The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Tripodi v. Welch on Wednesday, January 13, 2016.
Nathan Welch was a real estate developer, and beginning in 2006, he worked to procure funding for the Talisman project. Robert Tripodi invested in the Talisman project, ultimately putting $1 million into the development, secured by promissory notes from Welch. When Talisman failed, Welch defaulted on the notes, and Tripodi filed a complaint against Welch in federal district court in 2009, alleging violations of federal and state securities laws. Welch answered the complaint, but a few months later his counsel moved to withdraw. The district court granted counsel’s motion and gave Welch 20 days to find new counsel or appear pro se. Several months later, Tripodi moved for default judgment, and, because Welch did not respond to the motion, the district court entered default judgment against him in April 2010. For the next year, Tripodi presented proof of damages, costs, and attorney fees, and the district court found Tripodi was owed $729,161.65 plus post-judgment interest.
Welch filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in August 2011. Nearly two years later, Tripodi filed a motion for relief from the automatic stay. The district court granted Tripodi’s motion and directed its clerk to enter final monetary judgment. The clerk entered judgment in his favor for $729,161.65 plus post-judgment interest accruing since May 2011. Welch opposed a determination of damages and filed a cross-motion to set aside entry of default. The district court denied his motion as untimely. Each party then filed post-judgment motions. Tripodi moved for an order determining that the default judgment against Welch was non-dischargeable under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(19), while Welch moved for the court to reconsider its order refusing to set aside the default, to set aside the default, and to enter a judgment on the pleadings in his favor. The district court granted Tripodi’s motion and denied Welch’s.
Welch appealed, arguing the district court erred in denying his motion for judgment on the pleadings and granting Tripodi’s motion that default is non-dischargeable under § 523(a)(19). The Tenth Circuit disagreed. The Tenth Circuit characterized Welch’s appeal as a roundabout way to challenge the entry of default against him by challenging the sufficiency of the pleadings. The Tenth Circuit addressed the district court’s grant of default judgment. The Tenth Circuit found that the pleadings were legally sufficient, as they showed (1) Tripodi invested in Talisman because he thought it would be a high-yeilding investment opportunity, (2) the investment was structured for broad distribution to unsophisticated investors such as himself, (3) the investing public would consider the notes to be securities, and (4) the collateral provided little security for investors. These four factors led the Tenth Circuit to conclude that the district court correctly ruled the notes were securities and Welch violated securities laws. The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion.
Welch next contended that the district court erred in finding that the debt was non-dischargeable in bankruptcy under § 523(a)(19). The Tenth Circuit again disagreed. The Tenth Circuit noted that § 523(a)(19) renders debts non-dischargeable when they arise in connection with a violation of state or federal securities laws. Two factors prevent the debt from being discharged: (1) the debt must stem from a violation of federal or state securities law, and (2) the debt must be memorialized in a judicial order or settlement agreement. The Tenth Circuit found that Welch’s debt to Tripodi satisfied both factors.
The judgment of the district court was affirmed.