Archives: Bankruptcy Law Basics

Because no recent opinions have been published by the Delaware Bankruptcy Court, I wanted to touch on a subject that is vital in nearly every preference or fraudulent transfer case:  The Statute of Limitations For A Preference Claim

A. Statute of Limitations

The debtor has two years from the date it filed its petition for bankruptcy to file a complaint seeking the recovery of a preference payment. However, if the court appoints a trustee, the limitations period for filing the lawsuit extends one year from the date the trustee was appointed.  Preference litigation cannot be commenced once the court closes or dismisses the debtor’s bankruptcy.

B. Service of the Summons and Complaint

The two-year time period, or statute of limitations, is not the only deadline governing the commencement of the preference action. The statute of limitations governs when the preference complaint must be filed with the court. The Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure govern how long the plaintiff has to serve the complaint on the party receiving the payments (i.e. the defendant). Under the Federal Rules, the party filing the lawsuit must serve the defendant within 120 days.2

Note, however, that the party may request an extension of time in which to complete service. The party commencing the lawsuit can achieve service in a number of methods, including mailing the summons and complaint to the defendant by First Class mail.

Failing to file a complaint within the applicable statute of limitations is a sure-fire way for a party to lose its rights.  In any litigation, preference or otherwise, the first thing to check is whether a claim is time-barred.  We have published several posts concerning the statute of limitations:  Statute Of Limitations Posts.  If you would like additional information about the statute of limitations, or preference litigation generally, please take a look at our “Preference Reference” – available here.

John Bird practices with the law firm Fox Rothschild LLP in Wilmington, Delaware. You can reach John at 302-622-4263, or jbird@foxrothschild.com.

Very often in the course of a bankruptcy proceeding, a creditor with a pending lawsuit against the debtor will need to obtain relief from the automatic stay in order to continue to prosecute the pre-petition litigation.   For example, personal injury claimants who seek to recover solely against an insurance policy of a debtor may obtain relief from the automatic stay in certain circumstances.  Such claimants will need to file a motion with the Delaware Bankruptcy Court to obtain relief from the stay in order to pursue their claim to a final judgment.

Relief from Stay

Under section 362(d)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code, the bankruptcy court “shall” lift the automatic stay for “cause.”  If a creditor seeking relief from the automatic stay makes a prima facie case of “cause” for lifting the stay, the burden going forward shifts to the debtor pursuant to Bankruptcy Code § 362(g). See In re 234-6 West 22nd St. Corp., 214 B.R. 751, 756 (Bankr.S.D.N.Y. 1997).

The Bankruptcy Code does not define “cause.” Instead, whether cause exists to lift the automatic stay should be determined on a case by case basis. See Izzarelli v. Rexene Prod. Co. (In re Rexene Prod. Co.), 141 B.R. 574, 576 (Bankr.D.Del. 1992). See also, In re Texas State Optical, Inc., 188 B.R. 552, 556 (Bankr. E.D.Tex. 1995) (finding that “cause” for modification of the automatic stay is “an intentionally broad and flexible concept that permits … [a] [b]ankruptcy [c]ourt, as a court of equity, to respond to inherently fact-sensitive situations.”) Courts determine what constitutes “cause” based on the totality of the circumstances in each particular case. Baldino v. Wilson (In re Wilson), 116 F.3d 87, 90 (3d Cir. 1997).

In re Rexene provides the “balancing test” to determine whether cause exists to lift the automatic stay. 141 B.R. at 576. Under Rexene, the balancing test looks at three factors to decide whether to lift the automatic stay, including: (a.) whether prejudice will be caused to the estate or the debtor;
(b.) whether hardship to the movant from continuing the stay outweighs any hardship to the debtor; and (c.) whether the movant has a reasonable probability of prevailing on the merits of the suit. Id.

Carl D. Neff is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Carl is admitted in Delaware and regularly practices before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. You can reach Carl at (302) 622-4272 or at cneff@foxrothschild.com.

Can a financially distressed be “forced” into bankruptcy by its creditors?  In other words, is it possible for creditors to subject a distressed entity into an involuntary bankruptcy proceeding?

