Chapter 11 Bankruptcy
Reorganization Under the Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Code
The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing for reorganization, usually involving a corporation or partnership. A chapter 11 debtor usually proposes a plan of reorganization to keep its business alive while the business pays back creditors over time. People in business can seek relief under a chapter 11 bankruptcy.
A case filed under chapter 11 bankruptcy of the United States Bankruptcy Code is frequently referred to as a “reorganization” bankruptcy.
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An individual cannot file under chapter 11 bankruptcy or any other chapter of bankruptcy if, during the preceding 180 days, a prior bankruptcy petition was dismissed due to the debtor’s willful failure to appear before the court or comply with orders of the court, or was voluntarily dismissed after creditors sought relief from the bankruptcy court to recover property upon which they hold liens. In addition, no individual may be a debtor under chapter 11 bankruptcy or any chapter of the Bankruptcy Code unless he or she has, within 180 days before filing, received credit counseling from an approved credit counseling agency either in an individual or group briefing. There are exceptions in emergency situations or where the U.S. trustee (or bankruptcy administrator) has determined that there are insufficient approved agencies to provide the required counseling. If a debt management plan is developed during required credit counseling, it must be filed with the court.
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How Does a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Work
A chapter 11 bankruptcy case begins with the filing of a petition with the bankruptcy court serving the area where the debtor has a domicile or residence. A petition may be a voluntary petition, which is filed by the debtor, or it may be an involuntary petition, which is filed by creditors that meet certain requirements. A voluntary petition must adhere to the format of Form 1 of the Official Forms prescribed by the Judicial Conference of the United States. Unless the court orders otherwise, the debtor also must file with the court, schedules of assets and liabilities, a schedule of current income and expenditures, a schedule of executory contracts and unexpired leases, a statement of financial affairs. If the debtor is an individual (or husband and wife), there are additional document filing requirements. Such debtors must file a certificate of credit counseling and a copy of any debt repayment plan developed through credit counseling evidence of payment from employers, if any, received 60 days before filing a statement of monthly net income and any anticipated increase in income or expenses after filing and a record of any interest the debtor has in federal or state qualified education or tuition accounts. A husband and wife may file a joint petition or individual petitions.
The voluntary petition will include standard information concerning the debtor’s name(s), social security number or tax identification number, residence, location of principal assets (if a business), the debtor’s plan or intention to file a plan, and a request for relief under the appropriate chapter of the Bankruptcy Code. Upon filing a voluntary petition for relief under chapter 11 bankruptcy or, in an involuntary case, the entry of an order for relief, the debtor automatically assumes an additional identity as the “debtor in possession”. The term refers to a debtor that keeps possession and control of its assets while undergoing a reorganization under chapter 11 bankruptcy, without the appointment of a case trustee. A debtor will remain a debtor in possession until the debtor’s plan of reorganization is confirmed, the debtor’s case is dismissed or converted to chapter 7 bankruptcy, or a chapter 11 bankruptcy trustee is appointed. The appointment or election of a trustee occurs only in a small number of cases. Generally, the debtor, as “debtor in possession,” operates the business and performs many of the functions that a trustee performs in cases under other bankruptcy chapters.
Generally, a written disclosure statement and a plan of reorganization must be filed with the court. The disclosure statement is a document that must contain information concerning the assets, liabilities, and business affairs of the debtor sufficient to enable a creditor to make an informed judgment about the debtor’s plan of reorganization. The information required is governed by judicial discretion and the circumstances of the case. In a “small business case” (discussed below) the debtor may not need to file a separate disclosure statement if the court determines that adequate information is contained in the plan. The contents of the plan must include a classification of claims and must specify how each class of claims will be treated under the plan. Creditors whose claims are “impaired,” i.e., those whose contractual rights are to be modified or who will be paid less than the full value of their claims under the plan, vote on the plan by ballot. After the disclosure statement is approved by the court and the ballots are collected and tallied, the court will conduct a confirmation hearing to determine whether to confirm the plan.
In the case of individuals, chapter 11 bankruptcy bears some similarities to chapter 13 bankruptcy. For example, property of the estate for an individual debtor includes the debtor’s earnings and property acquired by the debtor after filing, until the case is closed, dismissed or converted; funding of the plan may be from the debtor’s future earnings; and the plan cannot be confirmed over a creditor’s objection without committing all of the debtor’s disposable income over five years, unless the plan pays the claim in full, with interest, over a shorter period of time.
