REASONS FOR DECISION
HENLEY A. HUNTER, Bankruptcy Judge.
This is a Core Proceeding pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 157(b)(2). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1334 and by virtue of the reference by the District Court pursuant to Local District Court Rule 22.01 incorporated into Local Bankruptcy Rule 1.2. No party at interest has sought to withdraw the reference to the bankruptcy court, nor has the District Court done so on its own motion. This Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 7052. Pursuant to these reasons, judgment is rendered in favor of the Plaintiffs. The parties will be allowed additional time to file post-trial briefs as to recovery under the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act.
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
The complaint of the Plaintiffs, Ellis R. Walker, Jr., and Lorena Bolen Walker, allege that the defendants, M & M Dodge, Inc., and the Bureau of Credit Control — Alexandria, Inc., ("B.C.C.") violated the post-discharge injunction of 11 U.S.C. § 524 and the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act set forth in La.Rev.Stat. § 51:1401, et seq. Further, due to such violations, the Walkers contend that the defendants owe $20,000.00 in compensatory damages, $50,000.00 in punitive damages, $25,000.00 in attorney fees, together with interest and costs.
From 1984 to 1991, Mr. Walker was employed as a mechanic at M & M Dodge. During this time, Mr. Walker purchased two (2) automobiles from his employer. M & M Dodge extended financing to enable Mr. Walker to purchase the vehicles. On July 8, 1988, Mr. Walker acquired a 1983 Mercury Cougar for $4,057.00. Exh. P-1. Mr. Walker signed a promissory note and granted M & M Dodge a chattel mortgage on the automobile to secure payment. M & M Dodge retained money out of Mr. Walker's paycheck and applied such funds to the balance on the note and insurance on the vehicle. Thereafter, on November 12, 1988, Mr. Walker purchased a 1982 Toyota Pick-up truck for $1,369.20. Exh. P-2. Mr. Walker signed another promissory note and provided M & M Dodge with a chattel mortgage.
M & M Dodge continued to hold money out of Mr. Walker's paycheck for insurance and payments on the notes. Funds were also retained and applied to the balance on several nominal short-term loans, interest on the notes, and other charges. The separate debts were combined into one account and not designated separately. An account card was maintained by Mary L. Ducote, the bookkeeper and office manager of M & M Dodge, displaying the balance, payments,
In March 1990, prior to Mr. Walker leaving M & M Dodge, the Walkers discussed the possibility of filing bankruptcy with Ms. Ducote. Ms. Ducote previously filed bankruptcy herself. She ultimately referred the Walkers to Thomas R. Willson who was her bankruptcy attorney. The Walkers also discussed the potential filing with Oliver McMickens, President and owner of M & M Dodge. Thus, M & M Dodge was unquestionably aware of the Walker's intent. In fact, Ms. Ducote and Mr. McMickens responded to a garnishment request and interrogatories by Monogram Bank against the Walkers on March 26, 1990, by stating:
This is significant because it demonstrates M & M Dodge's actual knowledge of the bankruptcy, the automatic stay, and the stay's powerful effect on attempted collections against the Walkers personally. Ms. Ducote testified that Monogram Bank's claim was "overridden," thus preventing the garnishment.
The Walkers retained Mr. Willson as their attorney and a petition was filed under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code on March 30, 1990, four days after the answer to the garnishment. Both Ms. Ducote and Mr. McMickens contend that the Walkers assured them that M & M Dodge would not be listed as a creditor, and would otherwise be paid outside the bankruptcy proceeding. However, M & M Dodge was listed on the mailing matrix as well as the schedules. On Schedule A-2, M & M Dodge was specified as a creditor holding security interests of approximately $3,800.00 on a 1983 Mercury Cougar and $700.00 on a Toyota Pick-up truck. On the Debtors' Statement of Intentions, the Walkers proposed to retain and reaffirm the debt on both the Cougar and the Pick-up as well as another unrelated debt to Gulfco Finance.
