automatic stay, Bankruptcy, bankruptcy court, chapter 13 bankruptcy, Federal Court, Foreclosure, homeowners, Pro se legal representation in the United States
1. Section 362(a) of the Bankruptcy Code (the “Code”) contains a broad
statutory stay of litigation and lien enforcement, effective automatically on the commencement of a bankruptcy case. 11 U.S.C. § 362(a) (“. . . a petition [commencing a case] . . . operates as a stay, applicable to all entities . . .”.)
2. Purpose – Time to Reorganize. This automatic stay gives a trustee or
chapter 11 debtor-in-possession1 a breathing spell from creditors by stopping all collection efforts, harassment, and all foreclosure actions, allowing a debtor to attempt a reorganization plan. See, e.g., In re Siciliano, 13 F.3d 748, 750 (3d Cir. 1994) (“[t]he purpose of the automatic stay provision is to afford the debtor a ‘breathing spell’ by halting the collection process. It enables the debtor to attempt a repayment or reorganization plan with an aim toward satisfying existing debt.”);
Maritime Electric Co., Inc. v. United Jersey Bank, 959 F.2d 1194, 1204 (3d Cir. 1991) (“automatic stay allows debtor breathing spell from creditors and stops collection efforts”); In re Peregrine Systems, Inc., 314 B.R. 31, 44 (Bankr. D. Del. 2004) aff’d in part, rev’d in part on other grounds, 2005 WL 2401955 (D. Del. Sept. 29, 2005) (automatic stay is a “fundamental protection provided to a debtor for the purpose of stopping all creditor collection efforts and harassment of the debtor and to provide … a fresh start.”); Shaw v. Ehrlich, 294 B.R. 260, 267 (W.D. Va. 2003), aff’d, 99 Fed. Appx. 466 (4th Cir. 2004) (“stay protects debtors, as well as creditors, by providing debtors a breathing spell from collection
3. Policy Rationale – Debtor Asset Protection. Behind the stay is a clear
policy rationale: “to grant complete, immediate, albeit temporary relief to the debtor from creditors, and also to prevent dissipation of the debtor’s assets before orderly distribution to creditors can be effected.” S.E.C. v. Brennan, 230 F.3d 65, 70 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Penn Terra Ltd. v. Department of Envtl. Resources, 733 F.2d 267, 271 (3d Cir. 1984)). See also Reliant Energy Services, Inc. v. Enron Canada Corp., 349 F.3d 816, 825 (5th Cir. 2003) (“purposes of the bankruptcy stay under 11 U.S.C. § 362 ‘are to protect the debtor’s assets, provide temporary relief from creditors, and further equity of distribution among the creditors by forestalling a race to the courthouse.'”) (quoting GATX Aircraft Corp. v. M/V Courtney Leigh, 768 F.2d 711, 716 (5th Cir. 1985)); Mann v. Chase
Manhattan Mortgage Corp., 316 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 2003) (“automatic stay
provision is designed to forfend against the disorderly, piecemeal dismemberment of the debtor’s estate outside the bankruptcy proceedings”).
1 Code § 1107(a) gives a chapter 11 debtor-in-possession the “rights,” “duties” and “powers” of a trustee. See NLRB v. Bildisco & Bildisco, 465 U.S. 513, 517 n. 2 (1984). See also Fed. R. Bankr. P. 9001(10) (“‘Trustee’ includes a debtor in possession in a Chapter 11 case.”).
4. Procedural Safeguards for Secured Creditors. The Code still imposes
procedural safeguards for the benefit of the secured creditor (e.g., “adequate protection” against erosion of collateral value; time limits on stay modification requests; limits on counterclaims against secured lender seeking stay modification). As shown below, it attempts to reconcile the rights of the secured creditor with the needs of the debtor and its unsecured creditors. See United Savings Assn. of Texas v. Timbers of Inwood Forest Associates, Ltd. (In re Timbers of Inwood Forest Associates, Ltd.), 484 U.S. 365, 376 (1988) (“ . . . lack of any realistic prospect of effective reorganization will require” modification of stay of lien enforcement”).
II. The Automatic Stay.
A. When Effective.
1. The stay is automatic upon filing of the petition commencing a case under Code chapters 7 (liquidation), 9 (municipal debt adjustment), 11 (reorganization), 13 (individual debt adjustment), or chapter 15 (cross-border cases) with respect to foreign main proceedings. See e.g. Eskanos & Adler, P.C. v. Leetien, 309 F.3d 1210, 1214 (9th Cir. 2002) (“the automatic stay requires an immediate freeze of the status quo by precluding and nullifying post-petition actions”); Rexnord Holdings, Inc. v. Bidermann, 21 F.3d 522, 527 (2d Cir. 1994) (“[a]utomatic stay is effective immediately upon filing of bankruptcy petition”) (citing Shimer v. Fugazy (In re Fugazy Express, Inc., 982 F.2d 769, 776 (2d Cir. 1992));
2. The stay acts as a specific and definite court order to restrain creditors
from continuing the judicial process or collection efforts against debtor. See e.g. In re San Angelo Pro Hockey Club, Inc., 292 B.R. 118 (Bankr. N.D. Tex. 2003) (automatic stay is self-executing injunction, constituting an order issuing from bankruptcy court); In re Bottone, 226 B.R. 290, 297 (Bankr. D. Mass. 1998) (“as long as the Chapter 13 case is pending . . . the automatic stay … restrains postpetition creditors from taking action against property of the estate”) (quoting In re Woodall, 81 B.R. 17, 18 (Bankr. E.D. Ark. 1987)).
