Greenway v. Boyce ( 1996 )


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  •                    United States Court of Appeals,
    
                                      Fifth Circuit.
    
                                       No. 95-50309
    
                                     Summary Calendar.
    
                 In the Matter of John W. GREENWAY, Debtor.
    
    Joanne Brito BOYCE; Eric Boyce; John Sommerfield; Terry Rock;
    Kay Rock, For Representatives of the Estate of Debbie Rock,
    Appellees Cross-Appellants,
    
                                            v.
    
                John W. GREENWAY, Appellant Cross-Appellee.
    
                                      Jan. 10, 1996.
    
    Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western
    District of Texas.
    
    Before HIGGINBOTHAM, DUHÉ and EMILIO M. GARZA, Circuit Judges.
    
         PER CURIAM:
    
         Defendant   John       W.    Greenway   appeals   the    district    court's
    
    partial    reversal    of    the     bankruptcy     court's     order    granting
    
    Greenway's motion for summary judgment.              Plaintiffs Joanne Brito
    
    Boyce, Eric Boyce, John Sommerfield, Terry Rock, Kay Rock, and the
    
    Estate of Debbie Rock cross-appeal the district court's partial
    
    affirmance of the bankruptcy court's order granting Greenway's
    
    motion for summary judgment.          We reverse in part, affirm in part,
    
    and render judgment.
    
                                             I
    
         A    motorboat,    operated       by    John   Greenway,     crashed    into
    
    Plaintiffs vessel, causing a fatality and various injuries.                   The
    
    accident occurred on a lake at night.           Greenway had been drinking.
    
    Plaintiffs sued in state court, and a jury, finding that Greenway
    
                                             1
    was   sixty     percent      responsible     for    the    accident,    awarded     the
    
    Plaintiffs damages proportional to Greenway's fault.1                        Unable to
    
    pay the judgment, Greenway sought protection under Chapter 7 of the
    
    Bankruptcy       Code.         The    Plaintiffs     commenced       this    adversary
    
    proceeding in the bankruptcy court to block the discharge of
    
    Greenway's debt.           The Bankruptcy Code does not allow the discharge
    
    of debts arising from, among other things, willful and malicious
    
    injuries,2      or    from    death   or    personal      injuries   caused    by   the
    
    operation of a "motor vehicle" if that operation was unlawful due
    
    to the debtor's intoxication.3               The Plaintiffs argued that these
    
    two provisions barred the discharge of Greenway's debt.                             The
    
    bankruptcy court disagreed.               Because the jury in Greenway's state
    
    trial had rejected liability for gross negligence, the bankruptcy
    
    court found the Plaintiffs collaterally estopped from litigating
    
    whether Greenway's actions were willful or malicious under 11
    
    U.S.C. § 523(a)(6).           The bankruptcy court further found that the
    
    plain       meaning   of     the   term    "motor   vehicle,"     in    11   U.S.C.   §
    
    523(a)(9),      did    not    include      motorboats,     and   held   §    523(a)(9)
    
    
            1
          The jury found Plaintiffs forty percent responsible for the
    accident, and under Texas comparative negligence rules, compensated
    Plaintiffs for only sixty percent of the total value of their
    injuries.
          2
         See 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6) (exempting from discharge any debt
    "for willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another entity
    or to the property of another entity").
          3
         See 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(9) (exempting from discharge any debt
    incurred "for death or personal injury caused by the debtor's
    operation of a motor vehicle if such operation was unlawful because
    the debtor was intoxicated from using alcohol, a drug, or another
    substance").
    
                                                 2
    inapplicable to Greenway's case. The bankruptcy court thus granted
    
    Greenway's motion for summary judgment.                On appeal, the district
    
    court affirmed the bankruptcy court's finding that the Plaintiffs
    
    were collaterally         estopped    from      litigating   whether   Greenway's
    
    actions had been willful and malicious, but reversed the bankruptcy
    
    court's interpretation of the term "motor vehicle," reading the
    
    term to include motorboats.           The district court then remanded the
    
    case to the bankruptcy court for trial on whether Greenway was
    
    intoxicated, within the meaning of § 523(a)(9) of the Bankruptcy
    
    Code, when the accident occurred.4                Both Plaintiffs and Greenway
    
    filed timely notices of appeal.
    
