Chapter 11 Bankruptcy
Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a form of bankruptcy reorganization available to individuals, corporations and partnerships. It has no limits on the amount of debt, as Chapter 13 does. It is the usual choice for large businesses seeking to restructure their debt.
The debtor usually remains in possession of its assets, and operates the business under the supervision of the court and for the benefit of creditors. The debtor in possession is a fiduciary for the creditors. If the debtor’s management is ineffective or less than honest, a trustee may be appointed.
A creditors committee is usually appointed by the U.S.Trustee from among the 20 largest, unsecured creditors who are not insiders. The committee represents all of the creditors in providing oversight for the debtor’s operations and a body with whom the debtor can negotiate an acceptable plan of reorganization.
A Chapter 11 plan is confirmed only upon the affirmative votes of the creditors, who are divided by the plan into classes based on the characteristics of their claims, and whose votes are a function of the amount of their claim against the debtor.
If the debtor can’t get the votes to confirm a plan, the debtor can attempt to “cram down” a plan on creditors and get the plan confirmed despite creditor opposition, by meeting certain statutory tests.
Chapter 11 is probably the most flexible of all the chapters, and as such, it is the hardest to generalize about. Its flexibility makes it generally more expensive to the debtor. The rate of successful Chapter 11 reorganizations is depressingly low, sometimes estimated at 10% or less.
Individuals usually reorganize under Chapter 13, which offers a streamlined plan at modest cost that allows the individual to keep possession of his assets, catch up on secured debt, and discharge unsecured debt at the end of the plan. Read how Chapter 13 works.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy retains many of the features present in all, or most bankruptcy proceedings in the United States. It also provides additional tools for debtors as well. Most importantly, 11 U.S.C. § 1108 empowers the trustee to operate the debtor’s business. In Chapter 11, unless a separate trustee is appointed for cause, the debtor, as debtor in possession, acts as trustee of the business.
Bankruptcy affords the debtor in possession a number of mechanisms to restructure its business. A debtor in possession can acquire financing and loans on favorable terms by giving new lenders first priority on the business’ earnings. The court may also permit the debtor in possession to reject and cancel contracts. Debtors are also protected from other litigation against the business through the imposition of an automatic stay. While the automatic stay is in place, most litigation against the debtor is stayed, or put on hold, until it can be resolved in bankruptcy court, or resumed in its original venue.
If the business’s debts exceed its assets, the bankruptcy restructuring results in the company’s owners being left with nothing; instead, the owners’ rights and interests are ended and the company’s creditors are left with ownership of the newly reorganized company.
All creditors are entitled to be heard by the court. The court is ultimately responsible for determining whether the proposed plan of reorganization complies with the bankruptcy law.
One controversy that has broken out in bankruptcy courts since 2007 concerns the proper amount of disclosure that the court and other parties are entitled to receive from the members of the ad hoc creditor’s committees that play a large role in many such proceedings.
The Chapter 11 Plan
Chapter 11 is reorganization, as opposed to liquidation. Debtors may “emerge” from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy within a few months or within several years, depending on the size and complexity of the bankruptcy. The Bankruptcy Code accomplishes this objective through the use of a bankruptcy plan. With some exceptions, the plan may be proposed by any party in interest. Interested creditors then vote for a plan. Upon its confirmation, the plan becomes binding and identifies the treatment of debts and operations of the business for the duration of the plan.
Debtors in Chapter 11 have the exclusive right to propose a plan of reorganization for a period of time (in most cases 120 days). After that time has elapsed, creditors may also propose plans. Plans must satisfy a number of criteria in order to be “confirmed” by the bankruptcy court. Among other things, creditors must vote to approve the plan of reorganization. If a plan cannot be confirmed, the court may either convert the case to a liquidation under Chapter 7, or, if in the best interests of the creditors and the estate, the case may be dismissed resulting in a return to the status quo before bankruptcy. If the case is dismissed, creditors will look to non-bankruptcy law in order to satisfy their claims.
Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: Automatic Stay
As with other forms of bankruptcy, petitions filed under Chapter 11 invoke the automatic stay of § 362. The automatic stay requires all creditors to cease collection attempts, and makes many post-petition debt collection efforts void or voidable. Under some circumstances, creditors or the United States Trustee can ask the court to convert the case to a liquidation under Chapter 7, or to appoint a trustee to manage the debtor’s business. The court will grant a motion to convert to Chapter 7 or appoint a trustee if either of these actions is in the best interest of all creditors. Sometimes a company will liquidate under Chapter 11, in which the pre-existing management may be able to help get a higher price for divisions or other assets than a Chapter 7 liquidation would be likely to achieve. Appointment of a trustee requires some wrongdoing or gross mismanagement on the part of existing management and is relatively rare.
Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: Executory Contracts
Some contracts, known as executory contracts, may be rejected if canceling them would be financially favorable to the company and its creditors. Such contracts may include labor union contracts, supply or operating contracts (with both vendors and customers), and real estate leases. The standard feature of executory contracts is that each party to the contract has duties remaining under the contract. In the event of a rejection, the remaining parties to the contract become unsecured creditors of the debtor.
Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: Priority
Chapter 11 follows the same priority scheme as other bankruptcy chapters. The priority structure is defined primarily by § 507 of the Bankruptcy Code (11 U.S.C. § 507.)
As a general rule secured creditors—creditors who have a security interest, or collateral, in the debtor’s property—will be paid before unsecured creditors. Unsecured creditors’ claims are prioritized by § 507. For instance the claims of suppliers of products or employees of a company may be paid before other unsecured creditors are paid. Each priority level must be paid in full before the next lowest priority level may receive payment.