November 22, 2017

Process – Bankruptcy Basics

Article I, Section 8, of the United States Constitution authorizes Congress to enact “uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies.” Under this grant of authority, Congress enacted the “Bankruptcy Code” in 1978. The Bankruptcy Code, which is codified as title 11 of the United States Code, has been amended several times since its enactment. It is the uniform federal law that governs all bankruptcy cases.

The procedural aspects of the bankruptcy process are governed by the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure (often called the “Bankruptcy Rules”) and local rules of each bankruptcy court. The Bankruptcy Rules contain a set of official forms for use in bankruptcy cases. The Bankruptcy Code and Bankruptcy Rules (and local rules) set forth the formal legal procedures for dealing with the debt problems of individuals and businesses.

There is a bankruptcy court for each judicial district in the country. Each state has one or more districts. There are 90 bankruptcy districts across the country. The bankruptcy courts generally have their own clerk’s offices.

The court official with decision-making power over federal bankruptcy cases is the United States bankruptcy judge, a judicial officer of the United States district court. The bankruptcy judge may decide any matter connected with a bankruptcy case, such as eligibility to file or whether a debtor should receive a discharge of debts. Much of the bankruptcy process is administrative, however, and is conducted away from the courthouse. In cases under chapters 7, 12, or 13, and sometimes in chapter 11 cases, this administrative process is carried out by a trustee who is appointed to oversee the case.

A debtor’s involvement with the bankruptcy judge is usually very limited. A typical chapter 7 debtor will not appear in court and will not see the bankruptcy judge unless an objection is raised in the case. A chapter 13 debtor may only have to appear before the bankruptcy judge at a plan confirmation hearing. Usually, the only formal proceeding at which a debtor must appear is the meeting of creditors, which is usually held at the offices of the U.S. trustee. This meeting is informally called a “341 meeting” because section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code requires that the debtor attend this meeting so that creditors can question the debtor about debts and property.

A fundamental goal of the federal bankruptcy laws enacted by Congress is to give debtors a financial “fresh start” from burdensome debts. The Supreme Court made this point about the purpose of the bankruptcy law in a 1934 decision:

[I]t gives to the honest but unfortunate debtor…a new opportunity in life and a clear field for future effort, unhampered by the pressure and discouragement of preexisting debt.

Local Loan Co. v. Hunt, 292 U.S. 234, 244 (1934). This goal is accomplished through the bankruptcy discharge, which releases debtors from personal liability from specific debts and prohibits creditors from ever taking any action against the debtor to collect those debts. This publication describes the bankruptcy discharge in a question and answer format, discussing the timing of the discharge, the scope of the discharge (what debts are discharged and what debts are not discharged), objections to discharge, and revocation of the discharge. It also describes what a debtor can do if a creditor attempts to collect a discharged debt after the bankruptcy case is concluded.

Six basic types of bankruptcy cases are provided for under the Bankruptcy Code, each of which is discussed in this publication. The cases are traditionally given the names of the chapters that describe them.

Chapter 7, entitled Liquidation, contemplates an orderly, court-supervised procedure by which a trustee takes over the assets of the debtor’s estate, reduces them to cash, and makes distributions to creditors, subject to the debtor’s right to retain certain exempt property and the rights of secured creditors. Because there is usually little or no nonexempt property in most chapter 7 cases, there may not be an actual liquidation of the debtor’s assets. These cases are called “no-asset cases.” A creditor holding an unsecured claim will get a distribution from the bankruptcy estate only if the case is an asset case and the creditor files a proof of claim with the bankruptcy court. In most chapter 7 cases, if the debtor is an individual, he or she receives a discharge that releases him or her from personal liability for certain dischargeable debts. The debtor normally receives a discharge just a few months after the petition is filed. Amendments to the Bankruptcy Code enacted in to the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 require the application of a “means test” to determine whether individual consumer debtors qualify for relief under chapter 7. If such a debtor’s income is in excess of certain thresholds, the debtor may not be eligible for chapter 7 relief.

Chapter 9, entitled Adjustment of Debts of a Municipality, provides essentially for reorganization, much like a reorganization under chapter 11. Only a “municipality” may file under chapter 9, which includes cities and towns, as well as villages, counties, taxing districts, municipal utilities, and school districts.

Chapter 11, entitled Reorganization, ordinarily is used by commercial enterprises that desire to continue operating a business and repay creditors concurrently through a court-approved plan of reorganization. The chapter 11 debtor usually has the exclusive right to file a plan of reorganization for the first 120 days after it files the case and must provide creditors with a disclosure statement containing information adequate to enable creditors to evaluate the plan. The court ultimately approves (confirms) or disapproves the plan of reorganization. Under the confirmed plan, the debtor can reduce its debts by repaying a portion of its obligations and discharging others. The debtor can also terminate burdensome contracts and leases, recover assets, and rescale its operations in order to return to profitability. Under chapter 11, the debtor normally goes through a period of consolidation and emerges with a reduced debt load and a reorganized business.

Chapter 12, entitled Adjustment of Debts of a Family Farmer or Fisherman with Regular Annual Income, provides debt relief to family farmers and fishermen with regular income. The process under chapter 12 is very similar to that of chapter 13, under which the debtor proposes a plan to repay debts over a period of time – no more than three years unless the court approves a longer period, not exceeding five years. There is also a trustee in every chapter 12 case whose duties are very similar to those of a chapter 13 trustee. The chapter 12 trustee’s disbursement of payments to creditors under a confirmed plan parallels the procedure under chapter 13. Chapter 12 allows a family farmer or fisherman to continue to operate the business while the plan is being carried out.

Chapter 13, entitled Adjustment of Debts of an Individual With Regular Income, is designed for an individual debtor who has a regular source of income. Chapter 13 is often preferable to chapter 7 because it enables the debtor to keep a valuable asset, such as a house, and because it allows the debtor to propose a “plan” to repay creditors over time – usually three to five years. Chapter 13 is also used by consumer debtors who do not qualify for chapter 7 relief under the means test. At a confirmation hearing, the court either approves or disapproves the debtor’s repayment plan, depending on whether it meets the Bankruptcy Code’s requirements for confirmation. Chapter 13 is very different from chapter 7 since the chapter 13 debtor usually remains in possession of the property of the estate and makes payments to creditors, through the trustee, based on the debtor’s anticipated income over the life of the plan. Unlike chapter 7, the debtor does not receive an immediate discharge of debts. The debtor must complete the payments required under the plan before the discharge is received. The debtor is protected from lawsuits, garnishments, and other creditor actions while the plan is in effect. The discharge is also somewhat broader (i.e., more debts are eliminated) under chapter 13 than the discharge under chapter 7.

The purpose of Chapter 15, entitled Ancillary and Other Cross-Border Cases, is to provide an effective mechanism for dealing with cases of cross-border insolvency. This publication discusses the applicability of Chapter 15 where a debtor or its property is subject to the laws of the United States and one or more foreign countries.

In addition to the basic types of bankruptcy cases, Bankruptcy Basics provides an overview of the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act, which, among other things, provides protection to members of the military against the entry of default judgments and gives the court the ability to stay proceedings against military debtors.

This publication also contains a description of liquidation proceedings under the Securities Investor Protection Act (“SIPA”). Although the Bankruptcy Code provides for a stockbroker liquidation proceeding, it is far more likely that a failing brokerage firm will find itself involved in a SIPA proceeding. The purpose of SIPA is to return to investors securities and cash left with failed brokerages. Since being established by Congress in 1970, the Securities Investor Protection Corporation has protected investors who deposit stocks and bonds with brokerage firms by ensuring that every customer’s property is protected, up to $500,000 per customer.

The bankruptcy process is complex and relies on legal concepts like the “automatic stay,” “discharge,” “exemptions,” and “assume.” Therefore, the final chapter of this publication is a glossary of Bankruptcy Terminology which explains, in layman’s terms, most of the legal concepts that apply in cases filed under the Bankruptcy Code.

Reprinted from http://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy/bankruptcy-basics/process-bankruptcy-basics

CONTEMPLATING A BANKRUPTCY AFTER DIVORCE

Oftentimes Bankruptcy and Divorce go hand-in-hand.  If you are in the process of getting divorced, it would be wise to consult a consumer attorney to analyze your financial circumstances, ensuring all of your obligations will be accounted for in the Divorce Decree/Separation Agreement, and to determine if you can handle paying them once you go back to a single income after the divorce.  Bankruptcy may be a safe option once you are divorced if you find you cannot afford living on a single income.

If you will be taking the bulk of the debt once you separate and do not have the income to support it, you may consider filing for bankruptcy and starting over all together once the divorce is finalized.  Here are some topics that often arise from divorce when contemplating a bankruptcy or may lead you to file for bankruptcy after your divorce:

  1. Who will take the marital home and pay its related expenses?

If you are getting a divorce and taking over possession of the marital home, along with taking over the related expenses, especially the mortgage(s) on the home, be sure to have your Divorce Decree state the terms of this transfer accurately.

Also, making a budget before the divorce is final will help you determine if you will be able to afford to stay in the home.

If it is determined that you can, in fact, afford to live in the home after the divorce, then make sure the proper documents are recorded on the Land Records after the transfer.  This will give you a paper trial you may need to provide in your bankruptcy case later on.

  1. Will you be responsible for credit cards in your ex-spouses name?

If so, make sure the Divorce Decree/Separation Agreement spells out all debt you will be taking responsibility for once the divorce is final, along with the last four digits of any account numbers.  Once the divorce is final, be sure to contact each company in writing and have the accounts switched into your name.  Wait at least six weeks and then review your credit report(s) to ensure accurate reporting, so as not to inadvertently leave off a debt you are responsible for on your Bankruptcy petition, among other things.

  1. Will you be ordered to pay alimony or child support?

Keep in mind, that these particular types of “debts” are allowable deductible expenses in your Bankruptcy case; this means that they are taken into consideration when qualifying for Bankruptcy.  Also, it is important to note that court-ordered Alimony and Child Support are what is known in the Bankruptcy realm as “priority debts” and cannot be discharged in most cases.  (Taxes and loans involving the government are also included in the priority category.)  It is vitally important to have all obligations in this category fully defined and explained in your Divorce Decree/Separation Agreement, as you will likely be fulfilling these obligations regardless of ever filing for Bankruptcy.

Filing for bankruptcy after a divorce is not the end of the world.  In fact, it may be the best thing that ever happened to you, and will help you to move on and start fresh.

25% Off Estate Planning / Reminders & Announcements

For the month of January 2017, all Estate Planning Packages are 25% off.  They include a Will, Living Will and Power of Attorney.  Also, we are announcing that we are moving from 74 Cherry Street to 50 Cherry Street, Milford, CT as of February 1, 2017, and we will be starting a new Blog/Vlog Series in February 2017 regarding the entire Chapter 7 Bankruptcy process!!

What is Bankruptcy?

Are you maxed out on your credit cards? Have you recently been laid off? Do you have unexpected medical bills? Is your phone ringing off the hook with aggressive bill collectors? Has your mortgage ballooned out of control? In a nutshell, are your bills more than you can pay?

Fortunately, there’s a bailout available to you, the” little guy.” It’s called bankruptcy. It’s a relatively simple legal procedure that wipes out your debts.

WHAT GOES AWAY

Annoying Bill Collector Calls
Foreclosure
Credit Card Bills
Medical Bills
Court Judgments
The Mortgage On Your Home (IF you choose to walk away from the house)
Your Automobile Note (IF you choose to walk away from your car)

Interestingly enough, you will receive dozens and dozens ofoffers from car dealers to sell you a brand new car, many times at better terms than you currently have. Often, by going bankrupt, you can actually upgrade your vehicle.

WHAT YOU KEEP

Your Automobile (in most cases)
Your House (in most cases)
Your Utilities
Your Career
Your Possessions
Your Pension

Many famous people found themselves in a position similar to yours and did the smart thing. They declared bankruptcy and got a fresh start in their lives. The fact that they are famous proves that they were able to reach their potential BECAUSE of the clean slate they gained from declaring bankruptcy. Here’s just a few of the famous people who once went bankrupt.

