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Chapter 11 Debtors Beware: Do Not Fail to Pay Quarterly Fees Owed to the U.S. Trustee

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

U.S. DOJ seal

What fees are associated with filing a Chapter 11 case? Aside from payment of attorneys’ fees (which can be steep), there are filing fees and ongoing quarterly administrative fees.

For a chapter 11 case, quarterly fees must be paid to the U.S. Trustee each quarter, or fraction thereof, until that case is closed, dismissed, or converted.  These fees are in addition to the filing fee that must be paid by the debtor.  The amount owed by the debtor is based upon the amount of disbursements made during the quarter starting at a minimum of $325 with a maximum of $30,000.  (Complete breakdown of quarterly fees w/ instructions.)   Again we repeat, there is a minimum payment of at least $325 a quarter.   If significant assets are sold, a debtor may be looking at a quarterly fee up to $13,000 or even $30,000 to be made payable to the U.S. Trustee’s office.  The fee schedule is uniform for all Federal Judicial Districts that are a part of the U.S. Trustee Program which includes all Federal Judicial Districts except for Alabama and North Carolina.

Quarterly fee bills are mailed to the debtor by the U.S. Trustee at the end of each quarter with instructions on how to determine the amount of fees owed.  These fees are due on the last day of the calendar month following the calendar quarter.  The minimum fee is due even if no disbursements were made that quarter and failure to pay a quarterly fee is cause for conversion or dismissal of the chapter 11 case.  Failure to receive an invoice does not excuse the obligation to timely pay U.S. Trustee’s fees.  Debtor’s counsel should contact the Office of the U.S. Trustee If a quarterly bill is not received, unless counsel for the debtor has executed an authorization allowing the U.S. Trustee to discuss the issue of quarterly fees with the debtor.

For payments made by check, the payment is converted to an electronic funds transfer (EFT).  This means that the account information will be copied from the check to electronically debit the debtor’s account for the amount of the check.  The debit usually occurs within 24 hours after which the original check is destroyed.  A copy of the check will be made by the U.S. Trustee’s Office however.  If the EFT cannot be process due to technical reasons, the debtor authorizes the U.S. Trustee’s Office to process the copy in place of the original check.  If the EFT cannot be completed due to insufficient funds, two more attempts to make the transfer may be made.

TIPS FOR THE CHAPTER 11 DEBTOR:  Payment of these U.S. Trustees fees is important.  The U.S. Trustee is an agent of the Department of Justice.  He or she is a lawyer who plays a critical and influential role in every Chapter 11 Case (more on this later).  Do not overlook paying these fees or responding to any requests made by a U.S. Trustee.   If a Debtor ignores such requests or fails to pay U.S. Trustee fees, the Debtor can almost be certain that a Motion to Dismiss the Case or Convert the Chapter 11 Case to  Chapter 7 Case (liquidation) will be forthcoming.

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Riverview Country Club Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in West Virginia

By:  Justin Saporito, MAZURKRAEMER Law Clerk

Riverview Country Club - Flag              On September 10, 2013, the Riverview Country Club, Inc. filed a Chapter 11 Voluntary Petition in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Case No 2:13-bk-20467 in front of the Honorable Judge Ron Pearson.   Riverview Country Club is a semi-private 18 hole regulation golf course that was built in 1970 and opened in 1972.  Riverview Country Club is located on Route 17 Riverview Course Road in Madison, West Virginia 25130.  The 6,069 yard par 70 course was designed by Bob Plant and is open year round to the public.

The Debtor claims assets valued between 0$ to $50,000 with liabilities of $500,001 to $1 million listing BB&T, Dollar Bank Leasing Corp, Motive Power, Inc. Premier Bank, and USX Transportation as creditors.  The Debtor is represented by Mitchell Lee Klein of Klein Law Office located at 3566 Teays Valley Road Hurricane, WV 25526.  Mr. Klein filed a Corporate Statement Ownership Statement and Corporate Resolution.

Inside the Trenches of a Chapter 11: The Firehose of the First 30 Days

fire-hydrant-flushing    The first 30 days of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case often are like water spewing violently out of a fire hydrant.  Fast.   Furious.  Urgent.  Many issues being thrown at the Debtor, its employees, and its lawyers at one time.

According to the Pre-Bankruptcy Planning for the Commercial Reorganization: A Brief Guide for the CEO, CFO/COO, General Counsel and Tax Advisor, written by the Reorganization and Restructuring Group of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, LLP (2nd edition, 2008), a whopping 83 percent of chapter 11 reorganizations that are filed generally “die on the vine” and are never confirmed.

