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In re White

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant fired a gun at Tipton, an individual he previously had an altercation with. However, Defendant missed Tipton and the bullet struck Plaintiff in the stomach. Thereafter, Defendant filed for bankruptcy and Plaintiff filed an action in the bankruptcy court to declare Defendant’s debt to him nondischargeable.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A debt is not discharged in a intentional wrongful act cause of action in bankruptcy, despite the fact that the person injured was not the same person who the debtor intended to harm.

    Facts.

    On September 10, 1977, Walter Calvin White, Jr., Defendant, reignited an argument with William Tipton that they started a week earlier outside of Defendant’s home. After Defendant had knowledge that he would likely see Tipton, Defendant was carrying a gun. When Defendant took out his gun during the argument, Tipton jumped onto his motorcycle and drove off. Defendant fired his gun at Tipton, but missed Tipton. Instead, the bullet hit Ralph Edward Davis. Plaintiff, in his stomach.Neither Defendant nor Plaintiff previously knew each other. Plaintiff was merely outside, washing a car, approximately twenty five feet away from Tipton when Defendant fired his gun. Defendant later contended that his gun had fired by accident. In November 1978, Defendant was sentenced to five years in prison for injuring Plaintiff. In February 1980, Plaintiff obtained a $50,000 default judgment against Defendant. Thereafter, Defendant filed for bankruptcy, and Plaintiff filed an action in the bankruptcy court to declare Defendant’s debt to him nondischargeable.

    Issue.

    Whether a debt is may be discharged in an intentional wrongful act cause of action in bankruptcy, despite the fact that the person injured was not the same person who the debtor intended to harm.

    Held.

    No, a debt is not discharged in an intentional wrongful act cause of action in bankruptcy, despite the fact that the person injured was not the same person who the debtor intended to harm.

    Discussion.

    Under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6), a debt that results from the debtor’s “willful and malicious injury” may be discharged in bankruptcy. Congress has clearly indicated that “willful” means intentional. In this case, the court believes that that Defendant’s action of  firing of the gun was intentional, not accidental. The mere fact that Defendant did not intentionally directed the gun at Plaintiff does not preclude § 523(a)(6). Also, under the doctrine of transferred intent, a defendant,who intends a battery upon one person, but accidentally hits a stranger instead, is still liable for intentional battery of the stranger. Because Defendant’s actions in shooting was wrongful and intentional, and because those actions resulted in caused Plaintiff’s injuries, Defendant cannot be discharged from his debt to Plaintiff in bankruptcy.


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