Bankruptcy Practice in Pittsburgh
While all consumer bankruptcy law is derived from the Federal Bankruptcy Code, practice varies greatly from state-to-state, and even within states. You need a bankruptcy lawyer who is familiar with local practice, local rules and regulations, and the local bankruptcy system.
This page is meant to familiarize you with some unique aspects of Pittsburgh bankruptcy practice. More specifically, any bankruptcy filed in Allegheny County will follow an identical process, whether you live inside or outside the city limits.
If you live in one of the surrounding counties of Western Pennsylvania, such as Butler, Beaver, Westmoreland, or Washington county, your bankruptcy case will likely proceed in a similar fashion, though your Chapter 7 Trustee will be selected from a different pool of trustees.
The following is a primer on the differences in bankruptcy law at the national, state, and local levels. Contact us to set up a free consultation to learn more about your bankruptcy options.
National (Federal) Bankruptcy practice
The United States Bankruptcy Code, codified under Title 11 of the U.S. Code, lays out the bulk of bankruptcy law. The Bankruptcy Code determines where you must file, how exemptions are chosen, what type of bankruptcy you must file, and many other details involved in bankruptcy filings. The Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, which closely mirror the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, also govern a large part of bankruptcy procedure, such as how Motions are to be filed.
The U.S. Code and the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure are discussed at greater length elsewhere on this website, and since this page is focused on Pittsburgh bankruptcy practice, this section will remain brief. But, it is important to know that all bankruptcy disputes will ultimately be decided by the law as interpreted at this highest level, though very few bankruptcies will ever result in such problems.
Pennsylvania State bankruptcy practice
Bankruptcy practice does not differ greatly from state-to-state in many respects. The forms, practices, and terminology may be very similar in Pennsylvania, Ohio, California, Florida, or any other state you can name.
However, bankruptcy practice can be drastically different depending on the state in one very important issue: exemptions. Exemptions are the extremely important component of bankruptcy law that allows bankruptcy filers to protect their personal property and real estate. The general policy of bankruptcy is that a filer should be given a "fresh start". For this to be possible, the filer must be able to keep important pieces of property that allow them to work, live a normal life, and raise a family.
While most bankruptcy law is uniform, exemptions may differ from state-to-state. As part of a compromise to get the 2006 bankruptcy law passed, Congress allowed states to either "opt-in" or "opt-out" of the exemptions provided in the Bankruptcy Code. If a state did not like the exemptions granted under the Code, it could "opt-out" and draft its own exemptions, either making them more or less generous (in many cases, they end up quite similar to the Federal exemptions).
While exemptions are discussed at greater length on this website, it is important to know that Pennsylvania has "opted-in" to the Federal exemption system. Pennsylvania also gives qualifying filers the option of choosing a set of Pennsylvania state exemptions; however, they are for the most part less generous than the Federal option, and are only chosen by experienced Pennsylvania bankruptcy attorneys in limited, strategic situations.
So, the exemptions available in a bankruptcy filed in Pennsylvania will be the same in Pittsburgh as they are in Philadelphia, Erie, Harrisburg, or anywhere else in the state.
Pittsburgh Bankruptcy Practice
When speaking of Pittsburgh bankruptcy practice, in essence I mean all of Western Pennsylvania and metro-Pittsburgh area. There will be some slight variations from county-to-county in Chapter 7 cases. However, a bankruptcy filed by a resident of Butler county will be very similar to one filed by a resident of the South Hills. But, within this area, there are several important things to know about filing a bankruptcy in the Pittsburgh area.
Chapter 7 trustees
You may have a different Chapter 7 Trustee depending on your county of residence. Bankruptcy filers residing in Pittsburgh, or elsewhere in Allegheny County, will be assigned a trustee from the same list used for the county (usually there is a rotation of 3 to 4 trustees used, all very professional). Bankruptcy filers outside of Allegheny County (for instance, in Washington or Beaver County) will normally be assigned a different set of trustees (also very professional in their performance).
How will this affect your bankruptcy? In short, not much. Chapter 7 trustees may vary slightly in the documents they require you to provide. For instance, some trustees may wish to review your last two years of tax returns, while others may only be concerned with the past year. Trustees may ask slightly different questions during the Meeting of Creditors, and they always have some leeway in how they conduct the meeting.
However, Chapter 7 trustees all have the same job, to review your petition and stand in the place of your unsecured creditors. So, they tend not to vary much from county to county. All trustees will be interested in how you came to the values listed for your property, and will closely examine any values that seem questionable. All trustees will review your income and expenses, to make sure you don't have any income to pay your unsecured creditors. Trustees make sure your petition is filled out properly, and they verify you are familiar with the content. The goals of all Chapter 7 trustees are the same, so their examination of your petition will not vary much in substance.
An experienced Western Pennsylvania bankruptcy attorney will know the slight variations from trustee to trustee, and make sure your Chapter 7 Meeting of Creditors goes completely smooth. Whether your bankruptcy is filed in Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Butler, Beaver, or anywhere else in Western Pennsylvania, I will have you prepared for whatever is necessary.
Meeting of creditors locations
If you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Pittsburgh or elsewhere in Allegheny County, your Meeting of Creditors will be conducted in the Federated Building downtown. This is not a courtroom, and you will not be in front of a judge, The Meeting of Creditors is held in a small conference room on the 7th floor, and is overseen by a Chapter 7 Trustee.
Chapter 7 Meeting of Creditors filed in other counties in Western Pennsylvania will be held in various locations in those counties. Once again, they will normally be held in conference rooms in office buildings, courthouses, and even hotels.
Regardless of where your Chapter 7 Meeting of Creditors is scheduled, I will make sure you know the time, date, and location.
Chapter 13 Meetings of Creditors for most of Southwest Pennsylvania are conducted on the 32nd floor of the UPMC building downtown. This includes bankruptcies filed in Beaver, Washington, Butler, and Westmoreland counties. Chapter 13 Meeting of Creditors in Northwest Pennsylvania are conducted in the Federal Courthouse in Erie.