§ 69.2 — Pro Se Debtors
Revised: May 24, 2004
Pro se Chapter 13 cases are almost always a nightmare for creditors, for the trustee and for the court. Typically, the documents filed by a pro se debtor are incomplete and incomprehensible. The list of creditors is insufficient to accomplish notice, the plan (if there is a plan) says, “I plan to pay my debts,” and contact with the debtor is often impossible by mail or telephone. If the debtor appears at the meeting of creditors, the trustee faces the unenviable task of educating the debtor on the ways of Chapter 13 without undertaking to represent the debtor.1
Even a well-meaning pro se debtor rarely can muster the instantaneous understanding of Chapter 13 necessary to deal adequately with the trustee, creditors and the court. Sympathy for pro se debtors who are sincere in their efforts at self-guided rehabilitation only goes so far—courts and trustees can’t relinquish their statutory roles just because the debtor chooses not to hire a lawyer. Creditor’s counsel faces the dilemma of doing battle with an adversary that does not know the rules of engagement. Policing a pro se case requires difficult judgments about whether sufficient sincerity and resources are present to make a real Chapter 13 plan possible. Unusual patience is demanded.2 Too often, the pro se debtor is without counsel because the debtor has previously failed in a Chapter 13 case and does not like the advice of lawyers. There is a disturbing pattern in the abusive Chapter 13 cases that many are filed by pro se debtors.3 A significant number of pro se Chapter 13 debtors are tax protestors looking for one more dodge of the IRS.4 Choosing to go it without counsel is an invitation to scrutiny, not an excuse for misconduct. As stated by one court, “pro se status does not excuse [the debtor] from satisfying the duties and responsibilities imposed by the Bankruptcy Code on a Chapter 13 debtor.”5 When sincerity is lacking or abuse apparent, creditors and trustees must press firmly for conversion, dismissal and, in egregious cases, for sanctions.6
Pro se debtors have not been successful at avoiding the payment of filing fees. There is no federal statute that authorizes Chapter 13 debtors to proceed in forma pauperis.7 The constitutionality of requiring a filing fee for bankruptcy cases has been decided by the Supreme Court. As explained by one bankruptcy court:
The Supreme Court has held that 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), the in forma pauperis statute which allows an indigent person to proceed without payment of the filing fee, does not apply in bankruptcy. Therefore, bankruptcy courts cannot waive the bankruptcy filing fee for indigent debtors. . . . Section 1915(a) is not applicable in bankruptcy because 28 U.S.C. § 1930(a) . . . provides . . . “Notwithstanding section 1915 of this title.” . . . Therefore filing fees for commencing a case under the Bankruptcy Code are expressly excepted from § 1915(a), the in forma pauperis statute. Even though a petitioner might have qualified under § 1915(a) . . . the filing fee in bankruptcy must be paid or the case must be dismissed. . . . It is constitutional for Congress to require a debtor to pay the entire filing fee. United States v. Kras, 409 U.S. 434, 93 S. Ct. 631, 34 L. Ed. 2d 626 (1973). . . . The Supreme Court in Kras held that 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) was inapplicable in bankruptcy proceedings.8
Even courts that have entertained in forma pauperis applications with respect to parts of a Chapter 13 case—for example, in adversary proceedings after the filing—have rarely found the statutory requirements to proceed without the payment of fees.9
There is also no authority for the appointment of counsel to represent a pro se debtor—even one who does not want to proceed without counsel. Although the Supreme Court has not directly addressed this issue, there is no federal statute authorizing a bankruptcy court to appoint counsel for a pro se debtor, and there is no source of payment for appointed counsel. There are pro bono programs that do bankruptcy cases in some communities,10 but there is no widespread practice in the bankruptcy courts of requiring lawyers to assist pro se debtors.11 In one reported decision, after the debtor successfully prosecuted a bank for willfully violating the automatic stay, the bankruptcy court found that the debtor was entitled to attorney’s fees as damages under § 362(h)12 but refused to award fees because the debtor was represented pro bono by Central Florida Legal Services.13
Pro se debtors are sometimes inmates in state or federal custody at the time of filing. Typically, it is difficult for such debtors to meet the requirements for eligibility and confirmation of a plan.14 The bankruptcy courts have resisted requests by incarcerated pro se debtors to attend hearings in person.15
