By Ryan C. Wood
I really do not know the utility of this article given I know this set of circumstances rarely will ever come up. I have literally had a hand in four or five thousands cases over the years and this issue has not come up so far. I also administered countless Chapter 13 cases as the staff attorney for David Burchard, the Chapter 13 Trustee for the San Francisco and Santa Rosa Divisions of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California. The set of circumstances that this could be an issue are very narrow. The bankruptcy filer would at some point injured or damaged a minor somehow or the person with a claim against the bankruptcy filer became incompetent over time. Also, if the person with a claim is an adult, how would the bankruptcy filer or their Bankruptcy Attorney ever know the person is incompetent? They probably would not.
Nonetheless if this issue does come here you go. It is rare for an adult, someone over the age of 18, to be indebted to or someone under the age of 18 has a “claim” against an adult. It is also rare for someone to owe an incompetent person money. If someone is incompetent they cannot enter into a contract legally. It is possible that the debt or claim arose prior to the person becoming incompetent. So there are a some reasonable hypothetical facts to help discuss this issue. In the real world you will probably look long and hard to find this was every an issue in a bankruptcy case.
The issue is how can you provide notice of a bankruptcy filing to an infant or someone who is incompetent? An infant is defined as a person who has not attained legal majority; or under-age or under 18 or 21 years of age depending upon state law. A person that is under the age of minority cannot be served legally even if they are a creditor of the person who is filing for bankruptcy protection. Also, a person that is incompetent cannot be or accept service given they are incompetent. Incompetency is generally defined as an adult who can no longer take care of their own financial and personal affairs because of mental problems or potentially a physical problem too.
The most important parts of filing for bankruptcy protection is giving all creditors notice of the bankruptcy case. Once the bankruptcy attorney files the bankruptcy petition any and all collection activity must stop and the Bankruptcy Court is the sole place to seek remedy. So if all creditors do not receive notice or do not understand the notice that is a problem. Every bankruptcy filer wants their creditors to receive notice and stop the phone calls or harassing letters. You will also want the creditor to get the order of discharge in the mail so that they know once and for all the debt is no longer legally enforceable by federal court order.
How Do You Serve An Infant Or Incompetent Person?
First look to Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 1007(m). In 2001 FRBP was amended to add section “m.” FRBP 1007(m) provides: If the bankruptcy filer knows that a person on the list of creditors or schedules is an infant or incompetent person, the bankruptcy filer also shall include the name, address, and legal relationship of any person upon whom process would be served in an adversary proceeding against the infant or incompetent person in accordance with Rule 7004(b)(2). The point is to serve someone that knows the infant or incompetent person that can accept service on their behalf. Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 7004(b)(2) provides: (b) Service by First Class Mail. Except as provided in subdivision (h), in addition to the methods of service authorized by Rule 4(e)–(j) F.R.Civ.P., service may be made within the United States by first class mail postage prepaid as follows: (2) Upon an infant or an incompetent person, by mailing a copy of the summons and complaint to the person upon whom process is prescribed to be served by the law of the state in which service is made when an action is brought against such a defendant in the courts of general jurisdiction of that state. The summons and complaint in that case shall be addressed to the person required to be served at that person’s dwelling house or usual place of abode or at the place where the person regularly conducts a business or profession.
Basically for an infant you need to also include the name and address of the infant’s parents or legal guardian. The same is true for an incompetent person. Someone has to be taking care of or appointed as a conservator or guardian of the incompetent person. Whoever is taking care of them is the person upon whom process is prescribed to be served by the law of the state in which service is made when an action is brought against a defendant in the courts of general jurisdiction of that state.