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Goetz Baier v. Princeton Office Park

February 2, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thompson, U.S.D.J.




This matter has come before the Court upon Appellant Goetz Baier's Appeal of the Bankruptcy Court's decision granting the Appellee Princeton Office Park, L.P.'s Motion to Expunge. The Court has decided the appeal upon the submissions of both parties and without oral argument. For the reasons stated below, the Appeal is denied, and the Bankruptcy Court's decision is affirmed.


Appellee, Princeton Office Park, L.P. ("Debtor"), is a New Jersey limited partnership that owns property located at 4100 Quakerbridge Road, Lawrence Township, NJ (the "Property"). (Opp'n Br. 2) [8]. Appellant, Goetz Baier, invested $750,000.00 with Success Treuhand GmbH ("Success"), in return for a share of the financial benefits Success would be receiving as a limited partner of the Debtor. (Id. 4.) In 2005, Baier decided to terminate his investment. Baier accordingly sought an agreement with Lawrence R. Berger, on behalf of United States Land Resources, L.P. ("USLR"),*fn1 whereby Baier would be repaid 100% of his investment upon his execution of a General Release, payment being due no later than December 31, 2005. (Br. of Appellant 4) [5]. The payment deadline was extended to February 15, 2006, and then to July 31, 2006. (App. Ex. 10) [5-2]. Berger subsequently agreed to pay 10% interest retroactive to January 8, 2006. (App. Ex. 11, Letter from Lawrence S. Berger to Goetz Baier, October 25, 2006.) In a letter dated June 4, 2007, Berger stated that funds were available to pay the $750,000 plus interest and also requested that Baier sign an updated release form as to all parties. (App. Ex. 12.) However, payment was never made.

On October 28, 2008, Baier filed a Complaint in this district, see Baier v. Berger et al., Civ. No. 08-5296,*fn2 suing defendants G..E.W. Building Associates, L.P., United States Realty Resources, Inc., USLR, Berger, and Debtor, to enforce the purchase of his investment with interest. (App. Ex. 1.) Unbeknownst to Baier, Debtor had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on September 9, 2008, and had not listed Baier as a creditor. (Br. of Appellant 2.) After being notified of the bankruptcy proceeding, Baier filed on October 26, 2009, a Motion for Leave to File Proof of Claim, (App. Ex. 2), which was granted, (App. Ex. 3). Debtor moved to expunge Baier's claim on January 5, 2010, (App. Ex. 4), and Baier opposed this motion, (App. Ex. 5). After briefing and oral argument on March 8, 2010, and again on May 18, 2010, Judge Kaplan granted Debtor's motion to expunge Baier's claim.

On June 30, 2010, Baier filed the present appeal of the Order expunging his claim [1].


A. Standard of Review for Bankruptcy Appeals

Federal district courts have jurisdiction to review bankruptcy decisions under 28 U.S.C. § 158(a). In reviewing a bankruptcy decision on appeal, a district court may not set aside findings of fact unless they are "clearly erroneous." Fed. R. Bankr. P. 8013; Chemetron Corp. v. Jones, 72 F.3d 341, 345 (3d Cir. 1995). A finding is "clearly erroneous" where, "although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985) (citing United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). This standard does not allow a reviewing court to reverse a finding "simply because it is convinced that it would have decided the case differently." Id. Accordingly, "where there are two permissible views of the evidence, the factfinder's choice between them cannot be clearly erroneous." Id. (citing United States v. Yellow Cab Co., 338 U.S. 338, 342 (1949)).

A bankruptcy court's legal conclusions, on the other hand, are subject to de novo, or plenary, review. In re Nickels Midway Pier, LLC, 348 F. App'x 781, 783 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing In re Schick, 418 F.3d 321, 323 (3d Cir. 2005)). Mixed findings of fact and law must be broken down and the applicable standards must be appropriately applied to each component. Meridian Bank v. Alten, 958 F.2d 1226, 1229 (3d Cir. 1992). Where the appeal "calls for reviewing the Bankruptcy Court's application of law to the facts of [the] case . . . whether the application of law to fact was proper, is reviewed as an ultimate fact and is subject to plenary review because it is, essentially, a conclusion of law." In re 15375 Memorial Corp. v. Bepco, L.P., 589 F.3d 605, 616 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).

B.Bankruptcy Claim Allowance

Under Bankruptcy Code § 502, a properly filed claim is deemed allowed unless a party in interest objects. 11 U.S.C. § 502. A proof of claim executed and filed in accordance with the Bankruptcy Rules constitutes "prima facie evidence of the validity and amount of the claim." Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3001(f). For a claim to be considered prima facie valid, a creditor must allege facts sufficient to support the claim. In re Allegheny Int'l Inc., 954 F.2d 167, 173 (3d Cir. 1992). Once a claimant has alleged facts sufficient to support its claim, the burden shifts to the objector to produce evidence "equal in force to the prima facie case" in order to negate one or more sworn facts in the proof of claim. Id. If the objector sufficiently negates one or ...

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