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Craig D. Robins, Esq. New York Bankruptcy Attorney, Longisland bankruptcy attorney

“ Craig D. Robins, Esq., has been a practicing Long Island bankruptcy attorney for over twenty-four years ”

Craig D. Robins, Esq.

Archive for February, 2010

Going to Your Bankruptcy Court Hearing — The Meeting of Creditors

Posted on Tuesday (February 23, 2010) at 2:30 am to Bankruptcy Procedure
Bankruptcy Tips Consumers Should Know
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Meeting of Creditors in Bankruptcy CourtWritten by Craig D. Robins, Esq.
 
 
In every consumer bankruptcy case, whether it is a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, there will be an initial hearing at the bankruptcy court about one month after the case is filed.  If you filed for bankruptcy, you are required to attend.
 
 
What’s Happens at the Meeting of Creditors in Bankruptcy Court?
 
The purpose of the hearing is for the court-appointed trustee to ask you questions about your financial situation, the reason why you have debt problems, and whether you have any non-exempt assets.
 
This meeting is rather informal, as it is not in a courtroom, and it is not before a bankruptcy judge.  Instead, it is in a hearing room, and it is before a trustee, who is a bankruptcy attorney, and not a judicial officer.  See my post: Don’t Call the Bankruptcy Trustee, “Your Honor”.
 
As a matter of fact, the bankruptcy law even bars bankruptcy judges from attending the Meeting of Creditors.  See:  Bankruptcy Judges Are Barred by Law From Attending the Meeting of Creditors .
 
A bankruptcy trustee presides over the meeting by calling cases, one at a time.  When your case is called, you sit at a table in the front of the room with your bankruptcy lawyer, and the trustee asks questions after you’ve been sworn in.  To learn more about trustees, see What Is a Bankruptcy Trustee?
 
Most meetings are relatively short and uneventful.  Although they will typically last just a matter of a few minutes, you may wait as much as 60 to 90 minutes for your hearing.  The meetings are recorded by an electronic device, and there is a microphone on the table.
 
Since the meetings are somewhat informal, you do not have to get dressed up or wear a suit.
 
The Meeting of Creditors is also commonly referred to as the “341 Hearing” or “341 Meeting” because it is Bankruptcy Code section 341 that contains the law regarding such meetings.
 
Role of the Bankruptcy Trustee
 
The trustee is charged with several obligations which include making sure the bankruptcy petition is properly prepared, making sure any assets you intend to keep are protected by exemption statutes, ensuring that you properly completed the Means Test, and ascertaining whether you have any non-exempt assets that can be sold for the benefit of creditors.
 
It is usually rare, but not uncommon, that a trustee determines that there are non-exempt assets.  The most common types of non-exempt assets include cars, tax refunds and personal injury law suits.  In each case, if the asset is worth more than the exemption amount, the trustee can administer the asset.  For more information about whether a trustee will pursue an asset, see:  The Back-Door Politics Behind Trustees Pursuing Non-Exempt Assets.
 
If you live in New York, you can check some of the most common bankruptcy exemptions here:  Bankruptcy Exemptions in New York.
 
If the trustee does try to sell an asset, he is entitled to be compensated for doing so.  Information about this is in this post:  How Does a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee Sell Assets .
 
Some clients primarily speak a second language like Spanish, and need the assistance of an interpreter.  In the Central Islip Bankruptcy Court, the court now provides interpretation services at the Meeting of Creditors.  See:  Interpreters in Bankruptcy Court .
 
It is relatively rare that a creditor will show up.  Generally speaking, credit card companies, which constitute the most common type of creditor, will never show up.  I discussed this in my post:  Will Creditors Show Up For My Hearing In Bankruptcy Court?  However, If a Creditor Shows Up at the Meeting of Creditors in Bankruptcy Court, What Questions Can They Ask?
 