3. Unless modified by the court, the stay is effective for the duration of a
bankruptcy case, and generally cannot be waived by the debtor. Maritime Elec. Co., Inc. v. United Jersey Bank, 959 F.2d 1194 (3d Cir. 1991) (held, because automatic stay serves interests of both debtors and creditors, it may not be waived and its scope may not be limited by debtor); In re Atrium High Point Ltd. Partnership, 189 B.R. 599 (Bankr. M.D.N.C. 1995) (before enforcing a debtor’s prepetition waiver of automatic stay bankruptcy court must look at circumstances under which prepetition waiver arose); but see In re Excelsior Henderson Motorcycle Mfg. Co., Inc., 273 B.R. 920 (Bankr. S.D. Fla. 2002) (court enforced prepetition agreement under which chapter 11 debtor waived automatic stay).
B. Jurisdictional Basis of Injunctive Power.
1. The district court has “exclusive jurisdiction of all of the property,
wherever located, of the debtor as of the commencement of [the] case.” 28 U.S.C. § 1334(d). A bankruptcy court is a “unit of the district court.” 28 U.S.C. § 151. Section 362 implements this jurisdiction and is supplemented by § 105(a), which authorizes a court to “issue any order, process, or judgment that is necessary or appropriate to carry out the provisions of the Code.
2. The broad jurisdictional base of Section 362 confirms the court’s inherent
power to protect property within its jurisdiction and to prevent any divestiture of that jurisdiction. Isaacs v. Hobbs Tie & Timber Co., 51 S. Ct. 270, 282 (1931) (held, jurisdiction of bankruptcy court respecting property of debtor’s estate having attached, actions brought in other courts could not affect it). See In re Mohawk Greenfield Motel Corp., 239 B.R. 15 (Bankr. D. Mass. 1999) (“the automatic stay protects the bankruptcy court’s exclusive jurisdiction over the debtor and its property”) (citing In re Soares, 107 F.3d 969, 975 (1st Cir. Mass. 1997)).
3. Section 362(a) stays, among other things:
a. a secured creditor from collecting accounts receivable of debtor.
Matter of Pernie Bailey Drilling Co., Inc., 993 F.2d 67 (5th Cir. 1993)
(account receivables were property of the estate; court must lift stay for
creditors to gain access to receivables);
b. a creditor’s dissolution of a debtor corporation. 11 U.S.C.
§ 362(a)(3); Hillis Motors, Inc. v. Hawaii Automobile Dealers’ Assoc.,
997 F.2d 581 (9th Cir. 1993) (held, dissolution proceeding constituted
exercise of control over debtor’s property);
c. foreclosure proceedings in other courts instituted against debtor’s
property prior to commencement of bankruptcy case. 11 U.S.C.
§ 362(a)(1); see In re Vierkant, 240 B.R. 317, 322 (B.A.P. 8th Cir. 1999)
(citing Kalb v. Feuerstein, 308 U.S. 433 (1940); In re Soares, 107 F.3d
969 (1st Cir. 1997)) (post-petition state court default order signed by judge two weeks after bankruptcy filing violated automatic stay);
d. a landlord’s proceeding to recover possession of leased premises.
11 U.S.C. § 363(a)(5); 48th St. Steakhouse, Inc. v. Rockefeller Group, Inc.
(In re 48th St. Steakhouse, Inc.), 835 F.2d 427 (2d Cir. 1987) (serving
notice of termination on assignee of restaurant lease rather than on debtor, which still had interest in the property, violated automatic stay); and e. an IRS sale of property seized prior to commencement of case. 11 U.S.C. § 362(a)(8); United States v. Whiting Pools, Inc., 462 U.S. 198 (1983) (IRS may also be compelled to turn over levied property under Code § 542).
f. arbitration proceedings that not only concern claims asserted
against the debtor, but also concern the debtor’s claims against a third
party. ACandS, Inc. v. Travelers Casualty and Surety Co., 425 F.3d 252
(3d Cir. 2006), cert. denied, 126 S. Ct. 2291 (2006). (although arbitration
was commenced by debtor, continuation of arbitration proceedings
violated automatic stay because, unlike trial, it is impossible in arbitration
to definitely classify arguments presented (i.e., claims and counterclaims);
arbitration award, which effectively terminated debtor’s insurance
coverage, is invalid because it diminishes estate property); In re Edwin
Epstein Jr. Operating Co., Inc., 314 B.R. 591 (Bankr. S.D. Tex. 2004)
(held, automatic stay applied, not only to prevent non-debtor party to
arbitration proceedings from asserting claims against debtor for tortious
interference and slander of title, but also to prevent arbitrators from
hearing debtor’s claims to replace this non-debtor party as operator of oil
and gas wells based on debtor’s asserted ownership interests therein).
