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Weinman v. Fidelity Capital Appreciation Fund

March 18, 2008

JEFFREY WEINMAN, AS TRUSTEE FOR THE INTEGRA UNSECURED CREDITORS' TRUST, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FIDELITY CAPITAL APPRECIATION FUND, ET AL., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. BACKGROUND

In July 1992, a company called Integra Realty Resources, Inc. ("Integra") filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Colorado. Several years earlier, Integra had distributed shares of ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc. to its shareholders. Mr. Mollison, the movant here, received 536 shares of ShowBiz stock in that distribution. On July 11, 1994, Integra's unsecured creditors, represented by a Trust naming Jeffrey A. Weinman as its Trustee, filed a lawsuit as part of the Bankruptcy proceeding claiming that Integra's distribution of ShowBiz stock prior to the bankruptcy was a "fraudulent transfer" and/or an "unlawful dividend." The Trustee named over 800 defendants individually, and as representatives of a defendant class-action. The Trustee asked the Bankruptcy Court to enter an order pursuant to Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7023, which incorporates Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(1), certifying a defendant class consisting of all persons or entities that were the beneficial recipients of the December 1988 transfer of shares of ShowBiz stock from Integra. In a February 8, 1995 order, the Bankruptcy Court certified the defendant class. In 1995, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado withdrew the reference of this adversary proceeding to the bankruptcy court. In September 1999, judgment was entered in the District Court against the defendant class. In particular, judgment was entered against Mr. Mollison in the amount of $3,752.00 plus post-judgment interest accruing at the rate of 5.285% per annum. In 2004, the judgment was registered in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1963.

Mr. Mollison argues that this action should be dismissed because the rendering court lacked in personam jurisdiction over him.*fn1 He styles his motion as a Motion to Vacate and Strike Foreign Judgment for Want of Jurisdiction, yet I am treating it as a motion filed under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). For the reasons outlined below, his motion is denied.

II. DISCUSSION

It is proper to enforce the District of Colorado Court's judgment against Mr. Mollison in this Court. First, I find that the question of jurisdiction was fully and fairly litigated and finally decided in the prior proceeding. Thus, it would be improper to permit Mr. Mollison to collaterally attack that ruling here. In addition, I conclude that the Colorado court did, in fact, have in personam jurisdiction over Mr. Mollison.

A. The Issue Was Decided by the Rendering Court Fully, Finally, and On the Merits

The general rule is that when a judgment is entered in any United States court and registered in another, that judgment "shall have the same effect as a judgment of the district court of the district where registered and may be enforced in like manner." 28 U.S.C. § 1963. In the Seventh Circuit, if one party seeks to modify or annul a judgment that is registered under § 1963, that party must present the motion to the rendering court. See Board of Trustees, Sheet Metal Workers' Nat. Pension Fund v. Elite Erectors, Inc., 212 F.3d 1031, 1034 (7th Cir. 2000). Of course, an exception to that rule exists if the party seeks to have the judgment set aside because the rendering court lacked jurisdiction. See Adam v. Saenger, 303 U.S. 59, 62 (1938); In re Joint Eastern & Southern Districts Asbestos Litigation, 22 F.3d 755, 762 n.15 (7th Cir. 1994).The exception notwithstanding, "principles of issue preclusion would prevent re-litigation of the jurisdictional question in other courts of registration." Elite Erectors, Inc., 212 F.3d at 1034 (emphasis added). This discussion can be distilled down to the following points: (1) jurisdiction can be attacked in the registering court if the issue of jurisdiction was not litigated in the rendering court; but (2) if jurisdiction was decided fully, fairly, and on the merits by the rendering court, then collateral estoppel principles preclude parties from even challenging jurisdiction before the registering court.