As far as questions at the Meeting of Creditors that the trustee asks you, it is very important to answer each question accurately and honestly, but you should not provide any additional information, other than simply answering the question.  For more about how you should answer questions, see this post:  How Much Should You Say at the Meeting of Creditors in Bankruptcy Court?
 
When Is the Meeting of Creditors?
 
This is the topic of an article I recently wrote:  When Is My Meeting of Creditors in Bankruptcy Court?.  Generally, the meeting is about one month after the date of filing.  There is a lot of information on this post.
 
What Can Go Wrong at the Meeting of Creditors?
 
The vast majority of hearings at the Meeting of Creditors go very smoothly and last just a few minutes.  If your bankruptcy attorney did a good job in drafting the bankruptcy petition and preparing you for the meeting, everything should go find.
 
Nevertheless, lots of things can happen at the Meeting of Creditors to complicate things.  Several years go I wrote a lengthy series of articles for the Suffolk Lawyer about how to address unusual issues that may arise at the Meeting of Creditors in bankruptcy court. 
 
If you have a Meeting of Creditors coming up, this series of articles should be extremely useful:
 
 
Preparation for the Meeting of Creditors is Key
 
I cannot stress how important it is to have your bankruptcy attorney prepare you for the meeting of creditors.
 
In my Long Island bankruptcy practice, we review with each client the various questions the trustee will most likely ask, as well as our client’s responses, to ensure that the meeting will go smoothly.  We usually do this a few days prior to the meeting.
 
Are You Curious About Your Bankruptcy Trustee?
 
If your hearing is in the Central Islip Bankruptcy Court, which is in the Eastern District of New York, you can read profiles about each trustee and see their picture, most of which I took.  Here is the link:  Bankruptcy Trustee Profiles .
 
Can the Trustee Decline to Grant You Bankruptcy Relief at the Meeting of Creditors?
 
The answer is “absolutely not.”  The purpose of the meeting is for the trustee to obtain information about your case.  The trustee does not have the ability to take any action against you or decide whether or not you are entitled to a discharge.
 
Only a bankruptcy court judge can do such things.  Also, every debtor is entitled to a discharge unless a proceeding is brought challenging discharge — and these are very rare.
  
Directions to the Central Islip Bankruptcy Court on Long Island
 
If your meeting of creditors is in Central Islip, here’s how to get to the court:  Directions to Central Islip Bankruptcy Court – Long Island .
 
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Deciphering the Plethora of Means Test Cases Across Many Bankruptcy Courts

Posted on Monday (February 15, 2010) at 3:00 am to Bankruptcy Means Test
Recent Bankruptcy Court Decisions
Suffolk Lawyer

The Bankruptcy Means Test -- Many bankruptcy courts have interpreted it differentlyWritten by Craig D. Robins, viagra 40mg Esq.
 
When I sat down to write this month’s column for the Suffolk Lawyer, viagra sale I was prepared to discuss several recent cases interpreting the means test.  However, click I could not get over the great number of splits of authority over almost every single issue.
 
The Means Test is the focal point of the drastic revisions that Congress made to the Bankruptcy Code in 2005.  That was when the legislature thought it was necessary to tighten the existing bankruptcy law and make it more difficult for consumers to eliminate debt, especially for those who Congress thought could afford to pay something to their creditors.
 
Unfortunately for bench and bar, the statutory wording of the Code provisions underlying the means test is anything but clear and unambiguous.
 
 
Congress Failed in Drafting a Clear-Cut Means Test Statute
 
Ironically, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005  (“BAPCPA”) was intended “to improve bankruptcy law and practice by restoring personal responsibility and integrity in the bankruptcy system and ensure that the system is fair for both debtors and creditors.”
 
Yet, when the new law was enacted in 2005, Bankruptcy scholars across the land declared that so many of the provisions of BAPCPA were so poorly worded that  bankruptcy court judges would be perpetually perplexed as they tried to interpret them.  They were right.  The relatively new statute contains typos, sloppy choices of words, hanging paragraphs, and inconsistencies. 
 