The answer is yes.  Under Section 303 of the Bankruptcy Code, a debtor can be “forced” into an involuntary bankruptcy.  11 U.S.C.§ 303(b)(1).  If a company has 12 or more creditors, an involuntary petition requires three or more creditors whose claims are not contingent as to liability or subject to a bona fide dispute as to either liability or amount to file the petition.

If the company timely objects to the involuntary filing, for the company to be placed in bankruptcy, the company also must: generally not be paying its debts as they become due unless those debts are subject to a bona fide dispute as to liability or amount, or have had a custodian appointed within the past 120 days to take possession or control of substantially all of its assets.

Stay tuned for additional posts regarding involuntary bankruptcy proceedings under Section 303 of the Bankruptcy Code.

Carl D. Neff is a bankruptcy attorney with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Carl is admitted in Delaware and regularly practices before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. You can reach Carl at (302) 622-4272 or at cneff@foxrothschild.com.

Under Section 503(b)(9) of the Bankruptcy Code, creditors may receive administrative-expense priority for the value of goods “received” by the debtor within 20 days before the debtor’s bankruptcy filing in which the goods have been sold to the debtor in the ordinary course of business. 11 U.S.C. § 503(b)(9).

The question becomes: when are goods considered to be received” under Section 503(b)(9) of the Code?

The majority of Courts construing the word “received” have relied upon the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”). For example, in the decision of In re Circuit City Stores Inc., 432 B.B. 225 (Bankr. E.d. Va. 2010), the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that “received” was the functional equivalent of “receipt” under the UCC, and indicated that the terms should be construed identically.

The Court ruled that “received” means “having taken into physical possession” the goods and should be applied as a “federal definition” for purposes of interpreting Section 503(b)(9). This analysis was subsequently applied by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Hampshire which also applied the UCC’s definition of “receipt” to the term “received” contained in Section 503(b)(9). See In re Momenta Inc., 455 B.R. 353, 358-59 (Bankr. D. N.H. 2011).

For creditors seeking to assert a Section 503(b)(9) claim, below are several additional articles on this topic:

Section 503(b)(9) Claims: Timing of Payments

What Constitutes “Goods” Under Bankruptcy Section 503(b)(9)?

Bankruptcy Code Section 503(b)(9): Goods Shipped Within 20 Days

Carl D. Neff is a bankruptcy attorney with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Carl is admitted in Delaware and regularly practices before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. You can reach Carl at (302) 622-4272 or at cneff@foxrothschild.com.

 

What remedies do you have to recover goods shipped to a company in the weeks leading up to its bankruptcy?  As to those goods shipped 45 days prior to a debtor’s filing, Section 546(c) of the Bankruptcy Code provides a reclamation right to creditors to recover such goods.  This may provide you with the ability to recover your goods directly from the debtor.

There are several requirements under Section 546(c).  The goods must have been sold in the “ordinary course” of the vendor’s business and the debtor must have received the goods while insolvent.  Also, the reclamation demand must be in writing and made within 45 days of the receipt of the goods by the customer (now the debtor in bankruptcy).

If the 45-day period expires after the bankruptcy case is filed, the vendor must make the reclamation demand within 20 days after the bankruptcy filing.  As with pre-bankruptcy demands under the UCC, the demand should identify the goods being reclaimed, include a general statement reclaiming all goods received by the debtor from the vendor during the 45-day period, and demand that the goods be segregated. Often times, vendors will file a notice of reclamation with the bankruptcy court.

Conclusion

If you or your company shipped goods to a debtor prior to its filing for bankruptcy, then you should act quickly to file a reclamation claim against the debtor.  It may provide you with the ability to recover your goods from the debtor.

Carl D. Neff is a bankruptcy attorney with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Carl is admitted in Delaware and regularly practices before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. You can reach Carl at (302) 622-4272 or at cneff@foxrothschild.com.

When will your company’s Section 503(b)(9) claim be paid?  Under normal circumstances, Section 503(b)(9) claims are paid when the debtor makes a final distribution to creditors.  However, a Section 503(b)(9) creditor can file a motion to demand immediate payment of its claim.  This article will address the standard employed by the Bankruptcy Court in determining whether to grant immediate payment of a Section 503(b)(9) claim.

