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NJ Janitorial Firm Bradford and Byrd Tries to Clean House with a Chapter 11

By: Justin A. Saporito, Law Clerk

Bradford & Byrd Associates, Inc. filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey on May 23rd, 2014.  The case has been assigned to the Honorable Christine M. Gravelle under case number 3:14:bk-20478.

b&bmopper400Debtor claims assets of less than $50,000 with liabilities ranging between $500,000 and $1 million.  Among debtor’s 21 creditors are the Internal Revenue Service, New Jersey Department of Labor, New York State Workers Compensation Board, Mercedes Benz, and several other companies and private individuals.  Debtor is represented by Bunce Atkinson of Atkinson & DeBartolo, PC from Red Bank, New Jersey.

Debtor is a janitorial firm that was founded in 1989 and headquartered in Freehold, New Jersey.  Debtor provides janitorial services clients in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and North and South Carolina.  Some of debtor’s more notable clients include UPS, the Social Security Administration Headquarters, and Public Service Electric and Gas Company.  In debtor’s more than 20 years in business, it has achieved some noticeable accomplishments including servicing the Statue of Liberty in 1996 and being contracted to clean vintage chandeliers at West Point Military Academy in 2001.

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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.

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.

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.

Does Motive Matter in a Preference Lawsuit?

This is the second in a series of blog posts I am writing here about preference lawsuits (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.    

Does the motive of a debtor a creditor matter in a preference law suit?

MOTIVE

MOTIVE

Scenario One: I know our business is not going to make it another 30 days.  I have one $10,000 receivable that we can expect to receive.  We owe our trade creditors about $100,000 and we owe my Aunt Molly $50,000 that she lent to us on an unsecured basis.  We have been making monthly payments in the amount of $500 to her for the past three years.   I want to take the $10,000 once we get it and pay her all of it because she is my favorite Aunt, I feel bad we are going to stiff her, and she use to buy me pink marshmallow peeps for every Easter.

       Scenario Two: My critical supplier knows that we  have been in distress.  He knows that we lost our biggest customer and we are barely making ends meet.  He just recently shortened my payment terms from net 30 to net 7, he has told me he doesn’t care if I cannot pay my electric bill or payroll and that he wants me to pay his aged account receivable now!  He sends me threatening letters, emails, and nasty voicemail messages.  I don’t even answer my phone anymore. 

As set forth in my prior blog post, there are the five basic elements of a preference; basically, a 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 1 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.

What is absent from that list is mental state of mind, motive, or intent.   Under the predecessor statute to Bankruptcy Code § 547 (§60 of the Bankruptcy Act of 1898), a plaintiff had to establish that the creditor had “reasonable cause to believe” that a debtor was insolvent before a preferential transfer could be avoided.  But, importantly, a creditor’s state of mind is no longer an element to the preference cause of action.  See Barash v. Public Finance Corp., 658 F.2d 504, 510 (7th Cir. (Ill.) 1981).  In the Barash case, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that voluntary payments by a debtor to creditor on an installment contract were preferential transfers, and the fact that the creditor had no way of knowing that the debtor was having financial difficulties was irrelevant.   The Barash Court quoted the legislative notes regarding Bankruptcy Code § 547:  “A creditor’s state of mind has nothing whatsoever to do with the policy of equality of distribution ….”.  H.R.Rep.No.95-595, supra, at 178, 5 U.S. Code Cong. & Admin. News at 6139.

Collier on Bankruptcy, the most authoritative secondary authority on bankruptcy law, acknowledges this change as well.  “Intent or motive is not a material factor in the consideration of an alleged preference under §547.  Generally speaking, it is the effect of a transaction, rather than the debtor’s or creditor’s intent, that is controlling.” See 4 COLLIER ON BANKRUPTCY, ¶547.01 at 547.12.

Some courts, however, have attached a significance to the intent, motive or state of mind of either the debtor or a creditor, even though intent is not a “material” or a basic element of a preference,.  In the Eleventh Circuit, for example, see In re Craig Oil Co., 785 F.2d 1563 (11th Cir. (Ga.) 1986)).   The Craig Oil Court held that a pre-Petition payment was a preference, attaching significance to fact that debtor’s motive for making a payment to a creditor was to forestall an involuntary petition and to prevent personal liability on guaranteed debt, but observing that state of mind of the debtor alone, would not establish unusual or extraordinary actions by the debtor, but merely would go to explain unusual payment actions by debtor.  Also, in the  First Software Corp. v. Micro Educ. Corp. of Amer., 103 B.R. 359 (D. Mass. 1988), the United States District Court for Massachusetts held that payments made by a debtor under an agreement with a creditor were not preferences.   The debtor agreed to make larger weekly payments to a creditor until the balance on the account was reduced to zero.  The Court held that the transfers were within the ordinary course of business (and not preferences), where there was no evidence that indicated that the creditor knew that the debtor was on the verge of bankruptcy when the payments at issue were agreed upon and made.

