In re Hawkins, Civ.A. 98-1499 MLC.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
Writing for the CourtWOLFSON, United States Magistrate
Citation231 BR 222
PartiesIn the Matter of Jesse E. HAWKINS, Debtor. William A. Mattson, Plaintiff, v. Jesse E. Hawkins, Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. Civ.A. 98-1499 MLC.,Civ.A. 98-1499 MLC.
Decision Date10 February 1999

231 B.R. 222 (1999)

In the Matter of Jesse E. HAWKINS, Debtor.
William A. Mattson, Plaintiff,
Jesse E. Hawkins, Defendant.

No. Civ.A. 98-1499 MLC.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey.

February 10, 1999.

231 BR 223
231 BR 224
231 BR 225
David A. Gies, West Trenton, NJ, for plaintiff

Martin John Jennings, Jr., Martinez & Jennings, West Trenton, NJ, for defendant.


WOLFSON, United States Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff-creditor, William A. Mattson ("Mattson"), has moved for summary judgment in connection with his claim that a state court default judgment he obtained against Jesse E. Hawkins ("Hawkins"), defendant-debtor, in the amount of $750,115.62, is a non-dischargeable debt of Hawkins. Pursuant to an order of the Bankruptcy Court, this adversary proceeding by Mattson against Hawkins to determine the dischargeability of the judgment debt was transferred to the United States District Court. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. (a) § 636(c), and FED.R.CIV.P. 73, all matters relating to this adversary proceeding. The Court, having reviewed the moving and opposition papers, and having heard oral argument from counsel on December 21, 1998, denies plaintiff-creditor's motion for summary judgment. Furthermore, the Court finds that the parties do not have a Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial in this non-dischargeability proceeding.

Factual Background

The genesis of this litigation was a fisticuffs between Mattson and Hawkins. Although the parties disagree as to some of the circumstances surrounding their altercation, the following facts are undisputed. Mattson and Hawkins were both senior corrections officers employed by the State of New Jersey Department of Corrections and assigned to the Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility (hereinafter "Correctional Facility"). See Certification of David A. Gies, Esq. dated September 21, 1998, (hereinafter "Gies Cert."), Exhibit A (Complaint filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey on August 14, 1995) at pp. 1-2. On October 14, 1993, at approximately 12:50 p.m., a fight broke out between Mattson and Hawkins while the two men were on duty at the Correctional Facility. See Gies Cert., Exhibit A at p. 2; Gies Cert., Exhibit I (Transcript of Proof Hearing in Superior Court of New Jersey dated October 25, 1996) at p. 3. As a result of the fight, Mattson sustained physical injuries.1

On August 14, 1995, Mattson filed a civil action in the Superior Court of New Jersey against Hawkins and the State of New Jersey Department of Corrections alleging that Hawkins attacked and struck him "without cause or provocation, intentionally, wrongfully and without justification. . . ."2 Gies Cert., Exhibit A at p. 2. Service of the summons and complaint was made upon Hawkins at the Correctional Facility on September 7, 1995, by the Burlington County Sheriff's Department. However, Hawkins failed to answer or otherwise respond to the complaint, and default was entered on November 27, 1995. Subsequently, on March 18, 1996, the state court entered a default judgment against Hawkins as to liability.

On October 25, 1996, a proof hearing was held before the Honorable Ronald E. Bookbinder, J.S.C. to establish the amount of the judgment. Notwithstanding Mattson's service of notice of the proof hearing on Hawkins, Hawkins failed to appear at the hearing. See Gies Cert., Exhibit D (Proof of Service dated September 11, 1996). During the proceeding, Mattson responded in the affirmative when his attorney, David A. Gies, Esq., asked whether Hawkins "hit him about his head and face."3 See Gies Cert.,

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Exhibit I at p. 3. Mattson failed to present the court with any further testimony as to the cause or circumstances of the fight. The remainder of the hearing transcript deals with Mattson's detailed account of the various injuries and treatment he sustained as a result of the fisticuffs.4 See id. at pp. 4-11. After reviewing the expert reports, the court concluded the hearing by finding that Mattson sustained $750,000 in damages.5 See id. at pp. 11-12. However, the court never addressed the merits of Mattson's intentional tort claim

On November 6, 1996, Judge Bookbinder entered an order awarding Mattson a judgment of $750,000 plus $152.16 in court costs, for a total judgment of $750,152.16. Subsequent to the entry of the order, Mattson began to garnish ten percent (10%) of Hawkins' weekly earnings. See Gies Cert., Exhibit H (Order for Wage Execution and Certification dated February 13, 1997).