In this case, the issue of in personam jurisdiction over members of the defendant class was fully and finally litigated in the rendering court. Accordingly, Mr. Mollison may not collaterally attack that decision here.*fn2 The Bankruptcy Court expressly confronted the issue and concluded that it could exercise personal jurisdiction, even over those members of the defendant class that did not have contacts with the State of Colorado. In addition, the case was appealed, and ultimately the Tenth Circuit affirmed both the Bankruptcy Judge's decision to certify the defendant class and the final judgment. See In re Integra Realty Resources, Inc., 354 F.3d 1246 (10th Cir. 2004). The Tenth Circuit panel specifically found that the notice given to the defendant class members satisfied due process. Integra, 354 F.3d at 1260-61. The court did note that it was "cognizant of the concern that, in some isolated instances, individual class members may have a judgment entered against them without having received actual notice of the opportunity to raise objections or individual defenses before the expiration of the deadline for doing so." Id. at 1261. The court upheld the lower court's ruling nevertheless, though, in part because the court contemplated circumstances in which "individual class members may challenge the binding effect of the settlement as to themselves in a collateral action." Id. (internal quotation omitted).

At bottom, both the Bankruptcy Court and the Tenth Circuit considered the due process concerns associated with approving the defendant class here.*fn3 Nevertheless, both courts were satisfied with the protections afforded by the notice procedures and the adequacy of the representation. Even though this was a mandatory defendant class under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(1)(B), the fact that both the Bankruptcy Court and the Tenth Circuit concluded that the class was adequately represented is sufficient for due process purposes. See Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32, 43 (1940).

In addition, the Tenth Circuit stressed that "unlike the typical class action damage case, where the individual circumstances of each class member are typically of material importance, it is virtually never the case that the proceeds of a single fraudulent transfer or unlawful dividend would be recoverable from one defendant shareholder but not from another." Integra,354 F.3d at 1265 (internal quotations omitted). This supports the conclusion that certifying the class was proper because in this type of action there are no unique arguments that any single defendant could raise that would yield a different result for that defendant. In fact, one might argue that certifying the defendant class actually benefitted the class members because it enabled their interests to be represented while sparing them the expense of hiring counsel and appearing.*fn4 The Bankruptcy Court certified the class and the Court of Appeals ratified that decision. Because these issues were fully litigated and finally decided by the rendering court, Mr. Mollison's jurisdictional attacks are not properly considered here.

The propriety of this outcome is buttressed by the Seventh Circuit's decision in Fuhrman v. Livaditis, 611 F.2d 203 (7th Cir. 1979). In Fuhrman, the plaintiff brought a suit based on diversity of citizenship in the Northern District of Iowa. 611 F.2d at 203. After the defendant failed to appear, a default judgment was entered. Id. at 204. Then, pursuant to § 1963, the plaintiff registered the default judgment with the Northern District of Illinois. Id. Thereafter, the defendant filed a Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment, arguing that personal jurisdiction was lacking in the rendering court. Id. The registering court-recognizing that the motion was more properly heard before the rendering court-denied the defendant's motion. Id. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the registering court's decision to defer to the rendering court was not an abuse of discretion. Id. at 205. If it was proper for the registering court to deny Defendant's motion for a lack of in personam jurisdiction in Fuhrman-a diversity action-then a fortiori it is proper for me to deny Mr. Mollison's motion here (where the defendant's attacks on jurisdiction in the rendering court are far more tenuous).*fn5

B. The District Court in Colorado Did Have In Personam Jurisdiction Over Mr. Mollison

The Bankruptcy and District Courts in Colorado properly exercised personal jurisdiction over Mr. Mollison. That conclusion notwithstanding, it seems apparent that Mr. Mollison did not have sufficient minimum contacts with the State of Colorado for a Colorado state court to exercise personal jurisdiction over him for an ordinary action unrelated to Colorado.*fn6 That is to say, if, for example, Mr. Mollison and a Colorado citizen were to get into a car accident in Illinois, it does not appear as though the Colorado citizen would be able to sue Mr. Mollison in a Colorado state court. With that ...


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