By Ryan C. Wood
If you did not know, Mr. Lewis’ bankruptcy case is still an ongoing case. Part I goes through the first part of the bankruptcy case, describing the players and some procedure and addresses arguably why Mr. Lewis’ case was converted to a case under Chapter 7 so soon after originally filing a Chapter 11 reorganization case. Part II begins with describing the various interests of three lesser creditors and what they did to enforce their rights in Mr. Lewis’ bankruptcy case. Keep in mind that as soon as a person or company files for bankruptcy protection the order of relief becomes effective stopping any and all collection activity, lawsuits, wage garnishments, repossessions and foreclosures for example. This is the backbone of every bankruptcy case and the grant of power to the bankruptcy court and judge. The bankruptcy court is the single point of focus for relief if you are owed money or have a claim for money against the bankruptcy filer.
If the case is a reorganization case no more payments are made to vendors, mortgages or vehicle loans without court permission. It is assumed or most likely that secured creditor payments will be made in a plan of reorganization. Reorganizing or changing the payment terms of a mortgage or vehicle loan in Chapter 11 or Chapter 13 is the name of the game and why a person or company can still stay afloat. Bankruptcy is a way to force more favorable repayment terms on secured creditors and get rid of unsecured debts all at the same time.
High Creditor Involvement Means Nothing But Trouble For a Bankruptcy Filer
Mr. Lewis’ bankruptcy case has had quite a few creditors actively involved from the very beginning of the case. That means nothing but trouble for a debtor seeking to reorganize or discharge debts. There are over eleven creditors to be discussed. Here are the first three.
1. Mercedes Benz Financial Services USA, LLC
On May 1, 2012, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services USA, LLC filed a motion for adequate protection. At some point Mr. Lewis financed the purchase of a 2010 Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG with a balance owed at the time the bankruptcy case was filed of $110,934.41. The monthly payment on the loan is $2,026.35. Mercedes-Benz filed this motion to make sure they get monthly payments from Mr. Lewis while the bankruptcy case progresses. All secured creditors are entitled to be adequately protected against the depreciation of their collateral. Vehicles decrease in value rapidly as time goes on and can be easily hid or moved to thwart repossession. At the time this motion was originally filed Mr. Lewis was still in a Chapter 11 reorganization case. It could have been months before Mercedes-Benz received payment through a confirmed/approved plan of reorganization if they just sat back and waited to see what happened. In the meantime the collateral securing their loan is decreasing in value. So Mercedes-Benz is enforcing its right to be adequately protected against depreciation of the 2010 CL63 AMG by receiving the monthly payment of $2,026.35 from Mr. Lewis. On June 12, 2012, a consent order was signed by the court. Mr. Lewis agreed to pay $2,320.00 to Mercedes-Benz each month. This means that Mr. Lewis intended to keep the 2010 Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG.
The consent order comes with a catch though. If Mr. Lewis fails to make the adequate protection payment totaling $2,320.00 each month, then Mercedes-Benz is immediately granted the right to repossess the vehicle without further order of the court. A secured creditor cannot repossess its collateral without permission from the bankruptcy court. By filing the motion for adequate protection Mercedes-Benz has killed two birds with one stone. They obtained an order from the court for adequate protection payments and they obtained relief from the automatic stay to repossess the 2010 Mercedes-Benz if Mr. Lewis fails to make the post-petition adequate protection payment totaling $2,320 per month. Mercedes-Benz is set now. They can sit back and collect their money each month until the loan is paid off or repossess the 2010 Benz if Mr. Lewis misses a payment.
2. Porsche Financial Services, Inc.
Unlike Mercedes-Benz, Porsche Financial Services, Inc. finds itself in a different position. Mr. Lewis leased a 2010 Porsche Panamera. Mr. Lewis is not offering Porsche adequate protection payments and Mr. Lewis also has not made a payment on the lease since February 2012. The total owed is $88,788.58 at the time the bankruptcy case was filed. Given these circumstances Porsche filed a motion for relief from stay on May 3, 2012, requesting permission from the court to repossess the 2010 Porsche Panamera immediately. Why bother trying to get adequate protection if the lease is already past due and it appears Mr. Lewis has not intent of continuing to make any more payments. On July 17, 2012, the bankruptcy court entered the order granting Porsche Financial Services, Inc. relief from the automatic stay. They may now repossess the 2010 Porsche Panamera and sell the Porsche at auction to pay off the lease balance.