Pro se debtors can represent themselves in bankruptcy court, but one pro se debtor who is not a lawyer cannot represent another. For example, in In re Herrera,16 a husband and wife filed a series of sometimes joint, sometimes separate, Chapter 13 cases in an effort to stop a foreclosure, to stop eviction and to stop property inspection by a taxing authority. In the fourth case, one joint debtor filed motions and other papers on behalf of both debtors. The bankruptcy court found this was the unauthorized practice of law:
While Anthony certainly has the right to represent himself for his own interests, he . . . [has] crossed the line by purporting to represent Angeline. . . . [T]he actions of Anthony . . . on behalf of Angeline as her attorney in fact constitute the unauthorized practice of law which is prohibited in Illinois. . . . Any person having an interest in a legal matter is entitled to appear in his own behalf (or pro se) . . . . This does not allow a non-lawyer the privilege of acting as a lawyer for anyone else, even a spouse.17
Increasingly, pro se debtors find their way into Chapter 13 cases with the assistance of a “typing service” or a “paralegal institute.” In such cases, it is often true that the debtor has been assisted in preparation of the petition, lists, statement and schedules by a nonlawyer. The pro se Chapter 13 debtor assisted only by a typing service or paralegal institute is often doubly disadvantaged: the documents commencing the case are unusable, and the debtor will have paid a fee for little of value. In the long run, everyone involved in a Chapter 13 case is better off when the debtor is adequately represented.
The Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1994 will impact pro se Chapter 13 filings in jurisdictions where typing services or paralegal institutes are players. Section 308 of the 1994 Act18 enacted a new § 110 of the Code to provide civil and criminal penalties for “bankruptcy petition preparers” who negligently or fraudulently provide bankruptcy documents or services.19 11 U.S.C. § 110(a)(1) defines a bankruptcy petition preparer as “a person, other than an attorney or an employee of an attorney, who prepares for compensation” a petition or any other document for filing by a debtor in a United States bankruptcy court.20 Bankruptcy petition preparers must be clearly identified on the face of every document they prepare,21 must furnish the debtor a copy of any such document and are forbidden from using the word “legal” or any similar term in advertisements. Bankruptcy petition preparers cannot collect court fees from debtors. New § 110 provides criminal and civil penalties for negligent, intentional, fraudulent, unfair or deceptive acts by a bankruptcy petition preparer in connection with the preparation of documents or the provision of services to a debtor in bankruptcy.
Section 110 is a legislative reaction to abuse of debtors and of the bankruptcy system in jurisdictions where pro se debtors routinely come into bankruptcy court with inadequate documents prepared by nonlawyers. As explained in the legislative history:
While it is permissible for a petition preparer to provide services solely limited to typing, far too many of them also attempt to provide legal advice and legal services to debtors. These preparers often lack the necessary legal training and ethics regulation to provide such services in an adequate and appropriate manner. These services may take unfair advantage of persons who are ignorant of their rights both inside and outside the bankruptcy system.22
The reported decisions applying new § 110 in Chapter 13 cases demonstrate the complexity of the new requirements and the dangers bankruptcy petition preparers face when they assist pro se debtors.23
The decade since the enactment of § 110 has not clarified whether regulation of petition preparers has benefited or injured the bankruptcy system. Pro se filings continue to increase across the country, and at least anecdotally bankruptcy petition preparers account for a substantial portion of those pro se cases. Regional and national chains of bankruptcy petition preparers have sprouted, sometimes only to disappear almost overnight. Bankruptcy judges report similar experiences dealing with pro se debtors who used bankruptcy petition preparers: the documents typically are typewritten and better organized than the documents filed by pro se debtors without the assistance of a bankruptcy petition preparer; however, debtors assisted by petition preparers are not better off than other pro se debtors with respect to substantive matters such as exemptions, preparation of a plan, dealing with motions for relief from the stay and the like. There is no substitute for legal counsel in a Chapter 13 case. Pro se Chapter 13 debtors make their biggest mistake at the threshold by presuming to represent themselves.
