Ordinarily, the first step a creditor will take upon learning of a debtor’s bankruptcy case is to file a proof of claim to seek payment of money owed. A claim or interest that has been filed with the court will be allowed, and will serve as the basis for distribution of the creditor’s claim, unless a party in interest objects. Once filed, a proof of claim constitutes prima facie evidence of the validity and amount of the claim. Often times months or even years will go by before a creditor hears anything further about his claim from the debtor, trustee or any other party. Consequently, claim objections may be brought long after the claim was filed. There is no absolute deadline in the Code or Rules for filing an objection to a claim. In Chapter 7 cases, objections should be filed prior to any distribution by the trustee and in Chapter 11 cases, oftentimes the plan of reorganization will include a deadline to object to claims. Typically, a claim objection is preceded by a letter requesting additional documentation from the claimant by the debtor or trustee.
If a Trustee or Debtor files an objection to claim, the objection becomes a “contested matter.” If the objection is joined with a demand for relief of the kind specified in Bankruptcy Rule 7001 (governing adversary proceedings), it becomes an adversary proceeding. At least thirty days notice of a hearing is required on an objection to a claim. Once an objection has been filed, the burden of proof shifts to the creditor to prove the amount and validity of the claim. The claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing a valid claim by a preponderance of the evidence.
The objection may assert the claim is not reflected in the debtor’s books and records, the amount of the claim or classification of the claim is incorrect or other grounds specific to the nature of the claim. Creditors have difficulty where the objection to their claim is not explicitly specific to their claim, as it may be combined with dozens of other claims in an Omnibus Objection. Often an Omnibus Objection results from having many claims that are vulnerable to objections on the same basis and thus, will contain the basis of the Objection and a corresponding list or chart identifying the creditor’s claim to which the objection applies.
At this point, it may be beneficial for the creditor to hire experienced bankruptcy counsel to defend their claim. If a timely response is not given to the objection, the claim will likely be disallowed and thus, the creditor receives nothing from the bankruptcy estate, despite having had a valid claim. If a timely response is filed, the Bankruptcy Court will conduct an evidentiary hearing to establish the validity of the claim, along with its amount as of the petition date. The hearing is usually scheduled when the objection is filed. The Court may, however, establish a discovery schedule prior to the hearing if the claim dispute so requires. Ordinarily, if an objection to a claim is raised, the court (after notice and a hearing) determines the amount of the claim as of the date of the filing of the bankruptcy petition, and allows the claim, unless it deems it not allowable under Section 502, such as a claim that is unenforceable due to a valid defense and a claim for post-petition interest on an unsecured claim.
Of course, if no objection is made, the creditor will be entitled to receive distributions from the debtor’s estate in order to satisfy its claim.