Mark Twain, MC Hammer, Dee Snider, Kim Basinger, Suge Knight, Abraham Lincoln, Francis Ford Coppola, Oscar Wilde, Burt Reynolds all went bankrupt to clean up the financial mess they found themselves in

While you may not think highly of lawyers, it makes sense to at least talk to a bankruptcy attorney Almost all of them offer a free consultation during which they will lay out your options so that you can make an informed choice as to whether bankruptcy makes sense to you, and if it does, whether it’s something you can do yourself.

The Bankruptcy Laws are complex and vary from State to State. This is why it’s important to use a bankruptcy attorney where you live.  For a qualified bankruptcy attorney in your state, My Credit Hell provides a list of board certified bankruptcy attorneys in your state who offer FREE CONSULTATIONS. Moreover, there was a massive re-write of the Federal Bankruptcy Laws in 2005. Bankruptcy Lawyers knows the bankruptcy laws. By understanding and knowing how to apply all existing and relevant state and federal exemptions (things you can keep) can often permit you to keep your car and house. Your pension, future wages remain yours.

In many cases, the fee you pay your bankruptcy attorney will be more than offset by the value of the additional property and assets they’ll manage for you to keep. In other words, retaining a bankruptcy attorney can not only pay for itself and then some, it will result in less work and stress for you.

Contact us here.

8B7EE00E-B868-430B-8F88-DAFC44AD828B

Bankruptcy 101: The Very Basics

What is Bankruptcy?

Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding afforded to people (or businesses) who are unable to handle a financial crisis. Bankruptcy is made available by federal law so that you can have a fresh start.

How Does Bankruptcy Work?

After an individual qualifies and files a bankruptcy, legal protections are then instilled by the court that protect the filer as they fix their financial situation, and get their life back on track.

Title 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code offers various forms or chapters of relief. The chapters most commonly used by consumers are Chapter 7 (known as the Bankruptcy Reform Act) and Chapter 13.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is for persons wishing to be free from debt who cannot afford to pay back a significant portion of their unsecured debt. Chapter 13 is for those who wish to pay a portion of their unsecured debt back, and can afford to do so.

Filing for bankruptcy can have the following impact:

• Relieve you of unsecured debt that you are unable to pay such as medical bills, credit cards, bank loans, business debts, overdraft charges and utility bills. Not all unsecured debt is dischargeable.

• Stop creditor harassment. After you file a bankruptcy petition, the automatic stayprotection immediately works to prohibit creditors from calling, billing, threatening, suing or taking any measures to collect from you. After you file a Bankruptcy Petition, even secured creditors must get court permission to repossess your car or foreclose on your home.

• Give you the opportunity to catch up on your car and/or mortgage payments.

You are probably wondering: “How does one qualify? How long does the process take? How will bankruptcy affect my credit? Will I lose everything I own?”

An individual contemplating bankruptcy should seek out as much information as possible as the process is complex and will have a major impact on your life. Bankruptcy for many people is the best answer, and can provide immediate relief both personally and financially. There are many factors to consider before filing for bankruptcy and scheduling a legal consultation will help in providing you answers to any questions you may have.

Bankruptcy is federal law, but individual states have unique exemptions — so it is best to seek out a competent, professional and experienced local bankruptcy attorney like Attorney DeGray, who’s legally bound to provide you with the best counsel possible for your unique case.

Eight Easy Steps Through Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

What is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy was enacted to allow persons who are hopelessly burdened by debt to have an opportunity for a new beginning by wiping out unsecured debts (debts that aren’t tied to any specific item of property, most commonly credit cards). Chapter 7 is designed for persons who cannot afford to pay a significant portion of their debt back to lenders and is available to individuals, couples and businesses. The process is often referred to as liquidation. In theory, you are surrendering your assets to the court in exchange for a discharge (elimination) from all of your debts. However, individuals and couples are allowed to keep certain exempt property that varies by category and value.

Step 1: Before You Can File

At the initial consultation your Second Start attorney will give you a list of documents that you need in order to prepare your Bankruptcy Petition and schedules. Second Start will also provide you with an intake form to complete. Once the listed documents have been assembled and the intake form is completed, a second appointment with Second Start will be scheduled where the documentation and intake form is reviewed.

Step 2: Credit Counseling Commences

After the second appointment and the documents are ready, you will attend Credit Counseling and obtain a Credit Counseling certificate. While Credit Counseling is sought, Second Start will prepare your court papers. We will then have a final in-office appointment, where a Second Start attorney will completely review your bankruptcy petition and schedules with you, and you will sign your petition and schedules.

Step 3: Bankruptcy Papers are Filed

Second Start files your case with the court. Your papers are filed electronically with the Bankruptcy Court, and you will immediately receive lawful protection from harassing creditors. Second Start will provide you with your bankruptcy case number after the case is filed. If you continue to receive phone calls from bill collectors, you can give the creditor your case number and the Second Start telephone number. Debt collectors should deal directly with your attorney after your bankruptcy is filed. If you have creditors who are garnishing, foreclosing or repossessing property, Second Start will notify that creditor immediately after the bankruptcy is filed and you will be protected from this kind of harassment.

Step 4: Financial Management Course
After your case is filed, you will need to attend “The Financial Management Course” approved by the United States Trustee’s office — www.usdoj.gov/ust ). After completion, you will bring this certificate to your Second Start attorney for the Meeting of Creditors.

Step 5: Attend Meeting of Creditors
Approximately 30 days after your case is filed, Second Start will attend a hearing with you that is called a 341 Meeting of Creditors. At this meeting, a U.S. Trustee, who is appointed to your case, will interview you for approximately 5-10 minutes and ask you some basic questions about your case. This meeting is mandatory, and you must appear with proper identification (current picture identification and Social Security Card). You must also bring a copy of your most recent statements for all financial accounts and the pay stub(s) that you receive after your case is filed. The meeting is called the Meeting of Creditors because this is also an opportunity for the creditors to come and ask you questions. However, in most cases creditors do not appear.

Step 6: 60 Days Later
In each case, the Trustee and Creditors are given time to object to various aspects of the filer’s petition and schedules. Although objections are rare, in some cases, they do occur. All objections are due within 60 days after the Meeting of Creditors. Quality preparation of your petition, schedules, and statements will help prevent most unnecessary objections.

Step 7: Receive Discharge
If no party files an objection in your case, you should receive a discharge shortly after the 60-day waiting period expires.

Step 8: Post-Discharge Asset Administration
In some cases, where non-exempt assets are turned over to the bankruptcy estate, your case may remain open until all of the assets are received and distributed.

5 Fall Pumpkin Recipes on a Budget

I love the summer, but by the time it draws to an end and the leaves start changing, I get excited for autumn in the Northeast. For me, fall signifies hiking through the foliage, apple cider, and of course, all things pumpkin! If you’ve got that fall pumpkin craving, check out these awesome and cheap pumpkin inspired recipes. I have compiled a list of five cheap pumpkin recipes that the whole family will enjoy!

  1. Roasted Pumpkin Seeds. This is one of my all-time favorite snacks. Not only are pumpkin seeds delicious, but they are also a healthy snack or addition to soups and salads. If you’re carving pumpkins, don’t throw away the seeds! Just separate them from all that pulp, wash them, and let them dry on a baking sheet overnight. In the morning, preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Spray the sheet with cooking spray, and line the seeds evenly on the baking sheet, throw a pinch of salt overtop and place them in the oven. Let the seeds bake for around an hour, stirring them every 15 minutes or so. When the seeds are done and crispy, take them out and enjoy!
  2. Pumpkin Crumb Coffee Cake. Enjoy this delicious dessert or breakfast cake that embodies all the great flavors of fall – warm spices, pumpkin, and a cup of coffee on the side!
  3. At only 82 cents per serving, these Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars are the perfect dessert for a family dinner or Halloween party. Impress your friends and family with these cheap and easy treats.
  4. My cousin’s fiancé, a generally quiet guy who keeps to himself, goes bananas for pumpkin pie. Every year, my aunt makes an extra pie just for him, and he will pretty much fight you to the death if you come near it. You’ll go just as crazy for this inexpensive sweet treat.
  5. I had a friend in college who broadened my culinary horizon in two ways. The first – showing me how to make an amazing salad dressing. Two – introducing me to pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. Every Friday during my senior year of college, the girls I lived with would sit down for a family dinner together. We would rotate who cooked dinner, and we came up with some pretty adventurous foods, but dessert never changed. Nearly every week for the entire year, my friend made pumpkin chocolate chip cookies on Fridays. Leftovers never made it to Saturday. In fact, more often than not, we’d finish dozens of cookies within an hour of them coming out of the oven. Food can take you back to another time and place. The memories I associate with pumpkin chocolate chip cookies are irreplaceable, and the memories that you can make with this cherished recipe will be too.

Pumpkin is a great addition to all of your favorite fall recipes. Having pumpkin as the main ingredient in a dish is a very cost effective way to get a lot of flavor. Try out one of the above recipes and enjoy a cheap fall treat!

Chapter 11 – Bankruptcy Basics

Background

A case filed under chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code is frequently referred to as a “reorganization” bankruptcy.

An individual cannot file under chapter 11 or any other chapter if, during the preceding 180 days, a prior bankruptcy petition was dismissed due to the debtor’s willful failure to appear before the court or comply with orders of the court, or was voluntarily dismissed after creditors sought relief from the bankruptcy court to recover property upon which they hold liens. 11 U.S.C. §§ 109(g), 362(d)-(e). In addition, no individual may be a debtor under chapter 11 or any chapter of the Bankruptcy Code unless he or she has, within 180 days before filing, received credit counseling from an approved credit counseling agency either in an individual or group briefing. 11 U.S.C. §§ 109, 111. There are exceptions in emergency situations or where the U.S. trustee (or bankruptcy administrator) has determined that there are insufficient approved agencies to provide the required counseling. If a debt management plan is developed during required credit counseling, it must be filed with the court.

How Chapter 11 Works

A chapter 11 case begins with the filing of a petition with the bankruptcy court serving the area where the debtor has a domicile or residence. A petition may be a voluntary petition, which is filed by the debtor, or it may be an involuntary petition, which is filed by creditors that meet certain requirements. 11 U.S.C. §§ 301, 303. A voluntary petition must adhere to the format of Form 1 of the Official Forms prescribed by the Judicial Conference of the United States. Unless the court orders otherwise, the debtor also must file with the court: (1) schedules of assets and liabilities; (2) a schedule of current income and expenditures; (3) a schedule of executory contracts and unexpired leases; and (4) a statement of financial affairs. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1007(b). If the debtor is an individual (or husband and wife), there are additional document filing requirements. Such debtors must file: a certificate of credit counseling and a copy of any debt repayment plan developed through credit counseling; evidence of payment from employers, if any, received 60 days before filing; a statement of monthly net income and any anticipated increase in income or expenses after filing; and a record of any interest the debtor has in federal or state qualified education or tuition accounts.11 U.S.C. § 521. A husband and wife may file a joint petition or individual petitions. 11 U.S.C. § 302(a). (The Official Forms are not available from the court, but may be purchased at legal stationery stores or downloaded from the Internet at www.uscourts.gov/bkforms/index.html.)

The courts are required to charge a $1,167 case filing fee and a $550 miscellaneous administrative fee. The fees must be paid to the clerk of the court upon filing or may, with the court’s permission, be paid by individual debtors in installments. 28 U.S.C. § 1930(a); Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1006(b); Bankruptcy Court Miscellaneous Fee Schedule, Item 8. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1006(b) limits to four the number of installments for the filing fee. The final installment must be paid not later than 120 days after filing the petition. For cause shown, the court may extend the time of any installment, provided that the last installment is paid not later than 180 days after the filing of the petition. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1006(b). The $550 administrative fee may be paid in installments in the same manner as the filing fee. If a joint petition is filed, only one filing fee and one administrative fee are charged. Debtors should be aware that failure to pay these fees may result in dismissal of the case. 11 U.S.C. § 1112(b)(10).