Bankruptcy Courts have considered the issue of whether a Section 503(b)(9) claim can be paid immediately, before the distribution to other similarly-situated creditors.  In the case of In re Global Home Prods., LLC, 2006 WL 3791955 (Bankr. D. Del. Dec. 21, 2006), the Court considered  the following three factors in deciding whether to make payment immediately to the creditor:

  1. prejudice to the debtor;
  2. hardship to the claimant; and
  3. potential detriment to other creditors.

The Court in Global Home denied the claimant’s request for immediate payment of the Section 503(b)(9) claim because the creditor could not demonstrate that it would suffer prejudice or hardship if payment is deferred until after confirmation of the plan, while the debtor would suffer substantial hardship.

As indicated by Global Home, Section 503(b)(9) claims are generally not be paid out prior to a final distribution to other creditors, absent compelling circumstances warranting an early distribution.

Carl D. Neff is a bankruptcy attorney with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Carl is admitted in Delaware and regularly practices before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. You can reach Carl at (302) 622-4272 or at cneff@foxrothschild.com.

As discussed in the prior post, creditors may receive administrative-expense priority for “the value of goods received by the debtor within 20 days before” the debtor’s bankruptcy filing “in which the goods have been sold to the debtor in the ordinary course of business.”  11 U.S.C. § 503(b)(9).

The question then becomes what constitutes a “good” under Section 503(b)(9)?

Bankruptcy Courts have consistently held that the Uniform Commercial Code’s (UCC) definition of a good controls for purposes of Section 503(b)(9). Under the UCC, a good is anything that is moveable. As such, to qualify for priority treatment under this section, the good at issue must be something that is moveable.  For example, “services” provided fall outside of the scope of Section 503(b)(9) treatment.

At times, whether a product is a “good” or a “service” may not be readily apparent.  For example, in the case of In re Goody’s Family Clothing, Inc., 401 B.R. 131 (Bankr. D. Del. 2009), the creditor seeking Section 503(b)(9) administrative priority was an intermediate vendor that received textiles from a supplier, would unpack the textiles, inspect them, ticket and repack them before shipping the textiles to the debtor.  The Court found that the creditor in fact provided services but not “goods” to the debtor, and therefore was denied its Section 503(b)(9) claim.

Subsequent posts will address further issues relating to Section 503(b)(9) claims, such as  the timing of payment for allowed Section 503(b)(9) claims, and reclamation rights of a creditor within the 45 day period prior to a debtor’s filing.

Carl D. Neff is a bankruptcy attorney with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Carl is admitted in Delaware and regularly practices before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. You can reach Carl at (302) 622-4272 or at cneff@foxrothschild.com.

It is your worst nightmare.  You ship goods to a company, only to find out that shortly after shipment, it files for bankruptcy.  Now, instead of receiving payment for those goods, you are simply one of many creditors of the debtor’s estate.  What remedies do you have under the Bankruptcy Code to recover the amount of the shipped goods?

If the goods were shipped within 20 days of the debtor’s filing, then your claim may qualify for “administrative” status under Section 503(b)(9) of the Bankruptcy Code. The Section provides as follows:

(b) After notice and a hearing, there shall be allowed, administrative expenses, other than claims allowed under section 502(f) of this title, including –

(9) the value of any goods received by the debtor within 20 days before the date of commencement of a case under this title in which the goods have been sold to the debtor in the ordinary course of such debtor’s business.

An administrative claim has higher priority, meaning that they get paid out before unsecured claims.   This is significant given that in many instances, a debtor lacks the assets to pay off all of its claims.  It can mean the difference between receiving 100% of your claim, or just pennies on the dollar.

Requirements of a Section 503(b)(9) Claim

To summarize, to be entitled to a 503(b)(9) claim,  a supplier must show four things:

(1) that it sold goods to the bankrupt customer;

(2) that these goods were received by debtor within 20 days prior to its bankruptcy filing;

(3) that goods were sold to debtor in ordinary course of the debtor’s business; and

(4) the value of the goods that were sold to the debtor.

Subsequent posts will discuss various aspects of this Section in greater detail, including what constitutes “goods”, the timing of payment for allowed Section 503(b)(9) claims, and reclamation rights of a creditor within the 45 day period prior to a debtor’s filing.

