On December 1st of almost every year, amendments to the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure -- the ones that govern how bankruptcy cases are managed -- take effect to address issues identified by an Advisory Committee made up of federal judges, bankruptcy attorneys, and others. Often the changes are relatively minor and of interest only to bankruptcy practitioners, but this year's set has made some significant changes that will directly impact debtors, creditors and other stakeholders.
A Look At The Amendments. You may find it interesting to see the entire group of amendments together, so I have included two links. The first is to the full "clean" set of the amended rules. The second is to a redline showing the changes made by these amendments to the existing rules, together with the Advisory Committee's comments.
The Omnibus Objection Problem. One of the most significant amendments will make changes to the popular practice of filing omnibus objections. In large cases the debtor or other estate representative has so many claims to address that they have combined objections to dozens -- sometimes hundreds -- of different claims in one single motion. The objection may have a name such as “Debtors' Fourteenth Omnibus Objections To Claims (Substantive)” or some similarly titled document. Click here for one example. In a post last year called "Objections To Claims: Ignore Them At Your Peril," I discussed how it can be hard to tell which claims an omnibus objection is targeting.
- The format has often meant that the only reference to an individual creditor is buried within the objection’s many pages of text and exhibits, typically in an attached list or chart.
- If the creditor doesn't respond to the objection timely, its claim will likely be disallowed and it will recover absolutely nothing from the bankruptcy estate.
The Amended Rule 3007: An "Anti-Gotcha" Solution. The new rules restrict the use of omnibus objections to certain limited circumstances and impose formatting standards. Otherwise, each claim will require its own separate claim objection unless the combined objection covers claims filed by the same person or entity. What grounds for objection can be made by an omnibus objection under the newly revised Rule 3007?
- Duplicate claims;
- Claims filed in the wrong case;
- Original claims that were amended by later claims;
- Claims that were not timely filed;
- Claims that have already been paid or released;
- Claims filed in a form that does not comply with applicable rules;
- Claims that are really asserting an equity interest in the debtor; and
- Priority claims that assert an amount in excess of the maximum amount in the Bankruptcy Code.
In short, if the claim is being challenged on substantive grounds, rather than more technical or procedural ones, then the objection will have to be filed one claimant at a time.
When an omnibus objection does make the permitted objections, it will now have to list claimants in alphabetical order, cross-reference claim numbers, give the ground for the objection and cross-reference that to the text of the objection, describe the objector and the reason for the objection in the document's title, and combine no more than 100 claims in a single objection. This is all designed to make it easier for the creditor to figure out whether its claim is included and the basis for the objection.
- This rule change has gotten some coverage in the business press. CFO.com had an article entitled "Bankruptcy Short List to Help Creditors," and CNN Money.com had an article entitled "New Ch 11 Court Rule Helps Creditors." (Dean Kirby, quoted in the CFO.com article, had a post on the topic on his Bankruptcy Beach blog as well.)
- Those who have experience with bankruptcy cases in Delaware will probably notice that new national Rule 3007 is similar to the Delaware Bankruptcy Court's Local Rule 3007-1, which has put limits on "non-substantive" and "substantive" claim objections for some time. New Rule 3007 generally appears to be more restrictive than the Delaware local rule so the local rule will likely need amendment.
Amended Rule 4001: The Clearer Disclosure Rules. Changes have been made to the rule that governs motions and stipulations for use of cash collateral and obtaining debtor in possession (DIP) financing. The amended rules now require that more details about the key provisions of cash collateral and DIP financing terms and conditions be stated in the motion, that proposed forms of order be filed with the motion, and that cross-references be made in the motion to where in the cash collateral or DIP financing agreements and proposed orders the key provisions are reflected. Since some financing agreements can run hundreds of pages long, with complex formulas and provisions, this rule change is designed to make it easier for the court and the parties to understand their material features without wading through the entire document.
New Rule 6003: Putting The Breaks On Some "First Day" Orders. Another major change is the addition of Rule 6003. This new rule provides that "except and to the extent that relief is necessary to avoid immediate and irreparable harm, the court shall not, within 20 days after the filing of the petition, grant relief" regarding three key areas:
- The employment of professionals;
- A motion to pay any prepetition claims (read: critical vendors) or to use, sell, lease (Section 363 sales), or incur an obligation for property of the estate, other than cash collateral or DIP financing motions; or
- Assumption or assignment of any executory contract or unexpired lease (including commercial real estate leases).
As drafted, unless there is an emergency, and then only to the extent it's really necessary, the bankruptcy court should defer these decisions until after the 20th day following the filing of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition (although technically these apply under the other chapters of bankruptcy). One reason for the rule is to give time for a creditors committee to be appointed and retain counsel before important decisions are made. That said, the exceptions for cash collateral and DIP financing, as well as for rejection of leases and other executory contracts, means a lot can still be done during the early part of a case. When Section 363 sale or critical vendor motions come up on an emergency basis, it'll be interesting to see how often courts, in applying this new rule, find the existence of irreparable harm.
Amended Rule 6006: Assumption, Assignment, And Rejection Of Executory Contracts. Similar to Rule 3007, Rule 6006 has been changed to put limits on when omnibus motions can be used to deal with executory contracts and leases. Under new Rule 6006(e), absent special court authorization, omnibus motions may be used for multiple executory contracts or leases only when all of the executory contracts to be assumed or assigned are (1) between the same parties, or (2) being assigned to the same assignee. This latter provision likely covers most Section 363 asset sales, so non-debtor contracting parties should continue to carefully review those motions, as discussed in this earlier post. An omnibus motion may also be used when a debtor or trustee seeks to assume, but not assign to more than one assignee, real property leases. In addition, omnibus motions may be used to request rejection of multiple executory contracts or leases.
New Rule 6006(f) provides that, when allowed, these omnibus motions can list no more than 100 executory contracts or leases in any one motion (unlike the chart on this fairly typical pre-amendment motion), and multiple motions will need to be numbered consecutively. The new rule also requires that permitted omnibus motions provide a variety of new information, including:
- An alphabetical listing by party name;
- The terms of the assumption or assignment, including for curing defaults; and
- The identity of the assignee and the adequate assurance of future performance to be provided.
A Few Other Changes. The other amendments this year (1) permit a court to consider a change of venue, (2) clarify when corporate ownership disclosure needs to be made, (3) address constitutional challenges to statutes, and (4) specify procedures for protecting social security numbers and other private information in court filings. Check the clean or redline sets linked above to read these additional rule amendments.
Conclusion. This year's amendments to the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure have more than their share of real changes and they will have an impact on business bankruptcy cases. The omnibus motion changes should help creditors from missing when their claim is the target of an objection and contract parties from failing to see that their executory contract or lease is part of a motion to assume and assign. Although cash collateral and DIP financing motions are not affected, the new irreparable harm standard for certain relief in the first 20 days of a case may prove interesting when emergency Section 363 sales are attempted. Stay tuned.