Putnam's Handy Law Book for the Layman

Bankruptcy. - Before the enactment of the federal Bankruptcy Act of 1898, every state had a bankruptcy act of its own, which was generally called an insolvency law. The federal act has superseded these by virtue of the power granted to congress in the federal constitution "to establish uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States."

The United States district courts in the several states are made courts of bankruptcy and have power to adjudge all persons bankrupt who have their principal places of business, residence and domicile within their respective districts; and jurisdiction also over others who simply have property within their jurisdiction.

Any person who owes debts, or business corporation, may become a voluntary bankrupt. So may an alien. He may also become an involuntary bankrupt if he has had his principal place of business here, or has been domiciled within the jurisdiction of the court for the preceding six months, or has property within its jurisdiction. Some corporations are still denied voluntary action, as well as minors and insane persons.

Who may become an involuntary bankrupt? Any person, except a wage-earner, or farmer, any unincorporated company, and any corporation engaged principally in manufacturing, trading, printing, publishing, or mercantile pursuits, owing debts to the amount of one thousand dollars. What is a manufacturing corporation, within the meaning of the law, is not even yet fully known. A corporation engaged principally in smelting ores is one; and a mining corporation, whose principal business is to buy and sell ores, is deemed a trading corporation and may become an involuntary bankrupt.

Next we may inquire, what are acts of bankruptcy? One of them is an admission of a person's inability to pay his debts. And this may be done by a corporation through its properly organized officers. Another act of bankruptcy is to convey, transfer, conceal or remove property with the intention to defraud creditors. And by concealment is meant the separation of some tangible thing like money from the debtor's estate, and secrete it from those who have a right to seize it for payment of their debts. The transfers of property covered by the act are those which the common law regards as fraudulent. If, for example, at the time of the transfer of his property one is so much indebted that it will embarrass him in paying his debts, the transfer will be deemed fraudulent; but a voluntary transfer, made by one who is free from debt, cannot be impeached by subsequent creditors. The intention to hinder, delay or defraud creditors is a question of fact to be ascertained by proper judicial inquiry.

A general assignment for the benefit of creditors is an act of bankruptcy. Likewise a general assignment for the benefit of creditors made by the majority of the board of directors and of the stockholders is an act of bankruptcy. A petition for the appointment of a receiver of a corporation under a state statute is not an assignment for the benefit of creditors and therefore is not an act of bankruptcy.

Another act of bankruptcy is to suffer or permit, when one is insolvent, any creditor to acquire a preference through legal proceedings. The term preference includes not only a transfer of property, but also the payment of money within four months from the time of filing his petition in bankruptcy. It is immaterial to whom the transfer is made if the purpose be to prefer one creditor to another. Like a fraudulent transfer the intent to prefer must be proved, though this may sometimes be presumed, as when the necessary consequence of a transfer or payment made by an insolvent debtor is to liquidate the debt of one creditor to the entire or partial exclusion of others.

Passing to the filing of the petition a voluntary petitioner should file his petition in the court of bankruptcy in the judicial district where he has principally resided for the preceding six months. When there is no estate and no claim has been proved and no trustee has been appointed, a bankrupt may withdraw his petition on paying the costs and expenses. The petition must be accompanied by a schedule of the petitioner's property, showing its kind and amount, location, money value, and a list of his creditors and their residences when known, the amount due to them, the security they have, and a claim to legal exemptions, if having any. After filing a voluntary petition the judge makes an adjudication. He may do this ex parte, that is without notice to creditors.

A petition may be filed against a person who is insolvent and has committed an act of bankruptcy within four months after such action. Three or more creditors who have provable claims amounting to five hundred dollars in excess of securities held against a debtor may file the petition, or if all the creditors are less than twelve, then one of them may file the petition provided the debtor owes him the above stated amount. Creditors holding claims which are secured, or have priority, must not be considered in determining the number of creditors and the amount of claims for instituting involuntary proceedings. The petition should state the names and residences of the petitioning creditors, also that of the bankrupt, his principal place of business, the nature of it, his act of bankruptcy, that it occurred within four months of the filing of the petition, and that the amount of the claims against him exceed five hundred dollars. The petition must be signed and properly verified, and may be afterward amended for cause in the interest of justice. On the filing of the petition a writ of subpœna is issued addressed to the bankrupt commanding him to appear before the court at the place and on the day mentioned to answer the petition. The next step, after serving the petition, is for the bankrupt to file his answer. Meanwhile his property may be seized by a marshal or receiver on proof that he is neglecting it or that it is deteriorating.

Within ten days after one has been judicially declared to be a bankrupt, he must file in court a schedule of his property, including a list of his creditors and the security held by them. Then follows the first meeting of the bankrupt's creditors, within thirty days after the adjudication. The judge or referee must be present at this meeting, also the bankrupt if required by the court. Before proceeding with other business the referee may allow or disallow the claims of creditors presented at the meeting, and may publicly examine the bankrupt, or he may be examined at the instance of any creditor. At this meeting the creditors may elect a trustee.

Subsequent meetings may be held at any time and place by all the creditors whose claims have been allowed by written consent: the court also may call a meeting whenever one fourth of those who have proved their claims file a written request to that effect.