We now have bankruptcy courts, U.S. District Courts, and U.S. Courts of Appeal issuing decisions almost daily in an effort to make heads and tails over what Congress intended.  The worst part?  There are minority and majority views to almost every possible issue, and even a few hybrid views to boot.
 
Here’s more irony:  BAPCPA was supposed to limit judicial discretion.  Instead, the legislation, which leaves a great deal to be desired, actually requires significant judicial discretion simply to interpret the statute.  Congress failed to create the “bright line” which it intended, a concept Long Island Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert E. Grossman cited in one of his recent opinions.
 
This confusion has led to a spate of law review articles with deriding, mocking and skewering titles such as “BAPCPA:  Trying to Make Sense Out of Nonsense.”  I can come up with some of my own: “BAPCPA is Bupkis” and “Mean Streets to the Means Test – An Ugly Road to Bankruptcy Court.”
 
The Ambiguity of the New Laws Makes Bankruptcy Challenging
 
What all this means is that if an issue has not yet been decided in your jurisdiction, counsel has little guidance as to how the local bankruptcy court will rule.  So imagine the challenge of trying to advise clients when a judge in Connecticut has held one way, a judge in New Jersey has reached a decision that is totally opposite, and our jurisdiction has not even addressed the issue yet.  And then, most issues are also finding their way up to the appellate courts.
 
BAPCPA has created a wide split among courts, not only upon the interpretation of whether a consumer has too much income to qualify for Chapter 7 relief, but upon the methodology used to calculate what income really is. 
 
Courts seem to be debating endlessly concepts such as whether projected disposable income requires either an “anticipated” or “historical” calculation of income. In other words, do you use a backwards-looking approach or a forwards-looking approach?  Judge Grossman has already written a number of decisions seeking to make this distinction.  (FYI, he’s a forward-looker.)
 
The Strict Constructionist Verses the Logical Originalist in Bankruptcy Court
 
Inconsistencies in BAPCPA language have created two approaches to addressing conflicting interpretations.  You have the strict constructionists who believe a statute should be interpreted on its face, regardless of the result, and those who believe that maintaining a logical outcome based on the legislature’s original intent is paramount. 
 
We’ve come to learn that Judge Grossman is of the school of thought “supported by reason.”  He recently wrote in one of his decisions interpreting the means test: “Absent clear binding authority in this Circuit, this Court will not adopt a reading of the statute which does not make any sense.”
 
As Judge Grossman wrote just last week in In re: Rabener, “this Court does not share the view that a rigid application. . . is required because the 2005 BAPCPA amendments were intended to blindly reduce judicial discretion. This Court does not believe that it is required to reach a decision that is absurd on its face merely to satisfy an unsupported argument that eliminating or reducing judicial discretion is more important than reaching a sound conclusion consistent with reason.”  In re Rabener, No. 809-75719, slip op. (E.D.N.Y. January 21, 2010).
 
Do you look at the “plain meaning of the statute” or do you try to ascertain “what Congress originally intended?”  Perhaps that depends on which side you’re on.
 
So what can the bankruptcy practitioner do when courts across the country are divided on issues?  Hope for the best.  Such uncertainty makes practicing bankruptcy law post-2005 daunting to say the least. But all those divergent decisions sure make for good reading.
 
  

About the Author.  Long Island Bankruptcy Attorney Craig D. Robins, Esq., is a regular columnist for the Suffolk Lawyer, the official publication of the Suffolk County Bar Association in New York. This article appeared in the February 2010 issue of the Suffolk Lawyer. Mr. Robins is a bankruptcy lawyer who has represented thousands of consumer and business clients during the past twenty years. He has offices in Patchogue, Commack, Woodbury and Valley Stream. (516) 496-0800. For information about filing bankruptcy on Long Island, please visit his Bankruptcy web site: http://www.BankruptcyCanHelp.com.
 
