitled to a determination of nondischargeability as a matter of law.

Dardinger is mistaken for two reasons. First, the state court considered affidavits submitted by and on behalf of Allison before it entered summary judgment in her favor. And along with its summary judgment entry the state court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law, which carefully detail the extent and nature of Dardinger's misconduct. It is therefore inaccurate to characterize the state court's summary judgment as a default judgment. Second, even if the prior judgment were properly characterized as a default—rather than summary—judgment, it would be entitled to preclusive effect in any event because it was based upon admissible evidence apart from Allison's pleadings and was accompanied by the state court's detailed findings and conclusions.

For these reasons, and as explained more fully below, the state court's judgment is entitled to preclusive effect. And based on the preclusive effect of that judgment, the Court concludes as a matter of law that Dardinger's debt to Allison is for willful and malicious injury and is therefore

566 B.R. 486

excepted from discharge by § 523(a)(6).

II. Jurisdiction

The Court has subject matter jurisdiction to hear and determine this adversary proceeding under 28 U.S.C. §§ 157 and 1334 and the general order of reference entered in this district. This is a core proceeding. 28 U.S.C. § 157(b)(2)(I).

III. Procedural and Factual Background

The events that gave rise to this adversary proceeding are, to say the least, troubling. In short, Allison and her mother—Dardinger's now ex-wife1 —discovered that Dardinger had, on numerous occasions, surreptitiously filmed Allison while she was either partially clothed or nude. The videotaping occurred in areas of the family residence where Allison had a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as the bathroom or her bedroom. After a criminal investigation, Dardinger pleaded guilty to violating section 2907.323 of the Ohio Revised Code, which governs the illegal use of minors in nudity-oriented material.

In late December 2013, Allison filed a complaint in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas (the "State Court") against Dardinger for assault and battery, invasion of privacy, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress (the "State Court Action").2 Dardinger failed to answer Allison's initial State Court complaint and instead filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition on February 4, 2014. A few months later, Allison instituted this adversary proceeding, seeking a declaration that her claim against Dardinger—which had not yet been liquidated—is nondischargeable under § 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code because the debt he owes her is for willful and malicious injury. Adv. Doc. 1.3 Allison later sought, and obtained by agreed order, relief from the automatic stay to proceed with the State Court Action. Doc. 25. The adversary proceeding was held in abeyance pending the outcome of the State Court Action.

Back in the State Court, Allison filed an amended complaint. Acting pro se, Dardinger filed an answer and multiple counterclaims. The parties engaged in discovery and prepared for a jury trial scheduled for April 18, 2016. Pl. 1st Ex. A.4 In December 2015, Allison served Dardinger with a set of requests for admissions (the "Admissions Request"), which sought admissions based largely on the allegations contained in her amended complaint. Pl. 2d Ex. B. Despite participating in other discovery, Def. Ex. 8, Dardinger did not

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respond to the Admissions Request. Approximately two months before the trial, Allison filed a motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability, arguing that the matters set forth in the Admissions Request were deemed admitted due to Dardinger's failure to provide a timely response (by serving Allison's attorney with written answers or objections). Pl. 2d Ex. A. In addition, to support the truth of her allegations against Dardinger and detail the events that led to her lawsuit against him, Allison submitted her own affidavit and the affidavit of a Hamilton County detective Sergeant David Ausdenmoore. Pl. 2d Ex. C & D. Dardinger opposed the motion for summary judgment, arguing, among other things, that he had not received the Admissions Request. Def. Ex. 8.

On April 14, 2016, the State Court granted summary judgment in favor of Allison, finding that, by virtue of his default in answering the initial complaint, Dardinger's "denials and affirmative defenses [were] deemed waived." Pl. 2d Ex. E at 2. After "review[ing] and consider[ing] all the pertinent documents and materials submitted, [and] consider[ing] oral arguments," the State Court also issued detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law in connection with its order granting summary judgment (the "Findings and Conclusions").5 Pl. 1st Ex. D at 1. The Findings and Conclusions of the State Court are set forth verbatim below.

[The State Court's] Findings of Fact

1. Plaintiff Allison N. Dardinger ("Allison") was born on December 28, 1992, to her mother Amy Siefke a/k/a Amy Siefke Dardinger ("Amy").

2. In November 2010, Defendant6 was licensed to practice medicine in the States of Ohio, Kentucky, Iowa, and Arizona, and was employed as a radiologist by, and was a principal of, Radiology Associates of Northern Kentucky. In addition, he performed work for hospitals across the Midwest, performed promotional and other work for various medical supply companies throughout the United States and was the Vice Chairman of the Radiology Department at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Northern Kentucky.

3. On December 16, 2010, Defendant violently assaulted and battered Allison by twisting her arm and pinning her against the wall, with his other arm around her neck, while screaming obscenities in her face. Fortunately, Amy was able to intervene and prevent any serious harm to Allison. Afterward, Amy promptly filed for and obtained a civil stalking protection order against Defendant, who was then ordered by the Court to vacate the family's residence.

4. On December 28, 2010, while celebrating Allison's 18th birthday and trying to relive some of the happier moments in their

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