Lankford v. Wagner, No. 16-2221 (10th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs-appellants David and Lee Ann Lankford unwittingly invested in a Ponzi scheme operated by Vaughan Company Realtors (VCR), wherein investors paid money to VCR in return for interest-bearing promissory notes. After the Ponzi scheme collapsed, VCR filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Unlike many others, the Lankfords actually profited from their investment. So the court-appointed trustee of VCR’s bankruptcy estate, Judith Wagner, brought an adversary proceeding against them in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Mexico. Through this and related “clawback” proceedings, the trustee sought to avoid, or undo, pre-bankruptcy fraudulent transfers and thus recoup fictitious profits from investors with net gains for the benefit of all of VCR’s creditors. The Lankfords filed this lawsuit against the bankruptcy trustee and her counsel without first applying for and receiving permission under "Barton v. Barbour," (104 U.S. 126 (1881)), and its progeny (the “Barton doctrine”). The district court concluded that "Barton" barred the suit and dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.