The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ditter, J
This case comes before me on a pro se appeal from an order of the bankruptcy court that found a state court's award of counsel fees and costs was a non-dischargeable debt. For the reasons that follow, I will affirm.
Peter William DiGiovanni is an attorney who was appointed executor of the estate of the late Helen J. DiSabato by her last will. As a result, letters testamentary were granted to him on April 3, 2006, by the Orphans Court of Chester County. However, he failed to file tax returns on the estate's behalf or to take the steps necessary to close the administration of the estate despite persistent complaints from its beneficiary, Michele Demko. Mrs. Demko and her husband, appellees in this matter, filed a removal petition in the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County. On September 4, 2007, Mr. DiGiovanni was removed as executor and he was ordered to turn over to the new executors, the Demkos, all records entrusted to him and all estate documents.
By order dated December 17, 2007, the Common Pleas Court held him in contempt for this failure and ordered that by January 8, 2008, he turn over to the Demkos' attorney all of the estate documents and records. In addition, Mr. DiGiovanni was sanctioned and ordered to pay the Demkos' reasonable attorneys' fees.
Because Mr. DiGiovanni again failed to turn over all of the estate records and failed to pay the attorneys' fees, the Demkos filed another petition for contempt. Mr. DiGiovanni did not oppose the relief requested in the second contempt petition. On October 9, 2008, the Common Pleas Court held him in contempt and ordered him to pay a total of $29,279.55 to the Demkos for fees, costs, penalties, and expenses.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. DiGiovanni filed a bankruptcy petition under Chapter 7 in what he admitted was an effort to be relieved of the financial sanctions the Common Pleas Court had imposed upon him. Whether or not the sanctions debt was dischargeable was the matter before the bankruptcy judge, who found the debt non-dischargeable and denied Mr. DiGiovanni's motion for reconsideration. The matter is now before me pursuant to Mr. DiGiovanni's pro se appeal of that finding.*fn1
II BANKRUPTCY COURT DECISIONS
Section 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code excepts from discharge any debt for "willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another entity or to the property of another entity." 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6). However, in keeping with the Code's fundamental purpose of giving an honest debtor a fresh start, this exception is construed narrowly, strictly, and liberally in favor of the debtor. An opposing creditor bears the burden of proving nondischargeability by a preponderance of the evidence.
The Honorable Eric J. Frank of Bankruptcy Court held a hearing, made careful findings, and reached appropriate conclusions of law in determining whether Mr. DiGiovanni's debt to the Demkos was dischargeable or not. Estate of DiSabato v. DiGiovanni (In re DiGiovanni), 446 B.R. 709 (Bankr. E.D. Pa. Jan. 5, 2011).
First, as to the law: Judge Frank pointed out that "willful" and "malicious" have different meanings. The former not only includes actions taken for the specific purpose of causing injury, but those that have a substantial certainty of doing so. Thus willful actions do not include debts arising from conduct that recklessly or negligently inflicts injury. "Malicious" refers to injuries that are wrongful and without just cause or excuse, even in the absence of personal ...