United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville
COY G. COX, JR., Plaintiff,
SPECIALTY VEHICLE SOLUTIONS LLC, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
K. CALDWELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's motion to alter
or amend the Court's judgment. Plaintiff Coy G. Cox, Jr.
originally brought suit in state court, and Defendant
Specialty Vehicle Solutions LLC removed the action to this
Court. (DE 1.) The Court granted Defendant's motions to
dismiss both Plaintiff's original complaint and a
subsequent complaint that Plaintiff filed later. (DE 25.) The
Court denied Plaintiff's subsequent motion to alter or
amend the Court's judgment. (DE 36.) The United States
Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit then vacated the
dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings. (DE
39.) After the Court granted Defendant's motion for
summary judgment (DE 54; DE 55), Plaintiff filed this motion
to alter or amend that judgment (DE 56). For the reasons
stated below, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion.
Because the Court also finds that a hearing would not aid in
the resolution of the issues presented, it denies
Plaintiff's request for oral argument.
February 28, 2014, Plaintiff, on assignment as a federal task
force officer with the Internal Revenue Service, was
conducting surveillance inside a Ford van that had been
specially modified by Defendant. (DE 1-1 at 2; DE 14 at 1; DE
49 at 1.) Plaintiff alleges that a battery installed in the
van began “to emit and spew noxious and deadly gases,
liquids, and vapors into the enclosed van compartment where
users, including Plaintiff, were to work.” (DE 1-1 at
4.) Plaintiff alleges that as a result of exposure to
“harmful substances for a significant amount of
time… he suffered severe bodily injuries.” (DE
1-1 at 4.)
October 20, 2014, Defendant filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New
Jersey. (DE 10 at 2.) Defendant, however, did not list
Plaintiff as a creditor, nor did it serve him with notice of
the bankruptcy petition. (DE 53 at 1.) On February 23,
2015, and apparently without knowledge of Defendant's
bankruptcy, Plaintiff filed suit in Letcher County Circuit
Court. (DE 1-1; DE 49 at 2.) The complaint asserts claims of
strict liability, negligence, and fraud against Defendant.
(DE 1-1.) Defendant then entered a notice of its bankruptcy
proceeding - and the accompanying automatic stay - into the
state court record. (DE 47 at 12-13.) As the Sixth Circuit
would later summarize in the appeal in this case -
With certain exceptions not relevant here, “[a]n
entity's act of filing a petition for bankruptcy operates
as a ‘stay' of actions that could have been filed
against the entity to recover claims.” In re Glob.
Technovations Inc., 694 F.3d 705, 711 (6th Cir. 2012)
(citing 11 U.S.C. § 362(a)). This “fundamental
protection, ” Easley [v. Pettibone Mich.
Corp.], 990 F.2d [905, ] 910 , gives debtors a
“breathing spell” to reorganize their financial
affairs, In re Robinson, 764 F.3d 554, 559 (6th Cir.
2014) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Thus,
“an action taken against a debtor during the duration
of the automatic stay” is “invalid” - it is
“without legal force or effect.” Easley,
990 F.2d at 909.
Cox v. Specialty Vehicle Sols., LLC, 715 Fed.Appx.
443, 447 (6th Cir. 2017).
sought relief from the automatic stay and hired Warren Levy,
a New Jersey bankruptcy attorney. (DE 48 at 3-4.) On June 2,
2015, Mr. Levy filed a motion for stay relief on behalf of
Plaintiff. (DE 10-4.) The motion indicated that Plaintiff was
seeking to “institute or resume” his state civil
suit against Defendant. (DE 53 at 10.) Of note, Mr.
Levy's notice of the motion for stay relief described
Plaintiff's suit as pre-petition in nature. (DE 10-4 at
1.) This was incorrect, as Plaintiff did not file his state
civil suit until months after Defendant's bankruptcy
objected to Plaintiff's motion for stay relief through
its own bankruptcy attorney, Jennifer McEntee. (DE 47 at
22-24.) Ms. McEntee argued that Plaintiff's motion was
both vague and an improper attempt to litigate a claim
against a debtor currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy
proceedings. (DE 47 at 23.) Ms. McEntee did indicate,
however, that “an amicable resolution could possibly be
reached if [Cox] agreed to limit the relief requested in
[his] proposed order to the extent of the insurance
policy.” (DE 47 at 24.) Mr. Levy forwarded
Defendant's objection to Plaintiff's personal injury
attorneys, who then passed along the message to their client.
(DE 47 at 3.) Levi James Daly, one of Plaintiff's
personal injury attorneys, attests that on June 25, 2015,
Plaintiff confirmed that he was willing to limit his recovery
to the extent of Defendant's insurance coverage. (DE 47
at 3.) Mr. Daly advised Mr. Levy of Plaintiff's consent
and instructed him to continue negotiating with
Defendant's bankruptcy counsel. (DE 47 at 3-4.) The
parties eventually agreed on a draft stay relief order. Per
Defendant's request, the term “institute” was
removed from the proposed order, allowing Plaintiff only to
“resume and prosecute” his state civil suit. (DE
46 at 2; DE 10-5 at 2.) Ms. McEntee urges that she removed
the term “institute” from the proposed order out
of her belief that Plaintiff' suit was filed
before Defendant's bankruptcy petition. (DE 46
August 7, 2015, the New Jersey bankruptcy court entered the
parties' stay relief order, which states in relevant
[I]t is ORDERED that the automatic stay is vacated to permit
[Cox] to resume and prosecute to conclusion the civil action
identified specifically as:
Coy G. Cox, Jr. v. Specialty Vehicle Solutions, LLC,
Civil Action No. 15-CI-00040, Commonwealth of Kentucky,
Letcher Circuit Court
only to permit [Cox] to seek to liquidate the claims for
recovery made against [SVS]… provided… that
[Cox] shall limit any claim for recovery… to the
extent of ...