Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and Denial of Discharge for Willful or Malicious Injury

One of the limitations on receiving a discharge in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is that the debtor cannot discharge any debt for willful or malicious injury.

Section 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code precludes the discharge of a debt “for willful and malicious injury.” As noted by the United States Supreme Court in Kawaahua v. Geiger, 523 U.S. 57, 61 (1998), the “word ‘willful’ in (a)(6) modifies the word ‘injury,’ indicating that nondischargeability takes a deliberate or intentional injury, not merely a deliberate or intentional act that leads to injury.” For the same reason, nondischargeability under this section will attach only to injuries that are malicious. In the Second Circuit, the Court of Appeals set the standard for “willful and malicious injury” in its decision in Navistar Financial Corp. v. Stelluti (In re Stelluti), 94 F.3d 84 (1996). The Court concluded that “[t]he term ‘willful’ in this context means ‘deliberate or intentional,’” and that “[t]he term ‘malicious’ means wrongful and without just cause or excuse, even in the absence of personal hatred, spite, or ill-will.” Id. at 87 (citations omitted).

In a recent case, In re Alessi, Judge Bucki held that the deliberate failure to abide by the terms of the contract, amounted to willful and malicious injury. In Alessi, the debtor, Mrs. Alessi,  not only failed to pay a debt, but a failure to pay from funds that the debtor had agreed specifically to earmark for that purpose. The uncontroverted facts showed that the funds resulting from a real estate transaction were accessible and not otherwise encumbered, that the debtor knew of her obligation to turnover the funds, and that through his counsel, Mr. Alessi made timely demand for payment, even though not obligated to do so. The resulting injury was willful, in that Ms. Alessi deliberately and intentionally refused to turn over the sale proceeds. By violating a contractual provision for use of committed funds, Amy Alessi inflicted a wrongful financial loss without just cause or excuse. Hence, she caused an injury that was malicious within the meaning of section 523(a)(6).

Thus, if you are a debtor, you may have an obligation to follow through on the contracts where the funds are specifically designated for a given purpose.  If you fail to do so, you may be denied a discharge.

If you are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney.