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Herman Edward Smith & Piper Jean Leeds, Ch. 13, BK22-80836-BSK (May 16, 2023)

The bankruptcy court denied without prejudice the debtors’ objection to certain proofs of claim for medical services.

The objections initially were based on the Nebraska statute of limitations for contracts not in writing. Although the creditor did not resist the objection, the court set the matter for hearing so the debtors could prove that the four-year statute of limitations for oral contracts, rather than the five-year statute of limitations for written contracts, applied.

At the hearing, the debtors asserted for the first time that the claims should be denied under Rule 3001(c)(1) and disallowed under Rule 3001(c)(2)(D) because no copy of the writing on which the claims were based was filed with the proofs of claim. The court declined to disallow the claim because the debtors failed to comply with Local Rule 3007-1(B) by not providing the claimant with notice of the specific grounds for this objection.

The court also explained that a properly filed proof of claim is prima facie evidence of the validity and amount of the claim pursuant to Rule 3001(f) unless the debtors can establish otherwise. Here, the claimant attached the summarized details of the debt with each proof of claim and included a notice that full documentation would not be attached to the claim due to medical privacy laws, but additional information could be requested from the claimant if necessary. The debtors did not request additional information. The court ruled that the debtors did not meet their burden of showing that the proofs of claim lacked sufficient information to be allowed.

Moreover, the debtors did not establish that the four-year statute of limitations applied. The court observed that medical providers typically require patients to sign documentation prior to treatment, so the statute of limitations for oral contracts is unlikely to apply. The debtors bear the burden of proof for an affirmative defense such as the statute of limitations, and by merely relying on a purported lack of documentation attached to the proof of claim they fail to meet that burden. The court noted that the summaries attached to the proofs of claim contain dates of payments on the account, which the debtors could challenge as inaccurate as one way of supporting their objection.

However, objections must be grounded in a good-faith factual and legal basis. While the debtors offered no evidence to support their objection, the court did not foreclose the possibility that they could do so in a subsequent filing, but warned that any future objections should be supportable in both fact and law.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023
Judge Brian S. Kruse