Since clients ask about this all the time, I thought it would be a good time to give a quick refresher on 20-day claims and briefly discuss how creditors are faring in Bankruptcy cases when it comes to 20-day claims.
Under most state laws, a credit seller has the right to “reclaim” goods (get them back or get a lien for the value), from a defaulting buyer. Most state laws require a reclamation notice be given within 20 days of the delivery. Some require as few as 10 days. Recognizing the difficulty with these short timeframes, earlier changes to the Bankruptcy Code enabled creditors to give notice within 20 days after the bankruptcy filing. The right still only covered deliveries in the 10 days before the bankruptcy.
The 2005 amendments expanded the notice rights to provide that, when goods are sold to a debtor within 45 days of a bankruptcy filing, the seller has a right to reclaim those goods, so long as the seller gives notice within the first 20 days of the bankruptcy. Failure to provide this notice results in a waiver of the reclamation right. Sellers often miss this “notice deadline” and lose their right to reclaim their goods. Further, because the rights of a reclaiming seller are subject to the rights of a prior, properly perfected lienholder on the type of goods sold, this reclamation right is often illusory. Section 503(b)(9) was inserted into the Bankruptcy Code as a way of offering relief to sellers of goods whose reclamation right is rendered meaningless – either by failing to give the required notice or because of a prior lienholder’s rights.
Creditors have had mixed results in the first three years following the addition of section 503(b)(9) to the Code. For starters, obtaining an allowed administrative claim requires an upfront investment. The creditor must do one of two things: 1) get the debtor to agree to allow the 503(b)(9) claim; or, 2) if the debtor refuses to agree, file a motion with the court. This means that the creditor often has to hire an attorney and expend resources upfront.
More importantly, debtors will often challenge the 503(b)(9) claim in an attempt to get the creditor to negotiate the amount. Debtors will often claim that they received the goods outside of the required 20-day window. This forces the creditor to show evidence, through supporting documentation and testimony. Debtors sometimes take this position solely as a negotiation tactic. Debtors know that it will cost the creditor valuable time and money to litigate the case and that the creditor may be willing to settle for less in order to avoid litigation.
Be sure to check back for A Refresher on 503 (b)(9) “20-Day Claims” Part 2