The voluntary petition will include standard information concerning the debtor’s name(s), social security number or tax identification number, residence, location of principal assets (if a business), the debtor’s plan or intention to file a plan, and a request for relief under the appropriate chapter of the Bankruptcy Code. Upon filing a voluntary petition for relief under chapter 11 or, in an involuntary case, the entry of an order for relief, the debtor automatically assumes an additional identity as the “debtor in possession.” 11 U.S.C. § 1101. The term refers to a debtor that keeps possession and control of its assets while undergoing a reorganization under chapter 11, without the appointment of a case trustee. A debtor will remain a debtor in possession until the debtor’s plan of reorganization is confirmed, the debtor’s case is dismissed or converted to chapter 7, or a chapter 11 trustee is appointed. The appointment or election of a trustee occurs only in a small number of cases. Generally, the debtor, as “debtor in possession,” operates the business and performs many of the functions that a trustee performs in cases under other chapters. 11 U.S.C. § 1107(a).

Generally, a written disclosure statement and a plan of reorganization must be filed with the court. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1121, 1125. The disclosure statement is a document that must contain information concerning the assets, liabilities, and business affairs of the debtor sufficient to enable a creditor to make an informed judgment about the debtor’s plan of reorganization. 11 U.S.C. § 1125. The information required is governed by judicial discretion and the circumstances of the case. In a “small business case” (discussed below) the debtor may not need to file a separate disclosure statement if the court determines that adequate information is contained in the plan. 11 U.S.C. § 1125(f). The contents of the plan must include a classification of claims and must specify how each class of claims will be treated under the plan. 11 U.S.C. § 1123. Creditors whose claims are “impaired,” i.e., those whose contractual rights are to be modified or who will be paid less than the full value of their claims under the plan, vote on the plan by ballot. 11 U.S.C. § 1126. After the disclosure statement is approved by the court and the ballots are collected and tallied, the court will conduct a confirmation hearing to determine whether to confirm the plan. 11 U.S.C. § 1128.

In the case of individuals, chapter 11 bears some similarities to chapter 13. For example, property of the estate for an individual debtor includes the debtor’s earnings and property acquired by the debtor after filing until the case is closed, dismissed or converted; funding of the plan may be from the debtor’s future earnings; and the plan cannot be confirmed over a creditor’s objection without committing all of the debtor’s disposable income over five years unless the plan pays the claim in full, with interest, over a shorter period of time. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1115, 1123(a)(8), 1129(a)(15).

The Chapter 11 Debtor in Possession

Chapter 11 is typically used to reorganize a business, which may be a corporation, sole proprietorship, or partnership. A corporation exists separate and apart from its owners, the stockholders. The chapter 11 bankruptcy case of a corporation (corporation as debtor) does not put the personal assets of the stockholders at risk other than the value of their investment in the company’s stock. A sole proprietorship (owner as debtor), on the other hand, does not have an identity separate and distinct from its owner(s). Accordingly, a bankruptcy case involving a sole proprietorship includes both the business and personal assets of the owners-debtors. Like a corporation, a partnership exists separate and apart from its partners. In a partnership bankruptcy case (partnership as debtor), however, the partners’ personal assets may, in some cases, be used to pay creditors in the bankruptcy case or the partners, themselves, may be forced to file for bankruptcy protection.

Section 1107 of the Bankruptcy Code places the debtor in possession in the position of a fiduciary, with the rights and powers of a chapter 11 trustee, and it requires the debtor to perform of all but the investigative functions and duties of a trustee. These duties, set forth in the Bankruptcy Code and Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, include accounting for property, examining and objecting to claims, and filing informational reports as required by the court and the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator (discussed below), such as monthly operating reports. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1106, 1107; Fed. R. Bankr. P. 2015(a). The debtor in possession also has many of the other powers and duties of a trustee, including the right, with the court’s approval, to employ attorneys, accountants, appraisers, auctioneers, or other professional persons to assist the debtor during its bankruptcy case. Other responsibilities include filing tax returns and reports which are either necessary or ordered by the court after confirmation, such as a final accounting. The U.S. trustee is responsible for monitoring the compliance of the debtor in possession with the reporting requirements.

Railroad reorganizations have specific requirements under subsection IV of chapter 11, which will not be addressed here. In addition, stock and commodity brokers are prohibited from filing under chapter 11 and are restricted to chapter 7. 11 U.S.C. § 109(d).

The U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator

The U.S. trustee plays a major role in monitoring the progress of a chapter 11 case and supervising its administration. The U.S. trustee is responsible for monitoring the debtor in possession’s operation of the business and the submission of operating reports and fees. Additionally, the U.S. trustee monitors applications for compensation and reimbursement by professionals, plans and disclosure statements filed with the court, and creditors’ committees. The U.S. trustee conducts a meeting of the creditors, often referred to as the “section 341 meeting,” in a chapter 11 case. 11 U.S.C. § 341. The U.S. trustee and creditors may question the debtor under oath at the section 341 meeting concerning the debtor’s acts, conduct, property, and the administration of the case.

The U.S. trustee also imposes certain requirements on the debtor in possession concerning matters such as reporting its monthly income and operating expenses, establishing new bank accounts, and paying current employee withholding and other taxes. By law, the debtor in possession must pay a quarterly fee to the U.S. trustee for each quarter of a year until the case is converted or dismissed. 28 U.S.C. § 1930(a)(6). The amount of the fee, which may range from $325 to $30,000, depends on the amount of the debtor’s disbursements during each quarter. Should a debtor in possession fail to comply with the reporting requirements of the U.S. trustee or orders of the bankruptcy court, or fail to take the appropriate steps to bring the case to confirmation, the U.S. trustee may file a motion with the court to have the debtor’s chapter 11 case converted to another chapter of the Bankruptcy Code or to have the case dismissed.

In North Carolina and Alabama, bankruptcy administrators perform similar functions that U.S. trustees perform in the remaining forty-eight states. The bankruptcy administrator program is administered by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, while the U.S. trustee program is administered by the Department of Justice. For purposes of this publication, references to U.S. trustees are also applicable to bankruptcy administrators.

Creditors’ Committees

Creditors’ committees can play a major role in chapter 11 cases. The committee is appointed by the U.S. trustee and ordinarily consists of unsecured creditors who hold the seven largest unsecured claims against the debtor. 11 U.S.C. § 1102. Among other things, the committee: consults with the debtor in possession on administration of the case; investigates the debtor’s conduct and operation of the business; and participates in formulating a plan. 11 U.S.C. § 1103. A creditors’ committee may, with the court’s approval, hire an attorney or other professionals to assist in the performance of the committee’s duties. A creditors’ committee can be an important safeguard to the proper management of the business by the debtor in possession.

The Small Business Case and the Small Business Debtor

In some smaller cases the U.S. trustee may be unable to find creditors willing to serve on a creditors’ committee, or the committee may not be actively involved in the case. The Bankruptcy Code addresses this issue by treating a “small business case” somewhat differently than a regular bankruptcy case. A small business case is defined as a case with a “small business debtor.” 11 U.S.C. § 101(51C). Determination of whether a debtor is a “small business debtor” requires application of a two-part test. First, the debtor must be engaged in commercial or business activities (other than primarily owning or operating real property) with total non-contingent liquidated secured and unsecured debts of $2,490,925 or less. Second, the debtor’s case must be one in which the U.S. trustee has not appointed a creditors’ committee, or the court has determined the creditors’ committee is insufficiently active and representative to provide oversight of the debtor. 11 U.S.C. § 101(51D).

In a small business case, the debtor in possession must, among other things, attach the most recently prepared balance sheet, statement of operations, cash-flow statement and most recently filed tax return to the petition or provide a statement under oath explaining the absence of such documents and must attend court and the U.S. trustee meeting through senior management personnel and counsel. The small business debtor must make ongoing filings with the court concerning its profitability and projected cash receipts and disbursements, and must report whether it is in compliance with the Bankruptcy Code and the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and whether it has paid its taxes and filed its tax returns. 11 U.S.C. §§ 308, 1116.

In contrast to other chapter 11 debtors, the small business debtor is subject to additional oversight by the U.S. trustee. Early in the case, the small business debtor must attend an “initial interview” with the U.S. trustee at which time the U.S. trustee will evaluate the debtor’s viability, inquire about the debtor’s business plan, and explain certain debtor obligations including the debtor’s responsibility to file various reports. 28 U.S.C. § 586(a)(7). The U.S. trustee will also monitor the activities of the small business debtor during the case to identify as promptly as possible whether the debtor will be unable to confirm a plan.

Because certain filing deadlines are different and extensions are more difficult to obtain, a case designated as a small business case normally proceeds more quickly than other chapter 11 cases. For example, only the debtor may file a plan during the first 180 days of a small business case. 11 U.S.C. § 1121(e). This “exclusivity period” may be extended by the court, but only to 300 days, and only if the debtor demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that the court will confirm a plan within a reasonable period of time. When the case is not a small business case, however, the court may extend the exclusivity period “for cause” up to 18 months.

The Single Asset Real Estate Debtor

Single asset real estate debtors are subject to special provisions of the Bankruptcy Code. The term “single asset real estate” is defined as “a single property or project, other than residential real property with fewer than four residential units, which generates substantially all of the gross income of a debtor who is not a family farmer and on which no substantial business is being conducted by a debtor other than the business of operating the real property and activities incidental.” 11 U.S.C. § 101(51B). The Bankruptcy Code provides circumstances under which creditors of a single asset real estate debtor may obtain relief from the automatic stay which are not available to creditors in ordinary bankruptcy cases. 11 U.S.C. § 362(d). On request of a creditor with a claim secured by the single asset real estate and after notice and a hearing, the court will grant relief from the automatic stay to the creditor unless the debtor files a feasible plan of reorganization or begins making interest payments to the creditor within 90 days from the date of the filing of the case, or within 30 days of the court’s determination that the case is a single asset real estate case. The interest payments must be equal to the non-default contract interest rate on the value of the creditor’s interest in the real estate. 11 U.S.C. § 362(d)(3).

Appointment or Election of a Case Trustee

Although the appointment of a case trustee is a rarity in a chapter 11 case, a party in interest or the U.S. trustee can request the appointment of a case trustee or examiner at any time prior to confirmation in a chapter 11 case. The court, on motion by a party in interest or the U.S. trustee and after notice and hearing, shall order the appointment of a case trustee for cause, including fraud, dishonesty, incompetence, or gross mismanagement, or if such an appointment is in the interest of creditors, any equity security holders, and other interests of the estate. 11 U.S.C. § 1104(a). Moreover, the U.S. trustee is required to move for appointment of a trustee if there are reasonable grounds to believe that any of the parties in control of the debtor “participated in actual fraud, dishonesty or criminal conduct in the management of the debtor or the debtor’s financial reporting.” 11 U.S.C. § 1104(e). The trustee is appointed by the U.S. trustee, after consultation with parties in interest and subject to the court’s approval. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 2007.1. Alternatively, a trustee in a case may be elected if a party in interest requests the election of a trustee within 30 days after the court orders the appointment of a trustee. In that instance, the U.S. trustee convenes a meeting of creditors for the purpose of electing a person to serve as trustee in the case. 11 U.S.C. § 1104(b).

The case trustee is responsible for management of the property of the estate, operation of the debtor’s business, and, if appropriate, the filing of a plan of reorganization. Section 1106 of the Bankruptcy Code requires the trustee to file a plan “as soon as practicable” or, alternatively, to file a report explaining why a plan will not be filed or to recommend that the case be converted to another chapter or dismissed. 11 U.S.C. § 1106(a)(5).

Upon the request of a party in interest or the U.S. trustee, the court may terminate the trustee’s appointment and restore the debtor in possession to management of bankruptcy estate at any time before confirmation.11 U.S.C. § 1105.

