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Goldberg is Chapter 7 trustee for bankruptcy cases filed in 1989 by Wayne Sturman and his two brothers. Donna Sturman is their sister. In 2002, Goldberg settled all claims between the bankruptcy estates and that of Donna’s mother. In 2009, Donna, through lawyer Relkin, sought a Surrogate’s Court order restraining Goldberg’s closure of the bankruptcy cases and disgorgement of probate estate assets. The surrogate declined the proposed order. In 2010, a bankruptcy court ruled Donna’s motion violated the automatic stay in bankruptcy. Goldberg appealed the bankruptcy court’s denial of statutory damages and other sanctions under 11 USC §362(k)(1). Despite agreeing that Donna and Relkin violated the automatic stay, the district court found the denial of damages not error. There was little showing of actual harm, and the only fees and costs expended by Goldberg were in bringing a motion for damages under §362. As to punitive damages, appropriate only for stay violations that are “malicious or in bad faith,” the bankruptcy judge’s conduct inferred that although aware of her sanction power she determined that punitive damages would not have been in the interest of justice.

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