Bankruptcy filings in the Middle District of Florida (Tampa, Ft Myers, Orlando and Jacksonville) increased in 2016 and are on the rise in 2017 after declining for several years due to the improving local and national economy. This means that if someone (a person or company) owes you money then there is an increased chance that you might receive a Suggestion of Bankruptcy or Notice of Commencement of Bankruptcy Case advising you that a bankruptcy case has been filed.
Sometimes Creditors receive the dreaded notification or other documents pertaining to the bankruptcy filing and choose to do nothing because they are unsure of what the documents mean and what they need to do. This is understandable—bankruptcy law is often counterintuitive and complicated and certainly different from how things work in the “real world”. By doing nothing, however, you risk serious financial penalties including loss of your claim and the ability to enforce a lien against the Debtor.
So what should you do when one of these Notices arrives in the mail? The first and most important thing that I can tell you is to not give up hope! As a Creditor you have several options depending on the type of claim that you have against the Debtor. Claims are typically secured (common examples are lien on a car, a homeowner’s association/condominium association lien, or a mortgage lien) or unsecured (such as debts from credit cards, medical bills, signature loans, or deficiencies after repossession or foreclosure sales). If you hold a judgment against the Debtor they debt may be either secured or unsecured depending on what steps you have taken to collect on the judgment prior to the bankruptcy filing and whether your judgment has “attached” to the Debtor’s assets, including real estate. Regardless of the type of claim you have, you should reach out to your bankruptcy attorney to discuss what options you have in a particular case.
Here are some situations that often arise in bankruptcy cases and which require action on your behalf as Creditor. Please note that there are many other common situations which can occur in bankruptcy case. I will discuss these in future articles.
Proofs of Claim: You may receive a Notice from the bankruptcy court advising you that there are funds available to pay creditors in a case and alerting you to file a Proof of Claim. It is important to file a Proof of Claim when you receive notice to do so. The Proof of Claim is a specific form that you must file in order to be paid. The form is comprehensive and may require detailed attachments depending on the type of claim you have against the Debtor. You must file a claim to be paid. I’ve been a bankruptcy attorney for over 25 years and I’m aware of several situations where Creditors have left “money on the table” by not filing a claim in a bankruptcy case despite the Bankruptcy Trustees holding significant funds which are available to pay creditors. There is also a deadline imposed by the Court for the filing of such claims. The deadline is called the “bar date”. Claims filed after the bar date are not paid except in certain very limited situations and only if the bankruptcy court expressly permits them to be paid. Needless to say, a bankruptcy Proof of Claim is an important document that needs to be properly handled. Contact your attorney with your proof of claim questions.
Valuations of Property, Lien-Stripping and “Cramdowns”: If you hold a secured claim against the Debtor it is important to know that the Bankruptcy Code in certain circumstances allows a Debtor to seek to “value” your claim and reduce the amount of your secured claim or even eliminate your lien entirely. Typically the Debtor will seek such valuation in a motion filed with the bankruptcy court which will be served on you. In many instances the motion will be served by “negative notice” which requires you to affirmatively oppose the Motion within a very short period of time (usually 14 to 21 days) failing which the Motion will be granted without hearing and without further notice. I’ve seen large homeowners/condominium association liens and second mortgage liens removed this way and oftentimes the affected creditor—after the fact—recalls receiving the Motion but doing nothing since it was not aware of what the Debtor was trying to do and the ultimate impact on the claim. It’s usually too late to do anything about one of these Orders once it is entered so make sure to contact your attorney if you receive a Motion or Debtor’s Plan which seeks to “value” your secured claim or otherwise modify your secured claim in any way.
Fraud/Dishonesty of Debtor: A Creditor might hold a claim resulting from fraud, misrepresentation, or other types of dishonest acts by the Debtor. The Bankruptcy Code provides that certain types of these claims will not be discharged (eliminated) in the Debtor’s bankruptcy case. However, if it up to the Creditor to assert the non-dischargeable nature of the claim in the case and obtain a determination from the bankruptcy court that the debt is one of these types. If the Creditor fails to seek such a determination in these cases then the debt will be discharged regardless of the nature and severity of the fraud! Needless to say, if you believe that fraud, misrepresentation or some type of dishonesty is involved on the part of the Debtor in regards to the debt owed to you then you should contact your bankruptcy attorney to review the same and discuss the best course of action available to you.
This article is an overview of some aspects of the bankruptcy process. The bankruptcy laws are complicated and there are many nuances and exceptions to the general rules. Seek advice from your attorney when you receive a bankruptcy notice or other documents pertaining to a bankruptcy case.
Brad Hissing is a Bankruptcy Attorney with over 26 years of experience in representing creditors, Trustees and other parties in bankruptcy cases. He has extensive experience in Creditors Rights and Insolvency matters in both consumer and Chapter 11 commercial cases. He can be reached at BradH@whhlaw.com or by phone at (813) 676-9075.