I have had cases in which my creditor clients were guilty of making dunning phone calls to the debtor prior to company’s slide into bankruptcy.  I have also had cases in which my client was a critical supplier and it wanted to keep servicing the debtor during the time of distress.  Often, at moments like that, new deals are struck in order to keep the debtor afloat and the supplier still dealing with the debtor.   Perhaps, the supplier is owed a substantial amount of money from the debtor and the supplier is willing to do anything to keep the debtor as a going concern; otherwise, the supplier faces the threat of its own bankruptcy.

Although the intent, mens rea, state of mind, motive of either the debtor or the creditor is no longer a prima facie element to a preference action, when I conduct diligence surrounding an alleged preferential transfer I always ask the necessary questions to get a better understanding of what was really going on in the business relationship as the debtor became unable to pay its debts as they came due.   Asking these questions is important in order to paint an accurate picture of the course of dealing between the parties and how such dealing may have changed prior to the filing of the case.

I often advise the credit risk groups of all of my clients always to have a pulse on the financial condition of their clients, especially if a client generates revenue from only a handful of customers.  I even advise my clients to put “google alerts” on each such client so that they can catch wind of any distressed circumstances.

Without a doubt, a business should be strategic when dealing with a distressed client, especially if there is a significant amount owed, and especially if you are striking a new deal with the debtor with changed terms.   Even if you are paid in the year or 90 days prior to your customer’s bankruptcy filing, you always run the risk that the payment will be clawed back post-Petition.  You should be prepared for what defenses you will mount in the event that happens.

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.

Inside the Trenches of a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Case-Preparing the Initial Filing

       In the world of business law, many seem to be mystified by the chapter 11 bankruptcy process.   When I tell my friends and colleagues what I do, they still don’t seem to understand me.  I get that glazed, deer-in-headlights look.   I just recently filed a Chapter 11 case and I decided to write a series of blog posts as we are going through the process.

        The chapter 11 process is expensive but can be a worthwhile option and a financially prudent decision for certain businesses wishing to reorganize, restructure their debts, reject undesirable contracts, and/or orderly liquidate certain assets under the jurisdiction and protection of the bankruptcy court.

Triggering Event.  Usually an event triggers the filing (a pending auction of assets, an inability to payroll, the threat of a shut-off notice for utilities, a impending freezing of bank accounts, a filed lawsuit, etc.).  A debtor can file an emergency petition in such an instance.

Emergency Petition.  To file an emergency petition, at the very minimum a debtor needs to submit the 2-page petition, its list of 20 largest unsecured creditors, and a creditor matrix (listing all of the creditors the debtor believes it currently has).    This sounds like a simple initial filing; but, it might not be.   The preparation of the debtor’s bankruptcy petition and related schedules can be very time-consuming depending upon the nature of the debtor’s business, how orderly its books and records are, and how many divisions or locations, it has etc.

Automatic Stay.  Once the minimal skeletal documents are filed, an “automatic stay” goes into immediate effect; the automatic stay is basically an injunction against any and all actions against the debtor and is property.    If a creditor violates the stay, it is a serious infringement and the bankruptcy court can award sanctions  against the creditor.

After the initial bankruptcy petition is filed, a Ch. 11 debtor has another 14 days within which to file its complete schedules and statement of financial affairs.   This timeframe can be extended for cause.

“Debtor In Possession” Bank and Insurance Information.  Also once the petition is filed, generally within 10 days, the debtor and its counsel have to submit certain bank account and insurance information to the United States Trustee (part of the Department of Justice).    Importantly, a business must close its books as of its bankruptcy “Petition Date” and open up  a new set of financial books and records.  New “Debtor-in-Possession” (“DIP”) Bank accounts must be opened at certain approved banks;  the United States Trustee’s Office has the “approved” list of banks.  The debtor and its counsel also may have an initial debtor interview with the agent for the United States Trustee (depending  upon the district in which you file), at which the debtor discusses its business operations and assets and liabilities.

The Bankruptcy Court Is Watching.  Once a bankruptcy petition is filed, a business will then have to seek bankruptcy court approval prior to taking many actions (paying its lawyers and accountants, paying pre-petition wages, utilizing cash (“cash collateral”) to pay expenses, selling anything outside the ordinary course).   A business debtor post-petition generally CANNOT pay any pre-petition obligations, otherwise serious consequences may ensure, including “avoidance” lawsuits. 

Drama.  The initial filing process can be intense for everyone involved.  Lots of information gathering, document review, fact checking.   Many phone calls may be made to and from creditors about the impact of the filing of the case.

Often, a distressed situation, not surprisingly, involves drama.  In some instances I have had to file the case right before the auction on the courthouse steps, right before the repossession crew found the vehicle, or right after the doors to a business were locked and the business suddenly went dark.  After the petition is filed and is made known to the public, media outlets may starting calling to find out more about the future of the business.

STAY TUNED FOR MORE DETAILS REGARDING INSIDE THE TRENCHES OF A CHAPTER 11 BANKRUPTCY CASE

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.