The Role of an Examiner

The appointment of an examiner in a chapter 11 case is rare. The role of an examiner is generally more limited than that of a trustee. The examiner is authorized to perform the investigatory functions of the trustee and is required to file a statement of any investigation conducted. If ordered to do so by the court, however, an examiner may carry out any other duties of a trustee that the court orders the debtor in possession not to perform. 11 U.S.C. § 1106. Each court has the authority to determine the duties of an examiner in each particular case. In some cases, the examiner may file a plan of reorganization, negotiate or help the parties negotiate, or review the debtor’s schedules to determine whether some of the claims are improperly categorized. Sometimes, the examiner may be directed to determine if objections to any proofs of claim should be filed or whether causes of action have sufficient merit so that further legal action should be taken. The examiner may not subsequently serve as a trustee in the case. 11 U.S.C. § 321.

The Automatic Stay

The automatic stay provides a period of time in which all judgments, collection activities, foreclosures, and repossessions of property are suspended and may not be pursued by the creditors on any debt or claim that arose before the filing of the bankruptcy petition. As with cases under other chapters of the Bankruptcy Code, a stay of creditor actions against the chapter 11 debtor automatically goes into effect when the bankruptcy petition is filed. 11 U.S.C. § 362(a). The filing of a petition, however, does not operate as a stay for certain types of actions listed under 11 U.S.C. § 362(b). The stay provides a breathing spell for the debtor, during which negotiations can take place to try to resolve the difficulties in the debtor’s financial situation.

Under specific circumstances, the secured creditor can obtain an order from the court granting relief from the automatic stay. For example, when the debtor has no equity in the property and the property is not necessary for an effective reorganization, the secured creditor can seek an order of the court lifting the stay to permit the creditor to foreclose on the property, sell it, and apply the proceeds to the debt. 11 U.S.C. § 362(d).

The Bankruptcy Code permits applications for fees to be made by certain professionals during the case. Thus, a trustee, a debtor’s attorney, or any professional person appointed by the court may apply to the court at intervals of 120 days for interim compensation and reimbursement payments. In very large cases with extensive legal work, the court may permit more frequent applications. Although professional fees may be paid if authorized by the court, the debtor cannot make payments to professional creditors on prepetition obligations, i.e., obligations which arose before the filing of the bankruptcy petition. The ordinary expenses of the ongoing business, however, continue to be paid.

Who Can File a Plan

The debtor (unless a “small business debtor”) has a 120-day period during which it has an exclusive right to file a plan. 11 U.S.C. § 1121(b). This exclusivity period may be extended or reduced by the court. But in no event may the exclusivity period, including all extensions, be longer than 18 months. 11 U.S.C. § 1121(d). After the exclusivity period has expired, a creditor or the case trustee may file a competing plan. The U.S. trustee may not file a plan. 11 U.S.C. § 307.

A chapter 11 case may continue for many years unless the court, the U.S. trustee, the committee, or another party in interest acts to ensure the case’s timely resolution. The creditors’ right to file a competing plan provides incentive for the debtor to file a plan within the exclusivity period and acts as a check on excessive delay in the case.

Avoidable Transfers

The debtor in possession or the trustee, as the case may be, has what are called “avoiding” powers. These powers may be used to undo a transfer of money or property made during a certain period of time before the filing of the bankruptcy petition. By avoiding a particular transfer of property, the debtor in possession can cancel the transaction and force the return or “disgorgement” of the payments or property, which then are available to pay all creditors. Generally, and subject to various defenses, the power to avoid transfers is effective against transfers made by the debtor within 90 days before filing the petition. But transfers to “insiders” (i.e., relatives, general partners, and directors or officers of the debtor) made up to a year before filing may be avoided. 11 U.S.C. §§ 101(31), 101(54), 547, 548. In addition, under 11 U.S.C. § 544, the trustee is authorized to avoid transfers under applicable state law, which often provides for longer time periods. Avoiding powers prevent unfair prepetition payments to one creditor at the expense of all other creditors.

Cash Collateral, Adequate Protection, and Operating Capital

Although the preparation, confirmation, and implementation of a plan of reorganization is at the heart of a chapter 11 case, other issues may arise that must be addressed by the debtor in possession. The debtor in possession may use, sell, or lease property of the estate in the ordinary course of its business, without prior approval, unless the court orders otherwise. 11 U.S.C. § 363(c). If the intended sale or use is outside the ordinary course of its business, the debtor must obtain permission from the court.

A debtor in possession may not use “cash collateral” without the consent of the secured party or authorization by the court, which must first examine whether the interest of the secured party is adequately protected. 11 U.S.C. § 363. Section 363 defines “cash collateral” as cash, negotiable instruments, documents of title, securities, deposit accounts, or other cash equivalents, whenever acquired, in which the estate and an entity other than the estate have an interest. It includes the proceeds, products, offspring, rents, or profits of property and the fees, charges, accounts or payments for the use or occupancy of rooms and other public facilities in hotels, motels, or other lodging properties subject to a creditor’s security interest.

When “cash collateral” is used (spent), the secured creditors are entitled to receive additional protection under section 363 of the Bankruptcy Code. The debtor in possession must file a motion requesting an order from the court authorizing the use of the cash collateral. Pending consent of the secured creditor or court authorization for the debtor in possession’s use of cash collateral, the debtor in possession must segregate and account for all cash collateral in its possession. 11 U.S.C. § 363(c)(4). A party with an interest in property being used by the debtor may request that the court prohibit or condition this use to the extent necessary to provide “adequate protection” to the creditor.

Adequate protection may be required to protect the value of the creditor’s interest in the property being used by the debtor in possession. This is especially important when there is a decrease in value of the property. The debtor may make periodic or lump sum cash payments, or provide an additional or replacement lien that will result in the creditor’s property interest being adequately protected. 11 U.S.C. § 361.

When a chapter 11 debtor needs operating capital, it may be able to obtain it from a lender by giving the lender a court-approved “superpriority” over other unsecured creditors or a lien on property of the estate. 11 U.S.C. § 364.

Motions

Before confirmation of a plan, several activities may take place in a chapter 11 case. Continued operation of the debtor’s business may lead to the filing of a number of contested motions. The most common are those seeking relief from the automatic stay, the use of cash collateral, or to obtain credit. There may also be litigation over executory (i.e., unfulfilled) contracts and unexpired leases and the assumption or rejection of those executory contracts and unexpired leases by the debtor in possession. 11 U.S.C. § 365. Delays in formulating, filing, and obtaining confirmation of a plan often prompt creditors to file motions for relief from stay, to convert the case to chapter 7, or to dismiss the case altogether.

Adversary Proceedings

Frequently, the debtor in possession will institute a lawsuit, known as an adversary proceeding, to recover money or property for the estate. Adversary proceedings may take the form of lien avoidance actions, actions to avoid preferences, actions to avoid fraudulent transfers, or actions to avoid post-petition transfers. These proceedings are governed by Part VII of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. At times, a creditors’ committee may be authorized by the bankruptcy court to pursue these actions against insiders of the debtor if the plan provides for the committee to do so or if the debtor has refused a demand to do so. Creditors may also initiate adversary proceedings by filing complaints to determine the validity or priority of a lien, revoke an order confirming a plan, determine the dischargeability of a debt, obtain an injunction, or subordinate a claim of another creditor.

Claims

The Bankruptcy Code defines a claim as: (1) a right to payment; (2) or a right to an equitable remedy for a failure of performance if the breach gives rise to a right to payment. 11 U.S.C. § 101(5). Generally, any creditor whose claim is not scheduled (i.e., listed by the debtor on the debtor’s schedules) or is scheduled as disputed, contingent, or unliquidated must file a proof of claim (and attach evidence documenting the claim) in order to be treated as a creditor for purposes of voting on the plan and distribution under it. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3003(c)(2). But filing a proof of claim is not necessary if the creditor’s claim is scheduled (but is not listed as disputed, contingent, or unliquidated by the debtor) because the debtor’s schedules are deemed to constitute evidence of the validity and amount of those claims. 11 U.S.C. § 1111. If a scheduled creditor chooses to file a claim, a properly filed proof of claim supersedes any scheduling of that claim. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3003(c)(4). It is the responsibility of the creditor to determine whether the claim is accurately listed on the debtor’s schedules. The debtor must provide notification to those creditors whose names are added and whose claims are listed as a result of an amendment to the schedules. The notification also should advise such creditors of their right to file proofs of claim and that their failure to do so may prevent them from voting upon the debtor’s plan of reorganization or participating in any distribution under that plan. When a debtor amends the schedule of liabilities to add a creditor or change the status of any claims to disputed, contingent, or unliquidated, the debtor must provide notice of the amendment to any entity affected. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1009(a).

Equity Security Holders

An equity security holder is a holder of an equity security of the debtor. Examples of an equity security are a share in a corporation, an interest of a limited partner in a limited partnership, or a right to purchase, sell, or subscribe to a share, security, or interest of a share in a corporation or an interest in a limited partnership. 11 U.S.C. § 101(16), (17). An equity security holder may vote on the plan of reorganization and may file a proof of interest, rather than a proof of claim. A proof of interest is deemed filed for any interest that appears in the debtor’s schedules, unless it is scheduled as disputed, contingent, or unliquidated. 11 U.S.C. § 1111. An equity security holder whose interest is not scheduled or is scheduled as disputed, contingent, or unliquidated must file a proof of interest in order to be treated as a creditor for purposes of voting on the plan and distribution under it. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3003(c)(2). A properly filed proof of interest supersedes any scheduling of that interest. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3003(c)(4). Generally, most of the provisions that apply to proofs of claim, as discussed above, are also applicable to proofs of interest.

Conversion or Dismissal

A debtor in a case under chapter 11 has a one-time absolute right to convert the chapter 11 case to a case under chapter 7 unless: (1) the debtor is not a debtor in possession; (2) the case originally was commenced as an involuntary case under chapter 11; or (3) the case was converted to a case under chapter 11 other than at the debtor’s request. 11 U.S.C. § 1112(a). A debtor in a chapter 11 case does not have an absolute right to have the case dismissed upon request.

A party in interest may file a motion to dismiss or convert a chapter 11 case to a chapter 7 case “for cause.” Generally, if cause is established after notice and hearing, the court must convert or dismiss the case (whichever is in the best interests of creditors and the estate) unless it specifically finds that the requested conversion or dismissal is not in the best interest of creditors and the estate. 11 U.S.C. § 1112(b). Alternatively, the court may decide that appointment of a chapter 11 trustee or an examiner is in the best interests of creditors and the estate. 11 U.S.C. § 1104(a)(3). Section 1112(b)(4) of the Bankruptcy Code sets forth numerous examples of cause that would support dismissal or conversion. For example, the moving party may establish cause by showing that there is substantial or continuing loss to the estate and the absence of a reasonable likelihood of rehabilitation; gross mismanagement of the estate; failure to maintain insurance that poses a risk to the estate or the public; or unauthorized use of cash collateral that is substantially harmful to a creditor.

Cause for dismissal or conversion also includes an unexcused failure to timely compliance with reporting and filing requirements; failure to attend the meeting of creditors or attend an examination without good cause; failure to timely provide information to the U.S. trustee; and failure to timely pay post-petition taxes or timely file post-petition returns Fed. R. Bankr. P. 2004. Additionally, failure to file a disclosure statement or to file and confirm a plan within the time fixed by the Bankruptcy Code or order of the court; inability to effectuate a plan; denial or revocation of confirmation; inability to consummate a confirmed plan represent “cause” for dismissal under the statute. In an individual case, failure of the debtor to pay post-petition domestic support obligations constitutes “cause” for dismissal or conversion.

Section 1112(c) of the Bankruptcy Code provides an important exception to the conversion process in a chapter 11 case. Under this provision, the court is prohibited from converting a case involving a farmer or charitable institution to a liquidation case under chapter 7 unless the debt or requests the conversion.