III. Scope and Duration of Stay.
A. Scope of Section 362.
1. Property of Estate. The bankruptcy court’s injunctive power is ordinarily
limited to protecting property belonging to a debtor. Property of the estate is defined in Code § 541(a)(1) (“. . . all legal or equitable interests of the debtor in property as of the commencement of the case.”). See In re Lankford, 305 B.R. 297, 301 (Bankr. N.D. Iowa 2004) (“All recognizable interests of the debtors or the estate are afforded the protection of § 362(a)…This includes a mere possessory interest in real property without any accompanying legal interest.”).
See also In re Moffett, 356 F.3d 518 (4th Cir. 2004) (held, chapter 13 debtor’s statutory right of redemption was sufficient interest in automobile that was repossessed prepetition to be included in estate property). But see In re Jasper, 325 B.R. 50, 55 (Bankr. D. Me. 2005) (credit union’s policy of revoking membership benefits of members who caused credit union a loss does not violate automatic stay); In re Santangelo, 325 B.R. 874 (Bankr. M.D. Fla. March 22, 2005) (district court did not violate automatic stay by approving class action settlement for claims against mortgage lender; rather, court gave prospective class members, including debtor choice of remaining class members or opting out of class); In re Medex Regional Laboratories, LLC, 314 B.R. 716 (Bankr. E.D. Tenn. 2004) (proceeds of debtor’s directors’ and officers’ liability insurance policies were not property of estate and were not protected by automatic stay, even though policies also provided coverage to debtor for indemnification claims, because the debtor had not provided any indemnification to non-debtor insiders and such indemnification claims were merely hypothetical). Compare In re Arter & Hadden, L.L.P., 335 B.R. 666 (Bankr. N.D. Ohio 2005) (proceeds of debtor’s directors’ and officers’ liability insurance policies are property of estate because policies also provided coverage to debtor and there was no reason why direct suit against debtor is either practically or procedurally untenable).
a. Property Outside the Scope. The stay is not applicable to actions
against property that is neither the debtor’s nor the estate’s. Rodger v.
County of Munroe (In re Rodgers), 333 F.3d 64 (2d Cir. 2003) (debtor’s
mere possession of title to real property is not sufficient to find property to
be property of estate or to bar delivery of deed to purchaser by operation
of stay); Chugach Timber Corp. v. Northern Stevedoring & Handling
Corp. (In re Chugach Forest Prods., Inc.), 23 F.3d 241 (9th Cir. 1994)
(court refused to extend stay to boat that was not property of debtor’s
estate but on which assets of debtor had been transferred) (11 U.S.C.
§ 541(b)); In re Howell, 311 B.R. 173, 179 (Bankr. D. N.J. 2004)
(automatic stay does not preclude estranged spouse from seeking equitable distribution of non-estate property such as exempt property, postpetition earnings, property excluded from the estate, property abandoned by the trustee or debtor surplus); NLRB v. McDermott, 300 B.R. 40 (D. Col. 2003) (automatic stay did not protect property of debtor’s wife’s). Examples of property outside the stay’s scope are:
(i) Foreclosure. If a lender completes foreclosure before the bankruptcy filing, neither the debtor nor the estate has any interest in the property and the automatic stay does not apply. In re Theoclis, 213 B.R. 880 (Bankr. D. Mass. 1997) (held, foreclosure sale had terminated debtor’s interest in property.); In re Williams, 247 B.R. 449 (Bankr. E.D. Tenn. 2000) (when foreclosure sale of debtor’s residence became final prior to commencement of chapter 13 case, residence did not become property of estate and was not protected by automatic stay);
(ii) Abandonment. Abandonment terminates the stay as to abandoned property. In re Holly’s, Inc., 140 B.R. 643 (Bankr. W.D. Mich. 1992) (once abandonment of debtor’s property is effectuated, or foreclosure of real and personal property is completed, taxing entity is entitled to enforce its statutory in rem rights against property.). But see In re Thompson-Mendez, 321 B.R. 814, 819 (Bankr. D. Md. 2005) (trustee’s deemed rejection of debtor’s residential lease by failure to timely assume it did constitute abandonment such that lease was no longer protected by
2. Entities Affected by the Stay. Section 362(a) applies “to all entities,”
including any “person, estate, trust, governmental unit.” 11 U.S.C. § 101(15).
This broad definition of “entity” eliminates the need to define who is a “creditor,” “secured creditor” or other person affected by the stay.
