ZOMBIE DEBT RETURNS WITH A TWIST

ZOMBIE DEBT ISSUES IN CHAPTER 13 CASES

Zombie debt appears to be making a comeback due to some recent Court rulings involving Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases. Recently, there was a Supreme Court ruling which prohibited the filing of an FDCPA action against a debt collector in Chapter 13 cases where a “stale” claim had been filed, i.e. a claim based on a debt which was deemed uncollectible based on an applicable statute of limitations. The opinion is found here:

https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/16-348_h315.pdf

An interesting note in the opinion is that the Court considered a Proof of Claim that was obviously time barred. “Whether Midland’s assertion of an obviously timebarred claim is “unfair” or “unconscionable” (within the terms of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) presents a closer question.” Page *5 above. The Claim in the above case made no misrepresentations regarding the age of the account or whether such account was past an applicable statute of limitations. In such a case, the Supreme Court has said that debt collectors are free to file such a claim and suffer no liability through the FDCPA for attempting to collect on a stale claim.

But what if the claim is presented in such a way as to attempt to appear timely? What if a creditor or debt collector intentionally “re-ages” an account in an attempt to collect a stale debt so that the claim wasn’t “obviously time barred” as stated by the Supreme Court? Would that type of collection activity subject the creditor or debt collector to liability through the Bankruptcy Code or the FDCPA?

Twice in the past 2 years our office has seen large institutional creditors (not debt collectors, surprisingly) file claims that contained account statements dated for the month of the petition when the account is well past the Florida five year statute of limitations. In one case the creditor filed multiple claims with the same deceptive account statements. We filed suit against both creditors in adversary proceedings in an attempt to bring such behavior to the attention of the Bankruptcy Judge and to prevent future repeat violations.

Such behavior is an obvious violation of Bankruptcy Rule 3001 which requires that claim filers provide in the Proof of claim the date of the last transaction, date of last payment and date charged off for all unsecured open end or revolving accounts. The reason for such a requirement is obvious: Put everyone on notice as to whether the claim is collectible. The Rule also provides the Bankruptcy Judge with the ability to disallow the presentation of evidence of the missing items, award attorney’s fees and costs, as well as other “appropriate relief”. Our office believes that any “appropriate relief” that is awarded should be sufficient to deter repeated violations of claim standards and to prevent deceptive filings in reorganization cases.

As we move well past the limitations period for most debts incurred and charged off during the financial crisis of the late 2000’s, it becomes critical to any successful reorganization effort to make sure that only legitimate claims are provided with financial benefit in a reorganization case. Stale claims, deceptive claims and the other variations of uncollectible debt should be carefully checked in each case and taken out of any reorganization plan to allow for the best chance of success.

At Mickler & Mickler, we attend Court and see the bankruptcy trustees and judges in action several times a week. We have the experience to guide you to the right decision about whether to file a case, and if so, what Chapter to file.   When you contact our office, we can help you in your case with sound legal advice.

Please contact Mickler & Mickler at 904.725.0822 or bkmickler@planlaw.com. We will be happy to set you up a free appointment to discuss your situation and potential solutions.

Bryan Mickler

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