The Disclosure Statement

Generally, the debtor (or any plan proponent) must file and get court approval of a written disclosure statement before there can be a vote on the plan of reorganization. The disclosure statement must provide “adequate information” concerning the affairs of the debtor to enable the holder of a claim or interest to make an informed judgment about the plan. 11 U.S.C. § 1125. In a small business case, however, the court may determine that the plan itself contains adequate information and that a separate disclosure statement is unnecessary. 11 U.S.C. § 1125(f). After the disclosure statement is filed, the court must hold a hearing to determine whether the disclosure statement should be approved. Acceptance or rejection of a plan usually cannot be solicited until the court has first approved the written disclosure statement. 11 U.S.C. § 1125(b). An exception to this rule exists if the initial solicitation of the party occurred before the bankruptcy filing, as would be the case in so-called “prepackaged” bankruptcy plans (i.e., where the debtor negotiates a plan with significant creditor constituencies before filing for bankruptcy). Continued post-filing solicitation of such parties is not prohibited. After the court approves the disclosure statement, the debtor or proponent of a plan can begin to solicit acceptances of the plan, and creditors may also solicit rejections of the plan.

Upon approval of a disclosure statement, the plan proponent must mail the following to the U.S. trustee and all creditors and equity security holders: (1) the plan, or a court approved summary of the plan; (2) the disclosure statement approved by the court; (3) notice of the time within which acceptances and rejections of the plan may be filed; and (4) such other information as the court may direct, including any opinion of the court approving the disclosure statement or a court-approved summary of the opinion. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3017(d). In addition, the debtor must mail to the creditors and equity security holders entitled to vote on the plan or plans: (1) notice of the time fixed for filing objections; (2) notice of the date and time for the hearing on confirmation of the plan; and (3) a ballot for accepting or rejecting the plan and, if appropriate, a designation for the creditors to identify their preference among competing plans. Id. But in a small business case, the court may conditionally approve a disclosure statement subject to final approval after notice and a combined disclosure statement/plan confirmation hearing. 11 U.S.C. § 1125(f).

Acceptance of the Plan of Reorganization

As noted earlier, only the debtor may file a plan of reorganization during the first 120-day period after the petition is filed (or after entry of the order for relief, if an involuntary petition was filed). The court may grant extension of this exclusive period up to 18 months after the petition date. In addition, the debtor has 180 days after the petition date or entry of the order for relief to obtain acceptances of its plan. 11 U.S.C. § 1121. The court may extend (up to 20 months) or reduce this acceptance exclusive period for cause. 11 U.S.C. § 1121(d). In practice, debtors typically seek extensions of both the plan filing and plan acceptance deadlines at the same time so that any order sought from the court allows the debtor two months to seek acceptances after filing a plan before any competing plan can be filed.

If the exclusive period expires before the debtor has filed and obtained acceptance of a plan, other parties in interest in a case, such as the creditors’ committee or a creditor, may file a plan. Such a plan may compete with a plan filed by another party in interest or by the debtor. If a trustee is appointed, the trustee must file a plan, a report explaining why the trustee will not file a plan, or a recommendation for conversion or dismissal of the case. 11 U.S.C. § 1106(a)(5). A proponent of a plan is subject to the same requirements as the debtor with respect to disclosure and solicitation.

In a chapter 11 case, a liquidating plan is permissible. Such a plan often allows the debtor in possession to liquidate the business under more economically advantageous circumstances than a chapter 7 liquidation. It also permits the creditors to take a more active role in fashioning the liquidation of the assets and the distribution of the proceeds than in a chapter 7 case.

Section 1123(a) of the Bankruptcy Code lists the mandatory provisions of a chapter 11 plan, and section 1123(b) lists the discretionary provisions. Section 1123(a)(1) provides that a chapter 11 plan must designate classes of claims and interests for treatment under the reorganization. Generally, a plan will classify claim holders as secured creditors, unsecured creditors entitled to priority, general unsecured creditors, and equity security holders.

Under section 1126(c) of the Bankruptcy Code, an entire class of claims is deemed to accept a plan if the plan is accepted by creditors that hold at least two-thirds in amount and more than one-half in number of the allowed claims in the class. Under section 1129(a)(10), if there are impaired classes of claims, the court cannot confirm a plan unless it has been accepted by at least one class of non-insiders who hold impaired claims (i.e., claims that are not going to be paid completely or in which some legal, equitable, or contractual right is altered). Moreover, under section 1126(f), holders of unimpaired claims are deemed to have accepted the plan.

Under section 1127(a) of the Bankruptcy Code, the plan proponent may modify the plan at any time before confirmation, but the plan as modified must meet all the requirements of chapter 11. When there is a proposed modification after balloting has been conducted, and the court finds after a hearing that the proposed modification does not adversely affect the treatment of any creditor who has not accepted the modification in writing, the modification is deemed to have been accepted by all creditors who previously accepted the plan. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3019. If it is determined that the proposed modification does have an adverse effect on the claims of non-consenting creditors, then another balloting must take place.

Because more than one plan may be submitted to the creditors for approval, every proposed plan and modification must be dated and identified with the name of the entity or entities submitting the plan or modification. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3016(b). When competing plans are presented that meet the requirements for confirmation, the court must consider the preferences of the creditors and equity security holders in determining which plan to confirm.

Any party in interest may file an objection to confirmation of a plan. The Bankruptcy Code requires the court, after notice, to hold a hearing on confirmation of a plan. If no objection to confirmation has been timely filed, the Bankruptcy Code allows the court to determine whether the plan has been proposed in good faith and according to law. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3020(b)(2). Before confirmation can be granted, the court must be satisfied that there has been compliance with all the other requirements of confirmation set forth in section 1129 of the Bankruptcy Code, even in the absence of any objections. In order to confirm the plan, the court must find, among other things, that: (1) the plan is feasible; (2) it is proposed in good faith; and (3) the plan and the proponent of the plan are in compliance with the Bankruptcy Code. In order to satisfy the feasibility requirement, the court must find that confirmation of the plan is not likely to be followed by liquidation (unless the plan is a liquidating plan) or the need for further financial reorganization.

The Discharge

Section 1141(d)(1) generally provides that confirmation of a plan discharges a debtor from any debt that arose before the date of confirmation. After the plan is confirmed, the debtor is required to make plan payments and is bound by the provisions of the plan of reorganization. The confirmed plan creates new contractual rights, replacing or superseding pre-bankruptcy contracts.

There are, of course, exceptions to the general rule that an order confirming a plan operates as a discharge. Confirmation of a plan of reorganization discharges any type of debtor – corporation, partnership, or individual – from most types of prepetition debts. It does not, however, discharge an individual debtor from any debt made nondischargeable by section 523 of the Bankruptcy Code. (1) Moreover, except in limited circumstances, a discharge is not available to an individual debtor unless and until all payments have been made under the plan. 11 U.S.C. § 1141(d)(5). Confirmation does not discharge the debtor if the plan is a liquidation plan, as opposed to one of reorganization, unless the debtor is an individual. When the debtor is an individual, confirmation of a liquidation plan will result in a discharge (after plan payments are made) unless grounds would exist for denying the debtor a discharge if the case were proceeding under chapter 7 instead of chapter 11. 11 U.S.C. §§ 727(a), 1141(d).

Postconfirmation Modification of the Plan

At any time after confirmation and before “substantial consummation” of a plan, the proponent of a plan may modify the plan if the modified plan would meet certain Bankruptcy Code requirements. 11 U.S.C. § 1127(b). This should be distinguished from preconfirmation modification of the plan. A modified postconfirmation plan does not automatically become the plan. A modified postconfirmation plan in a chapter 11 case becomes the plan only “if circumstances warrant such modification” and the court, after notice and hearing, confirms the plan as modified. If the debtor is an individual, the plan may be modified postconfirmation upon the request of the debtor, the trustee, the U.S. trustee, or the holder of an allowed unsecured claim to make adjustments to payments due under the plan. 11 U.S.C. § 1127(e).

Postconfirmation Administration

Notwithstanding the entry of the confirmation order, the court has the authority to issue any other order necessary to administer the estate. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3020(d). This authority would include the postconfirmation determination of objections to claims or adversary proceedings, which must be resolved before a plan can be fully consummated. Sections 1106(a)(7) and 1107(a) of the Bankruptcy Code require a debtor in possession or a trustee to report on the progress made in implementing a plan after confirmation. A chapter 11 trustee or debtor in possession has a number of responsibilities to perform after confirmation, including consummating the plan, reporting on the status of consummation, and applying for a final decree.

Revocation of the Confirmation Order

Revocation of the confirmation order is an undoing or cancellation of the confirmation of a plan. A request for revocation of confirmation, if made at all, must be made by a party in interest within 180 days of confirmation. The court, after notice and hearing, may revoke a confirmation order “if and only if the [confirmation] order was procured by fraud.” 11 U.S.C. § 1144.

The Final Decree

A final decree closing the case must be entered after the estate has been “fully administered.” Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3022. Local bankruptcy court policies generally determine when the final decree is entered and the case closed.


Notes

  1. Debts not discharged include debts for alimony and child support, certain taxes, debts for certain educational benefit overpayments or loans made or guaranteed by a governmental unit, debts for willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another entity or to the property of another entity, debts for death or personal injury caused by the debtor’s operation of a motor vehicle while the debtor was intoxicated from alcohol or other substances, and debts for certain criminal restitution orders.11 U.S.C. § 523(a). The debtor will continue to be liable for these types of debts to the extent that they are not paid in the chapter 11 case. Debts for money or property obtained by false pretenses, debts for fraud or defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity, and debts for willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another entity or to the property of another entity will be discharged unless a creditor timely files and prevails in an action to have such debts declared nondischargeable. 11 U.S.C. § 523(c); Fed. R. Bankr. P. 4007(c).

SOURCE: http://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy/bankruptcy-basics/chapter-11-bankruptcy-basics

Chapter 13 – Bankruptcy Basics

Background

A chapter 13 bankruptcy is also called a wage earner’s plan. It enables individuals with regular income to develop a plan to repay all or part of their debts. Under this chapter, debtors propose a repayment plan to make installments to creditors over three to five years. If the debtor’s current monthly income is less than the applicable state median, the plan will be for three years unless the court approves a longer period “for cause.” (1) If the debtor’s current monthly income is greater than the applicable state median, the plan generally must be for five years. In no case may a plan provide for payments over a period longer than five years. 11 U.S.C. § 1322(d). During this time the law forbids creditors from starting or continuing collection efforts.

This chapter discusses six aspects of a chapter 13 proceeding: the advantages of choosing chapter 13, the chapter 13 eligibility requirements, how a chapter 13 proceeding works, making the plan work, and the special chapter 13 discharge.

Advantages of Chapter 13

Chapter 13 offers individuals a number of advantages over liquidation under chapter 7. Perhaps most significantly, chapter 13 offers individuals an opportunity to save their homes from foreclosure. By filing under this chapter, individuals can stop foreclosure proceedings and may cure delinquent mortgage payments over time. Nevertheless, they must still make all mortgage payments that come due during the chapter 13 plan on time. Another advantage of chapter 13 is that it allows individuals to reschedule secured debts (other than a mortgage for their primary residence) and extend them over the life of the chapter 13 plan. Doing this may lower the payments. Chapter 13 also has a special provision that protects third parties who are liable with the debtor on “consumer debts.” This provision may protect co-signers. Finally, chapter 13 acts like a consolidation loan under which the individual makes the plan payments to a chapter 13 trustee who then distributes payments to creditors. Individuals will have no direct contact with creditors while under chapter 13 protection.

Chapter 13 Eligibility

Any individual, even if self-employed or operating an unincorporated business, is eligible for chapter 13 relief as long as the individual’s unsecured debts are less than $383,175 and secured debts are less than $1,149,525. 11 U.S.C. § 109(e). These amounts are adjusted periodically to reflect changes in the consumer price index. A corporation or partnership may not be a chapter 13 debtor. Id.

