Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What is in a Name? Revised Article 9's Treatment of Individual Debtor Names

While Article 9 of the UCC is one of the most recently amended articles of the UCC having just undergone revision in 2001 (the “2001 Revision”), the complexity of the code and changing practices in commerce have necessitated further revision. The ALI and ULC have now approved amendments which the states will now adopt toward an effectiveness date of July 1, 2013 (the Revision). All is well on the adoption front, but what does this really mean on key issues? As I am teaching a Commercial Law Survey Spring 2012, I've started to think about what hurdles the the Revision will set up for our students and practicing attorneys.

One of the issues that led to the Revision was disagreement about how a creditor should best specify the name of the debtor on the financing statement, with states such as Texas passing non-uniform amendments to address the problems. See, e.g., TEX.. BUS. & COM. CODE ANN. § 9.503 (2011); TENN. CODE ANN. § 47-9-503 (2011). Section 9-503 generally provides that a financing statement is not seriously misleading if it lists the name of the debtor indicated on the public record or the debtor’s jurisdiction for organizations or simply the name of the individual debtor. The model form provided in section 9-521 added merely that this be the “exact full legal name.” While this might initially appear sufficient guidance, it became apparent that issues remained, such as the inclusion of trade names and how to identify an individual’s name where the individual is commonly known as more than one name. Creditors who incorrectly identified the debtor soon found that their financing statement was ineffective because it was seriously misleading. Quite simply, these name errors can be fatal to the creditor’s attempted filing of a security interest. See, e.g., Peoples Bank v. Bryan Bros. Cattle Co., 504 F.3d 549 (5th Cir. 2007)(Cornerstone Bank obtained a security interest in the cattle, but failed to file a financing statement in the legal name of the debtor, “Brooks L. Dickerson,” having instead named “Louie Dickerson” as the debtor on the financing statement.)

To alleviate this problem with respect to individuals, the rules of the Revision allow for two alternatives. Revision § 9-503(a)(4)-(5) (2011). Alternative “A” sets up a hierarchy for individual names which requires a creditor to use the name on the most recent driver’s license, if the debtor has one. In the event the debtor has no driver’s license, then the creditor can use the individual name or surname and first personal name. Alternative “B” allows the creditor more flexibility in listing the individual debtor’s name, allowing the creditor to identify the debtor on the financing statement by the individual name, the surname and personal name, or the name on the debtor’s most recent driver’s license. Under this alternative, no one name designation takes precedence. Comment 2(b) explains that when driver’s license is required, but contains an error, the creditor must still use the name on the license in full when it is required, despite the error. The challenge that creditors which operate in more than one state will now face with individuals is getting the rules correct such that if the state uses Alternative A, the creditor must use the driver’s license if the individual has one and should not rely on the other manners in which names might be equally acceptable in Alternative B states.

Irrespective of Alternatives A or B for individuals, the use of the most recent driver’s license in the state where the financing statement was filed does not eliminate the potential pitfalls for creditors. First, has the debtor indeed provided the most recent driver’s license, rather than a replaced or expired one? Will creditors be able to search the driver’s license records to make sure the name is the most recent? Second, the name on the driver’s license may not in fact even be the debtor’s correct name, such as errors on the driver’s records or in the case of persons who change their name for marriage or other reasons. This may lead to confusion when later creditors search records. Third, driver’s license names are changed from time to time by the individual. Tying debt records to driving status may not be the most hassle free solution for creditors. Will creditors have to inquire into the marital status of women frequently to guard against name changes that either have or have not been made in driving records? For individuals that don’t have driving records, the Revision has not really changed the rules to address nicknames and similar issues.

When it comes to individuals, it seems that Alternative A and B would pose a potential pitfall for creditors operating in more than one state, unless the creditor simply makes it a practice to use a driver’s license in all instances. The challenges of ensuring that the creditor has the debtor’s correct drivers licenses may pose problems to ensuring a valid filing. Even under Alternative B, determining the debtor’s name and surname can pose difficulties, particularly with surnames comprised of multiple names. Creditors should not attempt to automatically rely on the name on a birth certificate, as the debtor may have changed names and foreign birth certificates sometimes contain different ordering of names. Moreover, filings for unincorporated business entities that are debtors will have the same issues as those for individuals. The pitfalls for individuals is heightened here as creditors will have to get the name correct (often the driver’s license of multiple individuals). Choosing the correct name for a financing statement is not a mechanical task. See, Revision 9-503 cmt. d.

Whether the Revision will ultimately alleviate a substantial amount of litigation in this area over time is uncertain, but the new rules will help resolve some outstanding issues regarding debtor names. Despite any criticisms of the Revision regarding debtor names, the rules at least give some further guidance that should eliminate some of the litigation in this area.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Commercial Law has been nominated a top business law blog

The LexisNexis Business Law Community has nominated Commercial Law as one of its top 25 business law blogs for 2011. Commercial Law very much appreciates the nomination and hopes that its readers will post a comment in support of this honor.