Ninth Circuit affirms nondischargeable judgment based upon issue preclusion

Hai Lecong v. Ashley Tran, No. 15-60039 (9th Cir. Feb. 13, 2017)

Salvato Law Offices successfully defended an appeal by the plaintiff attacking the nondischargeable judgment entered by the Bankruptcy Court. 

"Hai Lecong appeals the grant of summary judgment in favor of Ashley Tran, entered by the bankruptcy court and upheld by the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (BAP), which held that the debt was nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2)(A). We affirm.  ***
The doctrine of issue preclusion applies to dischargeability proceedings pursuant to § 523(a). Grogan v. Garner, 498 U.S. 279, 284 n.11 (1991). Issue preclusion, or collateral estoppel, bars relitigation of factual issues that have been adjudicated in a prior action. Under the principles of “full faith and credit,” 28 U.S.C. § 1738, federal courts give prior state-court judgments the same preclusive effect as the courts of the state from which the judgment derived. Cal-Micro, Inc. v. Cantrell (In re Cantrell), 329 F.3d 1119, 1123 (9th Cir. 2003). Therefore, we apply California’s collateral-estoppel principles.  ***
We disagree with Lecong’s argument that the first three requirements of issue preclusion are not met in this case. Section 523(a)(2)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code excepts from discharge any debt for money, property, services, or credit obtained by “false pretenses, a false representation, or actual fraud.” ***
The jury verdict also affirms that these questions were actually litigated and necessarily decided. An issue is “actually litigated” when both parties “presented evidence and witnesses in support of their positions, and . . . had the opportunity to present full cases.” Lucido, 795 P.2d at 1225. Here, both parties presented evidence and argued the merits of the fraud claim. To conclude that an issue was “necessarily decided,” California “courts have previously required only that the issue not have been ‘entirely unnecessary’” to the judgment in the initial proceeding. Id. at 1226. In reaching the verdict in this case, the question of fraud was not “entirely unnecessary” in the initial proceeding. No public policy factors weigh against application of the doctrine. Therefore, Tran has met the burden of establishing the threshold requirements of issue preclusion. The bankruptcy court and the BAP did not abuse their discretion in applying the doctrine. AFFIRMED."