An individual cannot file under chapter 13 or any other chapter if, during the preceding 180 days, a prior bankruptcy petition was dismissed due to the debtor’s willful failure to appear before the court or comply with orders of the court or was voluntarily dismissed after creditors sought relief from the bankruptcy court to recover property upon which they hold liens. 11 U.S.C. §§ 109(g), 362(d) and (e). In addition, no individual may be a debtor under chapter 13 or any chapter of the Bankruptcy Code unless he or she has, within 180 days before filing, received credit counseling from an approved credit counseling agency either in an individual or group briefing. 11 U.S.C. §§ 109, 111. There are exceptions in emergency situations or where the U.S. trustee (or bankruptcy administrator) has determined that there are insufficient approved agencies to provide the required counseling. If a debt management plan is developed during required credit counseling, it must be filed with the court.

How Chapter 13 Works

A chapter 13 case begins by filing a petition with the bankruptcy court serving the area where the debtor has a domicile or residence. Unless the court orders otherwise, the debtor must also file with the court: (1) schedules of assets and liabilities; (2) a schedule of current income and expenditures; (3) a schedule of executory contracts and unexpired leases; and (4) a statement of financial affairs. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1007(b). The debtor must also file a certificate of credit counseling and a copy of any debt repayment plan developed through credit counseling; evidence of payment from employers, if any, received 60 days before filing; a statement of monthly net income and any anticipated increase in income or expenses after filing; and a record of any interest the debtor has in federal or state qualified education or tuition accounts. 11 U.S.C. § 521. The debtor must provide the chapter 13 case trustee with a copy of the tax return or transcripts for the most recent tax year as well as tax returns filed during the case (including tax returns for prior years that had not been filed when the case began). Id. A husband and wife may file a joint petition or individual petitions. 11 U.S.C. § 302(a). (The Official Forms may be purchased at legal stationery stores or downloaded from the Internet at www.uscourts.gov/bkforms/index.html. They are not available from the court.)

The courts must charge a $235 case filing fee and a $75 miscellaneous administrative fee. Normally the fees must be paid to the clerk of the court upon filing. With the court’s permission, however, they may be paid in installments. 28 U.S.C. § 1930(a); Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1006(b); Bankruptcy Court Miscellaneous Fee Schedule, Item 8. The number of installments is limited to four, and the debtor must make the final installment no later than 120 days after filing the petition. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1006(b). For cause shown, the court may extend the time of any installment, as long as the last installment is paid no later than 180 days after filing the petition. Id. The debtor may also pay the $75 administrative fee in installments. If a joint petition is filed, only one filing fee and one administrative fee are charged. Debtors should be aware that failure to pay these fees may result in dismissal of the case. 11 U.S.C. § 1307(c)(2).

In order to complete the Official Bankruptcy Forms that make up the petition, statement of financial affairs, and schedules, the debtor must compile the following information:

  1. A list of all creditors and the amounts and nature of their claims;
  2. The source, amount, and frequency of the debtor’s income;
  3. A list of all of the debtor’s property; and
  4. A detailed list of the debtor’s monthly living expenses, i.e., food, clothing, shelter, utilities, taxes, transportation, medicine, etc.

Married individuals must gather this information for their spouse regardless of whether they are filing a joint petition, separate individual petitions, or even if only one spouse is filing. In a situation where only one spouse files, the income and expenses of the non-filing spouse is required so that the court, the trustee and creditors can evaluate the household’s financial position.

When an individual files a chapter 13 petition, an impartial trustee is appointed to administer the case. 11 U.S.C. § 1302. In some districts, the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator (2) appoints a standing trustee to serve in all chapter 13 cases. 28 U.S.C. § 586(b). The chapter 13 trustee both evaluates the case and serves as a disbursing agent, collecting payments from the debtor and making distributions to creditors. 11 U.S.C. § 1302(b).

Filing the petition under chapter 13 “automatically stays” (stops) most collection actions against the debtor or the debtor’s property. 11 U.S.C. § 362. Filing the petition does not, however, stay certain types of actions listed under 11 U.S.C. § 362(b), and the stay may be effective only for a short time in some situations. The stay arises by operation of law and requires no judicial action. As long as the stay is in effect, creditors generally may not initiate or continue lawsuits, wage garnishments, or even make telephone calls demanding payments. The bankruptcy clerk gives notice of the bankruptcy case to all creditors whose names and addresses are provided by the debtor.

Chapter 13 also contains a special automatic stay provision that protects co-debtors. Unless the bankruptcy court authorizes otherwise, a creditor may not seek to collect a “consumer debt” from any individual who is liable along with the debtor. 11 U.S.C. § 1301(a). Consumer debts are those incurred by an individual primarily for a personal, family, or household purpose. 11 U.S.C. § 101(8).

Individuals may use a chapter 13 proceeding to save their home from foreclosure. The automatic stay stops the foreclosure proceeding as soon as the individual files the chapter 13 petition. The individual may then bring the past-due payments current over a reasonable period of time. Nevertheless, the debtor may still lose the home if the mortgage company completes the foreclosure sale under state law before the debtor files the petition. 11 U.S.C. § 1322(c). The debtor may also lose the home if he or she fails to make the regular mortgage payments that come due after the chapter 13 filing.

Between 21 and 50 days after the debtor files the chapter 13 petition, the chapter 13 trustee will hold a meeting of creditors. If the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator schedules the meeting at a place that does not have regular U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator staffing, the meeting may be held no more than 60 days after the debtor files. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 2003(a). During this meeting, the trustee places the debtor under oath, and both the trustee and creditors may ask questions. The debtor must attend the meeting and answer questions regarding his or her financial affairs and the proposed terms of the plan.11 U.S.C. § 343. If a husband and wife file a joint petition, they both must attend the creditors’ meeting and answer questions. In order to preserve their independent judgment, bankruptcy judges are prohibited from attending the creditors’ meeting. 11 U.S.C. § 341(c). The parties typically resolve problems with the plan either during or shortly after the creditors’ meeting. Generally, the debtor can avoid problems by making sure that the petition and plan are complete and accurate, and by consulting with the trustee prior to the meeting.

In a chapter 13 case, to participate in distributions from the bankruptcy estate, unsecured creditors must file their claims with the court within 90 days after the first date set for the meeting of creditors. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3002(c). A governmental unit, however, has 180 days from the date the case is filed file a proof of claim.11 U.S.C. § 502(b)(9).

After the meeting of creditors, the debtor, the chapter 13 trustee, and those creditors who wish to attend will come to court for a hearing on the debtor’s chapter 13 repayment plan.

The Chapter 13 Plan and Confirmation Hearing

Unless the court grants an extension, the debtor must file a repayment plan with the petition or within 14 days after the petition is filed. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3015. A plan must be submitted for court approval and must provide for payments of fixed amounts to the trustee on a regular basis, typically biweekly or monthly. The trustee then distributes the funds to creditors according to the terms of the plan, which may offer creditors less than full payment on their claims.

There are three types of claims: priority, secured, and unsecured. Priority claims are those granted special status by the bankruptcy law, such as most taxes and the costs of bankruptcy proceeding. (3) Secured claims are those for which the creditor has the right take back certain property (i.e., the collateral) if the debtor does not pay the underlying debt. In contrast to secured claims, unsecured claims are generally those for which the creditor has no special rights to collect against particular property owned by the debtor.

The plan must pay priority claims in full unless a particular priority creditor agrees to different treatment of the claim or, in the case of a domestic support obligation, unless the debtor contributes all “disposable income” – discussed below – to a five-year plan.11 U.S.C. § 1322(a).

If the debtor wants to keep the collateral securing a particular claim, the plan must provide that the holder of the secured claim receive at least the value of the collateral. If the obligation underlying the secured claim was used to buy the collateral (e.g., a car loan), and the debt was incurred within certain time frames before the bankruptcy filing, the plan must provide for full payment of the debt, not just the value of the collateral (which may be less due to depreciation). Payments to certain secured creditors (i.e., the home mortgage lender), may be made over the original loan repayment schedule (which may be longer than the plan) so long as any arrearage is made up during the plan. The debtor should consult an attorney to determine the proper treatment of secured claims in the plan.

The plan need not pay unsecured claims in full as long it provides that the debtor will pay all projected “disposable income” over an “applicable commitment period,” and as long as unsecured creditors receive at least as much under the plan as they would receive if the debtor’s assets were liquidated under chapter 7. 11 U.S.C. § 1325. In chapter 13, “disposable income” is income (other than child support payments received by the debtor) less amounts reasonably necessary for the maintenance or support of the debtor or dependents and less charitable contributions up to 15% of the debtor’s gross income. If the debtor operates a business, the definition of disposable income excludes those amounts which are necessary for ordinary operating expenses. 11 U.S.C. § 1325(b)(2)(A) and (B). The “applicable commitment period” depends on the debtor’s current monthly income. The applicable commitment period must be three years if current monthly income is less than the state median for a family of the same size – and five years if the current monthly income is greater than a family of the same size. 11 U.S.C. § 1325(d). The plan may be less than the applicable commitment period (three or five years) only if unsecured debt is paid in full over a shorter period.

Within 30 days after filing the bankruptcy case, even if the plan has not yet been approved by the court, the debtor must start making plan payments to the trustee. 11 U.S.C. § 1326(a)(1). If any secured loan payments or lease payments come due before the debtor’s plan is confirmed (typically home and automobile payments), the debtor must make adequate protection payments directly to the secured lender or lessor – deducting the amount paid from the amount that would otherwise be paid to the trustee. Id.

No later than 45 days after the meeting of creditors, the bankruptcy judge must hold a confirmation hearing and decide whether the plan is feasible and meets the standards for confirmation set forth in the Bankruptcy Code. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1324, 1325. Creditors will receive 28 days’ notice of the hearing and may object to confirmation. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 2002(b). While a variety of objections may be made, the most frequent ones are that payments offered under the plan are less than creditors would receive if the debtor’s assets were liquidated or that the debtor’s plan does not commit all of the debtor’s projected disposable income for the three or five year applicable commitment period.

If the court confirms the plan, the chapter 13 trustee will distribute funds received under the plan “as soon as is practicable.” 11 U.S.C. § 1326(a)(2). If the court declines to confirm the plan, the debtor may file a modified plan. 11 U.S.C. § 1323. The debtor may also convert the case to a liquidation case under chapter 7. (4) 11 U.S.C. § 1307(a). If the court declines to confirm the plan or the modified plan and instead dismisses the case, the court may authorize the trustee to keep some funds for costs, but the trustee must return all remaining funds to the debtor (other than funds already disbursed or due to creditors). 11 U.S.C. § 1326(a)(2).

Occasionally, a change in circumstances may compromise the debtor’s ability to make plan payments. For example, a creditor may object or threaten to object to a plan, or the debtor may inadvertently have failed to list all creditors. In such instances, the plan may be modified either before or after confirmation. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1323, 1329. Modification after confirmation is not limited to an initiative by the debtor, but may be at the request of the trustee or an unsecured creditor. 11 U.S.C. § 1329(a).

Making the Plan Work

The provisions of a confirmed plan bind the debtor and each creditor. 11 U.S.C. § 1327. Once the court confirms the plan, the debtor must make the plan succeed. The debtor must make regular payments to the trustee either directly or through payroll deduction, which will require adjustment to living on a fixed budget for a prolonged period. Furthermore, while confirmation of the plan entitles the debtor to retain property as long as payments are made, the debtor may not incur new debt without consulting the trustee, because additional debt may compromise the debtor’s ability to complete the plan. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1305(c), 1322(a)(1), 1327.

A debtor may make plan payments through payroll deductions. This practice increases the likelihood that payments will be made on time and that the debtor will complete the plan. In any event, if the debtor fails to make the payments due under the confirmed plan, the court may dismiss the case or convert it to a liquidation case under chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. 11 U.S.C. § 1307(c). The court may also dismiss or convert the debtor’s case if the debtor fails to pay any post-filing domestic support obligations (i.e., child support, alimony), or fails to make required tax filings during the case. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1307(c) and (e), 1308, 521.

The Chapter 13 Discharge

The bankruptcy law regarding the scope of the chapter 13 discharge is complex and has recently undergone major changes. Therefore, debtors should consult competent legal counsel prior to filing regarding the scope of the chapter 13 discharge.

