An Empirical Examination of Access to Chapter 7 Relief by Pro Se Debtors
28 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2009 Last revised: 1 Aug 2011
Date Written: July 21, 2009
The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA) represents the most significant overhaul of federal bankruptcy law since the Bankruptcy Code’s enactment in 1978. The legislation expanded the grounds on which a debtor’s Chapter 7 case may be dismissed. Moreover, it increased the administrative requirements imposed upon debtors who file for bankruptcy (e.g., increased financial disclosures), which in turn has had the effect of increasing the direct costs of filing for bankruptcy (e.g., filing fees and attorneys’ fees). With this increased complexity in accessing Chapter 7 relief, the question arises whether BAPCPA has had a disproportionate impact on pro se debtors. This Article seeks to provide preliminary insight into answering the question by examining dismissal rates in Chapter 7 cases filed by consumer debtors in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington from 2003 through 2007. It is hypothesized that (1) dismissal rates for pro se debtors will be statistically significantly higher than for represented debtors and (2) dismissal rates for post-BAPCPA pro se debtors will be statistically significantly higher than for pre-BAPCPA pro se debtors. Analyses of the data support both hypotheses. This Article concludes that, if pro se debtors who would otherwise be eligible for Chapter 7 relief cannot access that relief due to lack of representation, serious access-to-justice concerns arise that must be addressed by the courts and Congress.
Keywords: BAPCPA, bankruptcy administration, bankruptcy reform, case dismissal, consumer debtors, means test, pro se debtors
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