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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Sherry Dixon filed suit against Lisanti Foods, Lisanti Foods of Texas, Joseph Lisanti and New Jersey Trucking. She claimed she was terminated when she refused to perform an illegal act. She said Lisanti ordered her to change the vehicle identification numbers on insurance claims to reflect that trucks registered in Arizona had sustained damages rather than trucks in Texas. Dixon surmised that the reason she was being asked to change the number was because, since the Arizona trucks were fully insured, they would get more insurance money; the Texas trucks were not fully insured, and so any insurance claim on them would have been for less money. Dixon said if she had followed Lisanti’s orders, she would have committed insurance, mail and wire fraud. After Dixon filed her suit, Lisanti Foods and Lisanti Foods of Texas filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy under Chapter 11, which gave way to an automatic stay. The trial court in Dixon’s case thus severed and abated Dixon’s claims against those to entities, and allowed the rest of the case to proceed against Lisanti, individually, and NJT. Though all four defendants objected, none urged the trial or bankruptcy courts to extend the automatic stays. The trial against Lisanti and NJT resulted in a verdict for Dixon. The trial court found the defendants jointly and severally liable for $100,000 in actual damages, and each separately liable for $200,000 in exemplary damages. HOLDING:Affirmed. Lisanti first argues on appeal that the trial court’s judgment violated the automatic stay imposed by the bankruptcy filings of Lisanti Foods and Lisanti Foods of Texas. The court points out that the automatic stay is for the benefit of the debtors, not for non-bankrupt parties, though there are exceptions to this general rule. Even if those exceptions apply, though, the substantive and procedural rights related to the stay still belong to the debtor. If the debtor does not challenge a proceeding on the basis that it violates the automatic stay, then the other parties cannot do so for their own purposes. Neither Lisanti Foods nor Lisanti Foods of Texas objected to the continued proceedings against Lisanti and NJT. The court next address the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence. Lisanti argues there is no evidence the VINs were material to the insurance claims, therefore Dixon failed to prove she was requested to perform an illegal act. The court finds that Lisanti did not present any evidence, other than his word, that the Texas trucks were fully insured or that they were similar to the Arizona trucks. Other evidence presented by Lisanti does not show that the misidentification of the insured property on the insurance claims was a matter that was immaterial to the claims. The court then turns to the evidence supporting the finding that Dixon was fired solely because she refused to put false information in the insurance claim. Lisanti claims Dixon was never fired, or, if she was, it wasn’t because of her refusal. Dixon said she was given extra duties and treated hostilely after she refused to change the numbers. She said other employees told her that her job was in jeopardy. She said Lisanti fired her, but then refused to release her paycheck unless she signed a resignation letter, which she did not. Lisanti points to Dixon’s performance problems due to frequent absence and repeated mistakes. The court, however, notes that it was up to the jury to resolve any contradictions and to weigh the credibility of the witnesses. There was legally and factually sufficient evidence otherwise to support the trial court’s finding that Dixon was discharged from her employment solely because she refused to perform an illegal act. The court next reviews whether the trial court erred in concluding that Lisanti was NJT’s alter ego in holding him personally liable. The record shows that Lisanti owned and controlled NJT and exclusively made all the decisions about NJT’s business. Witnesses testified that Lisanti micromanaged the company according to his own personal wishes. Furthermore, witnesses testified that NJT lacked adequate capitalization and even Lisanti conceded the company was not profitable. NJT’s business was constantly intermingled with the business of Lisanti’s other companies. This evidence supports the trial court’s finding that there was a unity between NJT and Lisanti such that NJT was no longer a separate entity and holding only the corporation liable would be unjust. Finally, the court upholds the ruling on punitive damages because, he says, Dixon’s claims sound in contract, and she failed to prove malice. The court points out that part of Dixon’s petition includes a claim for assault, a tort, so malice did not need to be proven. OPINION:Joseph R. Morris, J.; Morris and Whittington, JJ.

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