Carl D. Neff is a bankruptcy attorney with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Carl is admitted in Delaware and regularly practices before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. You can reach Carl at (302) 622-4272 or at cneff@foxrothschild.com.

Summary

When a company files for bankruptcy, they gain a number of protections under federal law.  One of these protections is the “automatic stay” provided by 11 U.S.C. § 362. The automatic stay makes it illegal to continue prosecuting, or to initiate, an action against the debtor who is in bankruptcy.  Even if that debtor has injured you, it means that you cannot try to recover from them without getting the automatic stay lifted.  As more large bankruptcy cases are filed in Delaware, it becomes increasingly important that persons injured by debtors understand the legal hoops that they have to jump through in order to recover for their injuries.

Continue Reading Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Claims against Chapter 11 Debtors: How to Proceed

There are generally three types of claims in a bankruptcy proceeding: unsecured claims, secured claims and administrative expense claims. Section 503 of the Bankruptcy Code governs the allowance of administrative expense claims. Section 503 provides that "after notice and a hearing, there shall be allowed administrative expenses…, including the actual and necessary costs and expenses of preserving the estate." 11 U.S.C. § 503(b)(1)(A). A creditor who seeks to have its claim paid has an administrative claim, and therefore ahead of the general unsecured creditors, bears the burden of establishing that its claims qualifies for priority status. In re New Century TRS Holdings, Inc., et al, 446 B.R. 656, 661 (Bankr. D. Del. 2011). Courts generally apply a two-part test in deciding whether a claim qualifies as an administrative expense: (1) whether the expense arose from a post-petition transaction between the creditor and debtor; and, (2) whether the expense was "actual and necessary" to preserve the estate. Id., citing In re Unidigital, Inc., 262 B.R. 283, 288 (Bankr. D. Del. 2001). Claims which do not constitute an administrative expense are often treated as general unsecured claims which are payable in the ordinary course with other unsecured creditors of the estate. In re Arrow Carrier Corp., 154 B.R. 642, 646 (Bankr. D. N.J. 1993).

Aside from the allowance of an administrative claim, a common issue concerning creditors is the timing of payment of the administrative claim. Although Section 503 of the bankruptcy code provides that an entity can request payment of an administrative expense claim, the section does not address the question of when a claim for administrative expense is to be paid. In re HQ Global Holdings, Inc., 282 B.R. 169 (Bankr. D. Del. 2002) (further citations omitted). The determination of the timing of payment of an administrative expense claim is within the discretion of the bankruptcy court. Id., citing In re Colortex Industries, Inc. 19 3d 1371, 1384 (11th Cir. 1994). In deciding the timing of payment for an administrative expense claim, one of the central factors courts consider is the goal of the bankruptcy court to have an orderly and equal distribution among creditors and a need to prevent a "race to a debtor’s assets." Id. Distributions to administrative claimants are generally not allowed when the estate may not be able to pay all administrative expenses in full. Id., citing In re Standard Furniture, 3 B.R. 527, 532 (Bankr. S.D. Cal. 1980). Even though courts generally wait until after confirmation before allowing payment on administrative expenses, courts nevertheless have discretion to consider other factors in deciding whether to grant immediate payment. These factors include the particular needs of the administrative claimants, as well as the length and expense of the administration of the bankruptcy proceeding. Id., at 173, citing In re Reams Broadcasting Corp., 153 B.R. 520, 522 (Bankr. N.D. Ohio 1993).

In HQ Global Holdings, the Delaware Bankruptcy Court considered whether commercial landlords of the debtor are entitled to the immediate payment of their administrative rent claims. The court in HQ Global agreed with the debtor "that any decision on the amount and payment of the [administrative rent] must await the debtor’s decision whether to assume or reject leases." Id. at 175. The court reasoned that if the debtor assumed the landlord’s lease, such assumption would resolve the issue of the landlord’s administrative rent claims. By that, if the debtors assumed the leases, then the debtor would be required to cure any defaults and make all past due rent payments under the lease. Id.

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Jason Cornell is a creditors’ rights attorney with the law firm Fox Rothschild LLP.  Jason practices before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. You can reach Jason at 302 252 5833 or jcornell@foxrothschild.com.