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Your First Visit to a Bankruptcy Attorney — What Info Should You Bring?

Posted on Sunday (February 14, 2010) at 7:45 pm to Bankruptcy Tips Consumers Should Know
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Your first visit to a bankruptcy attorneyWritten by Craig D. Robins, Esq.
 
Many of our clients are justifiably anxious about meeting with a bankruptcy for the first time. 
 
However, a good, experienced bankruptcy attorney should be able to put the client at ease, review their financial situation, explain whether bankruptcy is a good option, and if so, discuss how a bankruptcy filling will work. 
 
What Documents Should You Bring to the Bankruptcy Attorney?
 
Getting the most from your first bankruptcy consultation requires that you bring certain financial papers.  I’ve learned that in order to best advise clients about bankruptcy and consider all of the various options, I need to know all of the details of their finances.
 
Here is a list of documents that I typically ask my Long Island bankruptcy clients to bring to their first meeting with me:
 
• One recent bill from each creditor
• Collection letters and any law suit papers
• As many pay stubs as you can locate for the past six or seven months
• Tax returns for the past two years
• Drivers license and Social Security card
 
There are other papers we will need if we go forward with a bankruptcy filing, but the above items usually enables us to meet with the client and review their situation.
 
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Long Island Foreclosure Cases Are Up

Posted on Friday (February 12, 2010) at 11:00 am to Long Island Economy
Mortgages & Sub-Prime Mortgage Meltdown

Long Island Foreclosure Help

Written by Craig D. Robins, Esq.

 
Foreclosure cases are increasing again on Long Island according to a report that was published in yesterday’s Newsday.
 
New Numbers Show Foreclosures Rising Again on Long Island
 
 In January, there was a 23 percent increase over last year in foreclosure proceedings that were commenced on Long island.  This included 504 homes in Nassau County and 626 homes in Suffolk County — a total of 1,130 homes for the month.
 
A foreclosure proceeding is started when the lender files a notice of a pending foreclosure law suit with the County Clerk.  The notice is called a “lis pendens,” a Latin legal term which translates to “notice of pendency.”
 
Homeowners have several options for dealing with foreclosure situations.  Here are some recent articles that I’ve written about the possibilities:
 
Many New York Foreclosure Suits Are Dismissed Because They Are Defective .  I discussed how many foreclosure proceedings are sloppily prepared, creating all sorts of defenses for the homeowner.
 
Mortgage Companies Entitlement to Bring Foreclosure Proceedings: Prove It or Lose It .  Mortgage companies sell and assign their mortgages so frequently that sometimes the mortgage company bringing the foreclosure proceeding doesn’t have the legal right to do so.
 
One-Fourth of All U.S. Homeowners Are Underwater. What Should These Homeowners Do? .  If there is no equity in your home, you may want to explore certain options.
 
Foreclosure Law Discussed by Four Suffolk County Supreme Court Judges.  Judges at a recent seminar gave some valuable advice about defending Long Island foreclosure suits.
 
Chapter 7 Cram-Down of Second Mortgages.  A new Long Island bankruptcy case gives Chapter 7 debtors the ability to wipe away second mortgages under certain circumstances.
 
Bankruptcy Can Provide Way Out of Bad, Highly-Leveraged Real Estate .  Homeowners in foreclosure should consider bankruptcy as an option.
 
Many Owners of Million Dollar Homes Filing for Bankruptcy.  Even those with expensive homes can consider bankruptcy as an option.
 
Federal Crackdown on Mortgage Modification Companies .  Homeowners beware.  Most mortgage modification companies will rip you off.
 
Is a Short Sale a Reasonable Alternative to Foreclosure on Long Island?   Think twice about considering a short sale as an option.
 
