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Bristol v. Branigan

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 18, 2019

LISA S. BRISTOL, Pro Se Debtor-Appellant
v.
TIMOTHY P. BRANIGAN Chapter 13 Trustee-Appellee LISA S. BRISTOL, Pro Se Debtor-Appellant
v.
TIMOTHY P. BRANIGAN Chapter 13 Trustee-Appellee

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pro Se Debtor-Appellant Lisa Sabrina Bristol appeals two orders issued in a single bankruptcy proceeding, In re Lisa Sabrina Bristol, Ch. 13 Case No. LSS 18-16227 (Bankr. D. Md.), which were docketed in this Court as two separate cases. See Civ. Nos. PJM 18-02957, PJM 18-03197.

         In Civ. No. PJM 18-02957 Bristol v. Branigan, she seeks relief from the Bankruptcy Court's Order denying confirmation of her Chapter 13 Plan without leave to amend, ECF No. 1, and in Civ. No PJM 18-03197 Bristol v. Branigan, she seeks relief from the Bankruptcy Court's Order dismissing her case for failure to appear at the hearing on the Motion to Dismiss and the failure to make plan payments[1]. ECF No. 1.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court AFFIRMS the Order of the Bankruptcy Court dismissing the case.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Bristol filed a petition for Chapter 13 bankruptcy relief on May 8, 2018. Civ. No PJM 18-03197, ECF No. 1 -2. Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code allows an individual with a regular income to pay some or all of her debts over 3-5 years and keep some or all of her property by developing and complying with a payment plan under the supervision of the Chapter 13 trustee. See 11 U.S.C. § 1322. Bristol was represented by counsel during part of the bankruptcy proceeding but acted pro se starting August 29, 2018. She proceeds pro se in this Court as well.

         On May 9, 2019, Timothy P. Branigan was appointed as Chapter 13 Trustee. Civ. No PJM 18-03197, ECF No. 1-2. Pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 341(a), the Bankruptcy Court scheduled a Meeting of Creditors to be held on June 21, 2018. Id. However, Bristol failed to file the required documents and on May 23. 2018, the Bankruptcy Court issued an Order to Show Cause why the case should not be dismissed. Id. On June 5, 2018. the Bankruptcy Court then signed an Order Extending Time, which gave Bristol additional time to submit the required documents. Id. After Bristol failed to submit the requisite documents before the (extended) deadline again, the Bankruptcy Court issued an Order Dismissing the Case for Failure to Complete Required Filings. Id.

         On June 28, 2018, Bristol submitted her Chapter 13 Plan. Civ. No PJM 18-03197. ECF No. 1 -2. In the plan, she stated that she would pay $1, 752 per month for 60 months, in addition to a S16, 000 lump sum payment in month 12, and another $16, 000 payment due every 12 months afterwards until month 60. Civ. No PJM 18-02957, ECF No. 3-1. The next day, the Bankruptcy Court vacated its previous order dismissing the case. Civ. No PJM 18-02957, ECF No. 1-2. The Bankruptcy Court then certified that Bristol was in compliance with all filing requirements of 11 U.S.C. § 521(a)(1) except subparagraph 521(a)(1)(B)(iv), which was not filed with the Court pursuant to LBR 1007-4. Id.

         On July 2, 2018, the Bankruptcy Court scheduled an Amended 341(a) Meeting of Creditors to be held on August 16. 2018. Civ. No PJM 18-03197, ECF No. 1-2. However, Bristol's counsel failed to appear at the 341(a) Meeting. Branigan then filed a Motion to Dismiss for Counsel's Failure to Appear at the Meeting of Creditors Without Excuse on August 20, 2018.[2] Civ. No PJM 18-03197, ECF No. 3-1. Branigan argued that this failure to appear constituted cause for dismissal and resulted in an unreasonable delay that was prejudicial to creditors. Id. Furthermore, Branigan argued that Bristol had not even tendered the first plan payment due, which was an alternate basis for dismissal under 11 U.S.C. § 1307(c). Id. Branigan certified that Bristol's counsel was served a version of the Motion to Dismiss via the CM/ECF system and that a paper copy was sent to Bristol. Id.

         Bristol filed a response to Branigan's Motion to Dismiss, arguing that she was in fact present at the 341(a) meeting though conceding that her counsel was not. Civ. No PJM 18-03197, ECF No. 3-2. According to Bristol, she was notified that her counsel would not appear at the meeting the day before the meeting, and she relayed this information to Branigan the day of the meeting. Id. She also told Branigan she was not feeling well and was under the influence of medication. Id. However, according to Bristol, Branigan refused to accommodate her situation. Id.

         Bristol also argued in her response to Branigan's Motion to Dismiss that her counsel had advised her to not make payments until a third-party filed a Motion to Lift the Bankruptcy Stay. Id.

         The Bankruptcy Court scheduled a Notice of Hearing on Branigan's Motion to Dismiss to be held on October 2, 2018. Civ. No PJM 18-03197, ECF No. 3-3. The Certificate of Notice from September 7, 2018 confirms that Bristol was provided notice of this hearing. Id. But Bristol failed to appear for the Motion to Dismiss Hearing, according to the Bankruptcy Court's Proceeding Memo. Civ. No PJM 18-03197, ECF No. 3-4. On October 2, 2018, the Bankruptcy Court dismissed the case based on Bristol's failure to appear at the Motion to Dismiss hearing and Bristol's failure to make plan payments. Civ. No PJM 18-03197, ECF No. 3-10. Bristol appealed in a timely fashion.

         Separately, Branigan filed objections to Bristol's Chapter 13 plan. He stated that Bristol had failed to specify the source of the lump sum payments, had conflicting treatments of Caliber Home Loans under sections 4.6.2 and 4.6.5, and had filed an adversary proceeding to value or avoid a lien on a property owned as tenants by the entirety, in violation of law. Civ. No PJM 18- 02957, ECF No. 3-4. On September 17, 2018, the Bankruptcy Court denied confirmation of Bristol's plan without leave to amend. Civ. No PJM 18-03197, ECF No. 3-7. Bristol appealed in a timely manner.

         Bristol has since filed a new bankruptcy case under Chapter 7 and obtained a ...


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