The Chapter 11 bankruptcy Debtor in Possession
Chapter 11 bankruptcy is typically used to reorganize a business, which may be a corporation, sole proprietorship, or partnership. A corporation exists separate and apart from its owners, and the stockholders there of. The chapter 11 bankruptcy, in the case of a corporation (corporation as debtor) does not put the personal assets of the stockholders at risk other than the value of their investment in the company’s stock. A sole proprietorship (owner as debtor), on the other hand, does not have an identity separate and distinct from its owner(s). Accordingly, a bankruptcy case involving a sole proprietorship includes both the business and personal assets of the owners-debtors. Like a corporation, a partnership exists separate and apart from its partners. In a partnership bankruptcy case (partnership as debtor), however, the partners’ personal assets may, in some cases, be used to pay creditors in the bankruptcy case or the partners, themselves, may be forced to file for bankruptcy protection.
The U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator
The U.S. trustee plays a major role in monitoring the progress of a chapter 11 bankruptcy case and supervising its administration. The U.S. trustee is responsible for monitoring the debtor in possession’s operation of the business and the submission of operating reports and fees. Additionally, the U.S. trustee monitors applications for compensation and reimbursement by professionals, plans and disclosure statements filed with the court, and creditors’ committees. The U.S. trustee conducts a meeting of the creditors, often referred to as the “section 341 meeting,” in a chapter 11 bankruptcy case. The U.S. trustee and creditors may question the debtor under oath at the section 341 meeting concerning the debtor’s acts, conduct, property, and the administration of the case.
The U.S. trustee also imposes certain requirements on the debtor in possession concerning matters such as reporting its monthly income and operating expenses, establishing new bank accounts, and paying current employee withholding and other taxes. By law, the debtor in possession must pay a quarterly fee to the U.S. trustee for each quarter of a year until the case is converted or dismissed. The amount of the fee depends on the amount of the debtor’s disbursements during each quarter. Should a debtor in possession fail to comply with the reporting requirements of the U.S. trustee or orders of the bankruptcy court, or fail to take the appropriate steps to bring the case to confirmation, the U.S. trustee may file a motion with the court to have the debtor’s chapter 11 bankruptcy case converted to another chapter of the Bankruptcy Code or to have the case dismissed.
The Small Business Case and the Small Business Debtor
In some smaller cases the U.S. trustee may be unable to find creditors willing to serve on a creditors’ committee, or the committee may not be actively involved in the case. The Bankruptcy Code addresses this issue by treating a “small business case” somewhat differently than a regular bankruptcy case. A small business case is defined as a case with a “small business debtor.” Determination of whether a debtor is a “small business debtor” requires application of a two-part test. First, the debtor must be engaged in commercial or business activities (other than primarily owning or operating real property) with total non-contingent liquidated secured and unsecured debts of $2,490,925 or less. Second, the debtor’s case must be one in which the U.S. trustee has not appointed a creditors’ committee, or the court has determined the creditors’ committee is insufficiently active and representative to provide oversight of the debtor.
In a small business case, the debtor in possession must, among other things, attach the most recently prepared balance sheet, statement of operations, cash-flow statement and most recently filed tax return to the petition or provide a statement under oath explaining the absence of such documents and must attend court and the U.S. trustee meeting through senior management personnel and counsel. The small business debtor must make ongoing filings with the court concerning its profitability and projected cash receipts and disbursements, and must report whether it is in compliance with the Bankruptcy Code and the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and whether it has paid its taxes and filed its tax returns.
In contrast to other chapter 11 bankruptcy debtors, the small business debtor is subject to additional oversight by the U.S. trustee. Early in the chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, the small business debtor must attend an “initial interview” with the U.S. trustee at which time the U.S. trustee will evaluate the debtor’s viability, inquire about the debtor’s business plan, and explain certain debtor obligations including the debtor’s responsibility to file various reports. The U.S. trustee will also monitor the activities of the small business debtor during the case to identify as promptly as possible whether the debtor will be unable to confirm a plan.
Because certain filing deadlines are different and extensions are more difficult to obtain, a case designated as a small business case normally proceeds more quickly than other chapter 11 bankruptcy cases. For example, only the debtor may file a plan during the first 180 days of a small business case. This “exclusivity period” may be extended by the court, but only to 300 days, and only if the debtor demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that the court will confirm a plan within a reasonable period of time. When the case is not a small business case, however, the court may extend the exclusivity period “for cause” up to 18 months.