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Bankruptcy Presentation for American Inns of Court

Posted on Wednesday (February 10, 2010) at 11:30 pm to In The News

Craig D. Robins and Theodore Roosevelt Inns of Court:  Jaspreet S. Mayal, Emily Harper, Matthew R. Amon, Glorisbel Roman. Andrew Thaler, Robert L. Pryor, Bernard S. Mark, Judge Dorothy T. Eisenberg, and Craig D. Robins 

(left to right) Jaspreet S. Mayal, Emily Harper, Matthew R. Amon, Glorisbel Roman. Andrew Thaler, Robert L. Pryor, Bernard S. Mark, Judge Dorothy T. Eisenberg, and Craig D. Robins

 

Written by Craig D. Robins, Esq.

 
On Monday night this week, I participated in a group that presented an educational bankruptcy program for the Theodore Roosevelt Chapter of the American Inns of Court.
 
The presentation, which discussed various issues of bankruptcy law, was held at the Nassau County Bar Association, and was attended by about 70 judges, attorneys and law students.
 
The program took the format of a role-playing demonstration and subsequent discussion.  It centered around a detailed fact pattern about an individual who owned a small company that has financial difficulties and needs Chapter 11 bankruptcy relief.  The individual also had his own financial consumer problems complicated by the possibility of divorce, not to mention some serious tax problems as well.  These are all issues that commonly arise in bankruptcy matters.
 
Our hard-working group was led by Long Island Bankruptcy Court Judge Dorothy T. Eisenberg, who hosted several meetings in her chambers at the Courthouse in Central Islip over the past several months.
 
I naturally played the role of the consumer bankruptcy attorney.  Chapter 7 trustee Andrew M. Thaler played the role of my lawfirm partner who specializes in matrimonial bankruptcy issues.  Chapter 7 trustee Robert L. Pryor played the role of the Chapter 11 business attorney.  Tax attorney Bernard S. Mark played the role of the seasoned bankruptcy tax attorney.  Commercial litigator Jaspreet S. Mayal played the role of the creditor’s attorney.
 
We were very fortunate to have three very hard-working Hofstra Law School students participate in the project.  Matthew R. Amon played the role of the businessman who suffered from corporate and consumer financial problems.  Emily Harper played his nagging soon-to-be-divorced wife.  Glorisbel Roman played the anxious creditor, and also acted as narrator.
 
All of the students did outstanding jobs preparing for the presentation, conducting research, writing reports, and acting in the program.
 
About the Inns of Court
 

The Theodore Roosevelt Inn of Court is a chapter of the American Inns of Court, which is dedicated to the enhancement of civility, ethics and legal excellence in the practice of law. I’ve been a member of this group since 1991.

To foster these concepts, the chapter emphasizes hands-on participation in the preparation and presentation of programs which address every-day experiences which lawyers face in their practices. Members include a number of federal and state judges, from seasoned trial lawyers to inexperienced litigators, attorneys from both public and private sectors, and law students from Touro, Hofstra and St. John’s Law Schools.

The Chapter holds monthly dinner programs which are usually held at the Nassau County Bar Association and follow an agenda that typically begins with a buffet dinner. At the dinner, not only do the members interact socially but the more experienced attorneys and judges mentor younger lawyers and law students. Dinner is followed by the monthly program and is often concluded by a lively discussion where members pose questions and discuss their diverse views and perspectives. The Theodore Roosevelt Inn of Court has received authorization to grant its members C.L.E. credit for attending the programs.

 

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When Is My Meeting of Creditors in Bankruptcy Court?

Posted on Sunday (February 7, 2010) at 5:00 pm to Bankruptcy Tips Consumers Should Know
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
Info on Bankruptcy and the Court

Meeting of Creditors in Bankruptcy CourtWritten by Craig D. Robins, Esq.
 
I was prompted to write this blog post because I just filed a Long Island Chapter 7 bankruptcy case and the court scheduled the meeting of creditors for a date that is only 25 days away.  With every other case I’ve filed during the past few years, the hearing was always over a month later.
 
So what’s the story with when the meeting of creditors is held?
 
