Exceptions To Discharge: Willful And Malicious Injury Under 11 U.S.C. §523(a)(6)

Exceptions to discharge for claims under 11 U.S.C. §523(a) (6) are determined exclusively by bankruptcy courts via the filing of timely adversary proceeding complaint per Fed. R. Bankr. P. 4007. Section 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code provides:

(a) A discharge under section 727, 1141, 1228(a), 1228(b), or 1328(b) of this title does

not discharge an individual debtor from any debt –

. . . .

(6) for willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another entity or to the property of

another entity.

11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6).


In Kawaauhau v. Geiger, 523 U.S. 57, 118 S.Ct. 974 (1998), the Supreme Court held that willful means voluntary, intentional or deliberate and therefore only acts done with the intent to cause harm, not merely acts done intentionally, can cause willful and malicious injury. The Sixth

Circuit has interpreted Geiger to mean “that unless ‘the actor desires to cause consequences of his act, or … believes that the consequences are substantially certain to result from it,’… he has not committed a ‘willful and malicious injury’ as defined under § 523(a)(6).” In re Markowitz, 190 F.3d at 464.  In other words, the defendant must have intended to cause the actual injuries, not just the act that led to the injuries.

“Malice” for purposes of § 523(a)(6), was defined by the Supreme Court in Tinker v. Colwell, 193 U.S. 473, 24 S.Ct. 505, 48 L.Ed. 754 (1904), as “a wrongful act, done intentionally, without just cause or excuse.” Id. at 485–86, 24 S.Ct. 505 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Markowitz v. Campbell (In re Markowitz), 190 F.3d 455 (6th Cir. 1999). The Sixth Circuit has interpreted the malice component of § 523(a)(6), as “means in conscious disregard of one’s duties or without just cause or excuse; it does not require ill-will or specific intent to do harm.” Wheeler v. Laudani, 783 F.2d 610, 615 (6th Cir. 1986).

By: Jamie L. Harris, Esq.

Jamie Harris is a member with DelCotto Law Group PLLC. Her practice of law focuses on helping business owners hurdle financial obstacles. Jamie is best known for her experience in filing Chapter 7, 11, 12, and 13 bankruptcies. In her Chapter 11 cases, Jamie has represented companies from many different industries including healthcare, nonprofit, trucking, construction, commercial real estate and telecommunications.


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