FAQ: Accessing Bankruptcy Records

The Alabama Department of Archives and History receives requests for assistance in locating and accessing bankruptcy records; however, federal bankruptcy laws and the United States courts govern the bankruptcy process. As such, the Alabama Department of Archives and History does NOT house bankruptcy records.

The Frequently Asked Questions below will help guide those looking to access or obtain copies of bankruptcy records.

What is bankruptcy?
Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding that occurs when a person or business cannot repay outstanding debts or other obligations. The bankruptcy process balances the interests of a debtor and creditors. At the end of bankruptcy proceedings, the debtor is relieved of some, or all debts owed, while the creditors receive some measure of repayment or other compensation.

Are all bankruptcies the same?
The United States Code Title 11, nicknamed the United States Bankruptcy Code, outlines current bankruptcy laws, which provide for six different types of bankruptcy. The different bankruptcy types are briefly described below:

  • Chapter 7 bankruptcy allows individuals or businesses to liquidate assets. The debtor’s nonexempt property is sold, and the proceeds are distributed to creditors.
  • Chapter 9 bankruptcy allows a financially distressed municipality protection from creditors while it develops and negotiates a plan for adjusting its debts.
  • Chapter 11 bankruptcy lets a business continue normal operations while it drafts a plan for reorganization. Creditors vote on the reorganization plan, and the court determines whether to confirm (implement) the plan based on the vote tallies.
  • Chapter 12 bankruptcy allows family farmers and fishers to propose and carry out a plan to repay their debts.
  • Chapter 13 bankruptcy permits individuals to implement a repayment plan, whereby the debtor makes installment payments to creditors.
  • Chapter 15 bankruptcy is used when debtors, creditors, and other interested parties are in multiple countries.

To learn more about the different types of bankruptcies, visit the United States Courts website.

What courts hold jurisdiction over bankruptcy proceedings?
Article I of the U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress to enact “uniform [laws] on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States.” Based on these provisions, bankruptcy cases in the United States always fall within the jurisdiction of the federal court system.

Within Alabama, bankruptcy courts are organized into three districts: the Northern District of Alabama, the Middle District of Alabama, and the Southern District of Alabama.

What records are associated with bankruptcy?
As you might imagine, the records associated with a particular bankruptcy case will vary depending on the bankruptcy type. The list below includes a selection of common records, but the list is by no means comprehensive:

  • Bankruptcy petitions initiate a bankruptcy proceeding and can be filed by either a debtor or creditors.
  • Automatic stay injunctions cease any lawsuits, foreclosures, garnishments, or collection activities against a debtor once a bankruptcy petition has been filed.
  • Statements of financial affairs are written responses submitted by the debtor about sources of income, transfers of property, lawsuits by creditors, and other information.
  • Plans for reorganization explain how a debtor intends to manage outstanding obligations to creditors.
  • Disclosure statements are provided to creditors who are voting on a plan for reorganization. The statements must provide “adequate information” to allow the creditors to evaluate the plan’s feasibility.
  • Discharges release a debtor from personal liability for certain debts known as dischargeable debts.

How long are bankruptcy proceedings maintained?
Bankruptcy cases are subject to the U.S. Judiciary’s Records Disposition Schedule. Typically, all bankruptcy proceedings before 1940 are permanent; however, those generated after that date may be temporary depending on the type of case.

How do I access bankruptcy cases created before 2003?
Cases created before 2003 are generally maintained in paper format at the court where the case was filed or with the National Archives and Records Administration. The Alabama Department of Archives and History does NOT hold bankruptcy records.

The U.S. Court’s website recommends contacting the Clerk’s office of the court where the case was filed to either request a pre-2003 bankruptcy case file or gather information to request the records from the National Archives and Records Administration. Some clerk’s offices may have self-service kiosks which the public can use to look up case information. Within Alabama, bankruptcy courts are organized into three districts:

  • The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Alabama has locations in Anniston (Calhoun County), Birmingham (Jefferson County), Decatur (Morgan County), and Tuscaloosa (Tuscaloosa County).
  • The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Alabama has locations in Dothan (Houston County), Montgomery (Montgomery County), and Opelika (Lee County).
  • The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Alabama has locations in Mobile (Mobile County) and Selma (Dallas County).

To order a bankruptcy case that has been transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration, Kansas City, Missouri location, the requestor needs to obtain the following information from the court in which the case was filed and closed:

  • State in which the court is located
  • City in which the court is located
  • Debtor Name(s) or Case Name(s)
  • Case Number
  • Transfer Number
  • Box Number
  • Location Number

Use the National Archives and Records Administration Order Reproduction webpage and click on order reproductions > court records to complete the order for a bankruptcy case file.

How do I access bankruptcy cases created after 2003?
The Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) provides access to case file documents and docket information after 2003 for bankruptcy cases once they have been electronically filed. PACER is maintained by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts on behalf of the Federal Judiciary and has a helpdesk for technical difficulties.

What if I have additional questions about accessing bankruptcy case files?
Contact the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in which the case was closed, visit the Bankruptcy Case Files at the National Archives at Kansas City webpage for information on older bankruptcy case files, browse the National Archives and Records Administration finding aids for Alabama bankruptcies for available record groups, or access PACER for more current bankruptcy documents. PACER allows free query searches but may charge a nominal fee to view documents.

ADAH Records Management Archivist Sophie G.H. Law wrote this blog.

Resources:

Tuovila, Alicia. “Bankruptcy Explained: Types and How it Works.” Investopedia. July 13, 2022. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/bankruptcy.asp.

United States Bankruptcy Code: 2020 Edition. 11 U.S. Code § 101-1532. Accessed January 10, 2023. https://usbankruptcycode.org/.

United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Alabama. Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Accessed January 10, 2023. https://www.almb.uscourts.gov/.

United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Accessed January 10, 2023. https://www.alnb.uscourts.gov/.

United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Alabama. Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Accessed January 10, 2023. https://www.alsb.uscourts.gov/.

United States Courts. “Bankruptcy Basics Glossary.” Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Accessed January 10, 2023. https://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/bankruptcy-basics-glossary.

United States Courts. “Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER).” Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Accessed January 10, 2023. https://pacer.uscourts.gov/.

U.S. Const. Art. I § 8. https://constitutioncenter.org/the-constitution/full-text.

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