What is a Section 341 Hearing?
 
First, In every single bankruptcy case, be it Chapter 7, 11 or 13, there is an initial meeting at the bankruptcy court called the Meeting of Creditors.  In consumer cases under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, the purpose of the meeting is for the court-appointed trustee to review the case with the debtor by examining the debtor under oath.
 
Section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code provides for this hearing, which is why it is often referred to as the “341 Hearing.”
 
The Bankruptcy Rules Provide the Time Frame For Holding the Meeting of Creditors
 
Although the 341 hearing is usually held about a month after the petition is filed, it can sometimes be held much earlier than that, and other times, much later.
 
Bankruptcy Rule 2003(a) sets forth the time parameters for the 341 Hearing:
 
In a Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 case, the meeting must be held no fewer than 20 days, and no more than 40 days after the date the petition is filed.
 
However, in a Chapter 13 case, the meeting shall be held no fewer than 20 days, and no more than 50 days after the date of filing.
 
When the bankruptcy court is operating very efficiently, meetings tend to be sooner.  When the court is overburdened, or trustees are taking vacations, the time frame is longer.
 
When the there was a massive rush of bankruptcy filings in September and October 2005 because consumers were anxious to file their bankruptcy petitions before the bankruptcy laws were about to change, the bankruptcy court could not accommodate the great number of cases, and most debtors in New York had to wait 60 to 100 days for their 341 hearings.
 
There’s Lots of Information About Preparing for the Meeting of Creditors on this Blog
 
One of the biggest concerns my clients have is how to prepare for the meeting of creditors and what to do about going to the bankruptcy court for the very first time.  As such, I have written extensively about this.
 
If you have a meeting of creditors coming up, the following posts will be helpful:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
If You Have a Meeting of Creditors Coming Up Soon on Long Island and You Want to Find Out Info About Your Trustee
 
I have a series of posts containing biographies of all of the Long Island Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 trustees:  biographies and profiles of Long Island bankruptcy trustees and judges
 
 
You Must Provide Identification at the Meeting of Creditors
 
Here is a post about what identification you need to provide when you go to bankruptcy court:  You Need Certain Identification to File for Bankruptcy
 
 
Will Creditors Show Up At the Meeting of Creditors?
 
It’s very unlikely that creditors will show up:  Will Creditors Show Up For My Hearing In Bankruptcy Court?   However, here’s a post I wrote about what kind of questions they can ask if they do show up:  If a Creditor Shows Up at the Meeting of Creditors in Bankruptcy Court, What Questions Can They Ask? .
 
 
Directions to the Central Islip Bankruptcy Court on Long Island
 
If your meeting of creditors is in Central Islip, here’s how to get to the court:  Directions to Central Islip Bankruptcy Court – Long Island .
 
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R. Kenneth Barnard, Long Island Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee

Posted on Friday (February 5, 2010) at 8:30 pm to Bankruptcy Trustee Profiles

R. Kenneth BarnardWritten and photographed by Craig D. Robins, physician Esq.
    
This post is part of a series of biographies and profiles of Long Island bankruptcy trustees and judges.

Long Island Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee R. Kenneth Barnard, Esq. has been on the Chapter 7 trustee panel for the Eastern District of New York since about 1990, where he is assigned cases filed in the Central Islip Bankruptcy Court.
 
His office is located in Babylon, New York and he is also a sole practitioner handling bankruptcy, litigation and real estate matters.
 
Ken was admitted to practice in 1985.  He graduated from New York University, and he received his law degree from Hofstra Law School in 1984.
 
One of Ken’s passions is race horses.  In addition to owning several of them, he has trained several racing horses, including The Dwight Stuff, which raced in the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Racing Program, and Leave it to Betsy, which raced at Aqueduct. 
 
Unlike many of the other Chapter 7 trustees, Ken does not actively participate as a panelist in bankruptcy seminars.  He also tends to use other lawfirms to handle all of his trustee litigation matters.
 
