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In re Messina

August 20, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman

Bankruptcy No. 99 B 29371

Adversary No. 99 A 1573 and 99 A 1803

Honorable John H. Squires, Presiding


Appellant debtor John P. Messina ("Messina") appeals from an order of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruling that the debt owed by Messina to appellee judgment holders American Citrus Products Corporation ("American Citrus") and John Labatt Limited*fn1 ("Labatt," and collectively with American Citrus, "Appellees") is non-dischargeable under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6). Messina also appeals the approval of a Chapter 7 trustee's amended final report and notice of abandonment. For the reasons below, the decisions of the bankruptcy court are affirmed.

American Citrus has filed a motion for sanctions and for an order to prevent future misconduct. For the reasons below, the motion is granted.


The following facts are drawn from prior opinions and the parties' briefs. Messina's 50-page brief includes 37 pages of facts and is accompanied by a voluminous six-part appendix. The court also received essays, packets, and a 193-page binder of facts, background information, and arguments.*fn2 The facts below are limited to those required for background and for purposes of this appeal.

Beginning in 1989, the parties were involved in substantial and protracted litigation involving unfair competition in the orange juice industry. Messina was an attorney for the plaintiff, Grove Fresh Distributors, Inc. ("Grove Fresh"), and Appellees were the defendants. Grove Fresh alleged that the defendants made and sold adulterated orange juice that was falsely labeled "100% pure."

Judge James B. Zagel, who presided over two related cases, issued a confidentiality order during the pendency of the first case,*fn3 and ordered that the subsequent complaint*fn4 be filed under seal. He explained the seal in a later opinion*fn5 regarding Messina's conduct:

A key reason behind this decision was Mr. Messina himself. After presiding for the previous eighteen months over [the first case], I was familiar with certain tactics employed by Mr. Messina which I believed were questionable if not reprehensible. Specifically, I was wary of Mr. Messina's repeated attempts to beat the defendants into submission by disclosing materials previously designated as confidential to generate unfavorable publicity for them. I had no reason to believe Mr. Messina would change his methods and every reason to suspect he would attempt to try his latest suit on the courthouse steps as well.*fn6

Messina argues the merits of the seal to this court,*fn7 as he has to the Seventh Circuit and bankruptcy court. The Seventh Circuit, however, considered and affirmed the merits of the seal,*fn8 and this court may not review its judgment. Similarly, the bankruptcy court explained that it "has no appellate jurisdiction whatsoever and cannot as a matter of law effectively reverse or undue [sic] any final judgment entered by those higher federal courts." In re Messina, 2000 WL 311145, at *6 (Bankr. N.D. Ill. Mar. 27, 2000)

All cases were settled in April 1993. In November 1993, American Citrus and Labatt petitioned the district court for a finding of contempt and other sanctions, including violation of Fed. R. Civ. P. 11, against Messina because of his conduct after settlement. A trial was held in February 1995. Judge Zagel found Messina in civil and criminal contempt for violations of court orders and found that he "violated Rule 11 in three ways, each of which would be independently sanctionable" (the "Contempt Order"). Grove Fresh, 888 F. Supp. at 1450.

The court sanctioned Messina for four charges of contempt-failure to appear in court as ordered by Judge Zagel and three violations of confidentiality orders. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit considered and affirmed the district court's judgment regarding all four instances of contempt. The Seventh Circuit also considered and affirmed the district court's judgment regarding the Rule 11 violations.*fn9

Messina was ultimately ordered to compensate American Citrus and Labatt in the amount of $80,485.37 and $69,069.08, respectively. In July 1995, the court found that Messina had not been given notice of potential criminal sanctions and, thus, vacated the judgment of criminal contempt.

Messina filed a bankruptcy petition on September 22, 1999, and Appellees subsequently filed an adversary proceeding*fn10 seeking a determination that the debt owed them by Messina is non-dischargeable because it arose from conduct causing willful and malicious injury. 11 U.S.C. ยง 523(a)(6). The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Messina argued that prior proceedings should not be given preclusive or collateral estoppel effect, that the debt is dischargeable, and that the ...

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