B. Duration of the Stay. Unless the court orders otherwise (i.e., unless creditor gets automatic stay modified), the stay “continues until such property is no longer property of the estate.” 11 U.S.C. § 362(c)(1). The stay of all other acts continues until case is closed or dismissed, or, if debtor is an individual, until debtor is granted or denied a discharge. 11 U.S.C. §§ 362(c)(2)(A), (B) and (C). See also In re Allen, 300 F.3d 1055, 1059 (9th Cir. 2002) (automatic stay “prohibits action against the bankruptcy estate only until the bankruptcy court confirms a plan reorganizing the debtor’s property”); Middle Tennessee News Co., Inc. v. Charnel of Cincinnati, Inc., 250 F.3d 1077 (7th Cir. 2001) (automatic stay remains in effect until bankruptcy court disposes of case or grants relief from stay); In re Spirtos, 221 F.3d 1079, 1081 (9th Cir. 2000) (“So long as there are assets in the estate, then, the stay remains in effect”); Eastern Refractories Co. Inc. v. Forty Eight Insulations Inc., 157 F.3d 169 (2d Cir. 1998) (order “terminating” automatic stay operates from date of order’s entry); Lomagno v. Salomon Brothers Realty Corp., 320 B.R. 473, 481 (B.A.P. 1st Cir. 2005), aff’d, 429 F.3d 16 (1st Cir. 2005) (automatic stay not retroactively imposed when dismissal order set aside on due process grounds); In re Peregrine Systems, Inc., 314 B.R. 31, 44 (Bankr. D. Del. 2004), aff’d in part, rev’d in part on other grounds, 2005 WL 2401955 (D. Del. Sept. 29, 2005) (automatic stay “continues until the bankruptcy case is closed, dismissed, or discharge is granted or denied, or until the bankruptcy court grants some relief from the stay.”) (citing Maritime Elec. Co., Inc. v. United Jersey Bank, 959 F.3d 1194, 1206 (3d Cir. 1991)); U.S. v. White, 466 F.3d 1241 (11th Cir. 2006) (debtor discharged and automatic stay terminates on date of confirmation of debtor’s reorganization plan even when plan contains a later effective date). If a case is filed by or against a debtor who is an individual and a case of the debtor was pending within the preceding one year period but was dismissed, the automatic stay “with respect to any action taken with respect to a debt or property
securing such debt or with respect to any lease shall terminate with respect to the debtor on the 30th day after the filing of the later case.”
11 U.S.C. § 362(c)(3)(A). See Jumpp v. Chase Home Finance, LLC (In re Jumpp), 356 B.R. 789 (B.A.P. 1st Cir. 2006) (interpreting § 362(c)(3)(A) automatic stay terminates only in regard to debtor; stay continues, though, in regard to property of estate).
• As of October 17, 2005, automatic stay terminates 60 days after a request for relief from stay unless final decision on request is rendered by court within the 60-day period or period is extended by agreement or by court for specific period of time found necessary for good cause.2
2 The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 was enacted on April 20, 2005, and many of its provisions became effective on October 17, 2005.
IV. Acts Stayed. Section 362(a) is broad in scope, but specifically lists eight categories that are subject to its injunctive power.
1. “Commencement or continuation . . . of a judicial, administrative, or other proceeding against the debtor . . . to recover on a prepetition claim against a debtor.”3 Code § 362(a)(l) (emphasis added):
a. Appeals: stay covers all proceedings originally brought against the
debtor, regardless of whether the debtor is appellant or appellee.4 Halmar
Robicon Group, Inc. v. Toshiba Int’l Corp., 127 Fed. Appx. 501, 503 (Fed.
Cir. 2005) (automatic stay only operates as against actions in which debtor
is in defensive posture); Nielson v. Price, 17 F.3d 1276, 1277 (10th Cir.
1994) (“[t]he 362(a)(1) stay applies to actions that are ‘against the debtor’ at their inception, regardless of the subsequent appellate posture of the case”); Ellis v. Consolidated Diesel Elec. Corp., 894 F.2d 371, 373 (10th Cir. 1990) (operation of stay should not depend upon whether district
court finds for or against the debtor). But see In re Mid-City Parking,
Inc., 322 B.R. 798 (Bankr. N.D. Ill. 2005) (debtor may unilaterally waive
protections of automatic stay by pursuing appeal without first obtaining
bankruptcy court order lifting stay; debtor could not be held liable for
damages to creditor-appellee arising from debtor’s alleged “willful stay
b. Administrative proceedings: See In re Krystal Cadillac Oldsmobile
GMC Truck, Inc., 142 F.3d 631 (3d Cir. 1998) (postpetition
determinations by Pennsylvania’s Board of Vehicle Manufacturers,
Dealers and Salespersons, ordering termination of franchise agreement
violated automatic stay); In re Best Payphones, Inc., 279 B.R. 92 (Bankr.
