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CHAPTER 11 SMALL BUSINESS REORGANIZATION ACT OF 2019

IMPORTANT: THIS FIRM MAKES NO REPRESENTATIONS AS TO THE ACCURACY OR CURRENT STATUS OF ANY LAW, CASE, ARTICLE OR PUBLICATION CITED HEREIN OR LINKED TO.
WARNING – SOME OF THESE REFERENCES ARE PRE-BAPCPA.

WARNING: MS. DRAIN NO LONGER ASSISTS IN CHAPTER 11 CASES. THESE NOTES AND CASES ARE JUST A SMALL SAMPLING OF ISSUES AND ARE PROBABLY OUTDATED. CONTACT OUR OFFICE IF YOU WANT REFERRALS TO CHAPTER 11 ATTORNEYS.

Subchapter V:

The “Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019” (SBRA) will take effect February 19, 2020. The SBRA is designed to fill a gap in the current bankruptcy laws by providing a framework for small businesses to successfully reorganize in bankruptcy court, according to a recent commentary in the National Law Review. Under the SBRA, the Bankruptcy Code will be amended to ease the procedural burden on small businesses seeking reorganization. The SBRA amends the Bankruptcy Code with the addition of a new subchapter V to chapter 11, defining a small business debtor as an entity with an aggregate of noncontingent liquidated secured and unsecured debt of not more than $2,725,625. The SBRA mandates that a standing trustee be appointed in every small business chapter 11, similar to the existing statutes for chapter 12 and chapter 13. Among other provisions, the new subchapter will now allow a small business to confirm a plan over the objections of creditors, which is a significant change and should greatly increase the overall success rate for small businesses.

Note: In the “conforming amendments” section at the end of the new law is hidden an important modification to the definition of “small business debtor” in section 101(51D), which will now require that “not less than 50 percent of [the debt] arose from the commercial or business activities of the debtor.”

chapter 11 small business


The SBRA’s major changes to the typical Chapter 11 procedures include the following:

  • Appointment of a Trustee – A standing trustee will be appointed to serve as the trustee for the bankruptcy estate but will not operate the business. The trustee will oversee the plan confirmation process and claims distribution. Additionally, small business debtors will not be required to pay quarterly fees to the United States Trustee.
  • Streamline the Reorganization Process – A status conference will be held within 60 days of the petition date. A debtor is required to file a plan of reorganization within 90 days of the petition date, and only the debtor can file a plan. The debtor is not required to file a disclosure statement, and no creditors’ committee will be appointed unless the court orders otherwise.
  • No Creditors’ Committee– unless court orders for cause
  • Elimination of the New Value Rule – There is no requirement that the debtor’s equity holders provide new value to retain their equity interest in the debtor even if creditors are not paid in full.
  • Plan Confirmation – The requirements for plan confirmation include: (1) the plan does not discriminate unfairly; (2) the plan is fair and equitable, and (3) the plan provides that all of the debtor’s projected disposable income will be applied to plan payments for the next three to five years or the value of property to be distributed under the plan is not less than the projected disposable income of the debtor for the next three to five years.
  • Plan Voting – If all impaired classes vote to accept the plan, confirmation will be considered consensual, with three consequences: (1) the claims will be discharged upon confirmation; (2) the trustee’s services will be terminated upon substantial plan consummation; and (3) the reorganized debtor will be responsible for making plan payments to creditors.
  • Modification of Certain Residential Mortgages – Residential mortgages can be modified if the underlying loan was not used to acquire the residence and was primarily used in connection with the small business.
  • Delayed Payment of Administrative Expense Claims – The SBRA removes the requirement that a debtor pay all administrative expense claims on the effective date of the plan. Instead, a small business debtor may pay administrative expense claims over the term of the plan.

small business debtors


The Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019, which President Trump signed into law last month and will go into effect this February, is expected to have a significant impact on struggling small businesses, according to a commentary in the Philadelphia Inquirer. That is because the new law will give businesses with less than $2,725,625 in debts more time (90 days) to file a reorganization plan with easier rules for extending. Debts will no longer be required to be paid in full for the business owner to retain ownership of a company. Instead, the owner will have to abide by a new formula for payback that projects disposable income over a period of three to five years. There will be less red tape because business owners will now be able to appoint a “standing trustee” instead of a credit committee to oversee their reorganization process. There’s also a new way for determining the owners’ and creditors’ equity interests, based on what is “fair and equitable.” Most significant, according to the commentary, is that it will also be much harder for creditors to take away certain personal assets of the business owner, such as a home or place of residence. Also helping will be an extension of the time period for the payment of administrative expenses.

chapter 11 small business


ADDITIONAL ARTICLES:

Key Facts About the SBRA (by Charissa Potts, ABI Journal, 12-19

There’s a New Trustee in Town (by Katherine Rea, ABI Journal, 12-19)


HOW MANY NEW SMALL BUSINESS CHAPTER 11S?

