Malfatti v. Bank of America, N.A.Annotate this Case
The United States Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ("the BAP") certified a question to the Alabama Supreme Court: "In Alabama, is a 'default' judgment premised upon discovery sanctions or other post-answer conduct of the defendant sufficient to support the application of issue preclusion in a later proceeding?" Debtor-Defendant Anthony Malfatti was one of three principals of TA Financial Group ('TAF') purportedly designed to assist credit card holders in arbitration of disputes with the card issuers. The arbitration providers were selected by the card holders from a list provided by TAF. Among the arbitration providers was Arbitration Forum of America, Inc. ('AFOA'). AFOA was not conducting legitimate arbitrations; every arbitration resulted in an award in favor of the card holder, which was then reduced to judgment. Malfatti claims he was unaware that AFOA's practices and the judgments stemming therefrom were illegitimate. At some time after the banks involved learned of the judgments, they filed cross-complaints against the card holders to set aside the judgments as fraudulently obtained. In September 2005, the banks, including Bank of America, N.A. (USA) filed Amended Third Party Complaints against, among others, Malfatti and TAF, alleging tortious interference with contract, abuse of process, wantonness, and civil conspiracy, and sought an injunction against further arbitrations. The Banks moved for default judgments against Malfatti and TAF for failing to comply with discovery orders, repeated failures to appear for depositions, and failure to respond to written discovery. Malfatti and TAF filed a motion to set aside the defaults. The court found Malfatti and TAF to be jointly and severally liable for compensatory damages, awarded punitive damages against Malfatti, and found Malfatti to be liable for punitive damages awarded against TAF under the alter ego doctrine. Malfatti filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy the Banks filed an adversary proceeding alleging the debt owed to them by Malfatti was nondischargeable. Upon review, the Alabama Supreme Court answered the certified question in the negative: "[f]or purposes of determining whether an issue is precluded by the doctrine of collateral estoppel, Alabama law makes no distinction between a simple default and a penalty default."