1 See § 58.4 [ Advise and Assist Debtor ] § 53.5 Advise and Assist Debtor.
2 See, e.g., Badalyan v. Holub (In re Badalyan), 236 B.R. 633, 637 (B.A.P. 6th Cir. 1999) (Bankruptcy judge did not err in refusing to grant pro se debtor’s motion for recusal asserting that the bankruptcy judge was biased against pro se litigants. Bankruptcy judge stated “‘debtors who appear pro se in this Court are subject to the same standard of practice as debtors who are represented by counsel.’” Pro se debtor argued that pro se litigants are held to “less stringent standards” based on Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 92 S. Ct. 594, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652 (1972). “[T]he bankruptcy judge’s comments regarding her expectations of pro se litigants were not hostile to the Debtor, or even critical or disapproving of him. The judge’s comments do not ‘display a deep seated antagonism’ toward pro se litigants. Indeed, the record fully demonstrates that the bankruptcy judge displayed commendable patience with the Debtor in considering his unusual claims and in granting him an additional opportunity to file either a memorandum of points and authorities or an amended Chapter 13 plan that could be confirmed.”).
3 See § 334.1 [ Cause for Dismissal, Including Bad-Faith, Multiple and Abusive Filings ] § 152.4 Cause for Dismissal, Including Bad-Faith, Multiple and Abusive Filings.
4 See §§ 292.1 [ Taxes ] § 136.2 Taxes before BAPCPA and 334.1 [ Cause for Dismissal, Including Bad-Faith, Multiple and Abusive Filings ] § 152.4 Cause for Dismissal, Including Bad-Faith, Multiple and Abusive Filings. See, e.g., Gdowik v. United States (In re Gdowik), 228 B.R. 481, 483 (S.D. Fla. 1997) (Court rejects pro se tax protestor’s appeal of orders granting the IRS relief from the stay, denying confirmation and dismissing Chapter 13 case. Debtor claimed that bankruptcy judges were “agents of INTERPOL, or paid by the International Monetary Fund.” Dismissal appropriate based on “lack of cooperation in the Chapter 13 process as well as the retaliatory nature of the Chapter 13 filing.”); Vomhof v. United States, 207 B.R. 191, 193 (D. Minn. 1997) (Pro se tax protestors’ Chapter 13 case was dismissed for “delay by the debtor that is prejudicial to creditors” under § 1307(c)(1) because debtors failed to comply with order to file tax returns. “[L]egal exhortations” that debtors are not taxable because they are self-employed citizens are insufficient to rebut IRS’s proof of claim.); In re Davis, 239 B.R. 305 (Bankr. D. Md. 1999) (Pro se tax protestor’s fifth bankruptcy case dismissed with prejudice to refiling for one year. Debtor listed IRS as only creditor and asserted he was not liable to pay federal income taxes.); In re Graffy, 233 B.R. 894, 898 (Bankr. M.D. Fla. 1999) (Pro se tax protestor violated Bankruptcy Rule 9011 by filing false documents in three Chapter 13 cases. Debtor sanctioned with attorney fees of $7,748.21 based on 244.5 hours of work at $31.69 per hour. “The Debtor’s conduct in the Chapter 13 cases falls well below the level of veracity expected of pro se parties litigating in this Court.”); In re Larsen, 232 B.R. 482 (Bankr. D. Wyo. 1998) (Rejects pro se debtor’s objections to IRS claim and assertion that IRS violated stay based on the debtor’s misunderstanding of the law.); Fleming v. Baynes (In re Fleming), 228 B.R. 780 (Bankr. M.D. Fla. 1998) (Pro se debtor’s complaint for relief from order to file tax returns fails to state a cause of action. Bankruptcy judge has absolute judicial immunity and the United States is not a proper defendant because of sovereign immunity.); Cobb v. Hulsey (In re Cobb), 216 B.R. 676 (Bankr. M.D. Fla. 1998) (Pro se tax protester’s refusal to comply with order to file tax returns and repeated filing of scandalous and contemptuous pleadings against the IRS constitutes bad faith and grounds for dismissal.); In re Shabazz, 206 B.R. 116 (Bankr. E.D. Va. 1996) (In pro se tax protestor’s fourth Chapter 13 case in two and one-half years, court rejects usual objections to claim of IRS, including that the proof was not properly signed, that estimated taxes are not allowable, that wages are not subject to income taxation, and that certificates of assessment were not attached.).
