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Sexual Abuse Case Study

In the fall of 2007, the plaintiff commenced a proceeding against the plaintiff’s mother seeking a determination that a certain judgment of debt was exempt from discharge in the mother’s underlying bankruptcy case. This debt resulted from a civil judgment entered against the plaintiff’s mother and her husband, also the plaintiff’s stepfather, in Albany County Supreme Court for $3.75 million due to a sexual abuse/rape case sustained by the plaintiff as a result of the actions and choices of the plaintiff’s mother and stepfather.

Since the age of six, the plaintiff has survived a life riddled with sexual abuse. In 1986, when the plaintiff was three, her mother married the plaintiff’s stepfather. When the plaintiff was between the ages of four and six, the plaintiff’s stepfather started to engage in repeated sexual abuse of the plaintiff, consisting of intercourse, inappropriate touching, and oral sodomy.

The abuse went unnoticed until the plaintiff’s older brother (one of the stepfather’s three sons) told the plaintiff’s mother of it. The plaintiff’s stepfather was arrested and an order of protection was issued. The plaintiff’s mother bailed the stepfather out of jail and allowed him back into the family home. They then moved into a moving vehicle and relocated to a campsite in a different state. While at the campsite, the plaintiff’s stepfather once again began sexually abusing the plaintiff. After being turned in again by his son, the stepfather was arrested, as well as the plaintiff’s mother for endangering the welfare of a child. The plaintiff and her brother were then placed in foster care, however, only for a few months and then they were returned to the plaintiff’s mother. The plaintiff’s stepfather pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three to six years’ incarceration.

After the stepfather was released from jail, the plaintiff’s mother allowed the unlawful contact between the plaintiff’s stepfather and the plaintiff to continue, and in fact the stepfather lived with them. In late 2000 the plaintiff’s stepfather raped the plaintiff, who was then 16 years old, three times. In February of 2001, the plaintiff learned she was pregnant as a result of the rapes by her stepfather. The plaintiff’s mother forced the plaintiff to have a late-term abortion.

In 2002, the plaintiff reported the rapes and both the plaintiff’s mother and stepfather were arrested. The stepfather was convicted and sentenced to 6-12 years of imprisonment. In 2003, the mother pleaded guilty to one count of Endangering the Welfare of a Child and was sentenced to time served and three years of probation.
In April 2007 the plaintiff’s stepfather died while incarcerated thereby leaving the plaintiff’s mother as the sole debtor for the $3.75 million civil judgment case awarded to the plaintiff. In order to eliminate the responsibility for this debt, the mother filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

The Bankruptcy Court’s decision, which failed to inquire into the underlying nature of the debt, was incorrect as the law requires a bankruptcy court to look behind a judgment to determine if the underlying debt is properly dischargeable under Bankruptcy Code. Of note, the plaintiff’s mother had a previous criminal conviction for Endangering the Welfare of a Child. The court also failed to analyze and address the effect of a prior conviction that did meet the criteria for collateral estoppel.

The plaintiff has appeared twice on the national show Dr. Drew’s LifeChangers television series to discuss her childhood sexual assault and how she is coping as an adult. This case is still in litigation.

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