Only a creditor who owns a demand or provable claim can vote at creditors' meetings. Nor can other creditors through filing objections to a claim prevent a bona fide claimant from voting. A creditor of an individual member of a bankrupt partnership cannot vote. Nor can creditors holding claims that are secured or that have priority vote only to a limited extent, so far as their claims are on the same basis as other creditors. To entitle secured and preferred creditors to vote at the first meeting on the whole of their claims, they must surrender their securities or priorities. If a portion of a creditor's debt is secured and a portion is unsecured, he may vote on the unsecured portion. An attorney, agent, or proxy may represent and vote at creditors' meetings, first presenting written authority, which must be filed with the referee. The referee who presides at the first meeting makes up or decides on its membership. Matters are decided at the meeting by a majority vote in number and amount of claims of all the creditors whose claims have been allowed and are present.

The next stage in bankruptcy proceedings is the proving and allowance of claims. Only such debts are provable as existed at the time of filing the petition. Every debt which may be recovered either at law or in equity may be proved in bankruptcy. A claim barred by the statute of limitations is not provable, nor is a contingent liability. On the other hand a debt founded on a contract express or implied may be proved, for example, damages arising from a breach of a contract prior to the adjudication in bankruptcy. Again, if there are agreements or covenants in a contract of a continuing character the bankrupt is still liable on them notwithstanding his discharge in bankruptcy. If the amount of a claim is unliquidated the act sets forth the mode of proceeding. Among other claims that may be proved are judgments, debts founded on an open account, and rents.

The claims of creditors who have received preferences are not allowed unless they surrender them. Thus money paid on account by an insolvent debtor must be surrendered before a claim for the balance due on the account can be proved. If proceedings are begun by the trustee to set aside a preferential transfer to a creditor who puts in a defense, he cannot thereafter surrender his preference and prove his claim. If a creditor in proving his debt fails to mention his security, if he has any, he will be deemed to have elected to prove his claim as unsecured.

Claims that have been allowed may be reconsidered for a sufficient reason and reallowed or rejected in whole or in part, as justice may require, at any time before the closing of the estate. The reexamination may be had on the application of the trustee or of any creditor by the referee, witnesses may be called to give evidence, and the referee may expunge or reduce the claim or adhere to the original allowance.

The appointment of the trustee by the creditors at their first meeting is subject to the approval or disapproval of the referee or the judge. Should the creditors make no appointment the court appoints one. As soon as he has been appointed it is the duty of the referee to notify him in person or by mail of his appointment. If he fails to qualify or a vacancy occurs, the creditors have an opportunity to make another appointment. If a trustee accepts he must give a bond with sureties for the faithful performance of his duties. He may also be removed for cause after notice by the judge only. Should he die or be removed while serving, no suit that he was prosecuting or defending will abate but will be continued by his successor.

The trustee represents the bankrupt debtor as the custodian of all his property that is not exempt; also the creditors, and gathers all the bankrupt's property from every source and protects and disposes of it for the best interests of the creditors, and pays their claims. In short, he succeeds to all the interests of the bankrupt, is an officer of the court and subject to its orders and directions. He must deposit all moneys received in one of the designated depositories, can disburse money only by check or draft, and at the final meeting of the creditors must present a detailed statement of his administration of the estate. During the period of settlement he must make a report to the court in writing of the condition of the estate, the money on hand, and other details within the first month after his appointment, and bi-monthly thereafter unless the court orders otherwise.

The federal Bankruptcy Act prescribes what property passes to the trustee and also what is exempt. Whatever property on which a levy could have been made by judicial process against the bankrupt passes to the trustee. On the other hand, the income given to a legatee for life under a will providing it shall not be subject to the claims of creditors does not pass to the trustee. If the bankrupt has an insurance policy with a cash surrender value payable to himself or personal representatives he may pay or secure this sum to the trustee and continue to hold the policy. And a policy of insurance payable to the wife, children, or other kin of the bankrupt is no part of the estate and does not pass to the trustee.

After one month, and within a year from the adjudication of bankruptcy, the bankrupt may apply for a discharge. The petition must state concisely the orders of the court and the proceedings in his case. Creditors must have at least ten days' notice by mail of the petition, and then the judge hears the application for discharge, and considers the proofs in opposition by the parties in interest. Unless some creditor objects and specifies his ground of objection, the petition will be granted. The Bankruptcy Act states several reasons for refusing a discharge, especially when the bankrupt has concealed his property instead of making an honest, truthful statement respecting it, or has not kept proper books of account with the fraudulent intent to conceal his true financial condition and defraud his creditors.

Lastly a person may be punished by imprisonment for two years or less on conviction of having knowingly and fraudulently concealed, while a bankrupt or after his discharge, any property belonging to his estate as a bankrupt, or made a false oath in any bankruptcy proceeding, or made any false claim against his estate or used such a claim in making a composition with his creditors.


More on this subject at http://bankruptcy.website-home.ws.

Do It Yourself Legal Forms
Law for the Laymen - Bankruptcy
Page Updated 11:29 AM Sunday 5/4/2014