M & M Dodge did not file a proof of claim in the case. The meeting of creditors under § 341(a) was held on May 1, 1990. No creditors made an appearance. The Trustee, Mark Sutton, noted that the matter was a "no asset" case and that it was his intention to abandon any interest in the "Truck" and the "Mercury." M & M Dodge failed to take advantage of any of the mechanisms within the bankruptcy proceeding to obtain the collateral or other relief, such as filing a motion for relief of the automatic stay, filing a motion for abandonment, filing an adversary proceeding to determine dischargeability, or objecting to the Walker's discharge. No distributions were made to creditors
Although Mr. Walker does not remember attending the discharge and reaffirmation hearing on August 20, 1990, the records of this Court indicate that both Mr. and Mrs. Walker were present. At the hearing, the discharge was entered and a reaffirmation agreement to Gulfco Finance was approved. Orders were signed by this Court on the same date. Again, M & M Dodge received notice of the discharge. The case was later closed and a final decree was entered on October 18, 1990.
The Walkers never entered into a reaffirmation agreement with M & M Dodge. Ms. Ducote admitted that she knew what a reaffirmation agreement was, its effect, and the fact that M & M Dodge should have prepared such an agreement for the Walkers. Notwithstanding, M & M Dodge continued to retain money out of Mr. Walker's paycheck. On May 31, 1991, Mr. Walker quit his job at M & M Dodge. The Walker's later made a few sporadic payments to M & M Dodge.
Soon after, M & M Dodge sent the Walkers notice of its intent to sue for the balance on the debt. The notice also asserted that M & M Dodge planned to turn the matter over to the B.C.C. for collection. Mr. McMickens referred to this as a "form letter" and a "collection notice." Mr. McMickens also acknowledged that he made a notation on the account card stating, "[s]end suit 12-4-91 / 12/10/91." Exh. P-4. On May 6, 1992, M & M Dodge formally assigned and conveyed the Walker account of approximately $6,573.56 to the B.C.C. Exh. P-3. M & M Dodge did not
For years, M & M Dodge assigned all of its delinquent accounts to the B.C.C. for collection. Mr. McMickens admitted that he intended and "hoped" that the latter file lawsuits against persons owing money to M & M Dodge. According to Mr. McMickens, these suits were filed a "majority" of the time. On May 13, 1992, the B.C.C. filed a petition against the Walkers in the Ninth Judicial District Court seeking recovery of $6,573.56 on an "Open Account" allegedly owed to M & M Dodge. Exh. P-9. Personal service was made on Mr. Walker on May 18, 1992. In the petition, no mention was made of M & M Dodge's rights under the promissory notes or the chattel mortgages. In fact, Mr. McMickens affirmatively testified that it was standard procedure not to relinquish the notes or chattel mortgages to the B.C.C.
Afterwards, Mr. Walker called Mr. Willson's office and forwarded the petition and summons to Mr. Willson's paralegal, Terri Strickland. Ms. Strickland informed Mr. Walker that she would "take care of it." The Walkers did not file an answer or a responsive pleading. Consequently, a default judgment was granted against the Walkers on July 1, 1992, in the amount of $6,573.56. The judgment was also silent as to any rights under the promissory notes or the chattel mortgages. Exh. P-3. Ms. Strickland explained that the Walkers did not file an answer because Edward Kaplan's office assured her that it was not required due to the pending bankruptcy. Mr. Kaplan is Counsel to the B.C.C.
Thereafter, a petition for garnishment was filed by the B.C.C. on August 11, 1992. The petition was served upon Southern Chevrolet, Mr. Walker's employer at the time. Mr. Walker immediately contacted Mr. Willson's office once again and spoke to Ms. Strickland. Ms. Strickland advised Mr. Walker that she would "take care of it" and called Mr. Kaplan's office. Ms. Strickland again informed Mr. Kaplan's office of the bankruptcy filing, the filing date, and the case number. However on August 21, 1992, $46.00 was withheld from Mr. Walker's paycheck.
