from the United States District Court for the District of New
Mexico (D.C. No. 1:15-CV-01013-JCH-LF)
on the briefs:[*]
Lankford and Lee Ann Lankford, Pro Se.
Cheney, Joshua A. Allison, Sheehan & Sheehan, P.A.,
Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Judith Wagner, James A. Askew,
Edward A. Mazel, and Daniel White, Defendants-Appellees.
R. Guebert, Elizabeth M. Piazza, Guebert Bruckner P.C.,
Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Arland & Associates, L.L.C.,
KELLY, MATHESON, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.
McHUGH, Circuit Judge.
and Lee Ann Lankford filed this lawsuit against a bankruptcy
trustee and her counsel without first applying for and
receiving permission under Barton v.
Barbour, 104 U.S. 126 (1881), and its progeny (the
"Barton doctrine"). The district court
concluded that Barton barred the suit and dismissed
for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We affirm.
Lankfords unwittingly invested in a Ponzi scheme operated by
Vaughan Company Realtors (VCR), wherein investors paid money
to VCR in return for interest-bearing promissory notes. After
the Ponzi scheme collapsed, VCR filed for bankruptcy under
Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Unlike many others, the
Lankfords actually profited from their investment. So the
court-appointed trustee of VCR's bankruptcy estate,
Judith Wagner, brought an adversary proceeding against them
in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New
Mexico (the "adversary proceeding"). Through this
and related "clawback" proceedings, the trustee
sought to avoid, or undo, pre-bankruptcy fraudulent transfers
and thus recoup fictitious profits from investors with net
gains for the benefit of all of VCR's creditors.
Lankfords agreed they owed some amount to the estate but
disagreed vehemently with the trustee's calculations,
alleging an overstatement of about $4, 000. They went so far
as to accuse the trustee of extortion, incompetence, and
fraud, but the bankruptcy court twice denied formal requests
under Barton to file counterclaims on these grounds.
Ultimately, the bankruptcy court accepted the trustee's
figure of $45, 939.32 for the Lankfords jointly and $21,
465.07 for Mr. Lankford individually-entering summary
judgment in those amounts. The Lankfords then moved to vacate
summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
60(b)(3) and (d)(3), repeating earlier allegations that the
trustee engaged in fraud by deliberately miscalculating the
amount owed. The bankruptcy court denied their motion.
Lankfords appealed the order denying the motion to vacate,
but not the preceding rulings (i.e., the summary judgment
order itself or the two denials of requests to file
counterclaims per Barton). The district court
affirmed. The Lankfords believed the court system was engaged
in a conspiracy against them, such that a further appeal
would be fruitless; accordingly, they did not appeal the
district court's decision in the adversary proceeding.
Instead, the Lankfords filed the underlying lawsuit against
the trustee and her counsel, accusing them of committing
fraud and violating criminal statutes during the adversary
proceeding. See Aplt. Opening Br. at 54. The
magistrate judge concluded that the Barton doctrine
precludes those claims and, in her Proposed Findings and
Recommended Disposition (PFRD), recommended dismissal under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction. The Lankfords objected to the PFRD,
complaining generally of judicial bias, cronyism, corruption,
and a conspiracy. The district court noted the lack of
specific objections, adopted the PFRD, and dismissed the
pro se, the Lankfords filed this appeal, raising ten issues
relating to the applicability of the Barton
doctrine, the propriety of the bankruptcy court's summary
judgment ruling in the adversary proceeding, purported
judicial misconduct, and alleged violations of criminal
statutes. Most are not properly before us. Having
chosen not to appeal the summary judgment ruling in the
adversary proceeding, the Lankfords cannot circumvent
appellate procedural rules simply by filing a separate
proceeding to collaterally attack that judgment. And the
district court aptly explained why judicial misconduct and
alleged criminal violations are not proper areas of inquiry
for a civil lawsuit by a private citizen against the trustee
and her counsel. This leaves only one question: Does the
Barton doctrine preclude the Lankfords from filing
this lawsuit against the bankruptcy trustee and her
attorneys, given the Lankfords' failure to seek and
receive permission from the bankruptcy court? It does.