In re: Lansaw, No. 16-1867 (3d Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
The Lansaws operated a daycare in space leased from Zokaites. After they entered into a new lease with a different landlord, but before they moved, Zokaites served them with a Notice for Distraint, claiming a lien against personal property for unpaid rent. The following day, the Lansaws filed for bankruptcy, triggering the automatic stay, 11 U.S.C. 362(a). Zokaites’s attorney was notified of the filing on August 17, 2006. On August 21, Zokaites and his attorney entered the daycare during business hours, by following a parent, and photographed the Lansaws’ personal property. On August 27, Zokaites entered after business hours, using his key, then padlocked the doors, leaving a note stating that Zokaites would not unchain the doors unless Mrs. Lansaw’s mother agreed that she had not been assaulted by Zokaites, the Lansaws reaffirmed their lease with Zokaites, and the Lansaws ceased removing property from the daycare. The Lansaws removed the chains and slept in the building. Zokaites locked the door from the outside and left with the Lansaws’ keys. The Lansaws called the police. Meanwhile, Zokaites attorney communicated by phone and letter with the new landlord, stating that, if the new lease was not terminated, Zokaites would sue the new landlord. In an adversary proceeding, the Bankruptcy Court awarded the Lansaws attorney fees ($2,600), emotional-distress damages ($7,500) and punitive damages ($40,000) under 11 U.S.C. 362(k)(1). The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. Section 362(k)(1) authorizes the award of emotional-distress damages; the Lansaws presented sufficient evidence to support the award.