I purchased this Brief Guide at the American Bankruptcy Institute that I attended this past Spring and I thought I would write a few blog posts integrating my experience with the concise content of the book.  As set forth on Appendix A to the Guide, generally certain matters must be addressed within the first 30 days of a case.

  • Petition filed
  • Filing of list of 20 largest creditors
  • Applications for retention of professionals (attorneys, accountants, turnaround professionals, valuation specialists, real estate brokers).  A Debtor cannot pay a professional unless the retention of the firm is first approved by the Judge and the professional files a fee application on the docket, to which parties may review and/or object.
  • Filing of ”first day” motions (seeking authority to pay wages, use pre-petition bank accounts, pay deposits for utilities, use of cash collateral, payment of interim compensation to professionals)
  • Filing of schedules of assets and liabilities and statement of financial affairs.  Getting correct addresses and dollar amounts owed for every single creditor often is a daunting task.  Once the Schedules are filed, a creditor matrix is generated. The Bankruptcy Court and parties in interest use this address list to mail or “serve” important pleadings in the case. If the matrix is enormous, certain limited servicing lists can be authorized by the Court. In mega-cases, servicing agents are employed by the Debtor to handle only this aspect of the case, i.e., proper service.
  • Filing of Corporate Resolution authorizing the Chapter 11 filing
  • Negotiation of debtor in possession financing
  • Hearing on use of cash collateral and adequate protection
  • Negotiation with trade creditors regarding reclamation claims and/or reestablishment of trade terms.

The first few weeks of a case can be exhausting and dramatic.  Often, by the time a petition is filed, a debtor runs out of money and payroll has not been paid (therefore employees are angry and morale is low), bank accounts frozen, the utilities have been shut off, and/or the front doors have been padlocked by a creditor.   Once a case is filed, a creditor may immediately file a motion to dismiss the case.

The filing of the petition and related schedules requires a financial autopsy of a business and all of its related entities. In order to avoid confusion down the road, Debtor’s counsel should try to obtain as much factually accurate information as possible during this time. The process requires persistence, diligence and coordination with the Debtor’s employees, who basically become your co-workers for as long as the case is open, which could be 18 months or longer.

During this critical time, management and key employees must be counseled regarding what to do and not do, now that the actions of the Debtor are under close scrutiny by not only a Judge but also a U.S. Trustee as well as the creditor body. Employees should be clear regarding what transfers may or may not be made without court approval.  Also, at the same time, the U.S. Trustee’s Office dictates that a debtor comply with its financial reporting requirements (hence the required “Monthly Operating Report”), and the filing of insurance and bank account information.  Lack of compliance may lead to a dismissal of the case or a conversion to a Chapter 7.  Often the debtor must close pre-petition bank accounts and open new ones.

Keeping all constituencies informed is an important part of the role of Debtor’s counsel.  Creditors may include key lenders and critical vendors who will want to know what the turnaround strategy is for the company. Once creditors receive the “Notice of Suggestion of Bankruptcy”, they too will be scurrying around to hire bankruptcy lawyers if the size of their claims warrants such an expense.

StonePepper’s Grill in Robinson Twp. files for Chapter 11

Settlers Ridge No. 3, L.P. files for Chapter 11

By Katie Imler, Law Clerk

On May 13, 2013, StonePepper’s Grill, formally known as Settlers Ridge No. 3, L.P., of 1738 North Highland Road, Pittsburgh, PA  15241 filed a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in the Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, assigned Case No. 13-22082-CMB. The case has been assigned to the Honorable Judge Carlota M. Bohm.

 Stonepepper Grill's LogoStonePepper’s Grill is a restaurant that serves brick-oven pizza and won the 2012 Best Burger in Upper St. Clair Contest. The restaurant chain has three (3) locations in Upper Saint Clair, Mars, and Robinson Township. The only location effected by this filing is the Robinson Township location. Counsel for the Debtor is Robert O. Lampl, located at 960 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Lampl’s disclosed hourly rate is $400/hour.

A summary of the docket for the case can be viewed here.

The Debtor has elected to be considered a “small business debtor, ” defined under Bankruptcy Code § 101(51D)(A) as a person engaged in commercial or business activities who as of the date of petition filing or order of relief has an aggregate non-contingent liquidated secured and unsecured debts in an amount not more than $2,000,000.00 (excluding debts owed to 1 or more affiliates or insiders). See also Bankruptcy Code § 1116. The bankruptcy filing showed liabilities and assets between $100,000.00 -$500,000.00. The Debtor listed the largest unsecured debts as $93,940.00 in Employer Withholding, $78,775.00 in Loans to owner Jeff Joyce, $77,535.00 in PA Sales Tax, and $38,465.00 in Business Debt to CRK Management LLC, who also employs Jeff Joyce. It also has a Business Debt of $77,613.00 payable to Settlers Ridge Leased, LP.