A chapter 13 debtor is entitled to a discharge upon completion of all payments under the chapter 13 plan so long as the debtor: (1) certifies (if applicable) that all domestic support obligations that came due prior to making such certification have been paid; (2) has not received a discharge in a prior case filed within a certain time frame (two years for prior chapter 13 cases and four years for prior chapter 7, 11 and 12 cases); and (3) has completed an approved course in financial management (if the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator for the debtor’s district has determined that such courses are available to the debtor). 11 U.S.C. § 1328. The court will not enter the discharge, however, until it determines, after notice and a hearing, that there is no reason to believe there is any pending proceeding that might give rise to a limitation on the debtor’s homestead exemption. 11 U.S.C. § 1328(h).

The discharge releases the debtor from all debts provided for by the plan or disallowed (under section 502), with limited exceptions. Creditors provided for in full or in part under the chapter 13 plan may no longer initiate or continue any legal or other action against the debtor to collect the discharged obligations.

As a general rule, the discharge releases the debtor from all debts provided for by the plan or disallowed, with the exception of certain debts referenced in 11 U.S.C. § 1328. Debts not discharged in chapter 13 include certain long term obligations (such as a home mortgage), debts for alimony or child support, certain taxes, debts for most government funded or guaranteed educational loans or benefit overpayments, debts arising from death or personal injury caused by driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, and debts for restitution or a criminal fine included in a sentence on the debtor’s conviction of a crime. To the extent that they are not fully paid under the chapter 13 plan, the debtor will still be responsible for these debts after the bankruptcy case has concluded. Debts for money or property obtained by false pretenses, debts for fraud or defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity, and debts for restitution or damages awarded in a civil case for willful or malicious actions by the debtor that cause personal injury or death to a person will be discharged unless a creditor timely files and prevails in an action to have such debts declared nondischargeable. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1328, 523(c); Fed. R. Bankr. P. 4007(c).

The discharge in a chapter 13 case is somewhat broader than in a chapter 7 case. Debts dischargeable in a chapter 13, but not in chapter 7, include debts for willful and malicious injury to property (as opposed to a person), debts incurred to pay nondischargeable tax obligations, and debts arising from property settlements in divorce or separation proceedings. 11 U.S.C. § 1328(a).

The Chapter 13 Hardship Discharge

After confirmation of a plan, circumstances may arise that prevent the debtor from completing the plan. In such situations, the debtor may ask the court to grant a “hardship discharge.” 11 U.S.C. § 1328(b). Generally, such a discharge is available only if: (1) the debtor’s failure to complete plan payments is due to circumstances beyond the debtor’s control and through no fault of the debtor; (2) creditors have received at least as much as they would have received in a chapter 7 liquidation case; and (3) modification of the plan is not possible. Injury or illness that precludes employment sufficient to fund even a modified plan may serve as the basis for a hardship discharge. The hardship discharge is more limited than the discharge described above and does not apply to any debts that are nondischargeable in a chapter 7 case. 11 U.S.C. § 523.


Notes

  1. The “current monthly income” received by the debtor is a defined term in the Bankruptcy Code and means the average monthly income received over the six calendar months before commencement of the bankruptcy case, including regular contributions to household expenses from nondebtors and including income from the debtor’s spouse if the petition is a joint petition, but not including social security income or certain payments made because the debtor is the victim of certain crimes. 11 U.S.C. § 101(10A).
  2. In North Carolina and Alabama, bankruptcy administrators perform similar functions that U.S. trustees perform in the remaining forty-eight states. The bankruptcy administrator program is administered by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, while the U.S. trustee program is administered by the Department of Justice. For purposes of this publication, references to U.S. trustees are also applicable to bankruptcy administrators.
  3. Section 507 sets forth 10 categories of unsecured claims which Congress has, for public policy reasons, given priority of distribution over other unsecured claims.
  4. A fee of $25 is charged for converting a case under chapter 13 to a case under chapter 7.

SOURCE: http://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy/bankruptcy-basics/chapter-13-bankruptcy-basics

Chapter 9 – Bankruptcy Basics

The first municipal bankruptcy legislation was enacted in 1934 during the Great Depression. Pub. L. No. 251, 48 Stat. 798 (1934). Although Congress took care to draft the legislation so as not to interfere with the sovereign powers of the states guaranteed by the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, the Supreme Court held the 1934 Act unconstitutional as an improper interference with the sovereignty of the states. Ashton v. Cameron County Water Improvement Dist. No. 1, 298 U.S. 513, 532 (1936). Congress enacted a revised Municipal Bankruptcy Act in 1937, Pub. L. No. 302, 50 Stat. 653 (1937), which was upheld by the Supreme Court. United States v. Bekins, 304 U.S. 27, 54 (1938). The law has been amended several times since 1937. In the more than 60 years since Congress established a federal mechanism for the resolution of municipal debts, there have been fewer than 500 municipal bankruptcy petitions filed. Although chapter 9 cases are rare, a filing by a large municipality can— like the 1994 filing by Orange County, California—involve many millions of dollars in municipal debt.

Purpose of Municipal Bankruptcy

The purpose of chapter 9 is to provide a financially-distressed municipality protection from its creditors while it develops and negotiates a plan for adjusting its debts. Reorganization of the debts of a municipality is typically accomplished either by extending debt maturities, reducing the amount of principal or interest, or refinancing the debt by obtaining a new loan.

Although similar to other chapters in some respects, chapter 9 is significantly different in that there is no provision in the law for liquidation of the assets of the municipality and distribution of the proceeds to creditors. Such a liquidation or dissolution would undoubtedly violate the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution and the reservation to the states of sovereignty over their internal affairs. Indeed, due to the severe limitations placed upon the power of the bankruptcy court in chapter 9 cases (required by the Tenth Amendment and the Supreme Court’s decisions in cases upholding municipal bankruptcy legislation), the bankruptcy court generally is not as active in managing a municipal bankruptcy case as it is in corporate reorganizations under chapter 11. The functions of the bankruptcy court in chapter 9 cases are generally limited to approving the petition (if the debtor is eligible), confirming a plan of debt adjustment, and ensuring implementation of the plan. As a practical matter, however, the municipality may consent to have the court exercise jurisdiction in many of the traditional areas of court oversight in bankruptcy, in order to obtain the protection of court orders and eliminate the need for multiple forums to decide issues.

Eligibility

Only a “municipality” may file for relief under chapter 9. 11 U.S.C. § 109(c). The term “municipality” is defined in the Bankruptcy Code as a “political subdivision or public agency or instrumentality of a State.” 11 U.S.C. § 101(40). The definition is broad enough to include cities, counties, townships, school districts, and public improvement districts. It also includes revenue-producing bodies that provide services which are paid for by users rather than by general taxes, such as bridge authorities, highway authorities, and gas authorities.

Section 109(c) of the Bankruptcy Codes sets forth four additional eligibility requirements for chapter 9:

  1. the municipality must be specifically authorized to be a debtor by state law or by a governmental officer or organization empowered by State law to authorize the municipality to be a debtor;
  2. the municipality must be insolvent, as defined in 11 U.S.C. § 101(32)(C);
  3. the municipality must desire to effect a plan to adjust its debts; and
  4. the municipality must either:
    • obtain the agreement of creditors holding at least a majority in amount of the claims of each class that the debtor intends to impair under a plan in a case under chapter 9;
    • negotiate in good faith with creditors and fail to obtain the agreement of creditors holding at least a majority in amount of the claims of each class that the debtor intends to impair under a plan;
    • be unable to negotiate with creditors because such negotiation is impracticable; or
    • reasonably believe that a creditor may attempt to obtain a preference.

Commencement of the Case

Municipalities must voluntarily seek protection under the Bankruptcy Code. 11 U.S.C. §§ 303, 901(a). They may file a petition only under chapter 9. A case under chapter 9 concerning an unincorporated tax or special assessment district that does not have its own officials is commenced by the filing of a voluntary “petition under this chapter by such district’s governing authority or the board or body having authority to levy taxes or assessments to meet the obligations of such district.” 11 U.S.C. § 921(a).

A municipal debtor must file a list of creditors. 11 U.S.C. § 924. Normally, the debtor files the list of creditors with the petition. However, the bankruptcy court has discretion to fix a different time if the debtor is unable to prepare the list of creditors in the form and with the detail required by the Bankruptcy Rules at the time of filing. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1007.

Assignment of Case to a Bankruptcy Judge

One significant difference between chapter 9 cases and cases filed under other chapters is that the clerk of court does not automatically assign the case to a particular judge. “The chief judge of the court of appeals for the circuit embracing the district in which the case is commenced [designates] the bankruptcy judge to conduct the case.” 11 U.S.C. § 921(b). This provision was designed to remove politics from the issue of which judge will preside over the chapter 9 case of a major municipality and to ensure that a municipal case will be handled by a judge who has the time and capability of doing so.

Notice of Case/ Objections/ Order for Relief

The Bankruptcy Code requires that notice be given of the commencement of the case and the order for relief. 11 U.S.C. § 923. The Bankruptcy Rules provide that the clerk, or such other person as the court may direct, is to give notice. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 2002(f). The notice must also be published “at least once a week for three successive weeks in at least one newspaper of general circulation published within the district in which the case is commenced, and in such other newspaper having a general circulation among bond dealers and bondholders as the court designates.” 11 U.S.C. § 923. The court typically enters an order designating who is to give and receive notice by mail and identifying the newspapers in which the additional notice is to be published. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 9007, 9008.

The Bankruptcy Code permits objections to the petition. 11 U.S.C. § 921(c). Typically, objections concern issues like whether negotiations have been conducted in good faith, whether the state has authorized the municipality to file, and whether the petition was filed in good faith. If an objection to the petition is filed, the court must hold a hearing on the objection. Id. The court may dismiss a petition if it determines that the debtor did not file the petition in good faith or that the petition does not meet the requirements of title 11. Id.

If the petition is not dismissed upon an objection, the Bankruptcy Code requires the court to order relief, allowing the case to proceed under chapter 9. 11 U.S.C. § 921(d).

Automatic Stay

The automatic stay of section 362 of the Bankruptcy Code is applicable in chapter 9 cases. 11 U.S.C. §§ 362(a), 901(a). The stay operates to stop all collection actions against the debtor and its property upon the filing of the petition. Additional automatic stay provisions are applicable in chapter 9 that prohibit actions against officers and inhabitants of the debtor if the action seeks to enforce a claim against the debtor. 11 U.S.C. § 922(a). Thus, the stay prohibits a creditor from bringing a mandamus action against an officer of a municipality on account of a prepetition debt. It also prohibits a creditor from bringing an action against an inhabitant of the debtor to enforce a lien on or arising out of taxes or assessments owed to the debtor.

Section 922(d) of title 11 limits the applicability of the stay. Under that section, a chapter 9 petition does not operate to stay application of pledged special revenues to payment of indebtedness secured by such revenues. Thus, an indenture trustee or other paying agent may apply pledged funds to payments coming due or distribute the pledged funds to bondholders without violating the automatic stay.

Proofs of Claim

In a chapter 9 case, the court fixes the time within which proofs of claim or interest may be filed. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3003(c)(3). Many creditors may not be required to file a proof of claim in a chapter 9 case. For example, a proof of claim is deemed filed if it appears on the list of creditors filed by the debtor, unless the debt is listed as disputed, contingent, or unliquidated. 11 U.S.C. § 925. Thus, a creditor must file a proof of claim if the creditor’s claim appears on the list of creditors as disputed, contingent, or unliquidated.

Court’s Limited Power

Sections 903 and 904 of the Bankruptcy Code are designed to recognize the court’s limited power over operations of the debtor.

Section 904 limits the power of the bankruptcy court to “interfere with – (1) any of the political or governmental powers of the debtor; (2) any of the property or revenues of the debtor; or (3) the debtor’s use or enjoyment of any income-producing property” unless the debtor consents or the plan so provides. The provision makes it clear that the debtor’s day-to-day activities are not subject to court approval and that the debtor may borrow money without court authority. In addition, the court cannot appoint a trustee (except for limited purposes specified in 11 U.S.C. § 926(a)) and cannot convert the case to a liquidation proceeding.