After the garnishment, a representative of the B.C.C. contacted M & M Dodge to advise the former that the Walkers previously filed bankruptcy. Unquestionably, this revelation was already known by M & M Dodge. Mr. McMickens instructed the B.C.C. to "hold up" while Ms. Ducote contacted the Trustee and inquired about M & M Dodge's rights in the vehicles. Mr. Sutton supposedly told Ms. Ducote that M & M Dodge could repossess the vehicles but could not collect any money from the Walkers. See Exh. J-1.
On September 14, 1992, M & M Dodge hired two men from Central Auto Recovery Bureau to repossess the vehicles. Exh's P-15 and P-16. The men arrived at the Walker's home in Woodworth, Louisiana, at approximately 7:30 p.m. These men threatened to call the sheriff's department if Mr. Walker didn't sign certain documents. In fact, these documents purport to voluntarily surrender the vehicles to M & M Dodge. Exh's P-12 and P-13. As a result, Mr. Walker and his family were terribly upset due to the commotion. However, no threats of physical violence occurred. Since the vehicles were the only means of transportation for the family, Mr. Walker borrowed his father's truck until he obtained another vehicle months later. Mrs. Walker was driven to and from her place of employment by Mr. Walker and others. Ultimately, Mr. Walker obtained another vehicle.
The present matter is not the first problem M & M Dodge encountered with accounts assigned to the B.C.C. The B.C.C.'s management changed at some point when the former principal of the company, Marshall Gregory, turned over control to his son. Mr. McMickens expressed considerable dissatisfaction with the B.C.C. after such time. Mr. McMickens and Ms. Ducote also acknowledged numerous occasions whereby collection
More importantly, both Ms. Ducote and Mr. McMickens conceded that money received from the B.C.C. was earmarked as "miscellaneous income," never credited to the customer's account, and never noted on the customer's account card. Consequently, funds obtained never reduced the balance shown by M & M Dodge on its own internal records. Thus, the B.C.C. continued to collect money for M & M Dodge notwithstanding full payment or bankruptcy.
By the date of trial, the B.C.C. had ceased operations. Various accounts were, however, transferred by the B.C.C. to the Credit Bureau Collections in Houma, Louisiana.
In fact, as recently as July 18, 1994, a collection attempt was initiated against the Walkers for the debt allegedly owed M & M Dodge. Exh. P-21. This attempt was ten (10) days after this adversary proceeding was filed,
Initially, this Court notes that the basic purpose of the bankruptcy system is to provide the debtor with a "fresh start." Remedial statutes such as the Bankruptcy Code are to be liberally construed in favor of the debtor in order to better facilitate the debtor's "fresh start." E.g., In re Martin, 157 B.R. 268, 272 (Bankr.W.D.Va.1993) (citing Gleason v. Thaw, 236 U.S. 558, 560, 35 S.Ct. 287, 288, 59 L.Ed. 717 (1915)). See also In re Bugna, 33 F.3d 1054, 1059 (9th Cir.1994). Discharge, however, is a privilege granted to the "honest but unfortunate debtor" and not a right accorded to all. Grogan v. Garner, 498 U.S. 279, 286, 111 S.Ct. 654, 659, 112 L.Ed.2d 755 (1991).
In the normal bankruptcy proceeding, a discharged debtor is protected from any further collection attempts and is relieved from the emotional and legal pressure imposed by overwhelming debt. Discharge and the post-discharge injunction are integral components of the "fresh start." In this matter, the Walkers have been deprived of that opportunity as a result of M & M Dodge's persistent and prolonged violations of the post-discharge injunction. This Court is absolutely outraged and offended by M & M Dodge's seeming indifference to the bankruptcy laws and will not sit idle and allow it to interfere with Walkers' "fresh start."