3. F. Xavier Balderas and Regions Bank
Now this is where it starts to get interesting. F.Xavier Balderas and Regions Bank filed a joint motion for relief from the automatic stay on June 27, 2012. Keep in mind again that Mr. Lewis’ case is still a Chapter 11 reorganization case at this time. Basically F.Xavier and Regions Bank are saying we do not care that you are seeking to reorganize your debts. We believe we have grounds to get the court to allow us to foreclosure or repossess our collateral and continue to go after you despite the fact that you filed for bankruptcy protection.
On or around June 20, 2007 Mr. Lewis obtained a loan totaling $416,000 at 7.15% interest from Am SouthBank, now named Regions Bank. The note was secured by a 2007 Fountain Lighting 47’ recreational boat. This is basically a cigarette racing boat. They have v-shaped hulls, are long and have multiple very powerful (700 HP) engines. Mr. Lewis borrowed additional unsecured sums of money from AmSouth Bank/Regions Bank and then stopped making payments. In 2011 Regions Bank filed a lawsuit against Mr. Lewis in the state of Tennessee to recover the amounts due pursuant to the various unpaid notes by Mr. Lewis. Eventually a judgment was entered against Mr. Lewis totaling $676,299.63. Of this amount about $420,820.00 is secured by the 2007 Fountain Lightning 47.’ Mr. Lewis, on May 17, 2012, testified at the 341 meeting of the creditors that the value of the 2007 Fountain Lighting 47’ was only about $300,000. So, Mr. Lewis is not making any adequate protection payments to Regions Bank (if fact it was so bad they sued him in state court), there is no equity in the boat (the amount owed is far more than the fair market value of the boat) and this is a recreational craft in the purest way and is in no way necessary for anyone to reorganize their debts in a Chapter 11 case. After the filing of Region’s original motion for relief from stay this case was converted to Chapter 7 and a Chapter 7 trustee was appointed to administer the assets of the Mr. Lewis’ bankruptcy estate on August 8, 2012. Under these circumstances the boat is of no value to the bankruptcy estate and creditors given the amount of debt is far more than the value of the boat.
What many people fail to understand or realize is that many people or companies that file for bankruptcy usually keep their cars, houses and even toys like a large recreation boat when seeking bankruptcy protection. If the asset is of no value to the estate (more is owed on the asset then the asset is worth) and the bankruptcy filer can afford to make the secured debt payment each month they usually can keep the asset and continue to make the loan payments. Secured debts get first priority in many ways. In a recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case, In re Welsh (No. 12-60009, 9th Circuit, March 25, 2013, regarding secured debts in Chapter 13 reorganizations cases, the 9th Circuit held that Congress did not intend to limit the amount of secured debt a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filer has. So basically a single person can have two car payments, 2 ATV payments and a monthly plane loan payment with no money left over to pay unsecured credit cards and that is okay under the Bankruptcy Code and Section 707(b). Again, the system is geared for the benefit of secured creditors with collateral.
On September 17, 2012, the court signed the order granting Regions Bank full relief from the automatic stay and immediate permission to initiate the foreclosure sale of the 2007 Fountain Lightning 47’. This bank was fighting to be paid since 2011 by first initiating the state court lawsuit. They are owed more than $676,000 and will foreclose on collateral worth approximately $300,000. Regions Bank will be left with an unsecured claim of around $376,000 in Mr. Lewis’ bankruptcy case. What happens to their $676,000 general unsecured claim?
Please note that I have only discussed three creditors so far. Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and F.Xavier Regions Bank were fairly straight forward believe it or not. There are least ten creditors to discuss and things get worse, far worse.