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Monday, December 29, 2008

Prebankruptcy Provisions: Should you include them in your contracts?

Creditors and lending institutions have recently been including various provisions in their contracts and credit agreements, which contemplate what will happen in the event of a bankruptcy. The provisions can be divided into three basic categories: (1) Waivers; (2) Covenants; and, (3) Representations/Admissions.

Waivers limit a borrower's right to either file a bankruptcy petition or to oppose the creditor's lifting of the automatic stay. Covenants provide for immediate relief from the automatic stay or consent not to contest a lift stay motion. Representations/Admissions include provisions in the agreement which admit the elements necessary for the creditor to lift the automatic stay, admit that any future bankruptcy filing will be made in bad faith to hinder or delay the creditor and admissions that security interests are properly perfected.

The prebankruptcy waivers provide a comfort level to lenders and creditors in the hope that they will not be delayed or damaged in the event of bankruptcy and they also are put in agreements to provide assurances that they are avoiding deals with debtors heading toward bankruptcy.

The courts are split on the enforcement of the prebankruptcy provisions. Some courts have expressed concern as to whether or not the provisions violate public policy. In almost all cases however, the courts have found the agreements are not necessarily self-executing. Therefore, a creditor should be weary of taking any action, which may result in a violation of the automatic stay without first obtaining bankruptcy court approval.

On the positive side, prebankruptcy provisions have proven to speed up the process and assist creditors in obtaining quick relief from the automatic stay of bankruptcy. In addition, some courts have upheld the various admissions and representations as conclusive evidence of the elements needed to lift the stay. This has led to a decrease in litigation cost for some creditors.

It would be dangerous and unadvisable to take any action which may be determined to be a violation of the automatic stay in reliance on the prebankruptcy provisions, but including the provisions may save you litigation fees in the long run. Therefore, while prebankruptcy provisions are not guaranteed to work, you may want to include them in your agreements.

The above article is not meant to replace legal counsel. If you'd like to speak to an attorney, please contact Gross & Romanick directly by filling out their online form, e-mailing law@gross.com, or calling (703) 273-1400.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Check: To Cash Or Not To Cash

You receive a check for less than the amount owed from a company. The company has stated that they owe you less than you contend is owed. Should you cash the check?

Virginia Law: In the 2002 case of Gelles & Sons General Contracting, Inc. v. Jeffrey Stack Inc., the Virginia Supreme Court for the first time interpreted Virginia Code §8.3A-311 which is a 1992 statute enacted to address the issue of cashing such checks. According to the Supreme Court opinion, the test is whether "a reasonable person" would consider the check to be a tender in full satisfaction of the claim.

Facts of Case: A general contractor ("general") and its subcontractor ("sub") dispute the amount owed by the general to the sub. The general wrote two letters to the sub setting out its position and included a check with the second letter which stated that it represented "final payment". The sub cashed the check but sued for the balance it claimed was due. The trial court found (and the Virginia Supreme Court agreed) that the letter and check was a "drop-dead letter" offer of final payment. By cashing the check, the sub could not sue for any additional sums.

Advice: If there is a question about whether a check is tendered as final payment, look at the correspondence and notations on the check to determine the intent of the maker. Cashing checks may be risky if there is some evidence for an accord and satisfaction.

This article is not meant to replace legal counsel: please contact Gross & Romanick directly by filling out their online form, emailing law@gross.com, or calling (703) 273-1400.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Security Deposit Treatment in Bankruptcy

What happens to a tenant's security deposit after the tenant files bankruptcy? If rent is owned, can the landlord apply the deposit to unpaid rent?

An informal poll of area Bankruptcy Lawyers reveals a belief that a security deposit can be used as a set- off against both pre-petition damages and lease termination damages under Section 553 of the Bankruptcy Code. The set off is subject to mitigation by the landlord, including releting the premises. The safest process is to have a court grant relief from stay before applying the security deposit; but this procedure may cause a debtor to file an objection. Right or wrong, most Landlords simply keep the deposit.

Some attorneys also argued that Landlord can assert a "secured claim" up to the amount of the security deposit.

For more information or to speak to an attorney about your own individual case, please contact Gross & Romanick directly by emailing them at law@gross.com, filling out their online form or calling (703) 273-1400.