A. EFFECT OF DISCHARGE
Discharge is the legal embodiment of the "fresh start." It is the barrier that prevents creditors from reaching the wages, property, and other assets of debtors in bankruptcy. In other words, discharge establishes a legal right not to pay a debt and safeguards against harassment by the creditor.
The notable effect of discharge is specified in 11 U.S.C. § 524(a). Section 524(a) states in relevant part:
11 U.S.C. § 524(a)(1)-(2) (emphasis added).
Section 524(a) voids any judgment and enjoins the collection of a debt which effect the personal liability of the debtor. E.g., In re Edgeworth, 993 F.2d 51, 53 (5th Cir.1993), reh'g denied (June 30, 1993). Fundamentally, this section is designed to protect a debtor only from in personam liability.
Section 524 does not prevent a creditor from enforcing a valid, pre-bankruptcy lien or security interest against property that has been retained by the estate or by the debtor after discharge. E.g., Johnson v. Home State Bank, 501 U.S. 78, 111 S.Ct. 2150, 115 L.Ed.2d 66 (1991). The creditor's enforcement of such a lien is considered an in rem action.
B. THE POST-DISCHARGE INJUNCTION
Voids any judgment
11 U.S.C. § 524(a)(1) voids any judgment obtained relating to the personal liability of the debtor. "In essence, section 524(a) declares that any judgment rendered on a discharged debt in any forum other than the
The bankruptcy court can itself find that a post-petition state court judgment void. E.g., In re Grabinski, 150 B.R. 427, 433 (Bankr.N.D.Ill.1993); In re Fisher, 113 B.R. 714, 717 (Bankr.N.D.Okla.1990); L.F. Rothschild & Co. v. Angier, 84 B.R. 274, 277 (D.Mass.1988). The purpose of the provision is to make it unequivocally unnecessary for the debtor to respond in the state court action.
Injunction against legal proceedings or other acts
Moreover, § 524(a)(2) specifically states that any party is enjoined from the "commencement," "continuation," or any "act" to collect or recover the debt as a personal liability of the debtor. The injunction is intentionally broad in scope and is intended to preclude virtually all actions by a creditor to collect personally from the debtor.
Post-discharge lawsuits and litigation are clearly prohibited. This Court is unaware of any case in Louisiana or the Fifth Circuit similar to the present matter. However, numerous other courts have also barred further legal actions against the debtor after discharge.
In this case, the Walkers were not found to have committed any acts to prevent discharge or to create exceptions to discharge under § 523 or § 727 respectively. Appropriately, they were discharged on August 20, 1990, pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 727. A copy of the discharge order was sent to M & M Dodge by the clerk pursuant to F.R.B.P. 4004(g). The order states in part:
M & M Dodge does not deny receiving a copy of this order. This notice should have apprised M & M Dodge that the debtors were no longer personally liable on the debt and the discharge enjoined any act to collect the debt as a personal liability.
C. THE PETITION ON "OPEN ACCOUNT" AND JUDGMENT
At the time of the bankruptcy filing, both vehicles were still encumbered by apparently valid chattel mortgages. Therefore, M & M Dodge could have rightfully repossessed the vehicles shortly after the discharge. Instead, it attempted to have their proverbial "cake" and "eat it too." Despite receiving the notice of filing, M & M Dodge continued to retain money from Mr. Walker's paycheck and applied the funds to the balance on the debt. After Mr. Walker ended his employment with M & M Dodge, it sent a collection letter to the Walkers seeking to recover payment on the debt and declaring an intent to turnover the account to the B.C.C. Soon after, M & M Dodge assigned the account to the B.C.C. for the express purpose of collecting money.
Notwithstanding, M & M Dodge retained the notes and chattel mortgages in its control. There is no mention of these documents in its assignment to B.C.C. The B.C.C. ultimately filed a "Petition on Open Account" against the Walkers in state court seeking $6,573.56 allegedly owed to M & M Dodge. In the petition, no mention was made of M & M Dodge's rights under the promissory notes or the chattel mortgages. In fact, it was the company's standard procedure not to relinquish the notes and chattel mortgages. Consequently, the judgment rendered was also silent as to any rights under the chattel mortgages.