5 Simmons v. Cosby (In re Simmons), 256 B.R. 578, 579 (D. Md. 2001).
6 See § 334.1 [ Cause for Dismissal, Including Bad-Faith, Multiple and Abusive Filings ] § 152.4 Cause for Dismissal, Including Bad-Faith, Multiple and Abusive Filings. See, e.g., Simmons v. Cosby (In re Simmons), 256 B.R. 578, 579 (D. Md. 2001) (Pro se debtor’s failure to attend meeting of creditors, failure to timely file a plan and failure to commence making payments are each a ground for dismissal under § 1307(c).); In re Ortiz, 200 B.R. 485, 488–90 (D.P.R. 1996) (Debtors’ third Chapter 13 case in five years is dismissed with prejudice to refiling for one year where debtors manipulated the hiring and firing of counsel and filed multiple pro se motions to delay execution by a creditor. Motion to dismiss filed on May 9, 1994, was continued repeatedly at debtors’ request until September 27, 1995. Court warned the debtors that the hearing on September 27, 1995, would not be continued and that the debtors must appear through counsel. Debtors did not retain counsel and argued on appeal that they were denied due process by the bankruptcy court. “Debtors were afforded notice of the hearing of September 27, 1995, . . . and they were given an opportunity to be heard at the September 27, 1995 hearing, if they appeared represented by counsel. Debtors were warned at the June 19, 1995 hearing that the September 27, 1995 hearing would not be continued except for a major cause such as sickness and that the hearing will not be held unless they were represented by an attorney. . . . Debtors were clearly warned on June 19, 1995, that a lawyer was indispensable. . . . [T]he bankruptcy court did not refuse to hear debtors’ counsel because obviously there was no counsel, but what the bankruptcy court did in effect was that it failed to grant debtors additional time to obtain new counsel. . . . Five lawyers have intervened in the three Chapter 13 petitions filed by debtors to stop the execution of a judgment. . . . The controversy has been pending for over five years. . . . The bankruptcy judge was not required to wait more than 100 days while debtor attempted to procure new counsel. . . . The result achieved by debtors’ successive filings has been to forestall for five years the execution of the judgment entered against them. The forestalling has been due in part on [sic] debtors’ continuous hiring and discharging of lawyers and their abusive filing of pro se motions. Such conduct has hindered and delayed the confirmation of a Chapter 13 plan causing undue prejudice to the creditors.”); White v. United States (In re White), 183 B.R. 356 (D. Conn. 1995) (Pro se debtor’s appeal of order denying objection to tax claim is dismissed as untimely because the appeal was filed well beyond the 10 days in Bankruptcy Rule 8002.); Stathatos v. United States Trustee (In re Stathatos), 163 B.R. 83, 87 (N.D. Tex. 1993) (District court rejects pro se debtors’ claims of mistreatment by the bankruptcy court. Bankruptcy court allowed debtors’ counsel to withdraw and refused an extension of time in which the debtor could retain substitute counsel. District court rejected debtors’ argument that the bankruptcy court inappropriately refused to accept late-filed responses to a creditor’s motion to dismiss, noting that the debtors “had an opportunity . . . to make whatever presentation they desired to make in opposition to [the motion to dismiss].” The court rejected the debtors’ arguments that the bankruptcy court, the trustee, and various creditors had conspired to “force dismissal” of the Chapter 13 case.); In re Nosker, 267 B.R. 555, 560 (Bankr. S.D. Ohio 2001) (Pro se debtor’s second Chapter 13 case is dismissed with prejudice to refiling for 180 days based on “Debtor’s total failure to provide credible information.” Debtor also failed to provide for secured claim holders and missed payments to the trustee.); Womack v. Mays (In re Mays), 253 B.R. 241 (Bankr. E.D. Ark. 2000), and In re Womack, 253 B.R. 245 (Bankr. E.D. Ark. 2000) (Pro se debtor’s inartful adversary proceeding against state court, state prosecutor and state child support enforcement agency is dismissed based on lack of jurisdiction to issue a writ of habeas corpus and Eleventh Amendment immunity. Bankruptcy court also denies pro se debtor’s motion to recuse.); In re Robinson, 196 B.R. 454, 457–58 (Bankr. E.D. Ark. 1996) (Chronicle of pro se debtor’s fourth Chapter 13 case filed with the assistance of a bankruptcy preparer. In one