In a recent post about a vendor’s reclamation rights, I discussed how the 2005 amendments to the bankruptcy laws, known as the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (called "BAPCPA"), extended a vendor’s right to reclaim goods once a bankruptcy petition has been filed. This post focuses on another of BAPCPA’s important changes affecting vendors, specifically, the new provision giving vendors an administrative claim for certain pre-petition goods sold.
Expanded Reclamation Right. As mentioned in my earlier post, a new 45 day bankruptcy reclamation right was added to Section 546(c) of the Bankruptcy Code. Prior to this change, the Bankruptcy Code had merely incorporated the Uniform Commercial Code’s 10-day reclamation period. Now, once a bankruptcy is filed, a vendor can assert a reclamation demand for goods received within 45 days of the bankruptcy filing. However, in some cases a vendor may not be able to reclaim its goods. The reasons can include a failure to make a timely reclamation demand, the existence of a secured lender with a lien on the goods in question, or the debtor’s prior sale of the goods.
A Brand New Administrative Claim For Vendors, Even If Reclamation Fails. If a vendor’s reclamation claim fails, another new Bankruptcy Code section, Section 503(b)(9), gives vendors an important additional right: an administrative priority claim for "the value of any goods received by the debtor within 20 days before" the date a bankruptcy petition was filed "in which the goods have been sold to the debtor in the ordinary course of such debtor’s business."
In most cases, administrative claims are paid in full instead of only cents on the dollar as with general unsecured claims. This new administrative claim is therefore a significant benefit, in effect putting vendors selling goods to a debtor in the 20 days before the bankruptcy filing on par with vendors selling goods after the bankruptcy filing.
- Section 546(c)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code expressly provides that even if a seller of goods fails to provide the required notice to have a post-bankruptcy reclamation claim, the vendor may still assert this special Section 503(b)(9) administrative claim.
- This administrative claim applies in all types of bankruptcy cases, including Chapter 11 reorganization cases, Chapter 7 liquidation cases, and Chapter 13 cases.
- Vendors who sold goods during the 21 to 45 day period before the bankruptcy filing will have to rely on reclamation alone as to those goods.
- In either case, vendors and debtors should keep good records of shipments and deliveries of all goods received during the 45 days before the bankruptcy filing.
Unresolved Issues. This provision has been in effect for only a year and there are still a number of unanswered questions about how it will actually work in bankruptcy cases. Reviewing these questions may give you a sense of some of the issues to keep in mind when considering whether you (if you’re a vendor) or your vendors (if you’re a debtor) will have an administrative claim for "20 day goods." These issues include:
- Since the vendor is entitled to an administrative claim for the "value of any goods received by the debtor," does that mean the invoice price or some other amount?
- Does the term "goods" include services bundled with the goods?
- Does the term "goods" include intellectual property-based products, such as boxed software or other similar items, which the debtor resells or sublicenses?
- Does the "received by the debtor" requirement exclude goods that have been drop-shipped to a debtor’s customer at the debtor’s direction?
- What does the requirement that the goods have been "sold to the debtor in the ordinary course of such debtor’s business" really mean?
- Does the vendor have to file a pleading to be paid on this administrative claim, given that this new section requires "notice and a hearing"?
- Can the debtor pay for the goods at the beginning of the case, much as it would for goods purchased after the bankruptcy filing, as a way of treating qualifying vendors as "critical vendors"?
- Can the debtor wait to pay for these "20 day goods" until a plan of reorganization goes effective, as it can for certain other administrative claims?
- If a Chapter 11 case converts to a Chapter 7 case, will this "20 day goods" administrative claim be treated as a Chapter 7 administrative claim, ahead of all unpaid Chapter 11 administrative claims, including those for goods sold during the Chapter 11 case?
- Will the existence of this administrative claim provision give vendors who actually got paid before the bankruptcy for "20 day goods" a new defense to a claim that the payment was preferential?
Get Good Advice. These issues, and the potential for a valuable administrative claim, are yet another reason for vendors to get good legal advice as soon as they learn of a bankruptcy filing. Debtors also need to get good advice, both legal and financial, so they can factor in how the requirement to pay for these pre-petition goods as an administrative claim will impact their cash needs.
Stay Tuned. This provision has been in effect for only one year, and applies only to cases filed after BAPCPA took effect on October 17, 2005. No formal court decisions have addressed, much less answered, these open questions. I expect bankruptcy courts will start to answer some of these questions in the coming months, and I’ll keep you updated on those developments.