Pro Se Debtors Must Comply With Court Directives

I understand the want to handle legal matters by yourself.  The thought of having to pay legal fees makes almost everyone cringe in fear.  The practice area does not matter, I see it every day.  Bankruptcy.  Landlord-Tenant.  Commercial litigation.  No one wants to pay for attorneys fees.  Additionally, there is a thought floating around that judges will give a pro se party (a party that represents themselves in court without an attorney) a very long leash because they are not familiar with the laws, rules and practices of court.  Admittedly, courts do extend courtesies to pro se parties that otherwise would not be extended to attorneys, and that is fine.  To an extent.  As an attorney, there are rules to the game of Court, and everyone needs to play by them.  Sure, just like in any game, you may give someone an extra swing of the bat or an extra time out, but at some point, the rules are rules so that the game can be played, and an orderly conclusion to the game may follow. Not surprisingly, in bankruptcy, pro se debtors must comply with court directives.

A recent case out of the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the Sixth Circuit heard an appeal of a pro se chapter 13 debtor whose case was dismissed.  The debtor had filed a plan to which the trustee assigned to the case objected.  As the debtor was pro se, the trustee explained the problems with the plan as filed, and provided recommendations on how the plan can be amended so that the Court may confirm it.  The debtor responded that he understood, and a conversation was placed on the court record where the trustee explained its objections, the debtor acknowledged them and said he would file an amended plan.  The court provided a two week period for the debtor to file the amended plan.  Two weeks went by and no amended plan was received by the court or the trustee.  The trustee then moved to dismiss the case, which the court did.  The debtor then appealed, arguing that he mailed the amended plan to the court and trustee, so the court should not have dismissed the case.

In support of his argument, the debtor argued that, because he was pro se, he did not have the same access to the tools and knowledge that an attorney would have to handle a case, and, thus, should not be treated like an attorney.  The court dismissed this argument, especially in light of the fact that all the conditions and expectations were explained on the record in front of the court.  Moreover, as the judges wrote, “[f]iling requirements and deadlines are necessary to an orderly bankruptcy process.”

I was recently at a 341 meeting and observed a hearing for a pro se debtor.  The debtor had failed to bring a copy of her documents to the 341 meeting to review with the trustee.  Additionally, the debtor never sent the trustee any documents relating to a motor vehicle that she had, and how she intended to treat that in bankruptcy.  These are relatively small things, but enough of an issue that the trustee had to adjourn the 341 meeting.  Now, that pro se debtor would have to reappear for a hearing – maybe take another day off from work – because of an unfamiliarity in practice that would have been a non-issue had she retained an attorney.  If you would like to speak to an attorney about bankruptcy, contact LORK.

The case reviewed is In re Henry, 15 FED App.0005P (6th Cir.) 

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