S.D.N.Y. 2002) (administrative law judge’s post-petition decision in
proceeding commenced pre-petition ‘but concluded after debtor’s chapter
11 filing’ was void and without effect because it violated automatic stay).
But see Board of Governors of Federal Reserve System v. MCorp
Financial, Inc., 502 U.S. 32 (1991) (Section 362(a) does not apply to
ongoing, nonfinal administrative/regulatory proceedings, and action of
Board of Governors was excepted from the stay under Section 362(b)(4)
of the Code (the “governmental unit” exception)).
c. Partnerships. Actions against partners and their property are not
protected in first instance by the filing of a partnership petition. Bankers
Trust (Delaware) v. 236 Beltway Inv., 865 F. Supp. 1186 (E.D. Va. 1994)
(automatic stay does not protect partnership debtor’s individual general
partners); O’Neill v. Boden-Wert Real Estate USA Funds I, Ltd., 599
So.2d 1045 (Fla. App. 2d Dist. 1992) (held, automatic stay did not stop action against general partner in partnership debtor or against general partner’s general partner).
3 “‘[C]laim against the debtor’ includes claim against property of the debtor.” 11 U.S.C. § 102(2).
4 Actions against non-debtors and against co-defendants are not stayed. See sub-section (e) infra.
d. Shareholders of corporate debtor. Bankruptcy court has no jurisdiction
over stock of corporate debtor that belongs to third party shareholders.
See e.g. In re Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc., 209 B.R. 832, 838 (D.
Del. 1997) (“automatic stay provisions of the Bankruptcy Code are not
implicated by the exercise of shareholders’ corporate governance rights.”).
e. Actions against surety, co-debtor, or guarantor are not stayed.5 See
e.g. Reliant Energy Services, Inc. v. Enron Canada Corp., 349 F.3d 816,
825 (5th Cir. 2003) (“[by its terms the automatic stay applies only to the
debtor, not to co-debtors under Chapter 7 or Chapter 11”); In re Third
Eighty-Ninth Associates, 138 B.R. 144 (S.D.N.Y. 1992) (suit against
guarantors of chapter 11 debtor was not a “back-door” attempt to acquire
assets of debtor); In re Rohnert Park Auto Parts, Inc., 113 B.R. 610
(B.A.P. 9th Cir. 1991) (automatic stay does not prevent creditors from
f. Actions are not stayed against non-debtor co-defendants.6 See e.g.
Queenie, Ltd. v. Nygard Intl., 321 F.3d 282, 287 (2d Cir. 2003) (debtor’s
filing of bankruptcy petition stayed his appeal and that of his wholly owned corporation7, but not that of co-defendants); 555 M Mfg., Inc. v.
Calvin Klein, Inc., 13 F. Supp. 2d 719 (N.D. Ill. 1998) (automatic stay
protection not available to debtor’s solvent co-defendant in breach of
contract case). But see Woodell v. Ormet Primary Aluminum Corp., 808
N.E.2d 402, 407 (Ohio Ct. App. 2004) (automatic stay applies to claims
against debtor’s employee co-defendants only to the extent that the causes of action against them arise from their status as employees of the debtor).
5 In limited circumstances, courts have asserted their equitable powers under 11 U.S.C. § 105(a) to enjoin the continuation of litigation against non-debtors when the debtor’s trustee demonstrates that continuation of litigation against non-debtors imminently and irreparably threatens the debtor’s reorganization prospects. E.g. In re United Health Care Org., 210 B.R. 228, 233 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) (staying action against non-debtor principals and officers of debtor when enforcement of judgment imminently and irreparably threatened non-debtors’ ability to fund debtor’s plan); North Star Contracting Corp. v. McSpeedon (In re North Star Contracting Corp.), 125 B.R. 368, 370-71 (S.D.N.Y.1991) (staying action against non-debtor president of debtor when, among other things, continuation of action would distract vital non-debtor and there was no distinct cause of action against him, but merely an action commenced solely to circumvent the stay).
6 Courts may stay actions against a non-debtor third-party defendant under “unusual circumstances” when “there is such identity between the debtor and third-party defendant that the debtor may be said to be the real party defendant and that a judgment against the third-party defendant will in effect be a judgment … against the debtor.” A.H. Robins Co. v. Piccinin, 788 F.2d 994, 999 (4th Cir. 1986). See also In re Nat’l Century Fin. Enter., 423 F.3d 567 (6th Cir. 2005) (commencement of civil action to recover accounts receivable held in collection account in debtor’s name violated automatic stay even though debtor was not named as defendant because action sought to recover estate property); Global Industrial Technologies, Inc. v. Ace Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. (In re Global Industrial
Technologies), 303 B.R. 753 (W.D. Pa. 2004), vacated in part, modified in part on other grounds, 2004 WL 555418 (Bankr. W.D.Pa. Mar. 19, 2004) (held, state court action brought by insurers for declaratory judgment regarding non-debtor’s rights in insurance policies it shared with debtor violated automatic stay even though debtor was not named as defendant in state court action because outcome of state action could affect debtor’s rights in shared insurance); Teachers Ins. & Annuity Assoc. of America v. Butler, 803 F.2d 61, 65 (2d Cir. 1986) (referred to A.H. Robins decision as case with “unusual circumstances”). Compare In re Transervice Logistics, Inc., 304 B.R. 805 (Bankr. S.D. Ohio 2004) (declining to extend automatic stay to non-debtor co-defendants because, unlike situation in A.H. Robins, defendant-debtor only faced one suit, not thousands, and thus would not be barraged by discovery and litigation).