According to well settled Louisiana jurisprudence, where a judgment is silent with respect to any demand which is an issue in the case under the pleading, such silence constitutes an absolute rejection of that demand. E.g., Sun Finance Co. v. Jackson, 525 So.2d 532, 533 (La.1988)
D. VIOLATIONS OF THE POST-DISCHARGE INJUNCTION
It is apparent from the evidence that there have been numerous transgressions of
The Court recognizes that a debtor may always tender voluntary payments to a creditor under 11 U.S.C. § 524(f). However, numerous courts have determined that automatic withdrawal arrangements to pay pre-petition debts violated the automatic stay and the post-discharge injunction unless there was clear evidence that, post-petition, the debtor actually demonstrated his or her willingness to voluntarily have post-petition earnings applied to a dischargeable debt.
In this matter, the Court is not convinced that Mr. Walker genuinely acquiesced to the retention of these funds after filing. The record is deficient of any affirmative manifestation to voluntarily repay the debt through post-petition withdrawals, nor does M & M Dodge purport to have received the Walker's consent either orally or in writing. Moreover, M & M Dodge proffered no evidence demonstrating the procedure to commence or stop payroll deductions. The Court further finds it significant that Mr. Walker was an employee at the time of the withdrawals. Mr. Walker may have perceived some pressure to appease his employer to retain his own job.
Second, M & M Dodge sent a collection letter to the Walkers coercing them to pay the discharged debt. Soon after, M & M Dodge assigned the account to the B.C.C. for the express purpose of collecting money. A state court petition was filed, a judgment was rendered, and garnishment was commenced. Efforts were repeatedly initiated against the Walkers two years later. As a defense to the conglomeration of collection attempts, M & M Dodge argues that the B.C.C. acted independently and under its own direction.
This Court finds little merit in their defense. Mr. McMickens admitted that he "intended" and "hoped" that a lawsuit and garnishment action would be filed to collect the debt once the account was assigned. These lawsuits were filed a "majority" of the time. The B.C.C. routinely remitted approximately one-half (½) of all money recovered to M & M Dodge, which accepted the funds without protest. M & M Dodge could have easily prevented the B.C.C. from its collection activities by a simple phone call or letter informing the latter of the Walker's discharge. Instead, M & M Dodge did nothing and
To further refute this defense, M & M Dodge's own internal bookkeeping and business practices would seem to facilitate such a dereliction and blatant lack of respect for the bankruptcy laws.
Consequently, it is evident to this Court that M & M Dodge was certainly aware of the B.C.C.'s actions, acquiesced to the collection activities against persons who may have paid their debt, received monetary benefits from such activities, and was determined to recoup its losses irrespective of the post-discharge injunction or other legal restraints. Neither witness for M & M Dodge contradicted the assertion that it willfully violated § 362 and § 524(a) or that these infractions caused damage to the Walkers.
Third, M & M Dodge repossessed the vehicles under no colorable right of state law as they lost all rights in the chattel mortgages. Even had the repossession been based upon valid chattel mortgages, the seizing creditor is required to show the consent of the owner to avoid liability for wrongful seizure.
The last all-encompassing defense proffered by M & M Dodge was that the Walkers were equitably estopped from claiming the debt was discharged because somehow it was reaffirmed. To buttress their argument, M & M Dodge contends that on
This is a curious argument indeed and M & M Dodge cites no case law in support. Consequently, this Court will not use its equitable power to depart from the clear confines set forth by Congress in 11 U.S.C. §§ 524(c) and (d).