Reprint from Credit Slips: Posted: 14 Sep 2019

The Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019 adds a new subchapter V to chapter 11 for small businesses. The new subchapter gives small businesses the option of choosing a more streamlined — and hence cheaper and quicker — procedure than they would find in a regular chapter 11. Perhaps most significantly, the absolute priority rule, which requires creditors to be paid in full before owners retain their interests, does not apply. For those interested in more detail, the Bradley law firm has a good blog post summarizing the key points of the new law, which takes effect in February 2020 (and if I have the math correct — February 19 to be exact).

A point of discussion has been how many cases will qualify to be a small-business chapter 11. Using the Federal Judicial Center’s Integrated Bankruptcy Petition Database, my calculation is that around 42% of cases filed since October 1, 2007, would have qualified. The rest of this post will explain how I came to that estimate as well as discuss year-to-year variations and chapter 11 filings by individuals.

In setting out which cases can use the new procedure, the law builds on the existing definition of a small-business case in section 101(51D) of the Bankruptcy Code with some amendments. Under the new law, a debtor can choose to be a small-business case if:

  1. The debtor is engaged in commercial or business activities other than a single-asset real estate debtor;
  2. The total liabilities (owed to noninsiders and nonaffiliates) are less than the statutory threshold, which currently stands at $2,725,625 but is inflation adjusted every three years;
  3. At least 50 percent of the liabilities arose from commercial or business activities; and
  4. The debtor is not a member of an affiliated group of debtors (e.g., a corporate group) who debts together exceed the statutory threshold.

Fortunately, all of these variables or reasonable proxies for them are in the FJC’s database. Using data entered by the court clerk and then assembled by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts (AO), the FJC database has an entry for each bankruptcy case filed in the 2008 – 2018 fiscal years. If it was pending for more than one year, a case can appear in the database more than once so I eliminated all duplicate entries. Oddly, 26.7% of all cases have zero liabilities. The codebook indicates these are missing values, presumably from cases that got filed without schedules and never got updated in the AO’s database. Without any information on these cases, I eliminated them from the analysis. If I use these cases and treat them as “true zeroes” (which they obviously are not), the estimates of the percentage of chapter 11’s that will qualify as a small-business case increases by about ten percentage points.

Across all eleven years of the database, 58.4% of the chapter 11’s fall under the statutory debt threshold in effect at the time, but then we have to eliminate cases that do not meet the other criteria. Debtors engaged in primary commercial or business activities with at least 50% of their debt from those activities are determined by the bankruptcy petition checkbox of whether the debtor has “primarily” business or consumer debts. Single-asset real estate cases are identified by the question on the bankruptcy petition about the nature of the debtor’s business. Debtors who are members of an affiliated group are identified by whether the case was jointly administered with the affiliated group being counted only as one case with total liabilities measured as the sum of the group’s liabilities. Just under 20% of the chapter 11’s were part of an affiliated group.

After eliminating debtors that do meet these other criteria, 39.8% of the 71,463 chapter 11’s in all eleven years of the database would have qualified as a small-business case. But, there is some variation across the years with a range of 36.5% to 43.5%:

2008 — 41.5% 
2009 — 38.9% 
2010 — 36.5%
2011 — 37.1%
2012 — 38.5%
2013 — 40.9%
2014 — 43.5%
2015 — 41.7%
2016 — 42.8%
2017 — 41.4%
2018 — 41.1%

More recent experience should be a better indication of what to expect, and the last five years averaged 42.2%. Hence, my estimate is that around 42% of the chapter 11’s will qualify. With chapter 11 filings running around 5,500 to 6,000 filings per year, past experience suggests around 2,300 to 2,500 small-business filings each year. (Note my number of chapter 11 filings does not match up with the number of chapter 11 filings reported by the AO because I am counting affiliated groups as only one filing.)

That estimate, however, is likely a low end. The calculation uses information gathered primarily for statistical purposes. With the availability of broader relief under new subchapter V, debtors will have much more incentive to complete that information in a way that indicates they qualify as a small business. Also, one would expect that some businesses that stayed away from bankruptcy will now file chapter 11. On other hand, the new subchapter requires an election, and some debtors might not make it. Given the benefits of the new chapter, I would expect most every eligible debtor will make the election, although perhaps the downside of having a trustee will deter debtors from making a small-business election.

