Unsecured Creditors Beware! The Western District of Texas Bankruptcy Court Declares an Unsecured Creditor Cannot Have Its Cake and Eat It Too

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Bankruptcy courts have long debated the issue of whether an unsecured creditor can recover post-petition legal fees under the Bankruptcy Code. In the recent decision of In re Seda France, Inc. (located here), Justice Craig A. Gargotta of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Texas denied an unsecured creditor’s claim for post-petition fees. In doing so, the Court has once again left the unsecured creditor with a bad taste in its mouth by declaring that an unsecured creditor seeking post-petition fees is asking permission to have its cake (a claim for principal, interest and pre-petition legal fees under applicable loan documents) and eat it too (a claim for post-petition legal fees).

Proponents of the view that an unsecured creditor cannot recover post-petition legal fees point to section 506(b) of the Bankruptcy Code, which allows as part of a creditor’s secured claim the reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs incurred during the post-petition period, and note the Bankruptcy Code is silent on an unsecured creditor’s right to post-petition legal fees. Essentially, the argument is since Congress provided for post-petition fees for secured creditors, it could have explicitly provided for post-petition fees for unsecured creditors but chose not to. Proponents of the alternative view cite the Second Circuit decision United Merchants and its progeny, where those courts refused to read the plain language of section 506(b) as a limitation on an unsecured creditor’s claim for recovery of post-petition legal expenses. The theory is that while the Bankruptcy Code does not expressly permit the recovery of an unsecured creditor’s claim for post-petition attorneys’ fees, it does not expressly exclude them either. The basic tenant is that if Congress intended to disallow an unsecured creditor’s claim for post-petition legal fees it could have done so explicitly.

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