Category Archives: Approving a Plan

#notalllawyershatemath: Where Mathematics and Lawyering Meet in Business/Bankruptcy Litigation

greetings from phoenix, aZ •.jpgI am analytical. I like numbers. I like clear answers. Black and white. Not grey.

I was the Calculus member of my high school’s academic team in high school. Dad was an industrial engineer and the visual lens through which he viewed the world rubbed off on me. I initially majored in Physics because I appreciated how Calculus concepts could be applied to real life.

Fast forward 25 years. I love my work as a business lawyer. But, I still crave that opportunity to solve math problems (I did have a chance to be a financial analyst for two years before I started the firm). I just recently realize that, whenever I can, I attempt to solve my clients’ legal problems using spreadsheets and finite alternative scenarios.   I reduce chaos and moving parts down to a formula, decision tree, or spreadsheet. There are only so many scenarios. There is a range of only so many possible outcomes. The law can only go so many ways.

Such an approach has worked really well for me in the context of settling business litigation. Recently, in bankruptcy litigation, I had to resolve the extent, amount, and priority of competing lien positions of 5 creditors (2 mortgage holders and 3 taxing bodies), on my clients’ commercial assets (including a building) and one of the owner’s residence. We tried to negotiate for months and no one was budging, but then I busted out my spreadsheets. I kept running the numbers given different assumptions regarding the value of the assets, whether to include interest and penalties, and given the two alternative legal outcomes as to whom should be first in lien priority.  With the help of an esteemed mediator, we resolved the matter and successfully confirmed the plan of reorganization.

My abstract skills and fancy excel handywork also came in handy when I was about 29 (12 years ago, gasp), and working as a young associate. I developed an extensive series of “aging analysis” excel spreadsheets to utilize math to resolve a special type of bankruptcy litigation: preference litigation. The cases we handled were large dollar amounts in controversy, ranging from $15k- $8 million. Where a creditor is sued in a preference action (see first post on What the Heck is a Preference Action: Paying Off Favorite Creditors As a Business Tanks), there is an ordinary course of business defense. In order to mount this defense, a defendant should present an “aging analysis” of the length of time the parties were engaged in the transactions at issue.

We settled every time (with only one exception) and I am sure my extensive volumes of “aging analysis” spreadsheets helped.  Maybe Dad would have preferred that I became an engineer like him. I don’t know. I do know that he would be proud of the way I approach my work now. Both my clients and I can thank my science and math teachers (Mr. Pete Karpyk, Mr. Phil Carey, Mrs. Kladakis, Mr. J.) for helping me be able to create these frameworks in which I can more readily resolve legal problems. So remember, #notalllawyershatemath.

Stay tuned for another post on exactly what is an “aging analysis” to be used to mount an ordinary course defense in a preference action.

Salene is a business and bankruptcy lawyer.  This post does not constitute legal advice and does not constitute a guarantee of any legal outcome.  The facts and legal issues vary from case to case; and not all outcomes will be the same.

Advertisements

New Jersey Residential Developer Hovbilt, Inc. Seeks Chapter 11 Relief

By:  Justin A. Saporito, MAZURKRAEMER Law Clerk and Salene Mazur Kraemer, Owner

bank. court of nj seal                Hovbilt, Inc. filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy relief under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code on September 17th, 2013.  The case was filed in the Bankruptcy Court of New Jersey and the case was assigned to the Honorable Judge Michael B. Kaplan under case number 3:13-bk-30341.  For a summary of the docket please click here.

Debtor claims assets between $0 and $50,000 with liabilities of $1 to $10 million.  In its petition, it lists 10 creditors including Home Depot and Sovereign Bank.  (Please see the docket summary for a complete list of creditors.)  Sovereign Bank filed for a Notice of Appearance and Request for Service of Notice by its duly appointed counsel in response to Debtor’s voluntary petition for Chapter 11 relief.  The petition, as filed, was incomplete and the Attorney Disclosure Statement, Statement of Financial Affairs, Summary of Schedules, and Incomplete Filings are due by October 1st, 2013.

This Chapter 11 Debtor’s exclusive right to file a plan of reorganization expires on January 15, 2014.

