Written by Grace Ha Eun Hwang
Abstract: The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that in order for goods to be considered “received” under section 503(b)(9) of the Bankruptcy Code, goods must be delivered into the physical possession of the debtor or its agents within 20 days before the debtor files for bankruptcy.
On July 10, 2017, the Third Circuit clarified what would happen if a creditor sold goods to a debtor soon before the debtor files a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Traditionally, under 11 U.S.C. § 503(b)(9), creditors may recover the value of the good that they sold to the debtor if the good was received by the debtor within 20 days before the bankruptcy petition was filed. But what exactly does “received” mean? In re World Imports answered this question.
In In re World Imports, appellants Haining Wanshen Sofa Company (“Haining”) and Fujian Zhangzhou Foreign Trade Company (“Fujian”) were Chinese companies that sold and shipped furniture to World Imports, a furniture retailer in the United States. Goods were typically shipped from China to the United States “free on board.”
Both the Creditors (Haining and Fujian) and Debtor (World Imports) agreed to the following facts:
Haining’s shipment of goods to World Imports left China on May 26, 2013
Fujian’s three separate shipments of goods to World Imports left China on May 17, May 31, and June 7 of 2013
World Imports took physical possession of Haining’s shipment in the United States on June 21, 2013
World Imports accepted all three of Fujian’s shipments in the United States within 20 days of July 3, 2013, the day on which World Imports filed its Chapter 11 petition
After gaining wind of World Import’s bankruptcy filing, both Haining and Fujian filed Motions for Allowance and Payment of Administrative Expense Claims (“the Motion”) pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 503(b)(9). Under this administrative claim, if successful, creditors are able to reclaim payments in full value of the goods received by the debtor.
Both creditors claimed that they were entitled to relief under § 503(b)(9) because the goods were sold in the ordinary course of business to the debtor and were received by the debtor within 20 days before the debtor filed for bankruptcy. The Bankruptcy Court hearing the original motion disagreed. The Bankruptcy Court denied the Appellants’ motions after concluding that the goods were “constructively received” when they were shipped from China. The Bankruptcy Court relied on the definition of “received” under the Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG) which allowed receipt by delivery to a common carrier. The District Court affirmed the Bankruptcy Court’s ruling and the Appellants appealed to the Third Circuit.
The Third Circuit reversed the lower courts’ rulings. The Third Circuit looked to the ordinary meaning and the statutory context and found that the term “received” required physical possession.
When looking at the ordinary meaning of the term, the Court found that the Black’s Law Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary both interpreted the term “received” to require some type of physical possession. The Court also found that the UCC defined “receipt” of goods as taking some sort of physical possession of them. The Court then concluded that Congress could not have meant to deviate from all these well-known definitions when it adopted 11 U.S.C. § 503(b)(9).
Next, the Court looked to the statutory context surrounding 11 U.S.C. § 503(b)(9). The Court noted that because § 503(b)(9) was enacted to provide exemptions to the rules provided in § 546(c), the interpretation of the term “received” must be consistent between the two sections. The Court then looked to the ruling in In re Marin Motor Oil, 740 F.2d 220 (3d Cir. 1984) which interpreted § 546(c). In re Marin Motor Oil held that the term “received” meant the same as defined in the UCC, namely that taking physical possession is required for goods to be considered “received.” Since § 503(b)(9) has an interrelationship with § 546(c), the Third Circuit concluded that it would be greatly deviating from well-established authority if it did not also follow the UCC’s definition. The Court was also quick to note that even if the risk transfers upon shipment of goods, common carriers are not agents and thus goods are not received even when risk is transferred.
Because World Imports received their goods through a common carrier outside of the 20-day period but actually physically received possession of the goods within the 20-day period before filing for bankruptcy, both Haining and Fujian qualified for relief.
This ruling not only clarified the meaning of the term “received” but also illustrated the weighty consequences of choosing the method of acceptance for shipped goods.
Haining Wansheng Sofa Co., Ltd. V. World Imports Ltd. (In re World Imports, Ltd. Et al.), No. 16-1357, 2017 WL 2925429 (3d Cir. Mar. 8, 2017).