On September 17, 1997, Hawkins filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey. In response, Mattson filed an adversary proceeding against Hawkins in the Bankruptcy Court on November 25, 1997. Mattson sought to have his state court default judgment against Hawkins declared non-dischargeable pursuant to section 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code. Mattson contended that Hawkins' act of striking him was "willful and malicious." 11 U.S.C.A. § 523(a)(6) (1993). However, on March 12, 1998, the Honorable Stephen A. Stripp, U.S.B.J., memorialized an oral ruling by issuing a Letter Opinion which held that pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 157(b)(5)6, the Bankruptcy Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to determine Mattson's underlying personal injury tort claim. See Letter Opinion dated March 12, 1998. In dictum, Judge Stripp opined that neither the doctrine of collateral estoppel nor the doctrine of res judicata bars the bankruptcy court from determining claims and issues in dischargeability proceedings in cases where there has been a prior entry of default judgment against the debtor. See id. (citing Brown v. Felsen, 442 U.S. 127, 99 S.Ct. 2205, 60 L.Ed.2d 767 (1979); In re McMillan, 579 F.2d 289 (3d Cir.1978)).

Following Judge Stripp's instructions, a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 157(d) was filed, and the adversary proceedings was withdrawn to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. By Order filed on November 17, 1998, the parties consented to trial by a United States Magistrate Judge.

The factual circumstances surrounding the cause of the fight between Mattson and Hawkins on that fateful day are contested by both parties. As is averred in his state court complaint, Mattson claims that Hawkins wrongfully and intentionally attacked him. Furthermore, Mattson asserts that Hawkins' attack was without cause, excuse, justification, or provocation. Hawkins, on the other hand, alleges that Mattson, provoked a response by making a derogatory statement to Hawkins concerning Hawkins' race by using the term "Nigger." Hawkins asserts that he confronted Mattson after Mattson uttered

231 BR 227
the racial slur, and that their altercation ensued subsequent to this confrontation.7

Arguing that the claims and issues in the instant adversary proceeding are identical to those established by the prior state court default judgment, Mattson makes the present motion for summary judgment. Specifically, Mattson contends that the state court proceeding established that Hawkins' act of striking Mattson during their altercation was willful and malicious. Therefore, Mattson asserts that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel along with the entire controversy doctrine preclude Hawkins from relitigating whether his actions were "willful and malicious" as defined by 11 U.S.C.A. § 523(a)(6). Such a finding would make Hawkins' debt to Mattson non-dischargeable.

In response, Hawkins raises a factual issue by claiming that Mattson's use of a racial slur provoked the attack. Hawkins further argues that the default judgment has no preclusive effect under either res judicata or the entire controversy doctrine because the merits of the instant dischargeability claim were not addressed by the state court, insofar as the state court never determined whether his acts were willful and malicious. Additionally, Hawkins notes that the doctrine of collateral estoppel does not bar the instant litigation because the entry of the default judgment by the state court prevented the parties from "actually litigating" the dischargeability issue.8


I. Summary Judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 empowers a court to enter summary judgment if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See FED.R.CIV.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has satisfied this initial burden, the opposing party must establish that a genuine issue exists. See Jersey Central Power & Light Co. v. Lacey Township, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109 (3d Cir.1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1013, 106 S.Ct. 1190, 89 L.Ed.2d 305 (1986). Not every issue of fact will be sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment; issues of fact are genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Further, the opposing party cannot rest upon mere allegations; it must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue of material fact. See id. at 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (citing First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 290, 88 S.Ct. 1575, 20 L.Ed.2d 569 (1968)). The court must draw all reasonable inferences in the opposing party's favor, and must accept the party's evidence when considering the merits of the summary judgment motion. See Pollock v. American Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir.1986).

Mattson has provided this Court with copies of the state court complaint and the transcript of the October 25, 1996 proof hearing. Hawkins does not attack the authenticity of these documents....

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