As Collier states:
3 Collier on Bankruptcy, ¶ 524.04 (emphasis added).
Subsections (c) and (d) delineate the exclusive procedural method to reaffirm a debt and prohibits enforcement of the agreement unless the requirements have been met. See 124 Cong.Rec. H-11,096 (Sept. 28, 1978); S-17,413 (Oct. 6, 1978). In fact, subsection (c) renders reaffirmation agreements effective "only if" the various factors are followed. The case law has uniformly adopted these exclusive prerequisites from Congress.
The Court further notes the case of In re Barnes, 969 F.2d 526 (7th Cir.1992). In Barnes, a Chapter 7 debtor informed an unlisted creditor about the filing and orally promised to pay the creditor in full after bankruptcy. After discharge, the creditor received no money from the debtor and thus filed suit in state court. The debtor moved
The creditor principally argued that the debtor defrauded him out of the remedy in bankruptcy, and the debtor should be estopped from claiming that the debt was discharged. The Seventh Circuit discarded this argument stating that the unlisted creditor merely had an oral promise to pay and the debtor could invoke the discharge. The court asserted that a creditor "who has notice of the bankruptcy proceeding cannot be permitted by facile invocation of fraud or estoppel to bypass the proceeding by suing to collect the original debt and thus undermine the [discharge] statute's purpose." In re Barnes, 969 F.2d at 530.
In this case, the Walkers never entered into a formal written reaffirmation agreement with M & M Dodge, nor were any of the other prerequisites of § 524 fulfilled. Thus, there is no merit to the equitable estoppel arguments.
E. SCOPE OF DAMAGES FOR VIOLATION OF 11 U.S.C. § 524(a)
Violations of the post-discharge injunction cannot be taken lightly by this Court. Otherwise, the "fresh start" will never transpire in favor of these or any other debtors. This Court determines that M & M Dodge was the exclusive actor in the matter. Their flagrant actions and relentless pursuit of these debtors are reprehensible. Having determined that M & M Dodge malevolently violated the post-discharge injunction, this Court will now address the requests for damages. The Walkers contend that the defendants owe $20,000.00 in compensatory damages, $50,000.00 in punitive damages, $25,000.00 in attorney fees, together with interest and costs. The Court would like to carte blanche permit the entire award, but is constrained to examine whether the requests are supported by the law and evidence.
At the outset, the Court notes that, unlike 11 U.S.C. § 362(h), which authorizes an individual injured by a willful violation of the automatic stay to recover actual damages, attorney fees, and where appropriate, punitive damages, § 524 does not expressly mention such awards. Actual damages for violation of § 524 have been awarded based upon the contempt power of the court.
The majority of courts also allow punitive damages but differ as to their reasoning. Some courts expressly rely on the contempt power as authority for punitive damages.
A more compelling justification for punitive damages award such when there
The jurisprudence is similarly split on the issue of whether debtors can recover attorney fees for a violation of the post-discharge injunction. Some courts base an award of attorney fees on the contempt power or § 105.
In this case, it would be disingenuous at best to find that the actions of M & M Dodge have not caused considerable financial and emotional harm to the Walkers. In fact, the Court has never encountered such egregious behavior and lack of respect for the protection afforded debtors in bankruptcy. Moreover, this Court does not believe that Congress would enact 11 U.S.C. § 524 and not empower bankruptcy courts to dissuade invidious creditors from conduct violative of a clear congressional prohibition. To do so would be nothing more than an exercise in legislative futility.
The Walkers are certainly entitled to actual damages for the violation of the post-discharge injunction. These reasons have already concluded that the seizure was wrongful and under no color of state law since the chattel mortgages were forfeited. Immediately afterwards, M & M Dodge sold both the vehicles for $3,822.75 in October
M & M Dodge also failed to terminate its withdrawals from Mr. Walker's paycheck after the bankruptcy filing. According to the Plaintiff's Post-Trial Memorandum, approximately $338.36 was retained from Mr. Walker's paycheck from March 30, 1990, to May 31, 1991. However, the Court is unable to reconcile this figure with Exh. P-24. Accordingly, this request is denied, as Plaintiffs have failed to carry their burden of proof on this item.