                                               II
    
            The Bankruptcy Code allows a debtor to discharge all debts
    
    incurred    prior    to   filing     for    bankruptcy,      subject   to   certain
    
    exceptions.    11 U.S.C. § 727(b);             Citizens Bank & Trust Co. v. Case
    
    (In re Case), 
    937 F.2d 1014
    , 1024 (5th Cir.1991). Greenway appeals
    
    the district court's reading of the exception contained in §
    
    523(a)(9)    of     the   Bankruptcy       Code     involving   the    intoxicated
    
    operation of a "motor vehicle."                  We review a district court's
    
    interpretation of the Bankruptcy Code de novo.                  Bruner v. United
    
    States (In re Bruner), 
    55 F.3d 195
    , 197 (5th Cir.1995).
    
            As with any statutory question, we begin with the language of
    
    the statute.      Kellogg v. United States (In re West Texas Marketing
    
    Corp.), 
    54 F.3d 1194
    , 1200 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----,
    
    
        4
         In the state court proceeding, the jury made no finding as to
    Greenway's possible intoxication.
    
                                               3
    
    116 S. Ct. 523
    , --- L.Ed.2d ---- (1995). In determining a statute's
    
    plain meaning, we assume that, absent any contrary definition,
    
    "Congress intends the words in its enactments to carry their
    
    ordinary,       contemporary,       common       meaning."    Pioneer   Investment
    
    Services v. Brunswick Associates, 
    507 U.S. 380
    , ----, 
    113 S. Ct. 1489
    ,       1495,   
    123 L. Ed. 2d 74
       (1993)     (internal    quotation   marks
    
    omitted).       As the Supreme Court has stated:             "There is, of course,
    
    no more persuasive evidence of the purpose of a statute than the
    
    words by which the legislature undertook to give expression to its
    
    wishes."       Griffin v. Oceanic Contractors, Inc., 
    458 U.S. 564
    , 571,
    
    
    102 S. Ct. 3245
    , 3250, 
    73 L. Ed. 2d 973
     (1982) (internal quotation
    
    marks omitted). If the language is clear, then "the inquiry should
    
    end."       United States v. Ron Pair Enterprises, 
    489 U.S. 235
    , 241,
    
    
    109 S. Ct. 1026
    , 1030, 
    103 L. Ed. 2d 290
     (1989).
    
                The terms "motorboat" or "water craft" do not appear in §
    
    523(a)(9) of the Bankruptcy Code.                  Nor does the Bankruptcy Code
    
    expressly define the term "motor vehicle."                     Therefore, we must
    
    determine if the plain or common meaning of the term "motor
    
    vehicle," as used in § 523(a)(9), includes motorboats.5                   Only if
    
    
            5
          We note that "11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(9) was enacted without any
    reported legislative history." Thomas v. Ganzer (In re Ganzer), 
    54 B.R. 75
    , 76 (Bankr.D.Minn.1985).     Whether § 523(a)(9) bars the
    discharge of debts arising from the intoxicated operation of a
    motorboat is an issue of first impression in this circuit. The
    only two other reported cases addressing the issue reached opposite
    results. Compare Radivoj v. Williams (In re Williams), 
    101 B.R. 356
    , 358 (Bankr.S.D.Fla.1989) aff'd, 
    111 B.R. 361
     (S.D.Fla.1989)
    (holding that § 523(a)(9) of the Bankruptcy Code includes
    motorboats) with Willison v. Race (In re Race), 
    159 B.R. 857
    , 860-
    61 (Bankr.W.D.Mo.1993) (holding that § 523(a)(9) does not include
    motorboats).
    
                                                 4
    the term is ambiguous will we proceed beyond the language as
    
    written. Ron Pair Enterprises, Inc., 489 U.S. at 241, 109 S.Ct. at
    
    1030.       The dictionary defines "motor vehicle" as "an automotive
    
    vehicle not operated on rails;           esp:   one with rubber tires for use
    
    on highways."       WEBSTER'S NINTH NEW COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY 775 (1986);       see
    
    also RANDOM HOUSE COLLEGE DICTIONARY 871 (revised ed. 1980) (defining
    
    "motor vehicle" as "any transportation vehicle designed for use on
    
    highways,      as   an   automobile,    bus,    or    truck").     Additionally,
    
    Congress      has    used     "motor   vehicle"      to   refer   exclusively    to
    
