Tag Archives: Cause

If The Person or Company I Sued Filed Bankruptcy Can I Continue My State Court Lawsuit?

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The greatest grant of power to the bankruptcy court is the automatic stay stopping any and all collection activity including lawsuits. As soon as the petition for bankruptcy is filed the automatic stay takes effect. Section 362 of the Bankruptcy Code governs the automatic stay and relief from the automatic stay to continue collection activity with the bankruptcy court’s permission. So what circumstances need to exist to obtain relief from the automatic stay and continue prosecution of a state court lawsuit?

What Is The Automatic Stay?

The automatic stay among other things, prohibits creditors from continuing to prosecute prepetition litigation against the bankruptcy filer. § 362(a)(1); see also In re Conejo Enterprises, Inc., 96 F.3d at 351. This aspect of the automatic stay protects both the debtor and the debtor’s creditors. The entire point is to not allow one creditor to continue collection to the detriment of another creditor. The assets of the bankruptcy filer, once a case is filed, if any assets, are to be distributed equally to creditors at the time the case is filed.

Grounds For Relief From The Automatic Stay To Continue State Court Lawsuit

This issue arises quite a bit under many different circumstances. The most common lawsuit that exists at the time a bankruptcy case is filed is breach of contract lawsuits. Rarely will a breach of contract case satisfy the requirements for relief from stay to continue. Relief from the automatic stay can be obtained for “cause.” The Bankruptcy Code unfortunately does not define what “cause” is though. Courts have had to interpret circumstances and create factors to evaluate. The Ninth Circuit uses the Curtis factors. See In re Curtis, 40 B.R. 795, 799–800 (Bankr. D. Utah 1984).

The Curtis factors consist of the following twelve nonexclusive factors:

(1) Whether the relief will result in a partial or complete resolution of the issues;
(2) The lack of any connection with or interference with the bankruptcy case;
(3) Whether the foreign proceeding involves the debtor as a fiduciary;
(4) Whether a specialized tribunal has been established to hear the particular cause of action and whether that tribunal has the expertise to hear such cases;
(5) Whether the debtor’s insurance carrier has assumed full financial responsibility for defending the litigation;
(6) Whether the action essentially involves third parties, and the debtor functions only as a bailee or conduit for the goods or proceeds in question;
(7) Whether the litigation in another forum would prejudice the interests of other creditors, the creditors’ committee and other interested parties;
(8) Whether the judgment claim arising from the foreign action is subject to equitable subordination under Section 510(c);
(9) Whether movant’s success in the foreign proceeding would result in a judicial lien avoidable by the debtor under Section 522(f);
(10) The interests of judicial economy and the expeditious and economical determination of litigation for the parties;
(11) Whether the foreign proceedings have progressed to the point where the parties are prepared for trial, and
(12) The impact of the stay on the parties and the “balance of hurt.”

The burden of proof on a motion to modify or for relief from the automatic stay is a shifting one. To obtain relief from the automatic stay, the bankruptcy attorney and party seeking relief must first establish a prima facie case that “cause” exists for relief under § 362(d)(1). Once a prima facie case has been established, the burden shifts to the debtor to show that relief from the stay is unwarranted. If the\ movant fails to meet its initial burden to demonstrate cause, relief from the automatic stay should be denied.

Unfortunately there are not clear guidelines for what constitutes a prima facie case given the analysis is on a case by case basis. A party’s production of enough evidence to allow the fact-trier to infer the fact at issue and rule in the party’s favor. See Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014); see also In re Planned Sys., Inc., 78 B.R. 852, 860 n.7 (Bankr. S.D. Ohio 1987).