Individual chapter 11 debtors who meet the criteria can also make a small-business election, and a big lure of the subchapter is that it clearly eliminates the absolute priority rule. In 2010, then-Judge Bruce Markell wrote an insightful (and, in my opinion, correct) decision holding the absolute priority rule did not apply in an individual’s chapter 11 case. See In re Shat, 424 B.R. 854 (Bankr. D. Nev. 2010). Despite the erudition on display, most every court that has considered the issue since then has held otherwise. Thus, I wanted to separately look at the subset of chapter 11 cases filed by individuals.

There has been an average of 2,276 individual chapter 11 cases for the eleven years of the database, and the number of individual cases that would have qualified for the small-business election has been right at 25%. Again, my calculations for whether a debtor has a majority of business debts is the checkbox on the bankruptcy petition for whether the debts are primarily consumer or business debts. That language on the form is similar but not identical to the language in the new statutory definition. And, again, the checkbox on the petition is collected for statistical reasons. I expect to see individuals more aggressively claim that certain debts are of a business nature such that the past data may be a low estimate of the percentage of individual chapter 11 cases that elect small-business status.

The bottom line is that a lot, but not a majority, of chapter 11’s will qualify for the new small-business subchapter. Given the percentages, the new subchapter will hardly be a small niche of the bankruptcy world. Practitioners (and teachers) of bankruptcy law need to become familiar with its provisions.

NACBA is proud to announce that the following provisions we pushed hard for as an organization have passed. Please read bill text below also found on page 77 of HR 748:

SEC. 1113. BANKRUPTCY.

SMALL BUSINESS DEBTOR REORGANIZATION. —

(1) IN GENERAL.—Section 1182(1) of title 11, United States Code, is amended to read as follows: (1) DEBTOR.—The term ‘debtor’— (A) subject to subparagraph (B), means a person engaged in commercial or business activities (including any affiliate of such person that is also a debtor under this title and excluding a person whose primary activity is the business of owning single asset real estate) that has aggregate noncontingent liquidated secured and unsecured debts as of the date of the filing of the petition or the date of the order for relief 1in an amount not more than $7,500,000 (excluding debts owed to 1 or more affiliates or insiders) not less than 50 percent of which arose from the commercial or business activities of the debtor; and (B) does not include—(i) any member of a group of affiliated debtors that has aggregate noncontingent liquidated secured and unsecured debts in an amount greater than $7,500,000 (excluding debt owed to 1 or more affiliates or insiders); (ii) any debtor that is a corporation subject to the reporting requirements under section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (15 U.S.C. 78m, 78(d)); or (iii) any debtor that is an affiliate of an issuer, as defined in section 3 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (15 U.S.C. 78c).

(2) APPLICABILITY OF CHAPTERS. —Section 103(i) of title 11, United States Code, is amended by striking ‘‘small business debtor’’ and inserting ‘‘debtor (as defined in section 1182)’’.

(3) APPLICATION OF AMENDMENT. —The amendment made by paragraph (1) shall apply only with respect to cases commenced under title 11, United States Code, on or after the date of enactment of this Act.

(4) TECHNICAL CORRECTIONS. — (A) DEFINITION OF SMALL BUSINESS DEBTOR.—Section 101(51D)(B)(iii) of title 11, United States Code, is amended to read as follows: “(iii) any debtor that is an affiliate of an issuer (as defined in section 3 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (15 U.S.C. 78c)).’’. (B) UNCLAIMED PROPERTY. —Section 347(b) of title 11, United States Code, is amended by striking ‘‘1194’’ and inserting ‘‘1191’’.

(5) SUNSET. —On the date that is 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, section 1182(1) of title 11, United States Code, is amended to read as follows: ‘‘(1) DEBTOR. —The term ‘debtor’ means a small business debtor.’’. (b) BANKRUPTCY RELIEF.— (1) IN GENERAL.— (A) EXCLUSION FROM CURRENT MONTHLY INCOME.—Section 101(10A)(B)(ii) of title 11, United States Code, is amended—(i) in subclause (III), by striking ‘‘; and’’ and inserting a semicolon; (ii) in subclause (IV), by striking the period at the end and inserting ‘‘; and’’; and (iii) by adding at the end the following: ‘‘(V) Payments made under Federal law relating to the national emergency declared by the President under the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) with respect to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID–19).’’.

(B) CONFIRMATION OF PLAN. —Section 1325(b)(2) of title 11, United States Code, is amended by inserting ‘‘payments made under Federal law relating to the national emergency declared by the President under the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) with respect to the coronavirus disease 2019 3(COVID–19),’’ after ‘‘other than’’.

