In re: RICHARD D. HORNE, PATRICIA NELSON HORNE, Debtors,
RICHARD D. HORNE, Defendant, MARY BETH MANTIPLY, Plaintiff-Appellant, PATRICIA NELSON HORNE, Defendant-Appellee.
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Alabama D.C. Docket No. 1:13-cv-00258-CB-B, BKCY
ED CARNES, Chief Judge and BLACK, Circuit Judge, and MAY,
Mantiply appeals the district court's order awarding
Richard and Patricia Horne the attorneys' fees and costs that
they incurred because of her unsuccessful appeal of the
damages award to the Hornes for her violation of the
Bankruptcy Code's automatic stay provision. This case
involves an issue of first impression in this Circuit:
whether the Bankruptcy Code authorizes payment of
attorneys' fees and costs incurred by debtors in
successfully pursuing an action for damages resulting from
the violation of the automatic stay and in defending the
damages award on appeal. After careful consideration, and
with the benefit of oral argument, we affirm the district
Hornes filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on January 10, 2011.
In re Horne, 630 Fed.Appx. 908, 909 (11th Cir. 2015)
(per curiam) (unpublished). They were discharged from
bankruptcy on May 10, 2011. Id. The filing of the
Hornes' bankruptcy triggered an automatic stay of any
litigation against them under 11 U.S.C. § 362(a)(1).
Id. Despite the stay, however, Ms. Mantiply-an
attorney- filed a civil action on behalf of her clients
against Mr. Horne in state court. See id. And even
after being informed of the stay, Ms. Mantiply repeatedly
refused to voluntarily dismiss the action she had filed.
Id. Eventually it was dismissed in November 2011.
Hornes filed a motion in the bankruptcy court seeking damages
for Ms. Mantiply's violation of the automatic stay under
Section 362(k)(1). Id. The bankruptcy court awarded
the Hornes $81, 714.31 in damages, including $41, 714.31 in
attorneys' fees. Id. Ms. Mantiply appealed that
decision to the district court, which affirmed and also
awarded the Hornes an additional $34, 551.28 in
attorneys' fees incurred in the appeal of the damages
Mantiply then filed two identical motions in the bankruptcy
court and the district court seeking the bankruptcy
judge's recusal. Id. at 910. The bankruptcy court
denied Ms. Mantiply's recusal motion. Id. Ms.
Mantiply appealed that decision to the district court, which
affirmed but denied the Hornes' motion for attorneys'
fees incurred in defending the appeal of the recusal order.
Mantiply appealed the district court's affirmance of her
denied recusal motion, and the Hornes cross-appealed the
district court's denial of their motion for
attorneys' fees incurred defending the recusal order on
appeal to the district court. Id. This Court
affirmed in part and remanded. Id. at 913-14. First,
we affirmed the district court's conclusion that the
bankruptcy judge's recusal was not required in this case.
Id. at 910-12. Second, we remanded for the district
court to either award the Hornes attorneys' fees under
the mandatory fees provision of Section 362(k), or explain
why the recusal motion did not involve litigation over the
stay violation and thus did not entitle the Hornes to
attorneys' fees. Id. at 912- 13. On remand, the
district court found that the Hornes' requested
attorneys' fees were indeed mandatory and awarded an
additional $14, 918.60 to the Hornes.
Ms. Mantiply petitioned for a writ of certiorari with the
Supreme Court to review this Court's decision affirming
the denial of her recusal motion. The Hornes filed a brief in
response. The Supreme Court denied Ms. Mantiply's
petition on June 27, 2016.
Hornes then filed motions with this Court for attorneys'
fees incurred in defending against Ms. Mantiply's appeal
to the Eleventh Circuit as well as her petition for
certiorari (collectively, the "appellate fees"). We
sua sponte transferred those motions to the district
court to consider in the first instance whether the Hornes
were legally entitled to their requested appellate fees and,
if so, whether they were reasonable. The district court found
that the Hornes were entitled to the appellate fees and that
they were reasonable. In determining that the requested
appellate fees were reasonable, the district court pointed
out that the amount of fees and costs, while large, was
reasonable given the time and labor required to defend Ms.
Mantiply's many appeals. The district court also found
that the skill and experience required of counsel in
defending the appeals, the favorable results obtained, and
the undesirability of the case-which required undertaking
legal action against a fellow lawyer-supported finding the
requested attorneys' fees to be reasonable as well. Based
on these findings, the district court awarded the Hornes
appellate fees and costs of $92, 495.86. This appeal
first address Ms. Mantiply's main argument that the
Hornes were not entitled to appellate fees as a matter of law
under Section 362(k)(1). She contends that the statute
provides mandatory fees for damages and attorneys' fees
incurred in ending a stay violation, but not attorneys'
fees incurred in pursuing a damages award nor fees incurred
in defending that award on appeal. We review de novo
an interpretation of the Bankruptcy Code, which is a question
of law. Pollitzer v. Gebhardt, 860 F.3d 1334, 1338
(11th Cir. 2017).
out above, once the Hornes filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, an
automatic stay took effect. See 11 U.S.C. §
362(a)(1). It is undisputed that Ms. Mantiply willfully
violated this automatic stay. When willful violations occur,
Section 362(k)(1) provides that:
(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), an individual
injured by any willful violation of a stay provided by this
section shall recover actual damages, including costs and
attorneys' fees, and, in ...