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In re Hastings

March 5, 2009

IN RE: OTIS HERBERT HASTINGS AND JUNE H. HASTINGS, DEBTORS.
IN RE THERMION TECHNOLOGIES, INC., DEBTOR.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chesler, District Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the appeal filed by Debtors Otis Herbert Hastings and June H. Hastings (collectively referred to as the "Hastings"). The Hastings, appearing pro se, appeal from several Orders entered by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey (the "Bankruptcy Court") in two jointly administered bankruptcy proceedings: In Re Otis Herbert Hastings and June H. Hastings, No. 05-29969 (NLW) and In Re Thermion Technologies, Inc., No. 05-32270 (NLW). The appellee, Eric R. Perkins, Esq. ("Perkins" or the "Trustee"), who is the Trustee for the Bankruptcy Estates in the underlying proceedings, has filed his opposition to the appeal. For the reasons stated below, the Court dismisses a portion of the appeal as moot and affirms in part.

I. BACKGROUND

On June 16, 2005, the Hastings commenced a joint bankruptcy case by filing a voluntary Chapter 11 petition under the United States Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. § 101, et seq. On July 18, 2005 Thermion Technologies, Inc. ("TTI") filed a voluntary Chapter 11 petition under the Bankruptcy Code. Mr. Hastings was the president of Debtor TTI. On July 25, 2005, the Bankruptcy Court entered an Order directing the joint administration of the Hastings and TTI cases. Where appropriate, the Court will refer to the Hastings and TTI collectively as the "Debtors."

The Debtors filed plans of reorganization. The Second Modified Plan of Reorganization (the "Plan") was confirmed by Order of April 12, 2007. The Plan, which was a combined liquidating and reorganizing plan, provided that it would be funded, in part, by the sale of real property owned by the Hastings located at 136 East Crescent Avenue, Mahwah, New Jersey (the "Property"). In December, 2007, the United States Trustee filed a motion to convert the Hastings and TTI Chapter 11 cases to Chapter 7 proceedings.*fn1 The Bankruptcy Court granted the motion, and by Order of January 22, 2008, converted the cases to proceedings under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. On January 24, 2008, the Bankruptcy Court appointed Perkins as Chapter 7 Trustee for the Debtors' jointly administered Bankruptcy Estates.

As part of his duties, the Trustee examined the claims listed as assets by the Hastings in their bankruptcy petition. Based on a cost-benefit analysis, he determined that various personal injury and property damage claims asserted against Chadwick-Greene Agency, David Wreski, Guardian Digital and Richard C. Greene would have little or no financial benefit for the Bankruptcy Estates.*fn2 In the Notice of Abandonment, filed June 6, 2008, the Trustee stated that those claims had no value because they had been litigated and denied. The Hastings's petition had valued the claims at $1,219,922.90. The Notice clearly stated that any objections were to be filed and served by June 25, 2008 and that if no objection was filed by that date, the abandonment would take effect on the fifth day following the last day to file objections. The Hastings filed an objection on July 25, 2008.

Pursuant to the Plan, the Trustee made efforts to sell the Property. The Trustee entered into a contract for the sale of the Property, and on March 5, 2008, he filed a motion for approval of the sale to purchaser Todd N. Terry. He certified to the Court that the Hastings did not live in the Property and that the Property had been vacant for some time. The Hastings, in response, filed two requests for a stay of all actions set forth in the Plan, including the sale of the Property. By Orders of April 8, 2008 and June 11, 2008, the Court denied both requests. On July 10, 2008, the Trustee moved again to sell the Property, this time to purchasers Zbigniew S. Dubij and Elizabeth Dubij. (The March, 2008 motion had been granted, but the contract of sale underlying that motion was not consummated.) The Hastings cross-moved to enjoin the sale. The Bankruptcy Court heard argument on the cross-motions on August 18, 2008, and on August 20, 2008 issued an Order authorizing of the sale of the Property, free and clear of liens, claims and encumbrances pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 363(b) and (f). On that date, the Bankruptcy Court also issued an Order denying the Debtor's cross-motion to enjoin the sale.

On September 10, 2008, the Hastings moved to stay the sale of the Property pending this appeal. The Bankruptcy Court denied that motion by Order dated September 23, 2008. Later, by Order of November 5, 2008, after consideration of the parties' submissions, the Bankruptcy Court denied the Hastings' motion styled by them as a motion objecting to Chapter 7 proceedings. The motion challenged, among other things, the sale of the Property.

The instant appeal was filed on October 31, 2008. The underlying bankruptcy cases remain open.

II. DISCUSSION

This Court has jurisdiction to hear appeals of the final judgments and orders of the Bankruptcy Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 158(a)(1). This Court reviews the Bankruptcy Court's "legal determinations de novo, its factual findings for clear error and its exercise of discretion for abuse thereof." In re American Pad & Paper Co., 478 F.3d 546, 551 (3d Cir. 2007); see also Fed. R. Bankr. P. 8013. Even an order that is not final under § 158(a) may be appealable under the collateral order doctrine established in Cohen v. Beneficial Indus. Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541 (1949). The Third Circuit has applied Cohen to provide

a narrow exception to the general rule permitting appellate review only of final orders. An appeal of a non-final order will lie if (1) the order from which the appellant appeals conclusively determines the disputed question; (2) the order resolves an important issue that is completely separate from the merits of the dispute; and (3) the order is effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. . . . To this end, as a doctrinal matter, orders that meet the three prongs described above are deemed to be "final decisions" within the meaning of the statute.

Petroleos Mexicanos Refinacion v. M/T King A (Ex-Tbilisi), 377 F.3d 329, 334 (3d Cir. 2004).

The Hastings are pursuing the instant appeal pro se, and thus the Court reads their papers liberally. United States v. Otero, 502 F.3d 331, 334 (3d Cir. 2007). Even so, the Court notes that the papers submitted by the Hastings are puzzling at best. They list a rambling and disjointed list of wrongs the Hastings allegedly suffered, and provide no legal basis for their various objections to orders entered by the Bankruptcy Court. The submission improperly tasks this Court with deciphering what orders are being appealed. The most helpful clue the Court can discern is the Hastings following statement: This Appeal is a Motion Objecting to the entirety of the denial by Judge Winfield dated August 20, 2008 entitled "Order Denying Debtors' Cross-Motion to Enjoin Sale of Real Property" and Objecting to the Denial of all the Orders in evidence in the Cross-Motion filed by the Debtors. (App. Br., at 1.) The Debtors also object to the abandonment of certain claims by the Trustee, assert that the Plan is "illegal since it was violated by the collusion, fraud and conspiracy of the attornies [sic] and the Courts" and seek damages for "the ...


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