CHAPTER 11 DEBTOR TIP: Every Chapter 11 Debtor should know that upon the commencement of a chapter 11 case, Bankruptcy Code section 1121 gives a debtor-in-possession (“DIP”) the exclusive right to file a plan of reorganization for 120 days (4 months).  The DIP also has the exclusive right to solicit acceptances (votes) for a plan filed within that 120-day period until 180 days (6 months) after filing for chapter 11.  (A debtor may file a plan but creditors may not actually vote on the plan until an accompanying approved Disclosure Statement and set of ballots are served).  No competing plans may be filed during this period of exclusivity.  A creditor, a creditors’ committee, or another special interest committee may be one of the parties filing a competing plan.   Sometimes various parties join together to file a “jointly proposed” competing plan.  See helpful article regarding exclusivity written by Salene’ brother-in-law’s fine law firm Jones Day.

This Debtor is a property developer specializing in residential housing developments located at 1 Dag Hammarskjold Blvd. Freehold, NJ 07728.  Hovilt, Inc. was established in 1969 as a private company categorized as a speculative building of single-family houses and primarily operated in Monmouth and Ocean Counties in New Jersey. (source)

Debtor is represented by James G. Aaron of Ansell Grimm and Aaron PC located at 1500 Lawrence Avenue CN 7807 Ocean, NJ 07712.

Bankruptcy Docket Beat: Ashland, KY’s River Cities Glass & Construction Files for Chapter 11 in WV

On May 2, 2013, River Cities Glass & Construction, LLC, a glass and glazing contractors company, located at 4750 Winchester Avenue, Ashland, KY 41101 filed a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the Southern District of West Virginia (Huntington), assigned case No. 3:13-bk-30226 (RGP).  The case was assigned to the Honorable Judge Ronald G. Pearson.  See docket here.  William Cox signed the Debtor’s Schedules as President of the Debtor.

The Debtor is represented by Mitchell Lee Klein of the Klein Law Office, 3566 Teays Valley Road, Hurricane, WV 25526.  Klein’s disclosed a retainer of $5,000 and an hourly rate of $200/hour.

Chihuly            The Debtor elected to be considered a “small business debtor” pursuant to Bankruptcy Code Section 1116.   Its Chapter 11 Plan is due in 6 months, or by October 29, 2013.  Its Disclosure Statement is also due on October 29, 2013.   The Debtor listed liabilities of $159,936.01 and assets under $50,000 with less than 50 creditors.  Simultaneously with its voluntary petition, the Debtor filed an initial operating report and an application to employ an attorney.  Because this is a “small debtor case”, in addition to filing a petition, schedules and a statement of financial affairs, the Debtor is required to also submit a balance sheet, statement of operation, and a cash flow statement, as well as a federal tax return.

New Bankruptcy Code Section 1116  imposes duties on a small business debtor beyond not required of other Chapter 11 debtors, beginning with the filing of the petition.  Under § 1116(1), the debtor must attach to its petition (or in an involuntary case, file within seven days after the date of the order for relief) either (a) its most recent balance sheet, statement of operations, cash flow statement and federal income tax return or (b) a statement made under oath that such documents have not been prepared and that such tax return has not been filed.

We found this listing on the salespider website for the Debtor; we are not certain when it was ever initially listed.  The listing stated that the company has about 7 employees and estimated yearly revenue of $1,200,000 and that the Debtor’s SIC Code is 5231.  This industry consists of establishments engaged in selling primarily paint, glass, and wallpaper, or any combination of these lines, to the general public.  While these establishments may sell primarily to construction contractors, they are known as retail in the trade.  Establishments that do not sell to the general public or are known in the trade as wholesale are classified in the wholesale trade industries.   See SIC Code article here.

What the Heck Is a Preference Action: Paying Off Favorite Creditors as a Business Tanks

       Preferential Treatment.  My two older siblings Nathan and Nicole and I often teased my folks about being the favorite kid, each of us jockeying for the favorite position (not really).  I will be writing a series of posts on paying a favorite creditor and the consequences of a debtor doing so as his or her business slides into bankruptcy.  This is the first post.  (I have a 50 page research treatise that I wrote, from which I am pulling to create these posts!).  I will try to make the subject matter as interesting as possible.