The Single Asset Real Estate Debtor
Single asset real estate debtors are subject to special provisions of the Bankruptcy Code. The term “single asset real estate” is defined as “a single property or project, other than residential real property with fewer than four residential units, which generates substantially all of the gross income of a debtor who is not a family farmer and on which no substantial business is being conducted by a debtor other than the business of operating the real property and activities incidental.” The Bankruptcy Code provides circumstances under which creditors of a single asset real estate debtor may obtain relief from the automatic stay which are not available to creditors in ordinary bankruptcy cases. On request of a creditor with a claim secured by the single asset real estate and after notice and a hearing, the court will grant relief from the automatic stay to the creditor unless the debtor files a feasible plan of reorganization or begins making interest payments to the creditor within 90 days from the date of the filing of the case, or within 30 days of the court’s determination that the case is a single asset real estate case. The interest payments must be equal to the non-default contract interest rate on the value of the creditor’s interest in the real estate.
Appointment or Election of a Case Trustee
Although the appointment of a case trustee is a rarity in a chapter 11 bankruptcy case, a party in interest or the U.S. trustee can request the appointment of a case trustee or examiner at any time prior to confirmation in a chapter 11 bankruptcy case. The court, on motion by a party in interest or the U.S. trustee and after notice and hearing, shall order the appointment of a case trustee for cause, including fraud, dishonesty, incompetence, or gross mismanagement, or if such an appointment is in the interest of creditors, any equity security holders, and other interests of the estate. Moreover, the U.S. trustee is required to move for appointment of a trustee if there are reasonable grounds to believe that any of the parties in control of the debtor “participated in actual fraud, dishonesty or criminal conduct in the management of the debtor or the debtor’s financial reporting.” The trustee is appointed by the U.S. trustee, after consultation with parties in interest and subject to the court’s approval. Alternatively, a trustee in a case may be elected if a party in interest requests the election of a trustee within 30 days after the court orders the appointment of a trustee. In that instance, the U.S. trustee convenes a meeting of creditors for the purpose of electing a person to serve as trustee in the case.
The case trustee is responsible for management of the property of the estate, operation of the debtor’s business, and, if appropriate, the filing of a plan of reorganization. Section 1106 of the Bankruptcy Code requires the trustee to file a plan “as soon as practicable” or, alternatively, to file a report explaining why a plan will not be filed or to recommend that the case be converted to another chapter or dismissed.
Upon the request of a party in interest or the U.S. trustee, the court may terminate the trustee’s appointment and restore the debtor in possession to management of bankruptcy estate at any time before confirmation.
The Role of an Examiner
The appointment of an examiner in a chapter 11 bankruptcy case is rare. The role of an examiner is generally more limited than that of a trustee. The examiner is authorized to perform the investigatory functions of the trustee and is required to file a statement of any investigation conducted. If ordered to do so by the court, however, an examiner may carry out any other duties of a trustee that the court orders the debtor in possession not to perform. Each court has the authority to determine the duties of an examiner in each particular case. In some cases, the examiner may file a plan of reorganization, negotiate or help the parties negotiate, or review the debtor’s schedules to determine whether some of the claims are improperly categorized. Sometimes, the examiner may be directed to determine if objections to any proofs of claim should be filed or whether causes of action have sufficient merit so that further legal action should be taken. The examiner may not subsequently serve as a trustee in the case.
The Automatic Stay
The automatic stay provides a period of time in which all judgments, collection activities, foreclosures, and repossessions of property are suspended and may not be pursued by the creditors on any debt or claim that arose before the filing of the bankruptcy petition. As with cases under other chapters of the Bankruptcy Code, a stay of creditor actions against the chapter 11 bankruptcy debtor automatically goes into effect when the bankruptcy petition is filed. The filing of a petition, however, does not operate as a stay for certain types of actions listed under 11 U.S.C. § 362(b). The stay provides a breathing spell for the debtor, during which negotiations can take place to try to resolve the difficulties in the debtor’s financial situation.
Under specific circumstances, the secured creditor can obtain an order from the court granting relief from the automatic stay. For example, when the debtor has no equity in the property and the property is not necessary for an effective reorganization, the secured creditor can seek an order of the court lifting the stay to permit the creditor to foreclose on the property, sell it, and apply the proceeds to the debt.
