Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bankruptcy & Litigation Series: #3 Collections - Plaintiff Bankruptcy

A bankruptcy case can impact other litigation in many ways.  Some cases will be halted automatically by the filing of a bankruptcy due to the automatic stay.  Others might not be stopped, but might not be controlled by the bankruptcy trustee.  And some cases may not be affected at all.  Navigating these interactions can be difficult even for attorneys who are experts in other areas of the law if they don't practice in the bankruptcy court.

What happens to a Collection suit when the Plaintiff files for bankruptcy? 

It is generally a good idea to file a suggestion of bankruptcy to alert the court to the bankruptcy filing.  Most courts will temporary delay the hearing of the case, however 11 U.S.C. s. 362 is not designed for this application.  Ultimately, the suit itself is an asset of the bankruptcy estate.  Like any other asset, it may be exempt depending on the value of the potential claim.  In the event that it is not exempt (and at all times before being abandoned by the trustee), the Trustee steps into the plaintiff's shoes during the administration of the bankruptcy estate.

The Chapter 7 trustee may then offer to settle, or compel the debtor to pursue the suit (although the Trustee will bear the cost of compensating counsel for any post-petition legal fees).  Any proceeds obtained during the suit (less any exempt portions) will be turned over to the trustee as property of the bankruptcy estate and distributed to creditors.

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