Reorganization: Chapter 11 Bankruptcy
Chapter 11 provides a means by which corporations, partnerships, and other businesses, including sole proprietorships, can rehabilitate themselves and continue to operate free from the burden of debts that they cannot pay.
It is simple enough to apply for the protection of the court in Chapter 11 proceeding, and for many years, large financially ailing companies have sought shelter in Chapter 11. Well-known examples include General Motors, Texaco, K-Mart, Delta Airlines, and Northwest Airlines. An increasing number of corporations have turned to Chapter 11 even though, by conventional terms, they were solvent. Doing so enables them to negotiate with creditors to reduce debt. It also may even permit courts to snuff out lawsuits that have not yet been filed. Chapters 3 and 5, discussed in Section 13.2, apply to Chapter 11 proceedings also. Our discussion, therefore, is limited to special features of Chapter 11.
How It Works
Any person eligible for discharge in Chapter 7 proceeding (plus railroads) is eligible for a Chapter 11 proceeding, except stockbrokers and commodity brokers. Individuals filing Chapter 11 must take credit counseling; businesses do not. A company may voluntarily enter Chapter 11 or may be put there involuntarily by creditors. Individuals can file Chapter 11 particularly if they have too much debt to qualify for Chapter 13 and make too much money to qualify for Chapter 7; under the 2005 act, individuals must commit future wages to creditors, just as in Chapter 13.11 United States Code, Sections 1115, 1123(a)(8), and 1129(a)(15).
Operation of Business
Unless a trustee is appointed, the debtor will retain possession of the business and may continue to operate with its own management. The court may appoint a trustee on request of any party in interest after notice and a hearing. The appointment may be made for cause—such as dishonesty, incompetence, or gross mismanagement—or if it is otherwise in the best interests of the creditors. Frequently, the same incompetent management that got the business into bankruptcy is left running it—that’s a criticism of Chapter 11.
The court must appoint a committee of unsecured creditors as soon as practicable after issuing the order for relief. The committee must consist of creditors willing to serve who have the seven largest claims, unless the court decides to continue a committee formed before the filing, if the committee was fairly chosen and adequately represents the various claims. The committee has several duties, including these: (1) to investigate the debtor’s financial affairs, (2) to determine whether to seek appointment of a trustee or to let the business continue to operate, and (3) to consult with the debtor or trustee throughout the case.
The Reorganization Plan
The debtor may always file its own plan, whether in a voluntary or involuntary case. If the court leaves the debtor in possession without appointing a trustee, the debtor has the exclusive right to file a reorganization plan during the first 120 days. If it does file, it will then have another 60 days to obtain the creditors’ acceptances. Although its exclusivity expires at the end of 180 days, the court may lengthen or shorten the period for good cause. At the end of the exclusive period, the creditors’ committee, a single creditor, or a holder of equity in the debtor’s property may file a plan. If the court does appoint a trustee, any party in interest may file a plan at any time.
The Bankruptcy Reform Act specifies certain features of the plan and permits others to be included. Among other things, the plan must (1) designate classes of claims and ownership interests; (2) specify which classes or interests are impaired—a claim or ownership interest is impaired if the creditor’s legal, equitable, contractual rights are altered under the plan; (3) specify the treatment of any class of claims or interests that is impaired under the plan; (4) provide the same treatment of each claim or interests of a particular class, unless the holder of a particular claim or interest agrees to a less favorable treatment; and (5) provide adequate means for carrying out the plan. Basically, what the plan does is provide a process for rehabilitating the company’s faltering business by relieving it from repaying part of its debt and initiating reforms so that the company can try to get back on its feet.
Acceptance of the Plan
The act requires the plan to be accepted by certain proportions of each impaired class of claims and interests. A class of claims accepts the plan if creditors representing at least two-thirds of the dollar amount of claims and more than one-half the number of allowed claims vote in favor. A class of property interests accepts the plan if creditors representing two-thirds of the dollar amount of the allowed ownership interests vote in favor. Unimpaired classes of claims and interest are deemed to have accepted the plan; it is unnecessary to solicit their acceptance.
Confirmation of the Plan
The final act necessary under Chapter 11 is confirmation by the court. Once the court confirms the plan, the plan is binding on all creditors. The rules governing confirmation are complex, but in essence, they include the following requirements:
- The plan must have been proposed in good faith. Companies must also make a good-faith attempt to negotiate modifications in their collective bargaining agreements (labor union contracts).
- All provisions of the act must have been complied with.
- The court must have determined that the reorganized business will be likely to succeed and be unlikely to require further financial reorganization in the foreseeable future.
- Impaired classes of claims and interests must have accepted the plan, unless the plan treats them in a “fair and equitable” manner, in which case consent is not required. This is sometimes referred to as the cram-down provision.
- All members of every class must have received no less value than they would have in Chapter 7 liquidation.
The debtor gets discharged when all payments under the plan are completed. A Chapter 11 bankruptcy may be converted to Chapter 7, with some restrictions, if it turns out the debtor cannot make the plan work.
