Unfortunately, the Code does not require that the administrative claim be paid in full immediately after the Court allows the claim. Instead, the Code only sets the relative priority of the claim. In Chapter 11, a requirement for the confirmation of a Plan is that administrative expense claims be paid “in full and in cash.” If the case is ultimately declared “administratively insolvent” – i.e. the debtor does not generate sufficient cash to pay its administrative claims – then 503(b)(9) creditors will probably not receive the full amount of their claims.
While the court can order immediate payment of these claims, they often decline to do so. The courts have tended to be very debtor friendly on this issue. In two recent cases, In Re Bookbinders and In Re Global Home Products, LLC, creditors attempted to force immediate payment of 503(b)(9) claims. In both cases, creditors urged the court to order immediate payment of the claims, arguing that there may not be enough assets left at the end of the bankruptcy to pay the 503(b)(9) claims in full. In both cases, the courts’ reasoned that the Code did not explicitly provide for immediate payment. The courts in both cases denied the creditors’ request for immediate payment of their 503(b)(9) claims. Unfortunately, in the Global Home Products case, 503(b)(9) creditors ultimately received less than 50 percent of their claims under the debtor’s Plan.
While a 503(b)(9) creditor appears to face an uphill battle, it is not all bad news. In fact, section 503(b)(9) has greatly increased the potential for recovery for large numbers of unsecured creditors nationwide. Notwithstanding the difficulties of allowance and payment that 503(b)(9) creditors face, they stand in a better position than a general unsecured creditor. Section 503(b)(9) claims are given the same priority status as the debtors’ attorneys’ and other professionals’ fees. In the grand scheme of the bankruptcy system, this is about the best position in which a trade creditor can sit.
Since many 503(b)(9) motions are lightly contested, they can be handled by experienced creditors’ rights counsel at a modest price. In fact, a valid 503(b)(9) claim is often stipulated to by the debtor early in the case. Often the debtor will agree to allow the claim in full, if the creditor agrees to forego payment until a plan can be confirmed. This system benefits all parties because if all 503(b)(9) creditors demanded immediate payment in full, many debtors would not have sufficient cash flow to meet those demands, and would terminate operations shortly after entering bankruptcy. Since debtors rarely enter bankruptcy with significant cash reserves, such an outcome would likely result in 503(b)(9) creditors receiving far less than 100 percent of their claims.
If a creditor is willing to accept a reduced amount on its 503(b)(9) claim, then it should consider “claim traders” – companies that purchase bankruptcy claims from creditors. Claim traders are often very interested in 503(b)(9) claims and, depending on the circumstances of the particular debtor and its prospects for reorganizing, are often willing to pay a very large percentage of the claim.