Pioneer Investment Services Co. v. Brunswick Associates Ltd. Partnership, 507 U.S. 380 (1993)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the sixth circuit

No. 91-1695. Argued November 30, 1992—Decided March 24, 1993

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, assert-edly assured Berlin that no bar date had been set. On August 23, 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 inconspicuous placement 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.

Held: 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. 387-397.

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