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In monster-truck bankruptcy, courts errantly denied ex-wife’s claim

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Federal Bankruptcy and District courts wrongly denied a woman’s claim against the estate of her ex-husband and business partner who owed her money after they divorced and unwound a monster-truck business for which she had lent money.

In Dawn Marie Adams v. James Gregory Adams, 13-1636, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Friday ruled that Judge William T. Lawrence of the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana improperly affirmed a Bankruptcy Court ruling denying Dawn Adams’ petition. Numerous Georgia court rulings said her ex-husband, Greg, owed her at least $74,000. He filed for bankruptcy after the judgments.

“The state courts of Georgia decided three times in three final judgments that Greg still owed money to Dawn after they divorced and unwound their ‘monster truck’ business,” Judge David Hamilton wrote for the panel. “The bankruptcy court heard evidence on the merits of Dawn’s claim, though, and denied it as inequitable.

“We find that the issues concerning the validity of Dawn’s claim were previously adjudicated in the state courts and that the doctrine of issue preclusion prevented the bankruptcy court from rehearing those issues. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for proceedings.”

"Dawn seeks in the bankruptcy only what the (Georgia) court determined she was owed," Hamilton wrote. "(T)hough Greg Adams had the opportunity to appeal the Georgia state court judgments, he did not avail himself of that opportunity. Instead, he filed for bankruptcy, but that is not a substitute for timely appeals of the state court judgments.

“The doctrine of issue preclusion (collateral estoppel) bars him from using the bankruptcy system to have his defenses reheard despite the state courts’ rejection of those defenses.”

The suit arises from the Southern District, Terre Haute Division, because Dawn Adams relocated to Putnam County, Ind., after the couple divorced. The monster truck in which the couple had invested is known as “Annihilator,” the opinion notes.
 

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