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In re Brady-Zell

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 25, 2014

IN RE KAREN A. BRADY-ZELL, Debtor.
v.
KAREN A. BRADY-ZELL, Debtor, Appellee DANIELLE E. deBENEDICTIS, Creditor, Appellant,

APPEAL FROM THE BANKRUPTCY APPELLATE PANEL FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT.

Danielle E. deBenedictis and deBenedictis, Miller & Blum, P.A. on brief for appellant.

Logan A. Weinkauf and Benner & Weinkauf, P.C. on brief for appellee.

Before Howard, Selya and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 70

SELYA, Circuit Judge

Faced with the grim prospect of a crumbling marriage, Karen A. Brady-Zell (the debtor) engaged Danielle E. deBenedictis (the attorney) to act as her counsel. The

Page 71

debtor paid the attorney an up-front retainer of $25,000. After the representation ended, the attorney billed the debtor for additional fees and expenses of roughly $62,000. The debtor balked, and the attorney filed a state-court collection action.

The debtor then petitioned for bankruptcy protection, effectively staying the pending state-court action. See 11 U.S.C. § 362(a). She listed the balance due to the attorney among her scheduled debts. Left holding what appeared to be an empty bag (or nearly so), the attorney instituted an adversary proceeding in the bankruptcy court under, inter alia, 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2)(A).[1] She asserted that the debt had been incurred through false and fraudulent representations and under false pretenses and was, therefore, nondischargeable.

Following a bench trial, the bankruptcy court wrote a thoughtful rescript in which it concluded that the attorney had not carried her burden of proving either false pretenses or a false representation and proceeded to dismiss the adversary proceeding. See deBenedictis v. Brady-Zell (In re Brady-Zell), No. 10-1119, 2013 WL 1342479, at *8-9 (Bankr. D. Mass. Apr. 2, 2013). On an intermediate appeal, the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (BAP) upheld the bankruptcy court's ukase. It, too, offered a closely reasoned explanation of its ruling. See deBenedictis v. Brady-Zell (In re Brady-Zell), 500 B.R. 295, 301-05 (B.A.P. 1st Cir. 2013).

Unwilling to take " no" for an answer, the attorney appealed the BAP's decision. After careful consideration, we affirm.

We need not tarry. Having scrutinized the papers in the case and surveyed the applicable law, we discern no principled basis for disturbing the findings and conclusions of the lower courts. With this in mind, we can be brief; after all, we have explained before that when lower courts have supportably found the facts, applied the appropriate legal standards, articulated their reasoning clearly, and reached a correct result, a reviewing court ought not to write at length merely to hear its own words resonate. See, e.g., Vargas-Ruiz v. Golden Arch Dev., Inc., 368 F.3d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 2004); Lawton v. State Mut. Life Assur. Co., 101 F.3d 218, 220 (1st Cir. 1996); Ayala v. Union de Tronquistas, Local 901, 74 F.3d 344, 345 (1st Cir. 1996); Holders Capital Corp. v. Cal. Union Ins. Co. (In re San Juan Dupont Plaza Hotel Fire Litig.), 989 F.2d 36, 38 (1st Cir. 1993). Accordingly, we affirm the judgment for substantially the reasons previously elucidated by the bankruptcy court and the BAP, pausing only to add a few embellishments.

First: The attorney's principal claim is that, at the start of the lawyer-client relationship, the debtor falsely promised to pay her fees. In other words, she alleges that the debtor made a commitment to pay whatever fees thereafter might accrue ...


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