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Flamer v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 13, 2019


          LULU BELLE FLAMER Pro Se Appellant




          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         Pending before the Court is the debtor's appeal of the bankruptcy court's dismissal of her adversary proceeding. For the reasons expressed below, the decision of the bankruptcy court will be affirmed, and the debtor's appeal will be dismissed.


         On August 13, 1997, appellant, Lulu Belle Flamer, borrowed $60, 000.00 by using the home she owned at 240 24th Avenue, Elwood, New Jersey as security. The loan included a mortgage and promissory note, which were eventually assigned to appellant, U.S. Bank Trust, N.A.

         On August 28, 2015, U.S. Bank commenced a foreclosure action in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Atlantic County. On October 1, 2015, Flamer filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in this District.[1] On December 4, 2015, Flamer filed an answer to the foreclosure action denying the default and alleging accord and satisfaction.

         On January 8, 2016, the bankruptcy court issued an Order of Discharge under 11 U.S.C. § 727 to Flamer. The Discharge Order specifically stated, “a creditor with a lien may enforce a claim against the debtors' property subject to that lien unless the lien was avoided or eliminated. For example, a creditor may have the right to foreclose a home mortgage or repossess an automobile.” After extensive motion practice in the foreclosure action, on June 2, 2017, the Superior Court ordered U.S. Bank to issue a certification regarding Flamer's payment history, late charges and default interest arguments. The Superior Court subsequently heard oral argument on the amount due for final judgment, and the court found against Flamer.

         On September 18, 2017, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, the Honorable Michael J. Blee, P.J.Ch., entered an Order of Judgment in the foreclosure for U.S. Bank. On October 2, 2017, Flamer filed a motion to vacate the final judgment, which was opposed and ultimately denied on October 27, 2017. In Flamer's motion to vacate the final judgment, she argued that the mortgage loan was discharged prior to the issuance of the final judgment of foreclosure without objection from U.S. Bank, and therefore the lien had been cancelled prior to the judgment of foreclosure. Judge Blee denied Flamer's motion for reconsideration on December 4, 2017. On December 18, 2017, Flamer filed another motion to stay the foreclosure, in which she again argued that U.S. Bank failed to levy on Flamer's property during bankruptcy and that a lien discharge was granted. Flamer's motion was denied on January 19, 2018.

         On March 8, 2018, Flamer filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition[2] and a day later filed an adversary proceeding against U.S. Bank. Flamer sought the bankruptcy court's determination as to the validity of U.S. Bank's lien underlying the foreclosure action. U.S. Bank filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted on May 22, 2018, and again on reconsideration on June 26, 2018. The bankruptcy court dismissed Flamer's adversary proceeding based on res judicata principles[3] and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.[4] Flamer has appealed the bankruptcy court's decision to this Court.


         A. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

         This Court has jurisdiction over the appeal from the bankruptcy court's May 22, 2018 and June 26, 2018 orders pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 158(a), which provides in relevant part: “The district courts of the United States shall have jurisdiction to hear appeals from final judgments, orders and decrees . . . of bankruptcy judges entered in cases and proceedings referred to the bankruptcy judges under section 157 of this title. An appeal under this subsection shall be taken only to the district court for the judicial district in which the bankruptcy judge is serving.” In reviewing a determination of the bankruptcy court, the district court subjects the bankruptcy court's legal determinations to plenary review, reviewing its factual findings for clear error, and considering its exercise of discretion for abuse thereof. In re United Healthcare Sys., Inc., 396 F.3d 247, 249 (3d Cir. 2005).

         B. Analysis

         Flamer argues that the bankruptcy court erred in several (3d Cir. 2005) (“The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents ‘inferior' federal courts from sitting as appellate courts for state court judgments.”). ways: (1) it applied the incorrect standard in dismissing her adversary complaint and it improperly considered matters outside of her complaint; (2) the decisions of the state court in the foreclosure action should not have precluded the bankruptcy court from using its core ...

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