(C) MODIFICATION OF PLAN AFTER CONFIRMATION.—Section 1329 of title 11, United States Code, is amended by adding at end the following: ‘‘(d)(1) Subject to paragraph (3), for a plan confirmed prior to the date of enactment of this subsection, the plan may be modified upon the request of the debtor if—(A) the debtor is experiencing or has experienced a material financial hardship due, directly or indirectly, to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID–19) pandemic; and (B) the modification is approved after notice and a hearing. (2) A plan modified under paragraph (1) may not provide for payments over a period that expires more than 7 years after the time that the first payment under the original confirmed plan was due. ‘‘(3) Sections 1322(a), 1322(b), 1323(c), and the requirements of section 1325(a) shall apply to any modification under paragraph (1).’’.

(D) APPLICABILITY. — (i) The amendments made by subparagraphs (A) and (B) shall apply to any case commenced before, on, or after the date of enactment of this Act. (ii) The amendment made by subparagraph (C) shall apply to any case for which a plan has been confirmed under section 1325 of title 11, United States Code, before the date of enactment of this Act. (2) SUNSET.— (A) IN GENERAL.— (i) EXCLUSION FROM CURRENT MONTHLY INCOME.—Section 101(10A)(B)(ii) of title 11, United States Code, is amended—(I) in subclause (III), by striking the semicolon at the end and inserting ‘‘; and’’; (II) in subclause (IV), by striking ‘‘; and’’ and inserting a period; and (III) by striking subclause (V). (ii) CONFIRMATION OF PLAN.—Section 1325(b)(2) of title 11, United States Code, is amended by striking ‘‘payments made under Federal law relating to the national emergency declared by the President under the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) with respect to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID–19),’’. (iii) MODIFICATION OF PLAN AFTER CONFIRMATION. —Section 1329 of title 11, United States Code, is amended by striking subsection (d). (B) EFFECTIVE DATE. —The amendments made by subparagraph (A) shall take effect on the date that is 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act.

From article from Thompson Hine LLP: New Bankruptcy Amendments Lower the Burdens of Preference Actions on Defendants

“First, the SBRA amends section 547(b) of the Bankruptcy Code to explicitly condition the assertion of a preference claim by the plaintiff “on reasonable due diligence in the circumstances of the case and taking into account a party’s known or reasonably knowable affirmative defenses” under section 547(c) of the Bankruptcy Code. As an initial matter, this new requirement is likely to result in fewer preference claims being brought overall, and may even curb the practice of filing preference actions against every entity receiving any prebankruptcy transfer. More importantly, with reasonable due diligence and accounting for defenses as a statutory prerequisite for the assertion of a preference claim, we expect that plaintiffs will need to include detailed statements regarding the due diligence undertaken and defenses accounted for. This should assist creditors in defending such claims (and facilitate discovery) but should also require bankruptcy courts to consider the applicability of the preference defenses under section 547(c) of the Bankruptcy Code on motions by defendants for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) or for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c).[9] Accordingly, while each preference claim and defense will remain highly fact intensive, this amendment should be significantly favorable for preference defendants.

Second, the SBRA amends section 1409(b) of Title 28 to require that any proceeding arising in or related to a bankruptcy case against a non-insider to recover a non-consumer debt of less than $25,000 (an increase from $13,650 currently) be commenced in the district where the defendant resides.[10] While there is some dispute among bankruptcy courts (and no binding authority in any jurisdiction) whether section 1409(b) applies to preference actions,[11] the SBRA legislative history is clear that the section 1409(b) amendment was specifically intended to apply to preference actions.[12] If so applied, this would shift the venue and cost advantages from the plaintiff to the defendant for the subject preference actions, and would also procedurally benefit defendants by preventing such actions from being subject to any mandatory case management procedures imposed by the debtor’s bankruptcy court.”

preference

STRIPPING DOWN A MORTGAGE ON A MIXED-USE PROPERTY UNDER THE SBRA

In re Ventura, 18-77193 (Bankr. E.D.N.Y. April 10, 2020) A chapter 11 case, dealing with mixed-use property and lien stripping a mortgage. Judge Grossman allowed the debtor to elect treatment under the SBRA 15 months after filing a chapter 11 reorganization that was on the verge of failure. He also laid down standards for deciding when a debtor can modify the mortgage on a property used for both residential and business purposes.

Note: according to the author “this is a thorough survey so far regarding a debtor’s ability to use the new Small Business Reorganization Act to propose a plan that would not be possible in an “ordinary” chapter 11