pleading, the debtor described the bankruptcy court as “an all white community of an old southern town that had a rope hanging from the limb of a huge oak tree with a noose at one end, with a note attached, saying, this is where the n---- hang out.” “On several occasions, contested matters filed in the debtor’s bankruptcy case, [sic] have been dismissed for the debtor’s failure to comply with the Code or due to his failure to appear at hearings. A review of the Court file in the instant case indicates that the Court has been extremely lenient with the debtor, reinstating his case and granting further opportunities to appear and be heard.” Denies reinstatement of case dismissed pursuant to a drop dead order. Debtor “failed to make full and timely payments and continued to file scandalous and impertinent pleadings.”); G.E. Capital Mortgage Servs., Inc. v. Thomas (In re Thomas), 194 B.R. 641 (Bankr. D. Ariz. 1995) (Pro se debtors in their third Chapter 13 case demonstrated unusual sophistication in the use of bankruptcy and were not entitled to special considerations where debtors miscalendared notice of meeting of creditors and failed to appear, and petition was dismissed. Foreclosure after motion to reinstate and before an order was entered reinstating the case was effective because debtors failed to demonstrate any ground for setting aside dismissal although debtors attempted to blame the problems of notice on the clerk’s office and the court.); In re Stober, 193 B.R. 5, 9 (Bankr. D. Ariz. 1996) (Pro se debtors’ fourth Chapter 13 filing is dismissed for bad faith. Debtors never paid a filing fee in any of the four cases, missed eight opportunities to attend § 341 meetings, never filed a plan, and never made a single payment to the Chapter 13 trustee, and “[l]aymen who insist on representing themselves are held to the same standards as attorneys.” Husband, who is the credit manager at a corporation, and wife, who is a legal transcriber, “obviously have more knowledge about the legal and credit systems then they would have the court believe.”); In re Froment, 171 B.R. 170, 172 (Bankr. D. Mass. 1994) (Court denies pro se debtor’s “motion for stay pending appeal” of an order dismissing case filed in violation of § 109(g). “[T]he Debtor’s allegation that pro se debtors are treated unfairly in the bankruptcy process is non-specific. This Court is unable to discern a difference in treatment. And, even if such unfairness were more cogently stated, it would not be applicable to this case.”).
7 But see Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, and the Judiciary and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-121, 107 Stat. 1164 (1993) (Commencing October 1, 1994, a three-year pilot program was in place in six districts (S.D. Ill., D. Mont., E.D.N.Y., E.D. Pa., W.D. Tenn. and D. Utah) allowing in forma pauperis Chapter 7 filings for individuals unable to pay the filing fee in installments.).
8 In re Ennis, 178 B.R. 192, 195–96 (Bankr. W.D. Mo. 1995).
9 See Perry v. Secretary of Hous. & Urban Dev. (In re Perry), 223 B.R. 167 (B.A.P. 8th Cir. 1998) (Pro se debtor’s request to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal is denied because appeal was in bad faith under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3). “[T]he bankruptcy court did find that Appellant’s Chapter 13 case was filed ‘solely to hinder, delay, and facilitate [sic] [the appellant’s] creditors in bad faith.’ This finding was based on the fact that Appellant had filed seven bankruptcy cases since March 17, 1994 . . . . [I]f § 1915(a) applies at all, this appeal is taken in bad faith and the request for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and for the appointment of counsel should be denied. Because the record in this case demonstrates that the appeal is frivolous, we need not remand to allow the bankruptcy court to make such a finding.”); In re Robinson, 196 B.R. 459 (Bankr. E.D. Ark. 1996), and Robinson v. Plegge (In re Robinson), 196 B.R. 462, 463 (Bankr. E.D. Ark. 1996) (Pro se debtor’s application to appeal in forma pauperis denied because the debtor either did not qualify or had not filed the appeal in good faith. Application to proceed in forma pauperis was inconsistent with statements and schedules filed in Chapter 13 case with respect to the number of dependents, equity in a home, amount of income, and other material respects. Debtor’s appeals were frivolous. “While the Court finds it difficult to believe that