    automobiles in other statutes.               For example, Chapter 301 of the
    
    Transportation Code defines "motor vehicle" as "any vehicle driven
    
    or drawn by mechanical power manufactured primarily for use on the
    
    public streets, roads and highways, but does not include a vehicle
    
    operated only on a rail line."           49 U.S.C. § 30102(a)(6).6
    
            The above definitions comport with our understanding that the
    
    plain and common meaning of the term "motor vehicle" does not
    
    include motorboats.           Had Congress intended to include motorboats
    
    within § 523(a)(9), they would have either defined the term "motor
    
    vehicle"      to    include     motorboats     or    added   motorboats   to    the
    
    exception.      It is not the job of the courts to legislate, and the
    
    Supreme Court has counseled that where the statutory language is
    
    
            6
           In addition, we note that Congress consistently refers to
    motor vehicles and water craft separately in its enactments. See,
    e.g., 31 U.S.C. § 1344(g)(1) (defining "passenger carrier" to mean
    "passenger motor vehicle, aircraft, boat, ship, or other similar
    means of transportation"); 16 U.S.C. § 1133(c) (discussing the use
    of "motor vehicles, motorized equipment, and motorboats");      22
    U.S.C. § 4304a(a)(2) (setting insurance requirements for "motor
    vehicles, vessels, and aircraft").
    
                                              5
    plain, "the sole function of the court is to enforce it according
    
    to its terms."    Ron Pair Enterprises, Inc., 489 U.S. at 241, 109
    
    S.Ct. at 1030 (internal quotation marks omitted).     The district
    
    court erred in reading the term "motor vehicle" in § 523(a)(9) of
    
    the Bankruptcy Code to include motorboats.7   See Willison v. Race
    
    (In re Race), 
    159 B.R. 857
    , 860-61 (Bankr.W.D.Mo.1993) (resisting
    
    the urge "to give effect to a perceived goal of Congress" and
    
    holding that the plain language of § 523(a)(9) does not include
    
    motorboats).     Accordingly, we hold that § 523(a)(9) does not
    
    encompass motorboats, and therefore does not bar the discharge of
    
    Greenway's debt.8
    
                                     III
    
            Plaintiffs argue that the district court erred in upholding
    
    the bankruptcy court's ruling that Plaintiffs were collaterally
    
    estopped from litigating whether Greenway's actions were willful
    
    
        7
          We reject the plaintiffs contention that we should parse the
    term "motor vehicle" into its component parts, thereby defining the
    term as any "vehicle" or "conveyance" that is powered by a
    mechanized motor. Such a technical definition of the term "motor
    vehicle" would result in including within the statute motorized
    wheelchairs, golf carts, riding lawn mowers, and perhaps even
    certain children's toys. Reading the term in this way would be
    overbroad, and would not comport with the Supreme Court's view that
    in interpreting the Bankruptcy Code, we must try to discern the
    "natural reading" of the language in question.            Ron Pair
    Enterprises, 489 U.S. at 241, 109 S.Ct. at 1030.
            8
           Our conclusion is also supported by the fact that we are
    bound to construe the exceptions contained in § 523 of the
    Bankruptcy Code narrowly and in favor of the debtor. See Citizens
    Bank & Trust Co. v. Case (In re Case), 
    937 F.2d 1014
    , 1024 (5th
    Cir.1991) ("Any exception to the general discharge of a debtor's
    debts is strictly governed by the Code and construed narrowly in
    favor of the debtor and against the creditor requesting the
    determination.").
    
                                      6
    and malicious under § 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code, a finding
    
    which would    disallow    the    discharge     of   Greenway's    debt.    The
    
    preclusive effect of a state court judgment is a question of law
    
    that we review de novo.         Garner v. Lehrer (In re Garner), 
    56 F.3d 677
    , 679 (5th Cir.1995).           A state court judgment's preclusive
    
    effect on a subsequent federal action is determined by the full
    
    faith and credit statute, which provides that state proceedings
    
    "shall have the same full faith and credit in every court within
    
    the United States ... as they have by law or usage in the courts of
    
    such State ... from which they are taken."                 28 U.S.C. § 1738;
    
    Marrese v. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 
    470 U.S. 373
    ,
    
    380, 
    105 S. Ct. 1327
    , 1331-32, 
    84 L. Ed. 2d 274
     (1985).                Under this
    
    statute, we must look to the rules of preclusion of the state in
    
    which   the   judgment    was    rendered   in   order     to   determine   the
    
    judgment's preclusive effects. Marrese, 470 U.S. at 380, 105 S.Ct.
    
    at 1332.   Because Greenway's state judgment was entered by a Texas
    
    court, we apply Texas preclusion rules.              Garner, 56 F.3d at 679.
    