These reasons have already discussed the justifications for punitive damages. This Court finds that the sum of $10,000.00 is an appropriate award due to M & M Dodge's malevolent behavior and clear violation of a congressional injunction.
Attorney Fees and Costs
Since September 1992, the approximate time the vehicles were seized, Mr. Willson has performed over seventy-two (72) hours of legal work on behalf of the Walkers at a hourly rate of $150.00. Ms. Strickland, Mr. Willson's paralegal, has expended over eight (8) hours at $45.00 per hour. Thus, total attorney and paralegal fees were $9.393.50. The amount of costs and expenses were $687.20. The Court has reviewed the Mr. Willson's itemization of attorney fees and related costs incurred in this matter in view of Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir.1974) and In re First Colonial Corp., 544 F.2d 1291 (5th Cir. 1977), and finds that it complies with the criteria for awarding attorney fees as elaborated in those cases. Moreover, it represents reasonable fees and costs to defend against the state court lawsuit, garnishment, and to proceed with this action. Therefore, M & M Dodge is required to pay the total fees and costs of $10,080.70 to Mr. Willson.
F. UNFAIR TRADE PRACTICES
In addition to violating the post-discharge injunction, M & M Dodge allegedly violated the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act pursuant to La.Rev.Stat. § 51:1401, et seq. Initially, this Court agrees with the Walkers that a private right of action is afforded to an aggrieved party under La.Rev.Stat. § 51:1409. This statute states:
La.Rev.Stat. § 1409(A).
La.Rev.Stat. § 1405(A) declares unlawful "[u]nfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or business or commerce. ..." Any such act is determined by the trial court on a case by case method. E.g., Bryant v. Sears Consumer Fin. Co., 617 So.2d 1191, 1196 (La.App. 3rd Cir.1993) (citations omitted). A trade practice is unfair when it offends public policy and when the practice is immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous or substantially injurious to consumers. Id. In cases involving wrongful repossession or wrongful seizure, it has been held by Louisiana courts that such actions come under the purview of the Act. E.g., Bryant, 617 So.2d at 1196; Moore v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 364 So.2d 630 (La. App. 2d Cir.1978); Cook v. Spillers, 574 So.2d 464
This Court finds that the actions of M & M Dodge violated the Act. Recovery under this statute may result in an award of treble damages. The action must, however, be "filed" within one year of the alleged act or transaction. La.Rev.Stat. § 51:1409(E). The record reflects that the first mention of the Act in the pleadings was more than one year after the alleged violation.
From the forgoing reasons, this Court finds and concludes that nothing in the record justifies any recovery against the B.C.C. While the Court scarcely condones the B.C.C.'s actions and is perplexed as to why Ms. Strickland's contacts with Mr. Kaplan's office were not more fruitful, it was ultimately M & M Dodge's in-house collection efforts that caused harm to the Walkers. Undeniably, M & M Dodge has malevolently violated the post-discharge injunction of 11 U.S.C. § 524 and the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act. Accordingly,
1) The judgment entered July 1, 1992, in the Ninth Judicial District Court against the Walkers for $6,573.56, together with interest and costs is void. The B.C.C. and its attorney shall take the steps necessary to vacate that judgment and release any judicial mortgages resulting from its recordation. The Walkers' remaining demands against the Bureau of Credit Control — Alexandria, Inc., are hereby denied.
2) There will be judgment herein in favor of the Walkers and against M & M Dodge, Inc., in the amount of $3,822.75, $10,000.00 in punitive damages, and $10,080.70 for attorney fees and costs.
3) The parties are allowed two (2) weeks from the date of this order to submit post-trial memoranda relating only to whether the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act is prescriptive and/or peremptive of the Walkers' claim altogether, whether the claim under the Act relates back to the original pleading, and whether the Walkers are entitled to treble damages.
A separate conforming order will be entered.
Id. at 1517.