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In re Sheedy

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 16, 2017

IN RE: LAURA M. SHEEDY, Debtor
v.
CAROLYN A. BANKOWSKI, Standing Chapter 13 Trustee; and WILLIAM K. HARRINGTON, United States Trustee for Region I, Appellees. LAURA M. SHEEDY, Appellant,

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS Hon. Allison Dale Burroughs, U.S. District Judge

          David G. Baker, on brief for appellant.

          Patricia A. Remer, Office of the Chapter 13 Trustee, on brief for appellee Bankowski.

          Robert J. Schneider, Jr., Trial Attorney, Department of Justice, Executive Office for United States Trustees, Ramona D. Elliott, Deputy Director/General Counsel, P. Matthew Sutko, Associate General Counsel, John P. Fitzgerald III, Assistant United States Trustee, and Eric K. Bradford, Trial Attorney, Department of Justice, Office of the United States Trustee, on brief for appellee Harrington.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Lynch, Circuit Judges.

          TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

         The single issue before us is whether the bankruptcy court abused its discretion in denying Appellant Laura Sheedy's ("Sheedy") motion for extension of time to file a notice of appeal pursuant to Bankruptcy Rule 8002(d) (1)(B) for failing to show excusable neglect. Sheedy's motion was filed one business day late as a result of her attorney's preoccupation with his second job as a church's music director. After a review of the arguments, we discern no abuse of discretion and affirm.

         I. Background

         The facts surrounding this appeal are undisputed and we briefly summarize them here. On June 8, 2010, Sheedy filed for Chapter 13 relief in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts. After five years, the bankruptcy court had not confirmed Sheedy's plan. Carolyn Bankowski ("Bankowski"), the Standing Chapter 13 Trustee, [1] filed a motion to dismiss, which the bankruptcy court granted on October 20, 2015. On December 8, 2015, Bankowski submitted her Final Report and Account ("Final Report"). Sheedy filed an Objection to the Final Report and, after a hearing, the bankruptcy court overruled Sheedy's objection and entered an order to that effect on March 10, 2016. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 158(c)(2) and Rule 8002(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, Sheedy had fourteen days, until Friday, March 25, 2016, to file a notice of appeal.[2] A bankruptcy court may extend this appeal period if an appellant files a motion to extend: (1) within the fourteen-day period, Fed.R.Bankr.P. 8002(d)(1)(A); or (2) within twenty-one days after the fourteen-day appeal period, upon a showing of excusable neglect by the moving party. Fed.R.Bankr.P. 8002(d)(1)(B). Sheedy did not file an appeal or a motion to extend by March 25, 2016. On Monday, March 28, 2016, the bankruptcy court entered an order closing Sheedy's bankruptcy case. Later that same day, Sheedy filed an untimely notice of appeal and a motion for extension of time.

         In her motion, Sheedy claimed, through counsel, that her attorney missed the fourteen-day deadline due to inadvertence and oversight. Specifically, Sheedy alleged that, in addition to his legal practice, counsel was employed as a music director in a church and the "important religious holidays of the last week occupied his full attention." According to Sheedy, this one day delay constituted excusable neglect. The Trustees, in turn, filed their respective objections to Sheedy's motion for extension of time. Specifically, Bankowski argued that both the deadline to file the notice of appeal and counsel's obligations of his other employment were known and anticipated. Thus, Sheedy failed to provide sufficient justification for her counsel's error. Harrington pointed out that Sheedy's counsel identified no unique or extraordinary circumstances that prevented him from filing the very simple two-page notice of appeal.

         The bankruptcy court denied Sheedy's motion in one sentence: "The Motion is denied for the reasons stated in the Objections to this Motion filed by [the Trustees]." Sheedy then appealed to the district court, which affirmed the bankruptcy court's decision. Sheedy v. Bankowski, No. 16-cv-10702-ADB, 2017 WL 74282, at *1 (D. Mass. Jan. 6, 2017). The district court found that Sheedy's counsel knew about his responsibilities around Easter[3] well in advance of the appeal deadline. Id. at *3. Therefore, counsel's explanation for the delay "seem[ed] to amount to mere inadvertence, " and did not constitute excusable neglect. Id. at *3-4.

         II. Analysis

         On appeal, Sheedy once again argues that the bankruptcy court should have granted the requested "de minimus" extension as counsel's inadvertent oversight and absence of any "deliberately dilatory" tactics constituted excusable neglect. Further, the delay was not due to a misunderstanding of clear law or misreading of an unambiguous judicial decree, but rather because counsel was preoccupied with his responsibilities as music director in a church during the important and "unique" religious holidays of the week of March 25, 2016. These circumstances, she contends, provide sufficient justification as the religious holidays around March 25 occur only once a year and are therefore "unique."

         Great deference must be afforded to a bankruptcy court's determination regarding whether counsel's neglect is excusable; we may not set it aside without a definite and firm conviction that the court below abused its discretion and committed clear error. In re Power Recovery Sys., Inc., 950 F.2d 798, 801 (1st Cir. 1991). Absent the existence of some exceptional justification, an appellate court will not intervene. Graphic Commc'ns Int'l Union, Local 12-N v. Quebecor Printing Providence, Inc., 270 F.3d 1, 6-7 (1st Cir. 2001). "Demonstrating excusable neglect is a demanding standard" and the trial judge has "wide discretion" in dealing with litigants who make ...


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