Favorite Child      I have been prosecuting and defending the recovery of alleged preferential transfers since my first few weeks as a bankruptcy associate at a large firm in Philadelphia and Wilmington, DE.   I have developed a massive library of research regarding this special type of litigation that arises only  in a bankruptcy case.   So let’s start with the basics; what is a preference action?

As business owners and management see the tell-tale signs that they are going to close their doors or reorganize, the issue always comes up—who can I pay now and in what order?  Often, we see significant outstanding tax liability, much of which consists of trust fund taxes (i.e., payroll, sales taxes, etc.) for which the owners of the company are personally liable.  We also see mom and dads or related companies (aka insiders) lend an ailing business sizable chunks of money on an unsecured basis.   We also see business owners who feel terrible stiffing their long-term business buddy suppliers because they know if that last payment is not made, then the suppliers’ business will become troubled too.   In their darkest hour of distress, as the lights are about to go out, the owners scurry to pay “preferred” creditors.

But, the Bankruptcy Code provides a recourse to protect those creditors who are not on the preferred list.   Specifically, pursuant to 11 U.S.C.§ 547 (aka Bankruptcy Code §547(b)), a preference action is a statutory right unique to bankruptcy that allows a debtor-in-possession or trustee to recover transfers made to a creditor within 90 days of a bankruptcy filing or within 1 year if to an insider, where such transfers were made to pay pre-existing debt.   By initiating preference lawsuits inside of a bankruptcy proceeding, a bankruptcy trust or debtor is able to sue the creditors that it once “preferred” (either voluntarily or involuntarily) in order to claw back those monies into a debtor’s estate for fair distribution to all unsecured creditors.

The five basic elements of a preference are as follows:

  • The transfer must be made (1) to or for the benefit of a creditor,
  • (2) on account of an antecedent debt,
  • (3) while the debtor is insolvent,
  • (4) within ninety days before bankruptcy (for non-insiders) or within one year (for insiders); and
  • (5) the transfer must enable the creditor to receive a greater amount had the transfer not occurred and had the creditor received payment in a hypothetical Chapter 7 liquidation.

All of these elements of a preference under Section 547(b) of the Bankruptcy Code must be present.  If the plaintiff trustee/debtor-in-possession cannot prove a transfer’s avoidability by a “preponderance of the evidence” (generally the ability to prove as “more likely than not” that the five preference elements exist) then a defendant creditor will prevail.  Note that, neither the debtor nor the creditor’s intent regarding the transfer is a material factor in the consideration of an alleged preference (more on this later).

I have been on both the prosecuting and defending side of numerous preference cases.  When a debtor initiates preference actions, often a debtor is directed to pull its check register to identify payments and persons that the debtor has paid over the last year.  Sometimes, those names, addresses and payments are placed into an excel spreadsheet that is then merged with a form complaint.  The preference lawsuits are then filed in “batches.”   I have seen hundreds of preference actions filed in a batch.   Truth be told then — often, not a whole lot of diligence is put into determining whether a debtor’s actually preferred a certain creditor defendant (i.e., whether the debtor or trustee can satisfy each of the statutory elements of a preferential transfer  and/or whether a defendant will have any valid defenses to the action that will either limit or eliminate liability).    So the lawsuit is set in motion and now each creditor defendant to hire a bankruptcy lawyer and defend the lawsuit by either asserting that the plaintiff has not satisfied each of the prima facie elements set forth in the statute and/or asserting an affirmative defense.

Preference laws were designed to facilitate a fundamental bankruptcy policy of equality of distribution among creditors of the debtor.  Nonetheless, in practice, preference actions are often viewed by creditors as extremely punitive, inasmuch as their effect is to cause creditors to disgorge funds that they have received for legitimate, undisputed bills.   Fortunately, as referred to above, the bankruptcy statute also provides numerous defenses to a preference claim that can often substantially reduce or eliminate liability that would otherwise arise if the defenses are not timely asserted.   I will discuss defenses in another post!  Stay tuned.

MAZURKRAEMER represents debtors and creditors in bankruptcy courts all over the country. The information, comments and links posted on this blog do not constitute legal advice. No attorney-client relationship has been or will be formed by any communication(s) to, from or with the blog and/or the blogger. For legal advice, contact an attorney at MAZURKRAEMER or an attorney actively practicing in your jurisdiction.