Catch a Tiger By the Toe: An Analysis of How to Collect From, and Manage, a Debtor Like Joe Exotic

*The following post contains spoilers for the Netflix documentary Tiger King.*

Keri Ebeck, Esq.
Partner at Bernstein-Burkley

Ray Wendolowski, Esq.
Partner at Bernstei-Burkley

The only thing people have been talking about over the past few weeks is the global crisis caused by COVID-19 and the Netflix documentary “Tiger King.” It’s obvious why we are all discussing and worrying about COVID-19, and the obsession with “Tiger King” also seems obvious: What better way to take our minds off of the virus and everything that comes with it than a documentary about a gun-toting, drug-using, mullet-having, tiger-obsessed, convicted felon?

We watched “Tiger King” like everyone else, but while we watched we couldn’t help but obsess about all of the creditors’ rights activity. For those who haven’t seen the documentary, Carole Baskin (“Baskin”) obtained a million-dollar judgment against Joseph Maldonado-Passage a/k/a “Joe Exotic” as a result of Joe Exotic’s improper use of Baskin’s trademarks. That’s where the fun begins, at least for a creditors’ rights attorney.

For a portion of the documentary, we get to see a glimpse of what Baskin and her lawyers tried to do to collect from Joe Exotic. While that may have been a low point for most viewers, we found it wildly entertaining. Surely, Baskin and her lawyers tried to do more to collect from Joe Exotic than what was revealed in the series, but let’s explore some of what we saw Baskin do and some suggestions for additional actions she should have taken.

In the documentary, we know that Baskin filed fraudulent transfer actions against Joe Exotic and his parents after he transferred his animal park into his parents’ names and she attempted to seize and sell some of Joe Exotic’s assets. That was a good start, but she could have done even more.

For instance, after Joe Exotic filed for bankruptcy, Joe Exotic’s assets became property of the estate, and therefore, any assets were under the control of the appointed Chapter 7 Trustee. Baskin could have attended the meeting of creditors (i.e. 341 meeting).

Baskin also should have filed a proof of claim, as the Chapter 7 was determined to be an asset case. Additionally, Baskin could have filed an adversary for fraudulent transfer under 11. U.S.C. §547.  Within Joe Exotic’s bankruptcy, the Trustee filed a fraudulent transfer adversary, but it was against another Defendant. As the bankruptcy court had jurisdiction, Baskin could have brought her actions there. Fortunately for Baskin, Joe Exotic did not receive a discharge in his bankruptcy, as his discharge was waived; therefore, once the case closed and the Chapter 7 Trustee abandoned any further assets, Baskin was free to proceed in state court.

Once Joe Exotic’s bankruptcy closed, Baskin could have pursued a fraudulent transfer action seeking to unwind the additional efforts that Joe Exotic took to transfer his animal park out of his own name or could have garnished the current owners of the animal park in an attempt to recover any funds the current owners still had to pay to Joe Exotic. Once the sale of the animal park was reversed, Baskin then could have moved to seize the animals located on the park and likely could have foreclosed on the real property.

All of these actions likely would have caused Joe Exotic to make other moves himself, but if Baskin pursued all of these avenues at once, she could have boxed in Joe Exotic and limited his options or even ended up with judgments against some of Joe Exotic’s transferees.

Bottom line: While the Big cats are away, the mice shall play, so it’s imperative as a creditor to be aware of all avenues of collections, bankruptcy matters and legal actions to keep a debtor as tricky as the “Tiger King” from getting away with his antics.

Written by Bernstein- Burkley, P.C. on April 9, 2020

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