The closing of your business, followed by your personal bankruptcy filing, often ends threatened or ongoing business litigation against you. But here are three situations where that litigation could well continue regardless of the bankruptcy.

What is No Longer Worth Fighting About

Most debts or claims against you at the time of your bankruptcy filing are resolved for all legal purpose by the filing of your bankruptcy case. Now there is no longer any benefit for the creditor to initiate previously threatened litigation or to continue the pending litigation. If you filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, most if not all of your business and personal debts which you want to discharge will in fact be discharged. The creditors will either receive nothing or will receive a pro rata portion of any of your non-exempt assets. If you filed a Chapter 13 case, your creditors will receive whatever your court-approved plan provides, often pennies on the dollar of whatever you owe. There is usually not much worth starting or continuing to fight about.

What IS Worth Fighting About

But there ARE some types of debts or claims that DO still need court resolution. In these situations the creditor or adversary would likely get permission from the bankruptcy judge to either continue the pending litigation or initiate it.

1) Determining the Amount of a Debt

If a debt or claim is being discharged in a no-asset Chapter 7 case, the amount of that debt makes no practical difference. But in an asset Chapter 7 case, in which the bankruptcy trustee is anticipating a pro rata distribution of assets to the creditors, the amounts of all the debts need to be determined in order for that distribution to be fair to all the creditors. Same thing occurs in Chapter 13 cases in which the creditors are being paid a portion of their claims but not in full, since the amount of any allowed claim affects the distribution received by all the creditors.

Usually disputes about the amount of a the claims are resolved in bankruptcy court, by the creditor or trustee objecting to a proof of claim filed by the creditor. But in relatively complex disputes, especially ones already pending in another court, , the bankruptcy court may allow the amount of the debt to be resolved in that other court.

2) Potential Insurance Coverage of the Debt

If a claim against the debtor is potentially covered by insurance, then often all the affected parties want the dispute to be resolved. Issues needing resolution include whether the debtor is liable for damages, whether those damages are covered by the insurance, and whether the policy limits are enough to cover all the damages or instead leaves the debtor personally liable for a portion. Examples include:

• vehicle accidents involving the business’ employees or owners, especially those with multiple drivers

• claims on business equipment damaged by fire or flood

• various business losses potentially covered by your business owner’s policy, such as an employee’s embezzlement, or an injury to a non-employee on the business premises

In these situations the bankruptcy court will likely give permission for the litigation to proceed outside of bankruptcy court, with appropriate conditions about not pursuing the debtor for any amount not covered by insurance.

3) Nondischargeable Debts

The biggest fights about business-related debts arise when a creditor or claimant argues that its debt or claim should not be discharged in the bankruptcy case. This challenge goes to the heart of the bankruptcy case—the debtor’s desire to get a fresh start without being burdened any longer by the debts connected to the failed business.

These discharge fights apply to both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. In the past, Chapter 13 did not allow creditors to raise many of the kinds of challenges to the dischargeability of debts allowed under Chapter 7. But the major 2005 bankruptcy amendments for the first time opened the door in Chapter 13 to many of those same challenges. Because Chapter 13 is often a better solution for debtors who have closed a business (for example, it is often a better way to deal with certain business-related debts such as nondischargeable taxes), in the last few years there have been a significant number of dischargeability challenges by creditors in Chapter 13.


Could your small business survive and even thrive if you could just get better terms for payment of your back tax debts?

The owners of just about every struggling sole proprietorship have income and business tax problems. When you are barely scraping by, needing every dollar to pay the absolutely necessary keep-the-business-running expenses, you can find yourself unable to scrape together the money to make your estimated personal income tax payments each quarter. If you have an employee or two, it can be all too tempting to use the withheld payroll tax money for some critical business or personal expense instead of paying it over to the IRS. So even when business improves, once you fall behind with your taxes it’s terribly difficult to catch up, to be simultaneously paying both your current and past tax obligations. This especially true considering accruing late charges and interest, which can greatly increase the amount you must pay to catch up.

Add to the mix the IRS’ limited flexibility on payment terms for back taxes, plus its extraordinary collection powers against you and against your business and personal assets, and it’s no wonder that back taxes are often the most urgent problem for a business owner trying to figure out what to do.

If your business is a sole proprietorship in your name, or in your name and that of your spouse, a Chapter 13 case would very likely give you a series of advantages in dealing with your past due tax liabilities, while allowing your business to continue to operate. (If your business is instead in the form of a corporation, or if your debt amount is larger than a certain threshold, you may not qualify for Chapter 13 but instead need to consider Chapter 11 or other options, a discussion which is beyond the scope of this blog.)

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy could help your business survive by significantly reducing both your business and personal monthly debt obligations, and the tax debts themselves as well as the rest of your debts. As for the back taxes:

• some of the taxes or penalties may be written off (“discharged”) altogether;

• payments on the remaining tax debts would usually be stretched out over a much longer period than the taxing authorities would otherwise allow, thereby greatly reducing the amount you would need to pay each month; and

• ongoing interest and penalties usually stop accruing, so that the payments you make pay the tax debts off much more quickly.

So Chapter 13 almost always gives you both immediate month-to-month relief easing your business and personal cash flow, and long-term relief reducing what you must pay before you are tax debt free, and completely debt free.