The court also cannot interfere with the operations of the debtor or with the debtor’s use of its property and revenues. This is due, at least in part, to the fact that in a chapter 9 case, there is no property of the estate and thus no estate to administer. 11 U.S.C. § 902(1). Moreover, a chapter 9 debtor may employ professionals without court approval, and the only court review of fees is in the context of plan confirmation, when the court determines the reasonableness of the fees.

The restrictions imposed by 11 U.S.C. § 904 are necessary to ensure the constitutionality of chapter 9 and to avoid the possibility that the court might substitute its control over the political or governmental affairs or property of the debtor for that of the state and the elected officials of the municipality.

Similarly, 11 U.S.C. § 903 states that “chapter [9] does not limit or impair the power of a State to control, by legislation or otherwise, a municipality of or in such State in the exercise of the political or governmental powers of the municipality, including expenditures for such exercise,” with two exceptions – a state law prescribing a method of composition of municipal debt does not bind any non-consenting creditor, nor does any judgment entered under such state law bind a nonconsenting creditor.

Role of the U.S. trustee/bankruptcy administrator

In a chapter 9 case, the role of the U.S. trustee (or the bankruptcy administrator in North Carolina or Alabama) (1) is typically more limited than in chapter 11 cases. Although the U.S. trustee appoints a creditors’ committee, the U.S. trustee does not examine the debtor at a meeting of creditors (there is no meeting of creditors), does not have the authority to move for appointment of a trustee or examiner or for conversion of the case, and does not supervise the administration of the case. Further, the U.S. trustee does not monitor the financial operations of the debtor or review the fees of professionals retained in the case.

Role of Creditors

The role of creditors is more limited in chapter 9 than in other cases. There is no first meeting of creditors, and creditors may not propose competing plans. If certain requirements are met, the debtor’s plan is binding on dissenting creditors. The chapter 9 debtor has more freedom to operate without court-imposed restrictions.

In each chapter 9 case, however, there is a creditors’ committee that has powers and duties that are very similar to those of a committee in a chapter 11 case. These powers and duties include selecting and authorizing the employment of one or more attorneys, accountants, or other agents to represent the committee; consulting with the debtor concerning administration of the case; investigating the acts, conduct, assets, liabilities, and financial condition of the debtor; participating in the formulation of a plan; and performing such other services as are in the interest of those represented. 11 U.S.C. §§ 901(a), 1103.

Intervention/Right of Others to be Heard

When cities or counties file for relief under chapter 9, there may be a great deal of interest in the case from entities wanting to appear and be heard. The Bankruptcy Rules provide that “[t]he Secretary of the Treasury of the United States may, or if requested by the court shall, intervene in a chapter 9 case.” Fed. R. Bankr. P. 2018(c). Further, “[r]epresentatives of the state in which the debtor is located may intervene in a chapter 9 case.” Id. In addition, the Bankruptcy Code permits the Securities and Exchange Commission to appear and be heard on any issue and gives parties in interest the right to appear and be heard on any issue in a case. 11 U.S.C. §§ 901(a), 1109. Parties in interest include municipal employees, local residents, non-resident owners of real property, special tax payers, securities firms, and local banks.

Powers of the Debtor

Due to statutory limitations placed upon the power of the court in a municipal debt adjustment proceeding, the court is far less involved in the conduct of a municipal bankruptcy case (and in the operation of the municipal entity) while the debtor’s financial affairs are undergoing reorganization. The municipal debtor has broad powers to use its property, raise taxes, and make expenditures as it sees fit. It is also permitted to adjust burdensome non-debt contractual relationships under the power to reject executory contracts and unexpired leases, subject to court approval, and it has the same avoiding powers as other debtors. Municipalities may also reject collective bargaining agreements and retiree benefit plans without going through the usual procedures required in chapter 11 cases.

A municipality has authority to borrow money during a chapter 9 case as an administrative expense. 11 U.S.C. §§ 364, 901(a). This ability is important to the survival of a municipality that has exhausted all other resources. A chapter 9 municipality has the same power to obtain credit as it does outside of bankruptcy. The court does not have supervisory authority over the amount of debt the municipality incurs in its operation. The municipality may employ professionals without court approval, and the professional fees incurred are reviewed only within the context of plan confirmation.

Dismissal

As previously noted, the court may dismiss a chapter 9 petition, after notice and a hearing, if it concludes the debtor did not file the petition in good faith or if the petition does not meet the requirements of chapter 9. 11 U.S.C. § 921(c). The court may also dismiss the petition for cause, such as for lack of prosecution, unreasonable delay by the debtor that is prejudicial to creditors, failure to propose or confirm a plan within the time fixed by the court, material default by the debtor under a confirmed plan, or termination of a confirmed plan by reason of the occurrence of a condition specified in the plan. 11 U.S.C. § 930.

Treatment of Bondholders and Other Lenders

Different types of bonds receive different treatment in municipal bankruptcy cases. General obligation bonds are treated as general debt in the chapter 9 case. The municipality is not required to make payments of either principal or interest on account of such bonds during the case. The obligations created by general obligation bonds are subject to negotiation and possible restructuring under the plan of adjustment.

Special revenue bonds, by contrast, will continue to be secured and serviced during the pendency of the chapter 9 case through continuing application and payment of ongoing special revenues. 11 U.S.C. § 928. Holders of special revenue bonds can expect to receive payment on such bonds during the chapter 9 case if special revenues are available. The application of pledged special revenues to indebtedness secured by such revenues is not stayed as long as the pledge is consistent with 11 U.S.C. § 928 [§ 922(d) erroneously refers to § 927 rather than § 928], which ensures that a lien of special revenues is subordinate to the operating expenses of the project or system from which the revenues are derived. 11 U.S.C. § 922(d).

Bondholders generally do not have to worry about the threat of preference liability with respect to any prepetition payments on account of bonds or notes, whether special revenue or general obligations. Any transfer of the municipal debtor’s property to a noteholder or bondholder on account of a note or bond cannot be avoided as a preference, i.e., as an unauthorized payment to a creditor made while the debtor was insolvent. 11 U.S.C. § 926(b).

Plan for Adjustment of Debts

The Bankruptcy Code provides that the debtor must file a plan. 11 U.S.C. § 941. The plan must be filed with the petition or at such later time as the court fixes. There is no provision in chapter 9 allowing creditors or other parties in interest to file a plan. This limitation is required by the Supreme Court’s pronouncements in Ashton, 298 U.S. at 528, and Bekins, 304 U.S. at 51, which interpreted the Tenth Amendment as requiring that a municipality be left in control of its governmental affairs during a chapter 9 case. Neither creditors nor the court may control the affairs of a municipality indirectly through the mechanism of proposing a plan of adjustment of the municipality’s debts that would in effect determine the municipality’s future tax and spending decisions.

Confirmation Standards

The standards for plan confirmation in chapter 9 cases are a combination of the statutory requirements of 11 U.S.C. § 943(b) and those portions of 11 U.S.C. § 1129 (the chapter 11 confirmation standards) made applicable by 11 U.S.C. § 901(a). Section 943(b) lists seven general conditions required for confirmation of a plan. The court must confirm a plan if the following conditions are met:

  1. the plan complies with the provisions of title 11 made applicable by sections 103(e) and 901;
  2. the plan complies with the provisions of chapter 9;
  3. all amounts to be paid by the debtor or by any person for services or expenses in the case or incident to the plan have been fully disclosed and are reasonable;
  4. the debtor is not prohibited by law from taking any action necessary to carry out the plan;
  5. except to the extent that the holder of a particular claim has agreed to a different treatment of such claim, the plan provides that on the effective date of the plan, each holder of a claim of a kind specified in section 507(a)(1) will receive on account of such claim cash equal to the allowed amount of such claim;
  6. any regulatory or electoral approval necessary under applicable nonbankruptcy law in order to carry out any provision of the plan has been obtained, or such provision is expressly conditioned on such approval; and
  7. the plan is in the best interests of creditors and is feasible.

11 U.S.C. § 943(b).

Section 943(b)(1) requires as a condition for confirmation that the plan comply with the provisions of the Bankruptcy Code made applicable by sections 103(e) and 901(a) of the Bankruptcy Code. The most important of these for purposes of confirming a plan are those provisions of 11 U.S.C. § 1129 (i.e., § 1129(a)(2), (a)(3), (a)(6), (a)(8), (a)(10)) that are made applicable by 11 U.S.C. § 901(a). Section 1129(a)(8) requires, as a condition to confirmation, that the plan has been accepted by each class of claims or interests impaired under the plan. Therefore, if the plan proposes treatment for a class of creditors such that the class is impaired (i.e., the creditor’s legal, equitable, or contractual rights are altered), then that class’s acceptance is required. If the class is not impaired, then acceptance by that class is not required as a condition to confirmation. Under 11 U.S.C. § 1129(a)(10), the court may confirm the plan only if, should any class of claims be impaired under the plan, at least one impaired class has accepted the plan. If only one impaired class of creditors consents to the plan, plan confirmation is still possible under the “cram down” provisions of 11 U.S.C. § 1129(b). Under “cram down,” if all other requirements are met except the § 1129(a)(8) requirement that all classes either be unimpaired or have accepted the plan, then the plan is confirmable if it does not discriminate unfairly and is fair and equitable.

The requirement that the plan be in the “best interests of creditors” means something different under chapter 9 than under chapter 11. Under chapter 11, a plan is said to be in the “best interest of creditors” if creditors would receive as much under the plan as they would if the debtor were liquidated. 11 U.S.C. § 1129(a)(7)(A)(ii). Obviously, a different interpretation is needed in chapter 9 cases because a municipality’s assets cannot be liquidated to pay creditors. In the chapter 9 context, the “best interests of creditors” test has generally been interpreted to mean that the plan must be better than other alternatives available to the creditors. See 6 COLLIER ON BANKRUPTCY § 943.03[7] (15th ed. rev. 2005). Generally speaking, the alternative to chapter 9 is dismissal of the case, permitting every creditor to fend for itself. An interpretation of the ” best interests of creditors” test to require that the municipality devote all resources available to the repayment of creditors would appear to exceed the standard. The courts generally apply the test to require a reasonable effort by the municipal debtor that is a better alternative for its creditors than dismissal of the case. Id.

Parties in interest may object to confirmation, including creditors whose claims are affected by the plan, an organization of employees of the debtor, and other tax payers, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission. 11 U.S.C. §§ 901(a), 943, 1109, 1128(b).

Discharge

A municipal debtor receives a discharge in a chapter 9 case after: (1) confirmation of the plan; (2) deposit by the debtor of any consideration to be distributed under the plan with the disbursing agent appointed by the court; and (3) a determination by the court that securities deposited with the disbursing agent will constitute valid legal obligations of the debtor and that any provision made to pay or secure payment of such obligations is valid. 11 U.S.C. § 944(b). Thus, the discharge is conditioned not only upon confirmation, but also upon deposit of the consideration to be distributed under the plan and a court determination of the validity of securities to be issued.

There are two exceptions to the discharge in chapter 9 cases. The first is for any debt excepted from discharge by the plan or order confirming the plan. The second is for a debt owed to an entity that, before confirmation of the plan, had neither notice nor actual knowledge of the case. 11 U.S.C. § 944(c).

At any time within 180 days after entry of the confirmation order, the court may, after notice and a hearing, revoke the order of confirmation if the order was procured by fraud. 11 U.S.C. §§ 901(a), 1144.


Notes

  1. In North Carolina and Alabama, bankruptcy administrators perform similar functions that United States trustees perform in the remaining forty-eight states. The bankruptcy administrator program is administered by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, while the United States trustee program is administered by the Department of Justice. For purposes of this publication, references to United States trustees are also applicable to bankruptcy administrators.

SOURCE: http://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy/bankruptcy-basics/chapter-9-bankruptcy-basics

This firm is a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relief amongst other things, under the Bankruptcy Code.