|Syllabus ||Dissent |
[ O'Connor ]
[ White ]
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
PIONEER INVESTMENT SERVICES CO. v. BRUNSWICK ASSOCIATES LIMITED PARTNERSHIP et al.
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the sixth circuit
As unsecured creditors of petitioner--a company seeking relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code--respondents were required to file proofs of claim with the Bankruptcy Court before the deadline, or bar date, established by that court. An August 3, 1989, bar date was included in a "Notice for Meeting of Creditors" received from the court by Mark Berlin, an official for respondents. Respondents' attorney was provided with a complete copy of the case file and, when asked, assertedly assured Berlin that no bar date had been set. On August 29, 1989, respondents asked the court to accept their proofs under Bankruptcy Rule 9006(b)(1), which allows a court to permit late filings where the movant's failure to comply with the deadline "was the result of excusable neglect." The court refused, holding that a party may claim excusable neglect only if the failure to timely perform was due to circumstances beyond its reasonable control. The District Court remanded the case, ordering the Bankruptcy Court to evaluate respondents' conduct under a more liberal standard. The Bankruptcy Court applied that standard and again denied the motion, finding that several factors--the danger of prejudice to the debtor, the length of the delay and its potential impact on judicial proceedings, and whether the creditor acted in good faith--favored respondents, but that the delay was within their control and that they should be penalized for their counsel's mistake. The District Court affirmed, but the Court of Appeals reversed. It found that the Bankruptcy Court had inappropriately penalized respondents for their counsel's error, since Berlin had asked the attorney about the impending deadlines and since the peculiar and inconspicuousplacement of the bar date in a notice for a creditors' meeting without any indication of the date's significance left a dramatic ambiguity in the notification that would have confused even a person experienced in bankruptcy.
1. An attorney's inadvertent failure to file a proof of claim by the bar date can constitute "excusable neglect" within the meaning of Rule 9006(b)(1). Pp. 7-16.
(a) Contrary to petitioner's suggestion, Congress plainly contemplated that the courts would be permitted to accept late filings caused by inadvertence, mistake, or carelessness, not just those caused by intervening circumstances beyond the party's control. This flexible understanding comports with the ordinary meaning of "neglect." It also accords with the underlying policies of Chapter 11 and the bankruptcy rules, which entrust broad equitable powers to the courts in order to ensure the success of a debtor's reorganization. In addition, this view is confirmed by the history of the present bankruptcy rules and is strongly supported by the fact that the phrase "excusable neglect," as used in several of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, is understood to be a somewhat "elastic concept." Pp. 7-14.
(b) The determination of what sorts of neglect will be considered "excusable" is an equitable one, taking account of all relevant circumstances. These include the first four factors applied in the instant case. However, the Court of Appeals erred in not attributing to respondents the fault of their counsel. Clients may be held accountable for their attorney's acts and omissions. See, e.g., Link v. Wabash R. Co., 370 U.S. 626. Thus, in determining whether respondents' failure to timely file was excusable, the proper focus is upon whether the neglect of respondents and their counsel was excusable. Pp. 14-16.
2. The neglect of respondents' counsel was, under all the circumstances, excusable. As the Court of Appeals found, the lack of any prejudice to the debtor or to the interest of efficient judicial administration, combined with the good faith of respondents and their counsel, weigh strongly in favor of permitting the tardy claim. As for the culpability of respondents' counsel, it is significant that the notice of the bar date in this case was outside the ordinary course in bankruptcy cases. Normally, such a notice would be prominently announced and accompanied by an explanation of its significance, not inconspicuously placed in a notice regarding a creditors' meeting. Pp. 16-17.
943 F. 2d 673, affirmed.
White, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Blackmun, Stevens, and Kennedy, JJ., joined. O'Connor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Scalia, Souter, and Thomas, JJ., joined.