Executory Contracts and Leases in Bankruptcy

In Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy cases, debtors have an opportunity to either continue or terminate any executory contracts or leases. That typically means that debtors will list their executory contracts and unexpired leases on the bankruptcy petition and declare their intention to either to accept or to reject those contracts. If such contracts are not timely assumed, they are deemed rejected, and debtors are released from further performance under those contracts.

An executory contract is an agreement that has not been completed. A contract is an agreement between two or more parties to perform certain specified actions. Once the parties complete all contractual obligations the contract becomes fully executed and the parties to that contract have no further obligation to act under that contract. An example of an executory contract is an agreement to sell property in which the buyer and seller agree to perform certain actions including inspecting the property, making certain repairs, obtaining financing, transferring title, delivering possession and making payment. Until all contractual requirements are met, the contract remains open to be executed. One example of an executory contract that is very common is cell phone contracts.  Cell phone contracts are executory contracts during the typical two-year contract period.  By including the cell phone provider as a creditor in the bankruptcy petition, the contract is automatically terminated, and any early cancellation penalty becomes a dischargeable debt just like any other unsecured debt.

An unexpired lease is a form of contract for the use of certain specified real or personal property that has a specified length of time remaining on the length of the contract. An example of an unexpired lease is a rental agreement for the use of a car or a house where the owner agrees to provide the property to the lessee for a set number of months or years and the lessee agrees to make payments for using that property. For bankruptcy purposes, a timeshare falls into this category.

When a debtor files for bankruptcy, debtor required to list those executory contracts on the bankruptcy schedules because under Section 365 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, the trustee is given the power to assume or reject any executory contract or unexpired lease. In other words, bankruptcy trustee can, if he or she chooses, take over the obligation or let it lapse. If the debtor is in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the trustee gets 60 days to accept or reject an executory contract. A failure to do so leads to an automatic rejection. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the trustee may usually assume or reject an executory contract or unexpired lease of residential real property or of personal property at any time before the confirmation of the Chapter 13 Plan.

Bankruptcy code section 11 U.S.C. 365 requires that the debtor assume an executory contract or unexpired lease in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy within 60 days of filing the case; and in all other chapters of bankruptcy before confirmation of a plan. The court may extend the time to assume such agreements for cause. In the case of non-residential real estate agreements, the time to act is extended to 120 days or longer by court order.

Depending on the situation, the debtor may either assume to reject any executory contract. This decision generally depends on the existing financial circumstances.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Dischargeability of Debt and Objections by Creditors

When debtors meet with me and tell me that they want to file for bankruptcy, I ask them questions about their debts, assets, and their financial affairs over the last few years. I also ask is how long ago they last used their credit cards. If they tell me that the credit cards were used within 90 days prior to the filing, I ask them to provide me with their credit card statements and information with regard to what was bought. All of this information helps me to assess whether I am likely to see potential objections from creditors with regard to dischargeability of one or more debts.

According to 11 U.S.C. §523(a)(2), a debt is presumed to be nondischargeable if a Debtor charges more than $600 for luxury goods on a credit card with in 90 days, or takes cash advances of more than $875 within 70 days of filing for bankruptcy. This presumption can be rebutted, but the burden is on the debtor to prove that the purchases did not involve luxury goods or services.

Another reason a creditor may object to the discharge is fraud and misrepresentation of debtors’ assets or income in order to obtain credit. If debtors misrepresent their financial condition in order to obtain a loan or credit line, and the creditor relies upon such misrepresentation when agreeing to extend credit, the creditor can object. For example, if the debtor earned $15,000 a year, but stated on the credit card application that he was earning $50,000 per year in order to get get approved, this would be a material representation likely to result in objections being filed.

Hiding an asset or failing to disclose it in a bankruptcy proceeding are also grounds to challenge a debtor’s discharge. For example, if you own an investment property, especially one with equity, which could not be protected under the Bankruptcy Code, and fail to inform the bankruptcy court of this asset, then a creditor may challenge debtor’s right to a discharge pursuant to 11 U.S.C. §727. Under such circumstances, a debtor may also get charged criminally.

