Friday, July 31, 2020

Impound: Can I Get My Car Back If I File Bankruptcy?

The following question has been posed to the Supreme Court of the United States in City Of Chicago v. Robbin L.Fulton, et. al.:

Whether an entity that is passively retaining possession of property in which a bankruptcy estate has an interest has an affirmative obligation under the Bankruptcy Code’s automatic stay, 11 U.S.C § 362, to return that property to the debtor or trustee immediately up-on the filing of the bankruptcy petition.

A filed bankruptcy petition does 2 things. First, it creates a bankruptcy estate which holds all of the debtor's rights to property, or as the bankruptcy code states, all legal or equitable interests in property. Secondly, an automatic stay automatically operates to automatically stop creditors from collecting debts. including “any act … to exercise control over property of the estate,” referring to the bankruptcy estate. Because this automatically operates, it does not require a court order, and a creditor violating this stay provision may be subject to sanctions.

However, there is a competing code provision providing turnover of property of the bankruptcy estate requires a court order, and is not operate automatically like the automatic stay. An action call an adversarial proceeding has to be filed with the Court requesting the turnover of property. This allows for the debtor to provide a defense. The creditor can also be sanctioned, but only after the Court has ruled.

The Courts are divided. There are five courts of appeals—the Second, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits—align with the first position of the automatic stay imposing a duty to automatically turn over property, while the Tenth and District of Columbia align with the second position of requiring a court order.

In this case, the City of Chicago lawfully impounded a vehicle because of unpaid fines and penalties after the debtor was caught driving on a suspended license. When the city initially filed its claim, it was filed as unsecured, then amended after confirmation of the Chapter 13 Plan to reflect a secured claim.

So, the question before the Court is fairly straight forward; when must turnover occur? Immediately upon the filing of the bankruptcy petition, or after an adversarial proceeding?

Status of case: Currently awaiting the Court's decision as to whether to it will grant the petition for writ of certiorari.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Bankruptcy Automatic Stay: Stopping Eviction, Foreclosure and Collection Efforts

As we near the end of the month of July, in the middle of this pandemic year of 2020, with Florida dividing their attention between the weather that comes with hurricane season and the spread in Covid 19, Florida is also looking at the possible end of the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions while waiting to see if congress passes another stimulus package. While people have been out of work, with mounting debt from credit cards, doctor's bills, utility bills, mortgage payments or rent, and vehicle payments, things are starting to come to a head.

While bankruptcy is something that should be turned to after exhausting other options, bankruptcy should be kept on your radar screen when considering alternatives. You can try to negotiate with creditors, in that many would prefer to limit the expenses of having to file a law suit to get their money or goods. If negotiation fails, the creditor may be open to allowing a third party to negotiate, such as a mediator. Of course, you have the trump card (no pun intended in this election year), the card of bankruptcy.

What can bankruptcy do? When one files a petition for bankruptcy, it causes certain provisions of the bankruptcy code to automatically kick in by operation of law. One very important provision is something called the “automatic stay” under 11 USC § 362 that provides for a “stay” regarding many things pertaining to the commencement or continuation of an action or proceeding against the debtor if it was for something that happened prior to filing bankruptcy.
If you have a question about whether or not this provision of the bankruptcy code will stop a proceeding in your particular case, you should seek the advise of a competent local bankruptcy attorney. Because of the pandemic, some attorneys, such as myself, are offering virtual consultations, either by phone or by internet video conferencing through platforms such as Google Team or Zoom.

If you think you may need the help of something like bankruptcy, you should seek the advise of a local bankruptcy attorney sooner rather than later. I am located in Middleburg, Florida, which is located in the Middle District of Florida; as such I am familiar with the local rules and traditions of the courts in my area.  Rules and traditions change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so you should seek the advise of a local bankruptcy attorney.  I highly recommend you DO NOT try to plan for filing bankruptcy based on intuition, that is, without speaking with a bankruptcy attorney. Bankruptcy is complicated and does not necessarily operate the way many people think it does. In preparing for bankruptcy, going at it alone could cause you to unintentionally put yourself into a position of either not being able to file bankruptcy, or running into unintended consequences from doing so. Bankruptcy usually takes planning, and when done properly, can be an uneventful experience.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Covid 19: Tsunami of Evictions, Foreclosures and Bankruptcies

WE ARE about to see a tsunami of bankruptcies and foreclosures as the result of Covid 19 pandemic.

Over the past couple of months, the legal profession throughout the United States has been forecasting a tsunami of clients running to attorneys.  One of the consequences of the current pandemic is very simple.  People are out of work, either temporarily or permanently, at least with their most recent employer.  And of many of the people back to work, there hours have been cut, as employer's businesses, especially in the hospitality industry, is only at a small percentage of what it should be.  This is a result of the pandemic as a substantial portion of the population is staying at home.

Lately the government, both nationally and locally, has taken action to provide relief to debtors and renters, to the dismay of mortgagees and landlords, in putting a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.  So debtors out of work would not have to worry about being evicted or foreclosed on.  However, with a landlord not receiving rent, and being unable to evict a tenant, the landlord involuntarily gets behind on mortgage payments.

So, what is the result of the end of the moratorium on legal actions involving real property?  I predict we will see a mountain of foreclosures and bankruptcies like we have not seen in a long time.  The end of the moratorium will be the equivalent of opening the flood gates.  Numerous agencies will be hit hard, including those public and private agencies dealing with the homeless.

Of the limited avenues of relief available to debtors, the Federal Government has Title 11 of the United States Code available, more affectionately known as "Bankruptcy".  There are currently 4 chapters of bankruptcy under which an individual can file, known as a Chapter 7, 11, 12, and 13.  Each chapter is unique and serves several purposes.  While one can research these on their own, I recommend setting up a consultation with an local bankruptcy attorney to get advise concerning your particular situation, as the provisions of the bankruptcy code are complicated.  I also recommend setting an appointment sooner rather than later, as you may have trouble getting in to see someone if you wait too long.