g. Proceedings or claims arising post-petition are not subject to automatic stay, although successful plaintiff must obtain relief from stay if it seeks to enforce judgment against estate.8 Bellini Imports, Ltd. v. Mason & Dixon Lines, Inc., 944 F.2d 199 (4th Cir. 1991) (automatic stay did not bar institution of action arising out of alleged postpetition breach of contract); Erickson v. Polk, 921 F.2d 200 (8th Cir. 1990) (lessor of farmland did not violate automatic stay when it retook possession of property following postpetition expiration of lease); In re Dominguez, 312 B.R. 499 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. 2004) (prepetition lapse of debtor-taxpayer’s redemption period may constitute “cause” for lifting stay to allow tax authority to exercise its
rights in debtor’s real property; it did not relieve taxing authority’s obligation to move first for modification of stay).
h. Automatic stay does not apply to post-petition defensive actions in a
prepetition lawsuit brought by a debtor. Stanwyck v. Beilinson, 104 Fed.
Appx. 616 (9th Cir. 2004).
2. Enforcement of prepetition judgment against debtor or its property (11
U.S.C. § 362(a)(2)). See generally Delpit v. Commissioner, 18 F.3d 768 (9th Cir. 1994) (held, appeal to enforce pre-petition judgment was subject to the automatic stay).
3. “[A]ny act” to obtain possession of debtor’s property, or to exercise
control over such property. 11 U.S.C. § 362(a)(3).
7 The court ignored its own precedent in coming to this bizarre result, but justified it by reasoning that adjudication of a claim against the wholly-owned corporation would have an “immediate adverse economic impact” on the debtor. But see Feldman v. Trustees of Beck Ind., Inc. (In re Beck Ind., Inc.), 725 F.2d 880 (2d Cir. 1973) (court cannot enjoin suit against solvent independent subsidiary of debtor merely because stock is held by debtor in reorganization); In re Unishops, Inc., 374 F.Supp. 424 (S.D.N.Y. 1974) (bankruptcy court lacks jurisdiction to grant a stay of court proceedings against subsidiaries).
8 Judiciary Code, 28 U.S.C. § 959(a), provides relief to holders of postpetition claims against a debtor from having to obtain leave from bankruptcy court to pursue claims arising from “acts or transactions in carrying on business connected with [estate] property.” 28 U.S.C. § 959. Section 959’s exception to the automatic stay is limited to postpetition claims arising from operation of the debtor’s business, and does not include acts associated with liquidation or administration of the bankruptcy estate. See In re Crown Vantage, Inc., 421 F.3d 963, 971-72 (9th Cir. 2005) (postpetition claim against trustee arising from liquidation of estate not subject to § 959 because not related to business operation); Carter v. Rogers, 220 F.3d 1249, 1254 (11th Cir. 2000); In re DeLorean Motor Co., 991 F.2d 1236 (6th Cir. 1993) (malicious prosecution claims against trustee arising from avoidance actions are not based on acts arising from business operation and thus not subject to § 959).
a. A credit union that accepts and retains postpetition deductions from
chapter 13 debtor’s salary violates automatic stay. See, e.g., Town of
Hempstead Employees Federal Credit Union v. Wicks, 215 B.R. 316
(E.D.N.Y. 1997) (credit union’s four-month-long administrative hold on
chapter 13 debtors’ savings accounts violated automatic stay).
b. Letters of Credit. See, e.g., In re Kmart Corp., 297 B.R. 525 (N.D. Ill.
2003) (letters of credit are not property of debtor’s estate subject to
automatic stay; beneficiary not prevented from drawing on letter of credit
when account party is in bankruptcy); In re A.J. Lane & Co., Inc., 115
B.R. 738 (Bankr. D. Mass. 1990) (held, payment by third party on letter of
credit not stayed because it did not involve a transfer of debtor’s assets).
c. Creditors’ actions against debtor to obtain property fraudulently
transferred by debtor prior to bankruptcy are barred by the automatic stay.
