Nearly every year, changes are made to the set of rules that govern how bankruptcy cases are managed — the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. Normally, the changes address issues identified by an Advisory Committee made up of federal judges, bankruptcy attorneys, and others. This year, the amendments to the national bankruptcy rules are mainly the result of statutory changes enacted by Congress. The new amendments will take effect on December 1, 2009.

Timing Changes Across The Board. For years, the standard time periods for many actions in bankruptcy cases have been measured in round numbers — 10 days for some, 20 days for others. Sometimes this has led to confusion about deadlines, especially when time periods straddle weekends or holidays. To simplify the calculation of bankruptcy time periods, and those in other non-bankruptcy laws, earlier this year Congress enacted the Statutory Time-Periods Technical Amendments Act of 2009. The main purpose of the Act is to switch to 7, 14, 21, and 28 day intervals for most bankruptcy procedures. Here’s how the changes will be implemented in the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure:

  • 5 day periods become 7 day periods;
  • 10 day periods become 14 day periods;
  • 15 day periods become 14 day periods;
  • 20 day periods become 21 day periods;
  • 25 day periods become 28 day periods.

For example, a motion set for hearing on a Friday will now have objection and reply deadlines fall on Fridays. It also means that the era of the "20 day notice" in bankruptcy is over — but it’s just being replaced with the era of the "21 day notice." The change should make calculating due dates easier, although be aware that it will shorten or lengthen most of the previously standard notice periods under prior law. Rule 9006 is being revised extensively to reflect the new way of accounting for weekends and holidays. Periods that were 30 days or longer are essentially unchanged.

A Longer Appeal Period. So where is this going to have the biggest effect in the business bankruptcy realm? I think the impact will be felt most in the time to file an appeal from a bankruptcy court order. Amendments to Rule 8001 will extend the time for filing a notice of appeal by four days — from 10 days to 14 days. This means that an order approving a settlement under Rule 9019, authorizing a Section 363 sale of assets, or confirming a plan of reorganization, among others, will not become final and no longer appealable until the 15th day following entry compared to the 11th day following entry under current law. After years of counting on bankruptcy court orders being final after only 10 days, parties will need to adjust their expectations on the finality of orders.

How To Access The Amended Rules. Bankruptcy attorneys and other professionals should review the amended rules to see the full range of the changes.

Local Rule Changes Are Also Coming. Expect to see bankruptcy courts around the country adopt conforming changes to their local rules. Two examples: the Northern District of California has already done so and the Southern District of New York is proposing to do so.

Conclusion. Although these timing changes are not as significant as amendments made a few years ago, they will affect virtually all time periods in the national, and in time local, bankruptcy rules that are currently less than 30 days. With under a month to go before they take effect, now is a good time to get on top of these amendments.