Ken is known for meticulously reviewing the petitions of each and every debtor who appears before him.
 
I took the photo of Ken at a recent Bar Association bankruptcy seminar.
 
Here’s Ken’s contact info:
 
R. Kenneth Barnard, Esq.
384 W. Main Street
Babylon, NY 11702
Phone: (631) 661-0906
 
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Serial Bankruptcy Filers Eventually Get the Ax

Posted on Monday (February 1, 2010) at 1:00 am to Bankruptcy Procedure
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
Foreclosure Defense
Issues Involving New Bankruptcy Laws
Recent Bankruptcy Court Decisions
Suffolk Lawyer

 Filing multiple Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases to stop foreclosureWritten by Craig D. Robins, search Esq.
 
 
Some debtors like bankruptcy so much, they come back for more, and more, and even more. . .  sometimes using multiple bankruptcy filings to delay foreclosure proceedings for years.  But when is enough, enough?
  

What Can Mortgagees and the Bankruptcy Court Do in Situations Involving Extreme Serial Filings?

In the past three months, Judge Alan S. Trust, sitting in the Central Islip Bankruptcy Court on Long Island, addressed this issue in several cases.  The most recent one caught my eye based on the incredible number of related bankruptcy filings, as well as the unbelievable amount of time the debtors were able to thwart the system and delay foreclosure.

Serial Filings in Bankruptcy Cases

Some debtors file successive Chapter 13 petitions because each time they file, they get the benefit of the stay, which stops a foreclosure proceeding dead in its tracks.
 
Technically, Bankruptcy Code section 109(e) prohibits a debtor from refiling another case for 180 days, if the prior case was dismissed because the debtor neglected to make necessary payments or maintain other debtor responsibilities.

However the bankruptcy court has become rather liberal in permitting debtors to engage in repeated filings and will typically give the debtor the benefit of the doubt as long as the debtor can demonstrate a change of circumstances.

Nevertheless, some debtors clearly take advantage of the system, and by their sheer audacity (and desperation), give bankruptcy a bad name for those who file in good faith.  The vast majority of bad faith serial filings are done by pro se debtors.

Any experienced bankruptcy attorney knows that judges will not hesitate to sanction counsel for filing a case in bad faith.  The law is very clear that a case cannot be filed for the sole purpose of delay, without any good faith intent to follow through with a Chapter 13 plan.
 

Bankruptcy Amendment Act Made Serial Filings More Difficult

 
When Congress overhauled the bankruptcy laws in 2005 (BAPCPA), it imposed several new provisions designed to stop the problem of bad faith serial filers.  I wrote about some of these changes in my Suffolk Lawyer column in November 2005:  Consumer Bankruptcy Debtors Face New Limitations for Repeat Filings .
 
In particular, there are new exceptions to the automatic stay.  For example, if a debtor had one pending bankruptcy case in the preceding year, then the automatic stay only lasts 30 days, effectively shifting the burden to the debtor to make an application to extend the stay.  If there was more than one filing in the prior year, then the debtor is not entitled to any automatic stay at the time of filing.
 
Even with these provisions, debtors soon learned to game the system.  After one spouse’s bankruptcy was dismissed, the other spouse would then file, and then this “tag team” filing approach would go on for years.  Although this conduct was nothing new, Congress addressed this problem too, with an “in rem” provision in BAPCPA.
         
Debtors Filed 10 Cases to Delay Foreclosure
 
On December 21, 2009, Judge Trust issued companion decisions in two separate, but related cases, outlining the excessive measures taken by two Long Island debtors who filed a total of ten bankruptcy petitions over a 12-year period to stop foreclosure on their jointly-owned home.  In re Janet Blair (Case No. 09-76150-ast) and In re Allen Gary Smith (Case No. 09-77562-ast).
 
