Lansaw v. Zokaites

July 13, 2017
Case Type:
Case Status:
16-1867 (3rd Circuit, Apr 10,2017) Published
Section 362(k)(1) provides "an individual injured by any willful violation of [the automatic] stay shall recover actual damages, including costs and attorneys' fees and, in appropriate circumstances, may recover punitive damages." The term "actual damages" includes emotional distress damages. Corroborating medical evidence is not required to prove emotional harm and causation. A plaintiff's credible testimony that stay violations caused emotional distress can be sufficient to support a damage award. A punitive damage award four times amount of actual damages is not excessive.
Procedural context:
On appeal from U.S. District Court for Western District of Pennsylvania.
A landlord committed several willful violations of the automatic stay arising in the bankruptcy case filed by its tenants, who operated a daycare center in the leased space. The landlord arrived at the daycare, and after initially being denied entry, entered the premises, backed the debtor up against a wall and asked her three times if she wanted to hit him. He chained the doors to the daycare and refused to unchain them unless the debtors reaffirmed their lease. He threatened the debtors' new landlord with litigation if he did not terminate their new lease. The bankruptcy court found that such stay violations were willful and egregious. Based solely on the debtors' credible testimony about the emotional distress caused by the landlords' conduct, the bankruptcy court awarded $7500 for emotional distress, $2600 in legal fees and $40,000 in punitive damages.
Fisher, Krause, and Melloy (sitting by designation)
Summary by:      Valerie Hamilton (Sills Cummis & Gross PC)

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