At this month’s Southern California Bankruptcy Inn of Court meeting, now called the James T. King Inn of Court, we had a lively discussion regarding whether attorneys may engage in litigation for the purpose of harassing the other party.
The room was fairly evenly split with half saying absolutely not while the other half focused on whether the litigation was meritorious.
It turns out the issue is more complicated than that. In summary, if the litigation is engaged in and proceeds under Bankruptcy Law, then the litigation cannot proceed if brought for an improper purpose such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation. Read more…
If an order confirming a Plan of Reorganization is procured by fraud, how many days from entry of order does one have to ask the court to revoke the order?
The answer depends on which chapter of the Bankruptcy Code we’re talking about! In a Chapter 12 or Chapter 13 case, one would have up to the 180th day after the date the order was entered to seek revocation of the discharge. In a Chapter 11 case, one would have up to the 179th day after the date the order was entered to seek revocation. That is a pretty tough lesson to learn the hard way.
On August 24, 2015, Judge Lee, a Bankruptcy Judge in the Eastern District of California, disqualified the Estate’s general bankruptcy counsel even though counsel was properly employed under § 327(a). The Court found that counsel was a disinterested person within the meaning of the code and did not hold or represent an interest adverse to the estate. This is a wild (but proper) result because under California law, a client’s waiver or consent can cure these types of deficiencies and under Bankruptcy law, those defects cannot be cured!
So how is it that under Bankruptcy law, counsel was properly employed but had to be disqualified under California law?
In a case of first impression, Judge Montali had to decide whether a landlord’s claim for payment of rent during the gap period of an involuntary bankruptcy is entitled to priority.
Before delving into the facts of the case, a quick primer is appropriate. The treatment of a commercial landlord’s claims in bankruptcy is too complicated and will be discussed in more depth in a future article so this “quick primer” is very limited.
When a company files for bankruptcy, the landlord in a nonresidential context is usually the most powerful player in the scene. The landlord is entitled to be paid contract rate lease payments until the Debtor decides to either reject or assume the lease. This is provided for under § 365(d)(3) which states that “The trustee shall timely perform all the obligations of the debtor … arising from and after the order for relief under any unexpired lease of nonresidential real property … until such lease is assumed or rejected, notwithstanding section 503 (b)(1) of this title….” Read more…
The facts of the situation are not in dispute. The Debtor in a Chapter 11 case needed to hire a forensic accountant. The Debtor applied for permission to hire the accountant under § 327(a) of the Bankruptcy Code. The employment application did not contain any special provisions but the engagement letter contained the following clause:
In the event we are requested or authorized by Debtor or are required by government regulation, subpoena, court order, or other legal process to produce our documents or our personnel as witnesses with respect to our engagements for Debtor, Debtor will, so long as we are not a party to the proceeding in which the information is sought, reimburse us for our professional time and expenses, as well as the fees and expenses of our counsel, incurred in responding to such requests.
No objection to employment was filed and the Court entered an order approving the application. Read more…
In this case, the sole shareholder, director and president of a company (all the same Individual) transferred about $8,000,000 into a secret bank account which he then used to pay personal debts. The question before the Court was whether the transfers to the bank account made the Individual, in his personal capacity, an initial transferee within the meaning of § 550.
The surprising answer (although not stated in this way) is that it depends on whether the secret bank account was opened in the name of the company or individual. In this case, the secret account was completely under the dominion and control of the Individual; the Individual’s wife was a signatory on the account and the only purpose it served was to pay personal expenses. None of that mattered. The account was opened under the company’s name. The District Court held that the Individual was not an initial transferee since the account was a company account.
We all know the general statute of limitations for suing attorneys is within after one year of discovering the facts constituting the wrongful act or within one year of when the client should have discovered the facts constituting the wrongful act through the use of reasonable diligence but never more than four years from the date of the wrongful act or omission. See Code Civ. Proc. § 437c.
The limitations period is tolled if, among other reasons, the plaintiff has not sustained an actual injury or if the attorney continues to represent the plaintiff regarding the specific subject matter in which the alleged wrongful act or omission occurred. See Code Civ. Proc. § 340.6.
In the scenario discussed today, the attorney forgets the deadline to file an objection to a bogus lien. Because of the missed deadline, the client hires a different firm and ultimately agrees to accept $1.6 million less than it would otherwise have received.
The problem is even though the client knew his former attorney missed the deadline to object to the bogus lien, he waited over a year, until after the $1.6 million hit, to file a malpractice action. So is the malpractice action timely since the client had not sustained an actual injury?
The creditor here had three excuses. First, they did not have actual notice of the bankruptcy (so there was no willful violation of the stay); second, that the statute of limitations for violating the automatic stay had run; and third, that it was the former attorney’s fault.
A violation of the automatic stay is willful if a party knew of the automatic stay, and its actions in violation of the stay were intentional. Note, it is not the intent to violate the stay that is at issue; it is having knowledge of the bankruptcy and voluntarily doing something that violates the stay! Even worse, once a creditor has knowledge of the bankruptcy, it is deemed to have knowledge of the automatic stay!
The Court did not buy the creditor’s argument that the notice of the bk was sent to “Creditors Specialty Service” instead of “Creditors Specialty Services.” The Court did not allow the creditor to blame its attorney but suggested that if the creditor though its attorney was to blame, it could pursue that claim. The conduct of an attorney is attributable to the client. See Seacall Development v. Santa Monica Rent Control Bd., 86 Cal. App. 4th 201, 204-205 (Cal.Ct.App. 1999) (citing Carroll v. Abbott Labroatories, 32 Cal. 3d 892, 895, 898 (1982)).
Finally, the Court reiterated the concept that Congress did not establish any limitations period for damage claims under § 362(k).
Full opinion here.
I have spoken with quite a few practitioners and surprisingly, all of them have said the same thing: an individual Debtor in Chapter 11 Bankruptcy can only receive a discharge once every 8 years.
Then a good friend of mine and told me about his magic bullet: he would vacate the prior discharge to make his clients eligible for the Chapter 11 discharge. It is quite brilliant actually but it turns out not to be necessary.
First, let’s discuss the code section which seems to have caused all the confusion:
The 9th Circuit really confused a lot of people in 2003 when it incorrectly interpreted California community property laws. The confusion spread to California courts of appeal until finally corrected by the California Supreme Court in 2014!