The Government is Shut Down, Can I Still File for Bankruptcy?

Yes, for now.  Probably.

Believe it or not, the question of how the government shutdown would impact the practice of Bankruptcy consumed most of my morning last Tuesday; and I was not alone.

The simple answer is that the Federal Courts, of which the Bankruptcy Courts are a part,  announced on Monday that they had enough money to continue operating normally for two weeks.  Most of that money comes from filing fees, and I suspect a large percentage of it comes from Bankruptcy filing fees – but I regress.  So, the simple answer is – no problem for two weeks, then the Courts reassess.

Not so fast.  The bankruptcy system is overseen by the U.S. Trustee’s office, which is a division of the Department of Justice; and almost all of them are furloughed.  Many bankruptcy cases have the IRS, the SBA or some other Federal agency as an active party.  They are all furloughed, and if they aren’t, odds are that their bankruptcy lawyers are from the Department of Justice; and they are furloughed.  So, now what.

One thing that my court did quickly, and that appears to be unique to my jurisdiction is that my Judges entered a General Order staying all matters in Chapter 7’s and 13’s to which the IRS is a party.  Well, we are taking that to mean in which the IRS is an active party.  Technically, the IRS is a party in almost all Chapter 7’s and 13’s.  So, the two objections to claim that I filed last week in the same case now have different response dates, and one hearing date has been indefinitely postponed.

Also, the case trustees are not Federal employees, they are private attorneys; but they are appointed by the U.S. Trustee’s office.  They remain on the job, but I am unsure how long they will continue to be appointed to new filings.  First Meetings of Creditors continue to be held as scheduled, except, of course, neither the IRS nor the U.S. Trustee’s office will be there asking questions I would generally rather my clients weren’t being asked.  In fact, this may be a uniquely good time to file a case with means test issues.  Actually, a month ago probably would have been better. . . . I am teasing – sort of.  It would be interesting to see how that would play out.  If the US Trustee can’t object to a bankruptcy filing because the staff is furloughed, does that toll the time in which the objection must be made?  I wouldn’t think so, and it will be really interesting to see how the Courts deal with that issue, and they almost certainly will.

In the meantime, cases are filing like normal.  The automatic stay (i.e., bankruptcy protection) is going into effect just like always.  Most cases are proceeding normally at this point.  How thing will change if this continues for long, I don’t know.  I am reasonably sure of one thing, though.  The Bankruptcy courts are not going to stop accepting new filings anytime soon.  Bankruptcy cases all include a filing fee – $281 for a Chapter 13 and $306 for a Chapter 7 filing; and the Federal Courts are far too broke to turn that down.

Elaine

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