Bankruptcy Basics

The Small Business Case and the Small Business Debtor

The Small Business Case and the Small Business Debtor

In some smaller cases the U.S. trustee may be unable to find creditors willing to serve on a creditors' committee, or the committee may not be actively involved in the case. The Bankruptcy Code addresses this issue by treating a "small business case" somewhat differently than a regular bankruptcy case. A small business case is defined as a case with a "small business debtor." 11 U.S.C. § 101(51C). Determination of whether a debtor is a "small business debtor" requires application of a two-part test. First, the debtor must be engaged in commercial or business activities (other than primarily owning or operating real property) with total non-contingent liquidated secured and unsecured debts of $2,000,000 or less. Second, the debtor's case must be one in which the U.S. trustee has not appointed a creditors' committee, or the court has determined the creditors' committee is insufficiently active and representative to provide oversight of the debtor. 11 U.S.C. § 101(51D).

In a small business case, the debtor in possession must, among other things, attach the most recently prepared balance sheet, statement of operations, cash-flow statement and most recently filed tax return to the petition or provide a statement under oath explaining the absence of such documents and must attend court and the U.S. trustee meeting through senior management personnel and counsel. The small business debtor must make ongoing filings with the court concerning its profitability and projected cash receipts and disbursements, and must report whether it is in compliance with the Bankruptcy Code and the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and whether it has paid its taxes and filed its tax returns. 11 U.S.C. §§ 308, 1116.

In contrast to other chapter 11 debtors, the small business debtor is subject to additional oversight by the U.S. trustee. Early in the case, the small business debtor must attend an "initial interview" with the U.S. trustee at which time the U.S. trustee will evaluate the debtor's viability, inquire about the debtor's business plan, and explain certain debtor obligations including the debtor's responsibility to file various reports. 28 U.S.C. § 586(a)(7). The U.S. trustee will also monitor the activities of the small business debtor during the case to identify as promptly as possible whether the debtor will be unable to confirm a plan.

Because certain filing deadlines are different and extensions are more difficult to obtain, a case designated as a small business case normally proceeds more quickly than other chapter 11 cases. For example, only the debtor may file a plan during the first 180 days of a small business case. 11 U.S.C. § 1121(e). This "exclusivity period" may be extended by the court, but only to 300 days, and only if the debtor demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that the court will confirm a plan within a reasonable period of time. When the case is not a small business case, however, the court may extend the exclusivity period "for cause" up to 18 months.