United States District Court, D. Connecticut
IN RE SUSAN SKIPP, Debtor.
MARY BRIGHAM, Appellee. SUSAN SKIPP, Appellant,
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Michael P. Shea United States District Judge.
August 12, 2015, pro se Appellant Susan Skipp filed
this appeal from the Bankruptcy Court's decision and
order on Appellee Mary Piscatelli Brigham's Second
Amended Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 1.) The
Bankruptcy Court held that Ms. Skipp's debt to Ms.
Brigham for guardian ad litem (“GAL”) fees was
not dischargeable in bankruptcy, based on a determination
that principles of collateral estoppel bound it to an earlier
state court decision on the issue. Because I disagree that
the requirements of collateral estoppel have been satisfied
here, the appeal is granted, and the case remanded for
Court reviews the Bankruptcy Court's legal conclusions
de novo and its factual findings for clear
error.” Rockstone Capital LLC v. Metal, 508
B.R. 552, 558 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (citing Denton v. Hyman (In
re Hyman), 502 F.3d 61, 65 (2d Cir. 2007)). “The
application of collateral estoppel to a given case is a
question of law that [the court] review[s] de novo.”
M.O.C.H.A. Soc'y, Inc. v. City of Buffalo, 689
F.3d 263, 284 (2d Cir. 2012).
September 2010, the Connecticut Superior Court appointed Ms.
Brigham as a guardian ad litem (“GAL”) for Ms.
Skipp's two minor children in connection with Ms.
Skipp's divorce and child custody proceedings. (ECF No.
10-1 at 17.) Ms. Skipp's marriage was dissolved on March
28, 2011, with an order of joint legal custody of the two
children, and primary residence with Ms. Skipp. (Id.
at 3.) Post-judgment, the court ordered that the GAL continue
to be paid by Ms. Skipp and the father, one half each.
(Id. at 22.) Ms. Skipp moved for the appointment of
an attorney for the children, then 9 and 12 years old, but
the court found “‘[t]hese children are
intelligent for their ages, but there is no credible evidence
that… they are of sufficient age and maturity to know
what is in their best interests.'” (Id. at
father moved to modify the original custody order and, in
accordance with the GAL's recommendation, the court
awarded him sole legal and physical custody of the two
children on October 16, 2012, with Ms. Skipp allowed only
supervised visits. (Id. at 3, 17, 23-26.) The court
held that “joint legal custody is not in the
children's best interest. These parents cannot
communicate well together. The mother has no respect for the
father, and creates every opportunity she can, most often
when not proper, to claim that he is an unsafe person for the
children.” (Id. at 20.) The court also found
that Ms. Skipp owed $38, 230.30 to Ms. Brigham and that the
GAL's rate of $300 per hour was “fair and
reasonable.” (Id. at 22.) The court admonished
Ms. Skipp for not fully complying with its earlier order to
liquidate her teachers' retirement to pay the GAL fees.
(Id. at 23.)
February 28, 2013, Ms. Skipp filed for bankruptcy, and sought
to discharge the GAL fees. (ECF No. 1-1 at 2.) On August 29,
2013, the bankruptcy court stayed its decision “pending
a final determination by the Connecticut state court of the
Fee Appeal.” (ECF No. 10-1 at 33.) It appears that the
“fee appeal” refers to Ms. Skipp's appeal of
the Superior Court's October 16, 2012 order, which, as
noted, had required Ms. Skipp to pay $38, 230.30 in fees to
the GAL. (In that appeal, the Connecticut Appellate Court
ultimately affirmed the Superior Court's order.
Tittle v. Skipp-Tittle, 150 Conn.App. 64 (2014).)
meantime, on October 8, 2013, the Superior Court issued a new
order on three pending post-judgment motions, including a
motion for contempt by Ms. Brigham. (ECF No. 10-1 at 56.) In
its discussion of the contempt motion, the court explained
that Ms. Brigham “requested a finding from the court on
the characterization of the fees” and “decided
not to proceed with her contempt motion at this time.”
(Id. at 57-58.) The court provided Ms. Brigham the
opportunity to re-file a contempt motion “if she was
successful in both the Connecticut Appellate Court and the
United States Bankruptcy Court, meaning that her fees were
not discharged.” (Id. at 58.) In addition,
apparently as part of the contempt motion,  with which Ms.
Brigham had “decided not to proceed… at this
time, ” the court stated as follows: “[a]fter
reviewing the file and listening to the parties, the court
makes a finding that the fees awarded to the guardian ad
litem are in the nature of child support and not
dischargeable in bankruptcy.” (Id. at 57-58.)
Ms. Skipp appealed the entire ruling to the Connecticut
Appellate Court. (Id. at 59.) That court issued the
following order on April 16, 2014:
After a hearing as to why the portion of this appeal
challenging the trial court's finding that the fees
awarded to the guardian ad litem are in the nature of child
support should not be dismissed for lack of a final judgment
as the motion for contempt for non-payment of the fees of the
guardian ad litem was not decided, see State v.
Curcio, 191 Conn. 27, 31 (1983), it is hereby ordered
that the portion of the appeal challenging the trial
court's finding that the fees awarded to the guardian ad
litem are in the nature of child support is dismissed.
(Id. at 60.) As to the remainder of Ms. Skipp's
appeal of the Superior Court's October 8, 2013 order,
principally regarding alimony issues, the Appellate Court
affirmed on December 1, 2015. Tittle v.
Skipp-Tittle, 161 Conn.App. 542 (2015).
April 24, 2015, the Bankruptcy Court resumed its proceedings
and granted Ms. Brigham's motion for summary judgment.
(ECF No. 1-1.) The Bankruptcy Court held that the Connecticut
Superior Court's October 8, 2013 ruling had preclusive
effect and that principles of collateral estoppel barred Ms.
Skipp from relitigating the issue of whether her debt to Ms.
Brigham was dischargeable. (Id.) Ms. Skipp appeals
from this decision. Ms. Skipp's Notice of Appeal also
included a motion for appointment of counsel, which the Court
denied without prejudice on August 19, 2015 (ECF No. 3) and
which was re-filed on November 10, 2015. (ECF No.
the claims raised by Ms. Skipp are outside the scope of the
Bankruptcy Court record and this appeal. This Court's
authority is limited to determining whether the Bankruptcy
Court erred in giving collateral estoppel effect to the
Connecticut Superior Court's finding that Ms. Skipp's
debt for guardian ad litem fees was not dischargeable in
bankruptcy. This appeal is not a ...