The Bankruptcy Code permits applications for fees to be made by certain professionals during the case. Thus, a trustee, a debtor’s attorney, or any professional person appointed by the court may apply to the court at intervals of 120 days for interim compensation and reimbursement payments. In very large cases with extensive legal work, the court may permit more frequent applications. Although professional fees may be paid if authorized by the court, the debtor cannot make payments to professional creditors on prepetition obligations, i.e., obligations which arose before the filing of the bankruptcy petition. The ordinary expenses of the ongoing business, however, continue to be paid.
Who Can File a Plan
The debtor (unless a “small business debtor”) has a 120-day period during which it has an exclusive right to file a plan. This exclusivity period may be extended or reduced by the court. But in no event may the exclusivity period, including all extensions, be longer than 18 months. After the exclusivity period has expired, a creditor or the case trustee may file a competing plan. The U.S. trustee may not file a plan.
A chapter 11 bankruptcy case may continue for many years unless the court, the U.S. trustee, the committee, or another party in interest acts to ensure the case’s timely resolution. The creditors’ right to file a competing plan provides incentive for the debtor to file a plan within the exclusivity period and acts as a check on excessive delay in the case.
The debtor in possession or the trustee, as the case may be, has what are called “avoiding” powers. These powers may be used to undo a transfer of money or property made during a certain period of time before the filing of the bankruptcy petition. By avoiding a particular transfer of property, the debtor in possession can cancel the transaction and force the return or “disgorgement” of the payments or property, which then are available to pay all creditors. Generally, and subject to various defenses, the power to avoid transfers is effective against transfers made by the debtor within 90 days before filing the petition. But transfers to “insiders” (i.e., relatives, general partners, and directors or officers of the debtor) made up to a year before filing may be avoided and the trustee is authorized to avoid transfers under applicable state law, which often provides for longer time periods. Avoiding powers prevent unfair prepetition payments to one creditor at the expense of all other creditors.
Cash Collateral, Adequate Protection, and Operating Capital
Although the preparation, confirmation, and implementation of a plan of reorganization is at the heart of a chapter 11 bankruptcy case, other issues may arise that must be addressed by the debtor in possession. The debtor in possession may use, sell, or lease property of the estate in the ordinary course of its business, without prior approval, unless the court orders otherwise. If the intended sale or use is outside the ordinary course of its business, the debtor must obtain permission from the court.
A debtor in possession may not use “cash collateral” without the consent of the secured party or authorization by the court, which must first examine whether the interest of the secured party is adequately protected.
When “cash collateral” is used (spent), the secured creditors are entitled to receive additional protection under section 363 of the Bankruptcy Code. The debtor in possession must file a motion requesting an order from the court authorizing the use of the cash collateral. Pending consent of the secured creditor or court authorization for the debtor in possession’s use of cash collateral, the debtor in possession must segregate and account for all cash collateral in its possession. A party with an interest in property being used by the debtor may request that the court prohibit or condition this use to the extent necessary to provide “adequate protection” to the creditor.
Adequate protection may be required to protect the value of the creditor’s interest in the property being used by the debtor in possession. This is especially important when there is a decrease in value of the property. The debtor may make periodic or lump sum cash payments, or provide an additional or replacement lien that will result in the creditor’s property interest being adequately protected.
When a chapter 11 bankruptcy debtor needs operating capital, it may be able to obtain it from a lender by giving the lender a court-approved “superpriority” over other unsecured creditors or a lien on property of the estate.
Before confirmation of a plan, several activities may take place in a chapter 11 bankruptcy case. Continued operation of the debtor’s business may lead to the filing of a number of contested motions. The most common are those seeking relief from the automatic stay, the use of cash collateral, or to obtain credit. There may also be litigation over executory (i.e., unfulfilled) contracts and unexpired leases and the assumption or rejection of those executory contracts and unexpired leases by the debtor in possession. Delays in formulating, filing, and obtaining confirmation of a plan often prompt creditors to file motions for relief from stay, to convert the case to chapter 7 bankruptcy, or to dismiss the case altogether.
Frequently, the debtor in possession will institute a lawsuit, known as an adversary proceeding, to recover money or property for the estate. Adversary proceedings may take the form of lien avoidance actions, actions to avoid preferences, actions to avoid fraudulent transfers, or actions to avoid post-petition transfers. These proceedings are governed by Part VII of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. At times, a creditors’ committee may be authorized by the bankruptcy court to pursue these actions against insiders of the debtor if the plan provides for the committee to do so or if the debtor has refused a demand to do so. Creditors may also initiate adversary proceedings by filing complaints to determine the validity or priority of a lien, revoke an order confirming a plan, determine the dischargeability of a debt, obtain an injunction, or subordinate a claim of another creditor.