See, e.g. Constitution Bank v. Tubbs, 68 F.3d 685 (3d Cir. 1995) (bank’s
action against guarantors for fraudulent conduct triggered automatic stay
when each guarantor filed a bankruptcy petition during fraud action).
d. Mortgagees’ postpetition foreclosure against real property subject to
deed naming debtor’s spouse a sole owner violated automatic stay because, although debtor only had arguable interest in the property, the
determination should be made by bankruptcy court before mortgagees
foreclosed. In re Chesnut, 422 F.3d 298 (5th Cir. 2005).
e. Debtor’s Tax Benefits. Circuits apparently are split regarding whether
a debtor’s tax benefits (e.g., net operating losses) are property of the estate, thus subject to the automatic stay. See In re UAL Corp., 412 F.3d 775 (7th Cir. 2005) (finding bankruptcy court’s injunction restricting trading in debtor’s securities to protect tax benefits to be “problematic on the merits,” and questioning court’s reliance on Bankruptcy Code §§ 105(a) and 362 as basis for trading procedures order). Compare In Prudential Lines, Inc., 928 F.2d 565 (2d Cir. 1991) (finding debtor’s tax benefits to be estate property, and that automatic stay thus enjoined debtor’s parent from taking worthless stock deduction on parent’s tax return).
4. Any act to create, perfect, or enforce any lien against debtor’s property
(but not the perfection of mechanic’s lien9 — §§ 362(b)(3) and 546(b) — or when perfection occurs within the 10-day period after the time of effective transfer of the property, under §§ 362(b)(3), and 547(e)(2)(A)). 11 U.S.C. § 362(a)(4).
9 The mechanic’s lienor will ordinarily be able to perfect its lien after bankruptcy for work performed prior to bankruptcy. See generally, In re Yobe Electric, Inc., 728 F.2d 207, 208 (3d Cir. 1984) (per curiam) (service of notice of intent to file mechanic’s lien did not violate stay since under state statute “perfection of mechanic’s lien ‘relates back’ to the installation of the first material”); In re Lionel Corp., 29 F.3d 88 (2d Cir. 1994) (held, no automatic stay violation resulted from mechanics’ lienors’ post-petition serving notice of lien upon lessors and chapter 11 debtor lessee, when New York law permitted perfection of filed mechanics’ lien after another entity had acquired rights to the property).
See In re Fuller, 134 B.R. 945 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. 1992) (held, automatic stay prevents creation or perfection of lien, even by operation of law).
a. Sections 362(b)(3) and 546(b)(1)(A), read together, set the
boundaries of this exception.
(i) Section 362(b)(3) subjects a creditor’s right to “perfect, or to maintain or continue the perfection of, an interest in property” to Section 546(b) of Code. 11 U.S.C. §362(b)(3).
(ii) In turn, Section 546(b) limits the trustee’s powers to avoid statutory liens by providing that they “are subject to any generally applicable law that permits perfection of an interest in property to be effective against an entity that acquires rights in such property before the date of perfection.” 11 U.S.C. §546(b)(1)(A) (emphasis added); see, e.g., In re AR Accessories Group, Inc., 345 F.3d 454, 458 (7th Cir. 2003) (held, priming statute need not contain language expressly providing for retroactive perfection in order to trigger exception provided in 11 U.S.C. §546(b)(1)(A)); In re Hayden, 308 B.R. 428 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. 2004) (held, towing operator did not violate automatic stay in refusing to surrender possession of debtor’s vehicle, which was towed prepetition, unless debtor first paid towing charges because towing operator was merely acting to maintain or continue possession of its lien, not to enforce it).
5. Any act to create, perfect, or enforce a lien against debtor’s property for
prepetition claims. 11 U.S.C. § 362(a)(5). See, e.g., In re Birney, 200 F.3d 225 227 (4th Cir. 1999) (Section 362(a)(5) prohibits “any act to create, perfect, or enforce against property of the debtor any lien to the extent that such lien secures a claim that arose before the commencement of the case under this title”).
6. “Any act to collect, assess, or recover a prepetition claim against the
debtor.” 11 U.S.C. § 362(a)(6). Pertuso v. Ford Motor Credit Co., 233 F.3d 417, 423 (6th Cir. 2000) (a course of conduct violates § 362(a)(6) if it “(1) could reasonably be expected to have a significant impact on the debtor’s determination as to whether to repay, and (2) is contrary to what a reasonable person would consider to be fair under the circumstances”) (quoting In re Briggs, 143 B.R. 438 453 (Bankr. E.D. Mich. 1992)); see also In re Diamond, 346 F.3d 224, 227-28 (1st Cir. 2003) (settlement negotiations challenging Chapter 7 debtor’s discharge do not violate the automatic stay per se, but creditor’s threat to seek revocation of debtor’s real estate license during negotiations was coercive, thus dismissal of
debtor’s complaint proper); In re Optel, Inc., 60 Fed.Appx. 390 (3d Cir. March 25, 2003) (sale agreement between creditor and debtor provided that debtor either pay $6 million lump sum payment or, if creditor requested, $10 million over time; held, automatic stay prohibited creditor from requesting the $10 million deferred payment, therefore creditor was only entitled to distribution on $6 million claim); In re Jamo, 283 F.3d 392, 399 (1st Cir. 2002) (“a creditor may engage in post petition negotiations pertaining to a bankruptcy-related reaffirmation agreement so long as the creditor does not engage in coercive or harassing tactics”).