      A hearing will take place on June 25, 2013 in regards to confirmation of employing Debtor’s counsel. The Chapter 11 Small Business Plan and Disclosure Statement are due November 12, 2013.

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.

Ch. 7 or Ch. 11: Which Bankruptcy Option Is Best For My Business?

CO-AUTHORS: Katie Imler and Salene Kraemer

Let’s face it, all businesses face challenges. Especially when the economy is not a booming bull, financial challenges are in abundance. You are not alone. So what do you do when your company has financial troubles staring you down? What do you do when going to work every day puts you and your family deeper in debt instead of adding money to your bank account? At some point, the best business decision you can make may be the decision to no longer do business.

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What do you do?  Well, there are a few options:  1) Sell the business to a competitor, strategic business, or key employee; 2) File for Chapter 7 bankruptcy; 3) Wind-down the company yourself. We want to talk about the latter two options. Before taking action, both avenues have advantages and disadvantages that must be weighed.

Avenue 7. Filing for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy means that a Bankruptcy Trustee employed by Office of the United States Trustee of the Department of Justice, steps into the shoes of the company and has the burden of winding-down the business.  In doing so, the Trustee is in control of distributing the business assets according to the Bankruptcy Code.

Perks of Chapter 7:

  • Upon filing a petition for Chapter 7, an automatic stay is imposed preventing lawsuits and writs of execution against business assets –think of it as MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This.” This preserves the vital business assets and provides peace of mind that the business will not have to defend against future legal actions arising from pre-petition debts
  • The Bankruptcy Court assumes the burden of notifying all creditors of the bankruptcy (sending the “funeral notice”, if you will).  Having this objective third party serve as a buffer between the business owner and the unpaid creditor provides a sense of relief to the business owner
  • Debtor benefits from expertise of an experienced Bankruptcy Trustee
  • Debt forgiveness is not taxable

Downsides of Chapter 7:

  • Business management has no control in the winding-down
  • Trustee will scrutinize the pre-petition financial and operational affairs of the Debtor
  • Instead of finding a strategic buyer who may pay more for business assets, a trustee may liquidate business assets for pennies on the dollar, called a “fire sale”
  • Trustee may abandon certain assets letting creditors with an interest in them duke it out
  • Since the Trustee assumes the place of the debtor, he or she also assumes all of the debtor’s legal claims. The debtor, therefore, may be without standing to pursue a future lawsuit arising out of pre-petition transactions, unless otherwise agreed
  • Furthermore, filing for bankruptcy creates a public record and may pick up media attention, depending upon your business
  • Time and monetary costs are also associated with Chapter 7.  In addition to attorney’s fees, the filing fee alone is $306 and the Debtor will have to pay Trustee’s fees if there are assets for the Trustee to liquidate. Plus, the Trustee’s fees come off the top of liquidation proceeds before any distributions to creditors are made.

The Wind-Down Alternative.  If you are a do-it-yourself personality, then the Wind-down approach may be the approach for you. In this scenario, you control the winding-down process of the company and pay off the debts. However, this do-it-yourself project may require a thick skin and much cooperation from your creditors and lessors.Image

Perks of Non-Bankruptcy Wind-down:

  • Winding-Down the business yourself avoids the legal and bankruptcy fees
  • Business owner retains control and does not expose dirty laundry to the public
  • Business avoids scrutiny by the Trustee
  • Higher likelihood that you, the business owner with the industry know-how, will find a better buyer in the market who is willing to pay more for business assets

Downsides of Non-Bankruptcy Wind-down:

  • Creditors may initiate an involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition against your business
  • Business must comply with state laws for dissolving which are usually more demanding than the Bankruptcy Code and take longer to execute. If liquidation is done incorrectly, the business can be exposed to lawsuits for dishonoring creditors’ legal rights
  • Business owner personally deals with all of the creditors and is responsible for all issues that arise.
  • Debt forgiveness is taxable outside of bankruptcy

Now, do you file for Chapter 7 or Wind-down? In some cases, a hybrid approach may be best. Go as far as feasible in the liquidation process on your own, and then turn it over to a Trustee or a bankruptcy  lawyer to finish the job.  Weigh which option suits your needs the most, reflecting upon your unique business, the nature and amount of the debt that your business still owes, and your personal capabilities.  And, as always, it is best to first consult with your attorney.

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.