Category Archives: owners’ worries

Demystifying the Ch. 11 Process: What Every Debtor Needs to Produce Right After a Filing

Written by Amy Weston, Paralegal and Salene Mazur Kraemer, Esquire

        Fear of the unknown.  The Ch. 11 process is unknown to 20121220_demystify.jpgmany.  C-level executives
dread  discussions about bankruptcy options.  We just recently filed a new Chapter 11 case and thought we would write a series of posts on basic Ch. 11 procedural matters so as to demystify the process.

      Filing Chapter 11 (reorganization/restructuring) is a powerful tool that can be invoked by businesses and certain individuals pursuant to Title 11  of the United States Code (aka the “Bankruptcy Code”).   As a practitioner,  I am privileged to be able to  facilitate such restructurings.  Here is the first post in this series on Ch. 11 basics.

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Fotolia_45197861_XS-300x300           The administrative burden of filing a case can be heavy.  Often, a paralegal is running the “paper pushing” ship just before and shortly after a case is filed.   Information gathering.  Data compilation.  Report generation.  A debtor’s bookkeeper, accountant and/or CFO all work with Debtor’s counsel and paralegal staff to gather  necessary documentation and to fulfill requirements imposed by the Court and the United States Trustee (appointed by Department of Justice).  Each office has very specific document requests, rules and procedures.

          In furtherance of a U.S. Trustee’s monitoring responsibilities, here is a list of what the U.S. Trustee wants prior to the Initial Debtor Interview.  Most of the documentation requested is straightforward and anticipated:

  • Bank account statements.
  • Latest filed Federal Tax Returns or copy of extension to file.
  • Financial statements.
  • Payroll detail.
  • Rent roll.
  • Accounts receivable detail.
  • Recently filed sales tax
  • Recently filed payroll returns.
  • Detail of intercompany transactions.
  • Accounts payable detail.
  • Check register for last 60 days.
  • Filed Scheduled and Petition

Other requirements are not as obvious. Two that specifically need explanation are:

  • Proof of establishment of Debtor-In-Possession account(s)
  • Proof of insurance indicating that the Office of the U.S. Trustee is an additional certificate holder.

DIP Accounts

         Once a debtor has filed a bankruptcy petition, it must close existing bank accounts and open new accounts which identify the debtor as a debtor in possession (“DIP”). All money from the bankruptcy “estate” (i.e. anything the debtor owns) must be put into these accounts.  The title of “Debtor in Possession” must be printed on the checks along with the bankruptcy case number.  The Bank will not issue a debit card for a DIP account.

        While this seems complicated at first, the good news is that this is standard procedure. So, any bank should be familiar with this request.  However, a debtor cannot go to just “any” bank. The U.S. Trustee’s Office will only accept DIP accounts from approved depositories.  A current list of such institutions is available through the U. S. Bankruptcy Court in the district where the bankruptcy was filed.  Approved Banks DIP

              Within 15 days of receipt from the bank, a debtor must serve copies of monthly bank statements upon all creditors and interested parties, together with a monthly operating report (MOR) of gross receipts and disbursements.  Both the monthly operating report (MOR) and DIP bank statements are publicly filed on a debtor’s docket.

Proof of Insurance

          A debtor must maintain all insurance coverage during the bankruptcy process.   This includes: general comprehensive liability; property loss from fire, theft or water; vehicle; workers’ compensation; and any other coverage that would be customary in line with the debtor’s business.

           In addition to maintenance, a debtor must list the Office of the U.S. Trustee listed as an additional certificate holder and provide proof of such.  The documentation of proof must include the type and extent of coverage, effective dates, and insurance carrier information.  In order to fulfill the Trustee’s requirements, the debtor will usually have to provide proof of the request.   The proof of insurance and additional certificate holder requirement is standard, so the insurance company should not have any trouble fulfilling a debtor’s request.

          Please TAKE NOTE that a debtor’s failure to comply could result in DISMISSAL of the case or conversion to a Chapter 7.

This post does not constitute legal advice.  Consult an attorney about your specific case.

Avoiding Emergency Bankruptcy Filings

It was the day before Thanksgiving.  A friend of mine called me in a panic.   She received a notification that her bank account was frozen by a creditor; she was to get a direct deposit of her salary in the next 2 days, which was two weeks before Christmas.  She needed to file bankruptcy fast in order to trigger the automatic stay (legal principle that means no creditor can take action to harm you).

I stayed up until midnight that day in order to get the case filed for her.  Her business had gone bad and this was the fallout from it.

Often, bankruptcy cases are filed on an emergency basis. In many instances, time may be of the essence and you need to file the case immediately (e.g. a creditor  has a judgment against you and has sent the Sheriff to your home or business; you have received a notice of garnishment of your wages or bank account by a taxing body).  If this firedrill can be avoided, it should be.

Rushing into a case is pretty much never a good idea.   Filing the petition on an emergency basis only increases the costs of your case and there may not be enough time to research potential issues that may arise during the course of your case.   You may omit important creditors.  You may omit assets.  If the schedules are not accurate,  you will need to amend them and that costs more money to do.  Substantial, repeated amendments do not leave favorable impressions upon the U.S. Trustee or the Ch. 7 Trustee.