Finally, the transfer of assets to family members or others just before filing bankruptcy can cause a creditor to challenge the bankruptcy case. It is particularly a problem if the asset transferred would not have been fully exempt in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, and the transfer was made with the intent to deprive a creditor of a benefit. If the debtor does this, either the bankruptcy trustee or any creditor who might have received a benefit from the sale of this asset may allege you committed a fraudulent transfer of an asset. The Federal look-back period under 11 U.S.C. §548 and New York’s look-back period is six years.

In view of the above, I always advise my clients to stop using any credit cards at least 90 days prior to filing for bankruptcy, disclose all their assets, and be honest with regard to any financial transactions.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Student Loans and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

On March 23, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in United Student Aid Funds v. Espinosa, No. 08-1134 (2010), which affirmed the 9th Circuit’s holding that a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy debtor can obtain a discharge of a student loan by including it in a Chapter 13 plan.  The loan can be discharged if the creditor fails to object after notice and opportunity to do so, and the bankruptcy court enters an order confirming the Chapter 13 plan.

In a typical bankruptcy, whether Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, a student loan is not discharged unless the bankruptcy court makes a determination that the student loan would be an undue hardship on the debtor. Under Bankruptcy Rules, the court is required to make such a determination in an adversary proceeding, which is a lawsuit within the bankruptcy case.  In United Student Aid Funds, the debtor did not bring an adversary proceeding.  Rather, the debtor put in his plan that only the principal amount of the student loan would be paid through the plan, but that accrued interest would be discharged.  The student loan lender did receive a copy of the plan, and even filed a Proof of Claim.  However, the lender did not object to confirmation of the Chapter 13 plan.

Subsequently, the bankruptcy court entered an order confirming the plan as proposed.  After confirmation, the Chapter 13 trustee sent a notice to the lender, saying that the Proof of Claim amount differed from the amount stated in the Chapter 13 plan, and that if the lender disputes the amount in the plan, it should notify the trustee within 30 days.  After the debtor completed his plan payment, several years later, the student loan lender tried to collect the remaining amount due.

The debtor filed a motion seeking enforcement of his bankruptcy discharge.  The lender filed a motion seeking to declare the order confirming the Chapter 13 plan void.  Ultimately, this was the issue that the Supreme Court resolved. That is, the student loan lender argued that the bankruptcy court order confirming the Chapter 13 plan void because the lender was denied due process regarding the required statutory finding of undue hardship, which did not happen in this case.

The Supreme Court, in looking only at Bankruptcy Rule 60(b)(4), which permits a court to relieve a party for a final order or judgment, found that the lender was not denied due process, since the lender did receive the plan, filed a claim, and received the notice from the chapter 13 trustee.  The Court agreed that the confirmation of the plan without an undue hardship determination was legal error, however, the legal error does not void the order.  The Court noted that Rule 60(b)(4) strikes a balance between the need for finality of judgments, and the right of parties to have a full and fair opportunity to raise issues and the lender had ample notice and opportunity to contest the debtor’s actions.

What is to be learned from United Student Aid Funds?  Bankruptcy lawyers are well aware of the fact that lenders can make errors in dealing with both Chapter 7 Bankruptcies and Chapter 13 Bankruptcies.  However, in most chapter 13 bankruptcies, here in Rochester, New York, and elsewhere, the student loans are paid pro rata through the plan.  Thus, the bankruptcy lawyers are unlikely to follow the debtor’s approach to the student loans in United Student Aid Funds, since it is likely to be rejected by the bankruptcy court.  It appears that the bankruptcy court in that case ignored its obligation to make sure that the debtor followed the Bankruptcy Code in his Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.  At the same time , there is little harm in trying to discharge some or all of the student loan debt, since if the above approach is followed, and the bankruptcy court or the bankruptcy trustee object, the plan can be amended to comply with the law, but if the bankruptcy court rubberstamps the plan and the lender fails to object in a timely manner, the debtor may get a discharge.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.