            Under Texas law, "collateral estoppel bars relitigation of
    
    any ultimate issue of fact actually litigated and essential to the
    
    judgment in a prior suit."        Bonniwell v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 
    663 S.W.2d 816
    , 818 (Tex.1984);          see also Barr v. Resolution Trust
    
    Corp., 
    837 S.W.2d 627
    , 628 (Tex.1992) (stating that collateral
    
    estoppel   "prevents     relitigation      of   particular      issues   already
    
    resolved in a prior suit"). To determine whether this standard has
    
    been met, "a party must establish that (1) the facts sought to be
    
    litigated in the second action were fully and fairly litigated in
    
    
                                           7
    the prior action, (2) those facts were essential to the judgment in
    
    the first case, and (3) the parties were cast as adversaries in the
    
    first action."          Bonniwell, 663 S.W.2d at 818;                     see also Amica
    
    Mutual Insurance Co. v. Moak, 
    55 F.3d 1093
    , 1097 (5th Cir.1995)
    
    (quoting Bonniwell, 663 S.W.2d at 818).                          The Plaintiffs were
    
    adverse to Greenway in the state trial, and do not dispute that
    
    gross negligence was adequately litigated.                      Nor do the Plaintiffs
    
    dispute that the facts sought to be litigated in the bankruptcy
    
    court       were    essential       to   the       judgment   in    the    state     trial.
    
    Therefore, we must determine whether the jury's refusal to find
    
    gross negligence in the state trial necessarily determined that
    
    Greenway's         conduct    was    not    "willful      and      malicious"      under   §
    
    523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code.                   In the state court proceeding,
    
    gross negligence was defined to the jury as "such an entire wont of
    
    care as to establish that the act or omission in question was the
    
    result of actual conscious indifference to the rights, welfare and
    
    safety of the persons affected thereby."9                     Conscious indifference
    
    is the salient element of gross negligence under Texas law.                            See
    
    Transportation Insurance Co. v. Moriel, 
    879 S.W.2d 10
     (Tex.1994)
    
    (tracing development of Texas law on gross negligence).                            We have
    
    consistently defined "willful and malicious" under § 523(a)(6) of
    
    the Bankruptcy Code to mean "intentional" and lacking "just cause
    
    or excuse."        See Garner, 56 F.3d at 681 (listing cases).                  Comparing
    
    Texas' standard         for     gross      negligence     with     the    language    of §
    
            9
          Pursuant to Texas law, the jury was asked in "Question 9,"
    "Was such negligence by John Greenway gross negligence?" The jury
    answered, "No."
    
                                                   8
    523(a)(6), we agree with the district court that the jury's refusal
    
    to find that Greenway acted with "actual conscious indifference"
    
    necessarily precludes a subsequent finding that Greenway's actions
    
    were   both   "intentional"   and   without    "just   cause   or   excuse."
    
    Accordingly, we affirm the district court's holding that the
    
    Plaintiffs    are   collaterally    estopped   from    litigating    whether
    
    Greenway's actions were willful and malicious under § 523(a)(6) of
    
    the Bankruptcy Code.
    
                                         IV
    
           We REVERSE the district court's order insofar as it includes
    
    motorboats within the term "motor vehicle" under § 523(a)(9) of the
    
    Bankruptcy Code, and we hold that § 523(a)(9) does not bar the
    
    discharge of Greenway's debt. We AFFIRM the district court's order
    
    insofar as it holds that Greenway's acquittal for gross negligence
    
    in his state jury trial collaterally estops the Plaintiffs from
    
    seeking to litigate whether Greenway's actions were "willful and
    
    malicious" under § 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code.                 Because
    
    neither of the exceptions at issue here disallows the discharge of
    
    Greenway's debt in bankruptcy, we RENDER judgment in favor of
    
    Greenway.
    
    
    
    
                                         9