A debtor is permitted to file a barebones “emergency “bankruptcy petition together with a list of 20 largest creditors. The full set of schedules must be submitted within 14 days, unless extended.

Regardless of whether the case is an emergency filing or not, if you are an individual, you MUST complete pre-bankruptcy filing credit counseling course at least 24 hours before any case is filed.

BOTTOM LINE:

  • Talk to an attorney.  He or she can give you the questionnaire you need to fill out well ahead of time. He or she will also give you a list of documents you will need You can start gathering that info.  If the case is billed hourly, you will save yourself money by gathering up this information rather than having a paralegal do it.
  • Pre-bankruptcy planning is always advisable for any individual or business.  You don’t want to throw good money after bad (meaning you don’t want to pay down debt that ultimately may be discharged). You don’t want to make preferential or fraudulent transfers.    Often, there are non-bankruptcy options, particularly for businesses (but that can be a topic for another blog post).

DISCLAIMER:  This does  not constitute legal advice.  This post does not create an attorney client relationship.  Consultant an attorney for more information re: this topic.

firedrill

The Company You Own Files Bankruptcy: Can Creditors Still Come After You?

automatic-stayAs is almost always the case, principals of a distressed business have personally guaranteed the debt on a credit line or property or equipment lease. When a business files bankruptcy, an automatic stay is imposed against any adverse actions taken against the business entity, the Debtor. But what about the owners of the business? Often, I find myself seeking to extend the automatic stay injunction to those principals. This issue came up in a recent case we had pending in the Fourth Circuit. We were compelled to find case law regarding the standard for relief.

A factual example would be as follows: A distressed business ABC Recylcing owns a building, and the building has a mortgage on it in favor of Meanie Bank, N.A.  The business falls behind on payments. Meanie Bank initiates a foreclosure action to set an auction to sell the building. Jake, the owner of the business had to sign a guaranty in order for ABC Recycling to get the loan with Meanie Bank. ABC Recycling still operates with the faint hopes of reorganizing through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Once the Chapter 11 is filed, the foreclosure action is stayed as to ABC Recycling, but now the Meanie Bank is going after Jake. Help, my clients say.

ISSUE: Pursuant 11 U.S.C. §105 and §362 of the Bankruptcy Code, is a court likely to grant an injunction to protect the principal of a bankrupt business?

CONCLUSION: Where the principal Jack is a primary guarantor of the mortgage and Meanie Bank now intends to secure a judgment against the principal, the principal will only be able to obtain an injunction by demonstrating a mutuality of identity with the Debtor such that allowing Meanie Bank to proceed against Jake will substantially deprive the Debtor of a primary asset (its owner’s time and attention).  In Plain English, how important is the principal Jake to the Debtor’s operations?  A four-part test is employed to make that determination.

While automatic stay proceedings are usually only available to the Debtor, under unusual circumstances, the Fourth Circuit has held that the Bankruptcy Court can enjoin proceedings against third parties.  In re F.T.L. Inc., 152 B.R. 61 (Bankr. E.D. Va. 1993).  However, where no compelling or unusual circumstances exist, then under §362 the Debtor’s guarantors must file their own bankruptcy petition in order to be protected by the Bankruptcy laws.  Id. at 63. (this also happens often).

A court is only likely to grant an injunction to a third party non-debtor principal in the unusual circumstance that it is evident that the identity of the debtor and the non-debtor third party is so interconnected that it is clear that the creditor is proceeding against the debtor.   Under such circumstances, the court may apply a four-part test and equitably grant an injunction where the court finds that:

  • the plaintiff principal has a greater likelihood of succeeding on the merits;
  • plaintiff principal has shown that lack of relief will result in irreparable injury;
  • an injunction will not substantially harm other interested parties, and;
  • preserving the status quo until the merits of the controversy is decided will serve public interests. Id.

In re F.T.L., the primary secured creditor to a car wash company debtor, secured a judgment lien against the debtor’s guarantors, the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs are the primary owners and guarantors of the car wash and the creditor perfected its lien against plaintiffs’ personal residence.  Id. at 62.  Noting that the collection activities against the owners arose from the car wash’s debt to the creditor, the court applied the four-part test and found that the debtor was likely to succeed on the merits by proposing a confirmable chapter 11 plan; the debtor’s chapter 11 plan would be impossible if the owners were forced to file their own chapter 11 petition; very little harm was likely to come to the creditor if it was enjoined from collection activities against the owner, and; lastly the creditors as a whole were best served if the debtor were allowed to propose a plan for reorganization. Id.  The Court extended the injunction to the owners.

If you own a business and are wondering the same questions,  you should review the facts and circumstances of your workout with your attorney.  I think, by and large, the automatic stay is difficult to extend in Bankruptcy Court.  You have to make a really compelling argument that the principal will be so consumed with his or her own bankruptcy that the Chapter 11 reorganization will suffer.