Congress’ legislative comments provide their desire to permit an action to proceed to completion in another tribunal may provide . . . cause” for stay relief, and “it will often be more appropriate to permit proceedings to continue in their place of origin, when no great prejudice to the bankruptcy estate would result, in order to leave the parties to their chosen forum and to relieve the bankruptcy court from many duties that may be handled elsewhere.” H.R. Rep. 95-595, 341, as reprinted in 1978 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5963, 6297

The bottom line is bankruptcy attorneys need to be aware that the bankruptcy court’s focus on whether the continuation of the state court lawsuit screws up the administration of the bankruptcy estate. In some circumstances insurance is liable for any damages if the lawsuit is successful. Therefore, none of the assets of the bankruptcy estate are at risk either way. So why not let the lawsuit continue?

Why Continue With State Court Lawsuit?

To get a judgment and hopefully paid on the judgment. The most common lawsuit that exists at the time a bankruptcy case is filed is breach of contract lawsuits. Rarely will a breach of contract case satisfy the requirements for relief from stay to continue. There are other types of issues though that can continue and not disrupt the administration of the bankruptcy estate.

What is “Cause” to Lift the Automatic Stay in my Bankruptcy Case?

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There are many reasons people may want to file for bankruptcy: stopping a pending foreclosure, stopping a wage garnishment, stopping a lawsuit, or trying to get out from all their crushing debts to obtain a fresh start to name just a few. There are many more reasons than these as to why people file for bankruptcy. There is one powerful tool in the bankruptcy arsenal that accomplishes all of the actions named above: the automatic stay. The automatic stay is what stops a creditor from collecting from you, contacting you, continuing lawsuits or wage garnishments against you. The automatic stay freezes all collection activity against you as soon as your bankruptcy lawyer files your petition for bankruptcy relief. Obviously your creditors are not the biggest fan of the automatic stay if they are trying to collect from you. Their objective is to lift the automatic stay so they can continue their collection activity. How do they get the automatic stay lifted as to their debt?

Under 11 U.S.C. §362(d)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code, one of the ways in which a creditor can obtain a relief from stay order from the bankruptcy court is “for cause, including the lack of adequate protection of an interest in property…” What is considered “cause” for the judge to grant relief from stay to the creditor? It would be easier if Congress set out an exact definition on what is considered “cause” to lift the automatic stay, but since Congress did not do that, “cause” is determined on a case-by-case basis. See Delaney-Morin v. Day (In re Delaney-Morin), 304 B.R. 365, 369 (9th Cir. BAP 2003). Everything depends on the circumstances. The party seeking to preserve the automatic stay has the burden of proof. See Ellis v. Parr (In re Ellis), 60 B.R. 432, 435 (9th Cir. BAP 1985).

One of the circumstances that judges grant relief from stay for “cause” is the lack of proof of current insurance on the property. Proof of insurance is normally under the terms of a deed of trust. Failure to maintain insurance is cause to lift the automatic stay because it does not provide the creditor with adequate protection of its collateral. If anything happens to the property there would be a huge decline in property value and the creditor would lose its investment if no insurance is available to insure the property.

Another circumstance that judges lift the automatic stay for “cause” is lack of post-petition payments to the secured creditor. Your pre-petition arrears may be paid through a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan your bankruptcy attorney drafts and files, but your post-petition payments need to be paid to your creditor once the bankruptcy case is filed. Lack of payment means that your creditor is not adequately protected against a default and they can have the stay lifted so they can continue with foreclosure proceedings to get the property back.

Most of the relief from stay actions are normally filed by secured creditors because they have an interest in the collateral (your car, your house, etc.). You do not have to worry about your unsecured creditors filing motions for relief from stay actions against you for your credit card debts or personal loans as these creditors do not have any cause to lift the automatic stay. One exception is your landlord. If you owe money to your landlord, your landlord may file a motion to lift the automatic stay against you to continue their unlawful detainer action if you are not paying rent to them. Another reason a motion to lift the automatic stay may be filed is to continue a lawsuit in another jurisdiction (for example, a state court) for actions not related to collection of debt. This could be filed by either you or your creditor.

If you have a motion for relief from stay action filed against you, it is highly advisable to seek the advice of an experienced attorney. Since the ability to obtain a relief from stay order from the judge is on a case-by-case basis, you should consult with a lawyer to see if your property may be in jeopardy.