Adjustment of Debts of an Individual with Regular Income: Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
Anyone with a steady income who is having difficulty paying off accumulated debts may seek the protection of a bankruptcy court in Chapter 13 proceeding (often called the wage earner’s plan). Under this chapter, the individual debtor presents a payment plan to creditors, and the court appoints a trustee. If the creditors wind up with more under the plan presented than they would receive in Chapter 7 proceeding, then the court is likely to approve it. In general, a Chapter 13 repayment plan extends the time to pay the debt and may reduce it so that the debtor need not pay it all. Typically, the debtor will pay a fixed sum monthly to the trustee, who will distribute it to the creditors. The previously discussed provisions of Chapters 3 and 5 apply also to this chapter; therefore, the discussion that follows focuses on some unique features of Chapter 13.
People seek Chapter 13 discharges instead of Chapter 7 for various reasons: they make too much money to pass the Chapter 7 means test; they are behind on their mortgage or car payments and want to make them up over time and reinstate the original agreement; they have debts that can’t be discharged in Chapter 7; they have nonexempt property they want to keep; they have codebtors on a personal debt who would be liable if the debtor went Chapter 7; they have a real desire to pay their debts but cannot do so without getting the creditors to give them some breathing room. Chapter 7 cases may always be converted to Chapter 13.
How It Works
Chapter 13 is voluntary only. Anyone—sole proprietorships included—who has a regular income, unsecured debts of less than $336,000, and secured debts of less than $1,010,650 is eligible to seek its protection. The debts must be unpaid and owing at the time the debtor applies for relief. If the person has more debt than that, she will have to file Chapter 11. The debtor must attend a credit-counseling class, as in Chapter 7.
Plans are typically extensions or compositions—that is, they extend the time to pay what is owing, or they are agreements among creditors each to accept something less than the full amount owed (so that all get something). Under Chapter 13, the stretch-out period is three to five three years. The plan must provide for payments of all future income or a sufficient portion of it to the trustee. Priority creditors are entitled to be paid in full, although they may be paid later than required under the original indebtedness. As long as the plan is being carried out, the debtor may enjoin any creditors from suing to collect the original debt.
Under Section 1325 of the bankruptcy code, the court must approve the plan if it meets certain requirements. These include (1) distribution of property to unsecured creditors whose claims are allowed in an amount no less than that which they would have received had the estate been liquidated under Chapter 7; (2) acceptance by secured creditors, with some exceptions, such as when the debtor surrenders the secured property to the creditor; and (3) proposal of the plan “in good faith.” If the trustee or an unsecured creditor objects to confirmation, the plan must meet additional tests. For example, a plan will be approved if all of the debtor’s disposable income (as defined in Section 1325) over the commitment period (three to five years) will be used to make payments under the plan.
Once a debtor has made all payments called for in the plan, the court will discharge him from all remaining debts except certain long-term debts and obligations to pay alimony, maintenance, and support. Under former law, Chapter 13 was so broad that it permitted the court to discharge the debtor from many debts considered nondischargeable under Chapter 7, but 1994 amendments and the 2005 act made Chapter 13 less expansive. Debts dischargeable in Chapter 13, but not in Chapter 7, include debts for willful and malicious injury to property, debts incurred to pay nondischargeable tax obligations, and debts arising from property settlements in divorce or separation proceedings. (See Section 13.6, In re Ryan, for a discussion of what debts are dischargeable under Chapter 13 as compared with Chapter 7.)
Although a Chapter 13 debtor generally receives a discharge only after completing all payments required by the court-approved (i.e., “confirmed”) repayment plan, there are some limited circumstances under which the debtor may request the court to grant a “hardship discharge” even though the debtor has failed to complete plan payments. Such a discharge is available only to a debtor whose failure to complete plan payments is due to circumstances beyond the debtor’s control. A Chapter 13 discharge stays on the credit record for up to ten years.
A discharge may be denied if the debtor previously went through a bankruptcy too soon before filing Chapter 13, failed to act in good faith, or—with some exceptions—failed to complete a personal financial management course.
Chapter 11—frequently referred to as “corporate reorganization”—is most often used by businesses whose value as a going concern is greater than it would be if liquidated, but, with some exceptions, anyone eligible to file Chapter 7 can file Chapter 11. The business owners, or in some cases the trustee or creditors, develop a plan to pay the firm’s debts over a three- to five-year period; the plan must be approved by creditors and the court. Chapter 13—frequently called the wage-earner’s plan—is a similar mechanism by which a person can discharge some debt and have longer to pay debts off than originally scheduled. Under Chapter 13, people can get certain relief from creditors that they cannot get in Chapter 7.
- David Debtor is a freelance artist with significant debt that he feels a moral obligation to pay. Why is Chapter 11 his best choice of bankruptcy chapters to file under?
- What is the practical difference between debts arising from property settlements in divorce or separation proceedings—which can be discharged under Chapter 13—and debts owing for alimony (maintenance) and child support—which cannot be discharged under Chapter 13?
- Why would a person want to go through the long grind of Chapter 13 instead of just declaring straight bankruptcy (Chapter 7) and being done with it?