Robin Townsend Griggs v. City of Gadsden Revenue ( 2009 )

  •                                                        [DO NOT PUBLISH]
                      FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
                        ________________________                  FILED
                                                         U.S. COURT OF APPEALS
                               No. 08-15886                ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
                                                               JUNE 5, 2009
                           Non-Argument Calendar
                                                            THOMAS K. KAHN
                   D. C. Docket Nos. 07-01127-MC-1-KOB,
    LINDA BARRETT, Revenue Officer,
    JACK YOUNG, Revenue Officer,
                  Appeal from the United States District Court
                     for the Northern District of Alabama
                                (June 5, 2009)
    Before BIRCH, HULL and KRAVITCH, Circuit Judges.
          Plaintiff-appellant Robin Griggs (“Griggs”) appeals from the district court’s
    grant of summary judgment in this case. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm.
          The following facts, either undisputed or as supported by the evidence
    construed in the light most favorable to Griggs, are relevant to this appeal.
          Griggs was the proprietor of the Golden Goose lounge in Gadsden,
    Alabama. Between August 2004 and April 2007, Griggs was charged and
    convicted for numerous violations of city ordinances, including multiple failures to
    file liquor gross receipts affidavits, multiple failures to file occupational license fee
    returns; failure to file monthly sales tax returns; and doing business without a
    license. Pursuant to one of her convictions for failure to file liquor gross receipts
    affidavits, Griggs received a suspended sentence and was placed on probation for
    24 months. On March 15, 2007, after finding Griggs guilty of additional violations
    of City ordinances, the Municipal Court set another hearing for May 15, 2007 to
    consider revoking Griggs’ probation due to her continued failure to file appropriate
    returns with the City of Gadsden.
          On May 1, 2007, Griggs filed a Chapter 13 voluntary bankruptcy petition in
    the Bankruptcy Court of the Northern District of Alabama.1
           On May 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th, revenue officials from the City of Gadsden,
    accompanied by a Gadsden police officer, went to the Golden Goose and served
    Griggs with summonses to appear in Municipal Court on May 15, 2007 for the
    charges of doing business without a license on each of those days. Prior to the
    hearing, revenue officials searched the Golden Goose to confirm that the list of
    vending machines on Griggs’ application for a business license was correct. On
    May 15, 2007, the Municipal Court found that Griggs had violated her probation
    and that she was guilty of doing business without a license. Because she had
    violated the terms of her probation, Griggs was put in jail for four days.
           On May 8, 2007, Griggs filed an adversary proceeding in the bankruptcy
    court seeking, inter alia, relief under 11 U.S.C. § 362, alleging that the City and its
    agents violated the automatic stay in bankruptcy by issuing summonses and
    prosecuting her for operating a business without a license.2 Defendants moved to
    withdraw the matter from the bankruptcy court and remove it to district court. The
             The bankruptcy case was dismissed on or about June 21, 2007, due to Griggs’ failure to
    submit income records.
             Griggs also asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 for civil rights violations
    and claims under Alabama state law for invasion of privacy, malicious prosecution, and
    negligence. The district court granted summary judgment on these claims and Griggs does not
    offer any arguments on appeal challenging this disposition. Accordingly, Griggs has abandoned
    these claims. See United States v. Jernigan, 
    341 F.3d 1273
    , 1284 n.8 (11th Cir. 2003).
    district court granted this motion and removed the case on July 9, 2007.
          After the time for discovery had ended, Defendants moved for summary
    judgment and Griggs responded. The district court granted Defendants’ motion,
    finding, inter alia, that by serving Griggs with the summonses in May of 2007
    Defendants did not violate the automatic stay as a matter of law. Specifically, the
    district court noted that when Griggs filed her Chapter 13 voluntary petition
    pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 301, the automatic stay of 11 U.S.C. § 362(a) became
    operative. The district court, however, also found that serving Griggs with
    summonses constituted the commencement of criminal proceedings or proceedings
    by which the City enforces its regulatory power in granting business licenses.
    Such proceedings, the court noted, are exceptions to the general stay provisions
    found in 11 U.S.C. § 362(a). See 11 U.S.C. § 362(b) (“The filing of a [bankruptcy]
    petition . . . does not operate as a stay– (1) under subsection (a) of this section, of
    the commencement or continuation of a criminal action or proceeding against the
    debtor . . . [or of] the commencement or continuation of an action or proceeding by
    a governmental unit . . . to enforce such governmental unit’s police or regulatory
    power.”); see also Talley v. Ala. Dept. Of Pub. Safety, 
    472 F. Supp. 2d 1323
    , 1325
    (N.D. Ala. 2007) (noting that “[t]he bankruptcy laws are not a haven for criminal
    offenders, but are designed to give relief from financial overextension”). As such,
    the district court found that Griggs failed to present evidence of a violation of the
    automatic stay and entered summary judgment on that claim. Griggs appeals.
          “We review the district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo,
    applying the same legal standards that bound the district court, and viewing all
    facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
    party.” Cruz v. Publix Super Markets, Inc., 
    428 F.3d 1379
    , 1382 (11th Cir. 2005)
    (citation and quotation omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate when “there is
    no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a
    judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).
          On appeal, Griggs asserts that the court misapplied the law. Citing to the
    rule established in Barnette v. Evans, 
    673 F.2d 1250
     (11th Cir. 1982), Griggs
    argues that a bankruptcy court does have the authority to enjoin criminal
    proceedings as violative of the automatic stay where (1) the complaining witness
    brings the criminal proceeding as a “bad faith” subterfuge to collect a debt and (2)
    the defendant can not raise as a defense in the criminal proceeding the fact that the
    prosecution was instituted to collect a debt. Griggs asserts that she has presented
    adequate evidence of Defendants’ bad faith, noting that “[i]t is clear from the
    undisputed facts that the May 3rd , 4th , 5th , and 7th summons [] were served” after
    Defendants received notice of the petition and Defendants “harassed” Griggs by
    bringing police officers when they served the summonses and by conducting a
    “warrantless search” of her place of business.
          Griggs’ argument is without merit. Even if we assume Griggs’ evidence
    could be interpreted as indicative of Defendants’ animus towards Griggs, such
    evidence is insufficient to establish that Defendants acted in “bad faith” in this
    context. In order for the Barnette rule to apply, Griggs must present evidence that
    Defendants invoked the criminal process in bad faith in order to collect a debt
    which would otherwise have been discharged in bankruptcy. In other words,
    Griggs must show that Defendants criminally charged her with operating a
    business without a license in order to frustrate the bankruptcy judge’s jurisdiction
    to discharge her debts. Nothing suggests that Defendants could have recovered
    any discharged debt as a part of their prosecution of Griggs. The Municipal Court
    imposed a $500 fine against Griggs for each of the four charges, but, as the
    Barnette court noted, a bankruptcy court has “no conceivable interest” in any
    “possible fine [or] imprisonment” which a criminal proceeding may impose. Id. at
    1253. Accordingly, because the criminal proceeding at issue could not have been a
    subterfuge for the collection of a debt, the district court correctly found that the
    commencement of this proceeding did not violate the automatic stay in bankruptcy.

Document Info

DocketNumber: 08-15886

Filed Date: 6/5/2009

Precedential Status: Non-Precedential

Modified Date: 12/21/2014