The decision was precipitated by a motion brought by the mortgagee, seeking “in rem” relief against the premises.  Most of these filings were Chapter 13 cases filed over a four-year period between 2005 and 2009.  Almost all of them were filed on the eve of a scheduled foreclosure sale.
 
In Rem” Relief in Bankruptcy Proceedings Stops Foreclosure Delaying Tactics
 
In rem” relief is when the bankruptcy court grants an order indicating that a particular piece of property will not be affected by any future bankruptcy stays, effectively eliminating any benefit of the “tag-team” filing approach.  “In rem” originates from the Latin phrase for a lawsuit directed against property, rather than a person.
 
In the Blair / Smith cases, the judge immediately lifted the stay and subsequently granted in rem relief, stating that the serial filings were evidence of the debtors’ bad faith, and also evidence of the fact that the debtors were abusing the bankruptcy process for several years.
 
Statutory Authority for In Rem Relief.  In his decision, Judge Trust, delivered a well-written and detailed analysis behind the statutory authority providing for in rem relief.  In doing so, the judge essentially reiterated his holding in a two-month-old similar decision, which has since been published.  In re Montalvo (416 B.R. 381).
 
One of BAPCPA’s amendments was the addition of Section 362(d)(4) which provides the statutory authority to grant in rem relief.  Pursuant to Section 362(d)(4), the Court can grant in rem relief from the stay as to a mortagee’s interest in the property, such that any and all future filings by any person or entity with an interest in the property will not operate as an automatic stay against the owner and its successors and/or assigns for a period of two years after the date of the entry of such an order.
 
To obtain this relief, the mortgagee bears the burden of showing that the various petitions filed by debtors are part of a scheme to hinder, delay and defraud the mortgagee.
 
A key issue in such cases is whether the court can infer an intent to hinder, delay and defraud creditors when it appears that there have been multiple, strategically timed bankruptcy filings.  Judge Trust took the established view that holds that the mere timing and filing of several bankruptcy cases is an adequate basis from which a court can draw a permissible inference.
  
However, Judge Trust also observed that the debtors demonstrated no intent to make the bankruptcy work.  They did not make plan payments, show up in court, or provide the trustee with required documents.
 

Standard of Proof in In Rem Litigation

 
Judge Robert E. Grossman also addressed this issue just over a year ago, and wrote about the standard of proof necessary to obtain in rem relief.  In re Lemma (394 B.B. 315 (Bank.E.D.N.Y. 2008).
 
In that case, which involved a third Chapter 13 filing (with debtor representation by my friend, Babylon bankruptcy attorney Michael A. Kinzer), the judge concluded that the mortgagee was not entitled to in rem relief (and not even entitled to dismiss the case).
  
The reason why Judge Grossman denied the mortgagee’s application was because the mortgagee, as the party seeking in rem relief, had the burden of proving that the current filing was part of a scheme; that the scheme involved the transfer of real property, or multiple bankruptcy filings; and that the object of the scheme was to hinder, delay and defraud the mortgagee.
 
The mortgagee in that case was unable to provide the court with any evidence  other than the fact that the debtors filed three petitions.
 
Thus, multiple filings, alone, are not adequate to find intent to hinder, delay and defraud.
 
 
About the Author.  Long Island Bankruptcy Attorney Craig D. Robins, Esq., is a regular columnist for the Suffolk Lawyer, the official publication of the Suffolk County Bar Association in New York. This article appeared in the January 2010 issue of the Suffolk Lawyer. Mr. Robins is a bankruptcy lawyer who has represented thousands of consumer and business clients during the past twenty years. He has offices in Patchogue, Commack, Woodbury and Valley Stream. (516) 496-0800. For information about filing bankruptcy on Long Island, please visit his Bankruptcy web site: http://www.BankruptcyCanHelp.com.
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Craig D. Robins, Esq. is a Long Island bankruptcy lawyer, who is focused primarily on helping individuals and families, find solutions to their debt problems. Read more »

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Craig D. Robins, Esq.
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