Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

A case filed under chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code is frequently referred to as a “reorganization” bankruptcy.

Both companies and individuals are eligible to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy.

How Chapter 11 Works

A chapter 7 case begins with the debtor filing a petition with the bankruptcy court serving the area where the individual lives or where the business debtor is organized or has its principal place of business or principal assets. (3) In addition to the petition, the debtor must also file with the court: (1) schedules of assets and liabilities; (2) a schedule of current income and expenditures; (3) a statement of financial affairs; and (4) a schedule of executory contracts and unexpired leases.

Upon filing a chapter 11 bankrputcy, 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, 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, or a chapter 11 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 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 bears some similarities to chapter 13. 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 Debtor-in-Possession

Chapter 11 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, the stockholders. The chapter 11 bankruptcy 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.

Section 1107 of the Bankruptcy Code places the debtor in possession in the position of a fiduciary, with the rights and powers of a chapter 11 trustee, and it requires the debtor to perform of all but the investigative functions and duties of a trustee. These duties, set forth in the Bankruptcy Code and Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, include accounting for property, examining and objecting to claims, and filing informational reports as required by the court and the U.S. Trustee, such as monthly operating reports. The debtor in possession also has many of the other powers and duties of a trustee, including the right, with the court’s approval, to employ attorneys, accountants, appraisers, auctioneers, or other professional persons to assist the debtor during its bankruptcy case. Other responsibilities include filing tax returns and reports which are either necessary or ordered by the court after confirmation, such as a final accounting. The U.S. Trustee’s office is responsible for monitoring the compliance of the debtor in possession with the reporting requirements.

The U.S. Trustee

The U.S. Trustee plays a major role in monitoring the progress of a chapter 11 case and supervising its administration. The U.S. Trustee’s office 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 case. At that meeting, 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, which begin at $325 per quarter, depends on the amount of the debtor’s disbursements (expenses) 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 case converted to chapter 7, or to have the case dismissed.

Creditor Committee

The creditors’ committee can play a major role in chapter 11 cases. The committee is appointed by the U.S. trustee and ordinarily consists of unsecured creditors who hold the seven largest unsecured claims against the debtor. Among other things, the committee: consults with the debtor in possession on administration of the case; investigates the debtor’s conduct and operation of the business; and participates in formulating a plan. A creditors’ committee may, with the court’s approval, hire an attorney or other professionals to assist in the performance of the committee’s duties. A creditors’ committee can be an important safeguard to the proper management of the business by the debtor in possession.

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 contrast to other chapter 11 debtors, the small business debtor is subject to additional oversight by the U.S. Trustee. Early in the case, 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 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.

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 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.

Who Can File a Plan

The debtor (except for 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.

A chapter 11 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.

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 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. Section 363 defines cash collateral as cash, negotiable instruments, documents of title, securities, deposit accounts, or other cash equivalents, whenever acquired, in which the estate and an entity other than the estate have an interest. It includes the proceeds, products, offspring, rents, or profits of property and the fees, charges, accounts or payments for the use or occupancy of rooms and other public facilities in hotels, motels, or other lodging properties subject to a creditor’s security interest.

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 debtor needs operating capital, it may be able to obtain it from a lender by giving the lender a court-approved “super-priority” over other unsecured creditors or a lien on property of the estate.

Motions

Before confirmation of a plan, several activities may take place in a chapter 11 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, or to dismiss the case altogether.

Adversary Proceedings

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.

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.

Claims

The Bankruptcy Code defines a claim as: (1) a right to payment; (2) 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 unliquidated 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 unliquidated 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 unliquidated, the debtor must provide notice of the amendment to any entity affected.

The Disclosure Statement

Generally, the debtor must file and get court approval of a written disclosure statement before there can be a vote on the plan of reorganization. The disclosure statement must provide “adequate information” concerning the affairs of the debtor to enable the holder of a claim or interest to make an informed judgment about the plan. In a small business case, however, the court may determine that the plan itself contains adequate information and that a separate disclosure statement is unnecessary.

After the disclosure statement is filed, the court must hold a hearing to determine whether the disclosure statement should be approved. Acceptance or rejection of a plan usually cannot be solicited until the court has first approved the written disclosure statement. An exception to this rule exists if the initial solicitation of the party occurred before the bankruptcy filing, as would be the case in so-called prepackaged bankruptcy plans (i.e., where the debtor negotiates a plan with significant creditor constituencies before filing for bankruptcy). Continued post-filing solicitation of such parties is not prohibited. After the court approves the disclosure statement, the debtor or proponent of a plan can begin to solicit acceptances of the plan, and creditors may also solicit rejections of the plan.

Acceptance of the Plan of Reorganization

As noted earlier, only the debtor may file a plan of reorganization during the first 120-day period after the petition is filed (or after entry of the order for relief, if an involuntary petition was filed). The court may grant extension of this exclusive period up to 18 months after the petition date. In addition, the debtor has 180 days after the petition date or entry of the order for relief to obtain acceptances of its plan. The court may extend (up to 20 months) or reduce this acceptance exclusive period for cause. In practice, debtors typically seek extensions of both the plan filing and plan acceptance deadlines at the same time so that any order sought from the court allows the debtor two months to seek acceptances after filing a plan before any competing plan can be filed.

