RESPONDENT: Robert A. Ryan
LOCATION: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
DOCKET NO.: 02-819
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
CITATION: 540 US 443 (2004)
GRANTED: Apr 28, 2003
ARGUED: Nov 03, 2003
DECIDED: Jan 14, 2004
E. King Poor - argued the cause for Petitioner
Henry J. Sommer - for the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys as amicus curiae urging reversal
James R. Figliulo - argued the cause for Respondent
Kent L. Jones - argued the cause for Respondent, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae
Facts of the case
Andrew Kontrick filed for bankruptcy after he and his partner, Robert Ryan, dissolved their plastic surgery practice. Ryan notified the court that Kontrick owed him money before the 60-day filing deadline set by Bankruptcy Rule 4004. More than three months later (after the deadline for filing had passed) Ryan filed an amended complaint charging that Kontrick was diverting paychecks into his wife's account so that he wouldn't have to pay Ryan. Ryan's attorneys claimed that they were not making a new claim - the diversion had been alluded to in other court documents - but that they were merely refocusing the judge's attention. Furthermore, they argued that the deadline for filing could be - and had been - waived by the judge. Kontrick's attorneys, on the other hand, argued that the amended complaint was a new filing and that the deadlines for filing could not be waived. The bankruptcy court ruled for Ryan. The district court and a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals panel both affirmed, holding that the deadline was subject to waiver.
Are the deadlines established by Bankruptcy Rule 4004 "jurisdictional" - that is, do they trump other considerations no matter when they are raised?
Media for Kontrick v. RyanAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 03, 2003 in Kontrick v. Ryan
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 14, 2004 in Kontrick v. Ryan
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 02-819, Kontrick against Ryan will be announced by Justice Ginsburg.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
This case, which comes to us from the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, involves a question of time.
The setting is a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding.
Key to our decision is the distinction between laws determining a court's subject matter jurisdiction, in other words, laws defining the kinds of cases courts are authorized to hear, and rules of a lesser order governing the processing the claims in court.
The underlying controversy involves a bankrupt debtor, Dr. Andrew Kontrick and his principle creditor and former partner in plastic surgery, Dr. Robert Ryan.
Ryan objected to an order that would discharge Kontrick from his debt, in fraud of creditors, Ryan complained, Kontrick had converted a husband-wife joint bank account into an account in his wife’s name only thereafter Kontrick continued to deposit his salary checks into that account and use the funds not to pay creditors but to cover everyday family living expenses.
Bankruptcy Rule 4004 gives creditors a 60-day period to object to a debtor’s discharge.
The Rule allows one time extension but only if the creditor asks for the extra time before the initial 60-day period expires.
Ryan missed the initial 60-days and did not ask for an extension.
Kontrick, nevertheless, answered Ryan’s claim, litigated the question whether the name change and the bank account defrauded creditors and lost on the merits.
After that loss, Kontrick urged the time bar.
He said he could do so however late the date because Bankruptcy Rule 4004's time prescription is jurisdictional and therefore, a matter that could be raised even after an adjudication on the merits.
The courts below held that Rule 4004 is not jurisdictional and therefore, could not be invoked to nullify the decision in Ryan’s favor.
We granted certiorari because other courts have held that Rule 4004's time prescription is jurisdictional.
Rule 4004 we now affirm is not jurisdictional.
The subject matter jurisdiction of Federal Courts, the cases those courts can hear and decide maybe prescribed only by Congress.
Congress prescribed that objections to discharges fall within the Bankruptcy Court’s subject matter jurisdiction.
Congress built no time constraint into that statutory authorization, instead the time limit’s relevant here are contained in rules and procedure for Bankruptcy Courts.
Those rules do not delineate what cases Bankruptcy Courts are competent to adjudicate.
They are simply plain processing rules.
In arguing that Rule 4004 should have the same practical effect as a statutory provision governing subject matter jurisdiction contract overlooks this critical difference.
Characteristically, a court’s subject matter jurisdiction cannot be enlarged to account for the party’s litigation conduct, but a claim processing rule even strict one like Bankruptcy Rule 4004 can be forfeited if the body invoking the rule waits too long to raise a point.
No reasonable construction of complaint processing Bankruptcy Rule 4004 would allow a litigant, in debtor Kontrick's shoes, to defeat a claim as filed too late after the litigant has lost on the merits.
A prime purpose of the rule is to afford the bankrupt debtor and affirmative defense to a complaint untimely filed by a creditor.
Kontrick raised no such defense when he answered Ryan’s complaint.
Kontrick additionally argues that Rule 4004’s time constraint is so tight, it allows no recourse to equitable exceptions but Ryan never maintained that he qualified for an equitable exception.
Therefore, we do not address the question whether Rule 4004 accommodates equitable exceptions.
The sole question we decide is one of forfeiter.
Under the governing claim processing rules, the defense is lost if it is not included in the complaint or in an amended answer.
Only a subject matter jurisdiction objection lingers on beyond the pleading stage.