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Title: In Re Vincent Torres

March 27, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Michael W. Fitzgerald, U.S. District Judge




Rita Sanchez None Present Courtroom Deputy Court Reporter


None Present None Present




This matter is before the Court on appeal from the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California filed by Appellant-Debtor Vincent Torres (the "Appeal"). (Docket No. 2). Specifically, Mr. Torres appeals the Order Denying Debtor's Motion for an Order Imposing Sanctions for Filing Proof of Claim (the "Motion for Sanctions" and "Order Denying Sanctions"). (Docket No. 9; Attachment #21; Exhibit A). The Court has appellate jurisdiction over this Appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 158(a)(1). The Court has read and considered the papers filed on this Appeal and held a hearing on March 18, 2013.


In the spring of 1999, Mr. Torres, a licensed contractor, was hired and began certain infrastructure improvements on the tribal lands of the Appellee Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians (the "Tribe"). (R. at 0815). By the end of 1999, with the Tribe undergoing a change in leadership, Mr. Torres's services were no longer desired and his employment was terminated. (R. at 0817).

Following his termination, Mr. Torres demanded the remaining payments from the Tribe for work already completed. (R. at 0818-19). The Tribe denied Mr. Torres's demands based on its belief that Mr. Torres was not owed any further payments. (Id.) In fact, the Tribe argued that Mr. Torres owed it money based on the Tribe's belief that Mr. Torres's work product had been negligently completed and that Mr. Torres had fraudulently overcharged the Tribe. (R. at 0004-13). After months of quarreling between Mr. Torres and the Tribe, in November 2000, the Tribe filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Torres in Santa Barbara County Superior Court alleging breach of contract, common counts, fraud and negligence. (Id.) Mr. Torres counter-claimed in January 2001 for the remaining payments he believed were owed to him for the worked completed in 1999. (R. at 1080).

In the summer of 2000, the Tribe's leadership council voted to physically ban Mr. Torres from entering the Tribe's reservation. (R. at 1108). In early 2001, the Tribe filed a federal lawsuit in this District Court to have Mr. Torres permanently banned from the Tribe's reservation. (R. at 1098). The District Court (the Honorable Stephen V. Wilson) denied the Tribe's motion for summary judgment, and the Tribe dismissed its complaint shortly thereafter. (R. at 1123, 1564).

In the fall of 2002, Mr. Torres filed a petition under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, which stayed the Tribe's then-pending lawsuit in Superior Court. (R. at 0051). Shortly thereafter, the Tribe filed a Proof of Claim ("Claim") with the Bankruptcy Court against Mr. Torres for $3,000,000, based on its Superior Court action. (R. at 0001).

In October 2004, the Bankruptcy Court lifted the automatic stay on the Superior Court action, thus allowing the Tribe's original lawsuit and Mr. Torres's counter-suit to continue. (R. at 0299-302). The Bankruptcy Court deferred to the Superior Court regarding the determination of the merits and amount of the Tribe's $3,000,000 Claim. (R. at 1564-65).

Following an eight-week trial, in April 2005, the Superior Court (the Honorable Zel Canter) ruled against the Tribe on its complaint, finding that the Tribe put forth no evidence to support any of the causes of action, and awarded Mr. Torres $309,950 in damages on his cross-complaint. (R. at 1240). In January 2008 the judgment of the Superior Court was affirmed on appeal. (R. at 1256).

Although the Superior Court's decision and subsequent affirmance on appeal rendered meritless the Tribe's $3,000,000 Claim, not until January 2011 was the Claim officially disallowed in the Bankruptcy Court. (R. at 1265). Following the official disallowance of the Tribe's Claim, Mr. Torres filed the Motion for Sanctions, arguing that the Tribe had filed and pursued an allegedly fraudulent and false Claim (i.e., the Superior Court lawsuit) in bad faith. (R. at 0794).

The Bankruptcy Court (the Honorable Robin Riblet) found no evidence of any sanctionable conduct by the Tribe and denied Mr. Torres's Motion for Sanctions against the Tribe -- ...

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