7. Setoffs of any prepetition debt owing to the debtor. 11 U.S.C. § 362(a)(7). See Newbery Corp. v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Co., 95 F.3d 1392 (9th Cir. 1996) (right of setoff is subject to automatic stay provisions of chapter 11); Citizens Bank of Maryland v. Strumpf, 516 U.S. 16 (1995) (temporary administrative freeze by bank not a stay violation or setoff; intent to settle accounts permanently is required for setoff within meaning of automatic stay provisions). Compare Jimenez v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 335 B.R. 450 (Bankr. D. N.M. Dec. 21, 2005) (temporary administrative freeze by bank, without right of setoff, violated automatic stay); In re Calvin, 329 B.R. 589 (Bankr. S.D. Tex. 2005) (bank’s administrative freeze of debtor’s account violated automatic stay when bank was not creditor of debtor and thus had no right of setoff); In re Cullen, 329 BR. 52
(Bankr. N.D. Iowa 2005) (bank’s administrative freeze of account jointly held by debtor and debtor’s father violated automatic stay because freeze was intended to continue indefinitely until bankruptcy case was closed; bank did not have valid right of setoff because funds in account were property of debtor’s father and mutuality requirement for setoff thus was lacking).
a. N.B.: The automatic stay, however, does not prevent a creditor
from exercising its right of recoupment.10 See, e.g., In re Slater Health
Center, Inc., 398 F.3d 98 (1st Cir. 2005) (right of recoupment entitled
government to recoup prepetition overpayments to debtor-health care
provider by reducing postpetition payments to debtor); In re Holyoke
Nursing Home, 372 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2004) (same); In re Anes, 195 F.3d
177 (3d Cir. 1999) (held, doctrine of recoupment did not apply so as to
permit pension plans to deduct loan payments from debtors’ postpetition
paychecks because the payments were not part of the same transaction); In re Delicruz, 300 B.R. 669 (Bankr. E.D. Mich. 2003) (“recoupment reduces
or extinguish[es] a debt arising from the same transaction, and is not
stayed by the bankruptcy”). But see York Linings Int’l, Inc. v. Harbison-
Walker Refractories Co., 839 N.E.2d 766 (Ind. App. 2005) (although
automatic stay does not bar creditor from exercising right of recoupment,
stay does prevent creditor from asserting counterclaim for recoupment in
litigation because such a counterclaim seeks affirmative relief).
10 “Recoupment” has been defined as follows: “. . . so long as the creditor’s claim arises out of the identical transaction as the debtor’s, that claim may be offset against the debt owed to the debtor, without concern” for the Code’s setoff limitations. In re University Medical Center, 973 F.2d 1065, 1080 (3d Cir. 1992). Recoupment in bankruptcy has been narrowly construed by courts because it violates the basic bankruptcy principle of equal distribution. In re B & L Oil Co., 782 F.2d 155, 158 (10th Cir. 1986) (“[a] fundamental tenet of bankruptcy law is that . . . [once] a petition is filed, debts that arose before the petition may not be satisfied through post-petition transactions. This is seen in bankruptcy restrictions on setoffs [and recoupment].”); In re McMahon, 129 F.3d 93, 97 (2d Cir. 1997) (“in light of the Bankruptcy Code’s strong policy favoring equal treatment of creditors, recoupment . . . should be narrowly construed”).
8. Commencement or continuation of a proceeding before the United States Tax Court concerning the debtor. 11 U.S.C. § 362(a)(8). See, e.g., Halpern v. C.I., 96 T.C. 895 (U.S. Tax Ct. 1991) (held, automatic stay bars commencement or continuation of any proceeding in Tax Court, regardless of whether claim relates to prepetition or postpetition tax year deficiencies).
• As of October 17, 2005, § 362(a)(8) is limited to proceedings
concerning corporate debtor’s tax liability for taxable period the
bankruptcy court may determine or, if debtor is individual, to tax
for taxable period ending before date of order for relief.
9. Only affirmative acts are stayed. Section 362 applies only to affirmative
acts against the debtor or its estate.
a. The automatic stay does not affect, and the court may not exercise
its equitable powers to stay or toll, the automatic transfer of rights such as
that occurring by the expiration of a statutory period of redemption.
Canney v. Merchants Bank (In re Frazer), 284 F.3d 362 (2d Cir. 2002)
(did not stay mortgagee’s act of recording a certificate of non-redemption;
held, expiration of statutory period is not an “affirmative act” and
automatic stay did not apply).
b. Omissions and waivers are not stayed by the Code because they
are not affirmative acts. See e.g. Mann v. Chase Manhattan Mortg. Corp.,
316 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2003) (mortgagee’s failure to submit
preconfirmation request, pursuant to bankruptcy statute governing rights
of oversecured creditors, to have its postpetition attorney fees included in
its allowed secured claim was not sort of overt, affirmative act that
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