the debtor ‘inadvertently’ omitted information regarding dependents and concomitant expenses during four bankruptcy cases pursued over a period of nearly ten years, the fact that debtor has dependents does not alter the conclusions reached. . . . [I]n forma pauperis status is unavailable to the debtor.”); In re Fitzgerald, 192 B.R. 861, 862–63 (Bankr. E.D. Va. 1996) (Pro se creditor’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis with respect to complaint to determine the dischargeability of a debt in a Chapter 13 case and request for relief from the stay denied because creditor did not file the affidavit required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). “It is not so clear, however, whether or not [28 U.S.C.] § 1930 prohibits a party from proceeding in forma pauperis in bankruptcy in actions other than the filing of the bankruptcy petition. Some courts have used an expansive reading of § 1930(a) to hold that § 1930 prohibits a party from proceeding in forma pauperis in any bankruptcy proceeding. . . . A second line of cases has concentrated on the issue of whether [or] not a bankruptcy court is a ‘court of the United States’ and therefore whether or not a bankruptcy court has jurisdiction to authorize a party to proceed in forma pauperis. . . . A third view is that § 1930, which requires the payment of a filing fee upon filing of a bankruptcy petition, applies only to the filing of the petition itself and does not apply to other proceedings in bankruptcy. . . . I favor this interpretation of § 1930, and under appropriate circumstances believe that a bankruptcy court can apply § 1915(a) and authorize a party to proceed in forma pauperis in other proceedings within a bankruptcy case. . . . [U]nder § 1915(a) a court may authorize a party to proceed in forma pauperis only if that party has filed an affidavit stating that they are unable to pay the required filing fee. Sanders submitted no such affidavit with his motion to proceed in forma pauperis. Accordingly, the motion must be denied.”).
10 See, e.g., the discussion of the pro bono bankruptcy program in the Eastern District of Michigan in One Woman’s Plight Makes a Difference, 33 Bankr. Ct. Decisions: Wkly. News & Comment No. 22, at 5 (Mar. 9, 1999).
11 See In re Ennis, 178 B.R. 192, 197–98 (Bankr. W.D. Mo. 1995) (“In United States v. Kras, [409 U.S. 434, 93 S. Ct. 631, 34 L. Ed. 2d 626 (1973)] . . . the Supreme Court did not decide whether § 1915(d), for appointment of counsel, is also vitiated with respect to bankruptcy proceedings. . . . There is no provision to appoint or pay counsel for debtors who do not wish to proceed pro se and cannot afford to pay counsel. . . . Even if § 1915(d) did apply in bankruptcy court, the section does not authorize expenditure of federal funds to appoint counsel, and does not authorize the court to order an unwilling lawyer to represent the indigent debtor.”); In re Ennis, 178 B.R. 177, 185 (Bankr. W.D. Mo. 1995) (Pro se debtors are not entitled to appointed counsel in a Chapter 13 case. Citing In re Fitzgerald, 167 B.R. 689 (Bankr. N.D. Ga. 1994), “there is no provision to appoint or pay counsel for debtors who do not wish to proceed pro se and who cannot afford to pay counsel.”).
12 See § 78.1 [ Remedies for Violation of Stay ] § 62.5 Remedies for Violation of Stay.
13 In re Hedetneimi, 297 B.R. 837 (Bankr. M.D. Fla. 2003).
14 See, e.g., In re Crowder, 179 B.R. 571, 574 (E.D. Ark. 1995) (Incarcerated debtor’s social security benefits for the support of a 17-year-old son are not sufficiently regular and stable to support a Chapter 13 plan.).
15 See In re Farr, 192 B.R. 193 (Bankr. E.D. Wis. 1995) (Habeas corpus petition by incarcerated Chapter 13 debtor was jurisdictionally defective, was filed on the wrong forms, and was facially without merit.); In re Burrell, 186 B.R. 230, 233 (Bankr. E.D. Tenn. 1995) (Pro se tax protester, convicted of multiple counts of rape, sexual battery and coercion of witnesses, and incarcerated on sentences totaling 24 years, is not entitled to transport from the Morgan County Regional Correctional Facility in Wartburg, Tennessee, to the bankruptcy court in Knoxville, Tennessee, to participate in hearings with respect to his Chapter 13 case, because “the debtor’s appearance will not benefit the debtor, the court or the IRS because of the expense of transporting the debtor . . . the security risk and danger . . . and the lack of probability of the debtor gaining confirmation of his plan.”).