If the exclusive period expires before the debtor has filed and obtained acceptance of a plan, other parties in interest in a case, such as the creditors’ committee or a creditor, may file a plan. Such a plan may compete with a plan filed by another party in interest or by the debtor. If a trustee is appointed, the trustee must file a plan, a report explaining why the trustee will not file a plan, or a recommendation for conversion or dismissal of the case. A proponent of a plan is subject to the same requirements as the debtor with respect to disclosure and solicitation.

In a chapter 11 case, a liquidating plan is permissible. Such a plan often allows the debtor in possession to liquidate the business under more economically advantageous circumstances than a chapter 7 liquidation. It also permits the creditors to take a more active role in fashioning the liquidation of the assets and the distribution of the proceeds than in a chapter 7 case.

Section 1123(a) of the Bankruptcy Code lists the mandatory provisions of a chapter 11 plan, and section 1123(b) lists the discretionary provisions. Section 1123(a)(1) provides that a chapter 11 plan must designate classes of claims and interests for treatment under the reorganization. Generally, a plan will classify claim holders as secured creditors, unsecured creditors entitled to priority, general unsecured creditors, and equity security holders.

Under section 1126(c) of the Bankruptcy Code, an entire class of claims is deemed to accept a plan if the plan is accepted by creditors that hold at least two-thirds in amount and more than one-half in number of the allowed claims in the class. Under section 1129(a)(10), if there are impaired classes of claims, the court cannot confirm a plan unless it has been accepted by at least one class of non-insiders who hold impaired claims (i.e., claims that are not going to be paid completely or in which some legal, equitable, or contractual right is altered). Moreover, under section 1126(f), holders of unimpaired claims are deemed to have accepted the plan.

Under section 1127(a) of the Bankruptcy Code, the plan proponent may modify the plan at any time before confirmation, but the plan as modified must meet all the requirements of chapter 11. When there is a proposed modification after balloting has been conducted, and the court finds after a hearing that the proposed modification does not adversely affect the treatment of any creditor who has not accepted the modification in writing, the modification is deemed to have been accepted by all creditors who previously accepted the plan. If it is determined that the proposed modification does have an adverse effect on the claims of non-consenting creditors, then another balloting must take place.

Because more than one plan may be submitted to the creditors for approval, every proposed plan and modification must be dated and identified with the name of the entity or entities submitting the plan or modification. When competing plans are presented that meet the requirements for confirmation, the court must consider the preferences of the creditors and equity security holders in determining which plan to confirm.

Any party in interest may file an objection to confirmation of a plan. The Bankruptcy Code requires the court, after notice, to hold a hearing on confirmation of a plan. If no objection to confirmation has been timely filed, the Bankruptcy Code allows the court to determine whether the plan has been proposed in good faith and according to law. Before confirmation can be granted, the court must be satisfied that there has been compliance with all the other requirements of confirmation set forth in section 1129 of the Bankruptcy Code, even in the absence of any objections. In order to confirm the plan, the court must find, among other things, that: (1) the plan is feasible; (2) it is proposed in good faith; and (3) the plan and the proponent of the plan are in compliance with the Bankruptcy Code. In order to satisfy the feasibility requirement, the court must find that confirmation of the plan is not likely to be followed by liquidation (unless the plan is a liquidating plan) or the need for further financial reorganization.

The Discharge

Section 1141(d)(1) generally provides that confirmation of a plan discharges a debtor from any debt that arose before the date of confirmation. After the plan is confirmed, the debtor is required to make plan payments and is bound by the provisions of the plan of reorganization. The confirmed plan creates new contractual rights, replacing or superseding pre-bankruptcy contracts.

There are, of course, exceptions to the general rule that an order confirming a plan operates as a discharge. Confirmation of a plan of reorganization discharges any type of debtor – corporation, partnership, or individual – from most types of prepetition debts. It does not, however, discharge an individual debtor from any debt made non-dischargeable by section 523 of the Bankruptcy Code. Moreover, except in limited circumstances, a discharge is not available to an individual debtor unless and until all payments have been made under the plan. Confirmation does not discharge the debtor if the plan is a liquidation plan, as opposed to one of reorganization, unless the debtor is an individual. When the debtor is an individual, confirmation of a liquidation plan will result in a discharge (after plan payments are made) unless grounds would exist for denying the debtor a discharge if the case were proceeding under chapter 7 instead of chapter 11.

Post-confirmation Administration

Notwithstanding the entry of the confirmation order, the court has the authority to issue any other order necessary to administer the estate. This authority would include the post-confirmation determination of objections to claims or adversary proceedings, which must be resolved before a plan can be fully consummated. Sections 1106(a)(7) and 1107(a) of the Bankruptcy Code require a debtor in possession or a trustee to report on the progress made in implementing a plan after confirmation. A chapter 11 trustee or debtor in possession has a number of responsibilities to perform after confirmation, including consummating the plan, reporting on the status of consummation, and applying for a final decree.

The Final Decree

A final decree closing the case can be entered only after the estate has been fully administered, and all plan payments made.