The Bankruptcy Code defines a claim as a right to payment, or a right to an equitable remedy for a failure of performance if the breach gives rise to a right to payment. Generally, any creditor whose claim is not scheduled (i.e., listed by the debtor on the debtor’s schedules) or is scheduled as disputed, contingent, or un-liquidated must file a proof of claim (and attach evidence documenting the claim) in order to be treated as a creditor for purposes of voting on the plan and distribution under it. But filing a proof of claim is not necessary if the creditor’s claim is scheduled (but is not listed as disputed, contingent, or un-liquidated by the debtor) because the debtor’s schedules are deemed to constitute evidence of the validity and amount of those claims. If a scheduled creditor chooses to file a claim, a properly filed proof of claim supersedes any scheduling of that claim. It is the responsibility of the creditor to determine whether the claim is accurately listed on the debtor’s schedules. The debtor must provide notification to those creditors whose names are added and whose claims are listed as a result of an amendment to the schedules. The notification also should advise such creditors of their right to file proofs of claim and that their failure to do so may prevent them from voting upon the debtor’s plan of reorganization or participating in any distribution under that plan. When a debtor amends the schedule of liabilities to add a creditor or change the status of any claims to disputed, contingent, or un-liquidated, the debtor must provide notice of the amendment to any entity affected.
Equity Security Holders
An equity security holder is a holder of an equity security of the debtor. Examples of an equity security are a share in a corporation, an interest of a limited partner in a limited partnership, or a right to purchase, sell, or subscribe to a share, security, or interest of a share in a corporation or an interest in a limited partnership. An equity security holder may vote on the plan of reorganization and may file a proof of interest, rather than a proof of claim. A proof of interest is deemed filed for any interest that appears in the debtor’s schedules, unless it is scheduled as disputed, contingent, or un-liquidated. An equity security holder whose interest is not scheduled or is scheduled as disputed, contingent, or un-liquidated must file a proof of interest in order to be treated as a creditor for purposes of voting on the plan and distribution under it. A properly filed proof of interest supersedes any scheduling of that interest. Generally, most of the provisions that apply to proofs of claim, as discussed above, are also applicable to proofs of interest.
Conversion or Dismissal
A debtor in a case under chapter 11 bankruptcy has a one-time absolute right to convert the chapter 11 bankruptcy case to a case under chapter 7 bankruptcy unless: (1) the debtor is not a debtor in possession; (2) the case originally was commenced as an involuntary case under chapter 11; or (3) the case was converted to a case under chapter 11 bankruptcy other than at the debtor’s request. A debtor in a chapter 11 bankruptcy case does not have an absolute right to have the case dismissed upon request.
A party in interest may file a motion to dismiss or convert a chapter 11 bankruptcy case to a chapter 7 bankruptcy case “for cause.” Generally, if cause is established after notice and hearing, the court must convert or dismiss the case (whichever is in the best interests of creditors and the estate) unless it specifically finds that the requested conversion or dismissal is not in the best interest of creditors and the estate. Alternatively, the court may decide that appointment of a chapter 11 bankruptcy trustee or an examiner is in the best interests of creditors and the estate. Section 1112(b)(4) of the Bankruptcy Code sets forth numerous examples of cause that would support dismissal or conversion. For example, the moving party may establish cause by showing that there is substantial or continuing loss to the estate and the absence of a reasonable likelihood of rehabilitation; gross mismanagement of the estate; failure to maintain insurance that poses a risk to the estate or the public; or unauthorized use of cash collateral that is substantially harmful to a creditor.
Cause for dismissal or conversion also includes an unexcused failure to timely compliance with reporting and filing requirements; failure to attend the meeting of creditors or attend an examination without good cause; failure to timely provide information to the U.S. trustee; and failure to timely pay post-petition taxes or timely file post-petition returns. Additionally, failure to file a disclosure statement or to file and confirm a plan within the time fixed by the Bankruptcy Code or order of the court; inability to effectuate a plan; denial or revocation of confirmation; inability to consummate a confirmed plan represent “cause” for dismissal under the statute. In an individual case, failure of the debtor to pay post-petition domestic support obligations constitutes “cause” for dismissal or conversion.
Section 1112(c) of the Bankruptcy Code provides an important exception to the conversion process in a chapter 11 case. Under this provision, the court is prohibited from converting a case involving a farmer or charitable institution to a liquidation case under chapter 7 bankruptcy unless the debt or requests the conversion.
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