16 194 B.R. 178 (Bankr. N.D. Ill. 1996).
17 194 B.R. at 190–91.
18 Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-394, § 308, 108 Stat. 4106 (1994).
19 Bankruptcy petition preparers and § 110 are discussed further in § 24.3 [ Bankruptcy Petition Preparers ] § 4.2 Bankruptcy Petition Preparers.
20 11 U.S.C. § 110(a)(1), (2).
21 In March of 1995, the Judicial Conference of the United States promulgated new bankruptcy forms that include signature lines, disclosures, and certifications for bankruptcy petition preparers on many of the official bankruptcy forms.
22 140 Cong. Rec. H10,770 (section-by-section analysis by Congressman Brooks).
23 See In re Gabrielson, 217 B.R. 819, 828 (Bankr. D. Ariz. 1998) (Richard S. Berry, d/b/a Berry, People’s Law—Arizona and People’s Services, Inc., engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by determining when the debtor should file the bankruptcy petition, by counseling the debtor on how to proceed, by completing all the official bankruptcy forms and filing many additional documents and pleadings, including a response to the trustee’s recommendation with respect to confirmation, objections to proofs of claim and correspondence with creditors and trustees, by advising the debtor regarding exemptions and by advising the debtor on which chapter to file—involvement “so complete, so extensive” that it constituted legal advice and the practice of law under Arizona and other authorities. Berry was permanently enjoined from acting as a bankruptcy petition preparer “in the District of Arizona or in any Federal District in which he may now or subsequently locate.”); United States Trustee v. PLA People’s Law-Arizona, Inc. (In re Green), 197 B.R. 878, 880 (Bankr. D. Ariz. 1996) (Bankruptcy petition preparer acting on behalf of a pro se debtor violated § 110(g) by accepting a money order from the debtor for the filing fee and controlling the filing of the bankruptcy case by arranging to deliver the petitions, statements and schedules to the bankruptcy court. “The clear message of § 110 is that nonlawyer petition preparers may act at the specific direction of debtors by typing the information provided by the debtors, but, nonlawyer petition preparers may not give advice nor otherwise make decisions on behalf of the debtor. The petition preparer is also prohibited from interacting with the court on behalf of the debtor. . . . Given that People’s Law took possession of the filing fee and controlled the ultimate filing of the petition, this court must conclude that People’s Law violated § 110(g).”); In re Murray, 194 B.R. 651 (Bankr. D. Ariz. 1996) (“Nationwide Homeowner Assistance”—a bankruptcy petition preparer wanna-be—violated § 110 of the Bankruptcy Code by assisting a debtor in the filing of a Chapter 13 case after October 22, 1994. Documents did not state that the debtor was assisted by a document preparer. There was no declaration disclosing the fee ($300) paid to Nationwide. Nationwide’s owner misplaced the information and documents completed by the debtor and failed to timely prepare the documents, resulting in the repossession of the debtor’s car. Nationwide did not print its name and address on the petition, did not provide the debtor with a copy of the documents prior to filing, and offered no excuse except “ignorance of the law.” Court imposed $500 fines for each violation of the Code, totaling $2,000, ordered Nationwide to return the $300 the debtor paid in fees, and referred Nationwide to the U.S. District Court and to the U.S. trustee for further investigation.); In re Herrera, 194 B.R. 178, 190–91 (Bankr. N.D. Ill. 1996) (Pro se debtors can each represent him or herself in bankruptcy court, but one joint debtor cannot represent the other without violating the unauthorized practice of law provisions of Illinois law. One joint debtor filed motions and other papers on behalf of both joint debtors, signing the papers “Anthony L. Herrera & Associates, PC Bankruptcy Petition Preparer. . . . While Anthony certainly has the right to represent himself for his own interests, he and his professional corporation acting as a ‘bankruptcy petition preparer’ have crossed the line by purporting to represent Angeline. This violates the prohibition of § 110(k). . . . [T]he actions of Anthony or his corporation on behalf of Angeline as her attorney in fact constitute the unauthorized practice of law which is prohibited in Illinois.”).