Under Title 28, Section 1408, cases under Title 11, are filed in the District Court for the District in which the person or entity filing Bankruptcy has for the prior one hundred eighty (180) days or the longer portion of the prior one hundred eighty (180) days, maintained either one’s domicile, residence, principal place of business OR principal assets.
Although “residence” and “domicile” are not specifically defined in the Bankruptcy Code, one’s residence is generally held to be where one lives, or dwells, whereas a domicile is where one dwells with the intention of remaining in the foreseeable future.
In the State of Florida, for example, in the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division consists of the Counties of Hardee, Hernando, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, and Sarasota. If a Debtor filing Bankruptcy either is domiciled, resides, has a principal place of business or principal assets in either of these Counties for the 180 days prior to the filing or for the longer portion of the 180 days prior to the filing of the Bankruptcy, then such Debtor would file the Bankruptcy in the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division.
The longer portion of the 180 days is sometimes referred to as the greater portion of the 180 days. For example, if the Debtor resided in another jurisdiction or State prior to residing in one of the above Counties during the prior 180 days, then generally the Debtor would file in the County in which the Debtor resided for the longer or greater portion of the 180 days before filing the Bankruptcy, which would be ninety-one (91) days.
If the Debtor resided in more than two different Districts in the 180 days before filing the Bankruptcy, then one would consider where the Debtor resided for the longer portion of the varying Districts. For example, if the Debtor resided in Florida for 70 days, in Georgia for 50 days, and in Alabama for 60 days in the previous 180 days, then the Debtor would properly file the Bankruptcy in Florida, in the appropriate District in Florida.
The plain reading of the Statute indicates that Bankruptcy cases will be assigned to the District Court in which the person or entity either resides, domiciles, or has a principal place of business or assets. However, in the Middle District of Florida, for example, there are four different Divisions including the Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando, and Fort Myers Divisions.
If the Debtor resides in Citrus County, which is located within the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division, and files the Bankruptcy in the Tampa, Florida Bankruptcy Court, which governs the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, then the Court will generally seek to move the Bankruptcy case to the Jacksonville Division. How can this happen, if the Statute clearly states that the case must be filed in the appropriate District, and does not refer to assignment to various Divisions?
The answer is that each local Division may promulgate its own Local Rules. In the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, Local Rule 1071-1(c) states that the Clerk’s Office shall assign each case to the appropriate Division. Local Rule 1071-1(b) denotes the numerous Divisions in the Middle District of Florida and the Counties encompassed by those Divisions.
Citrus County is located in the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division, and not the Tampa Division, and therefore, the Clerk will seek to relocate the Bankruptcy case in the example to the Jacksonville Division.
However, Rule 1071-1 also provides that the Bankruptcy Court, upon its own Motion, or upon the Motion of another party, can Order the transfer to a different Division if the Bankruptcy Judge determines that such transfer is in the “interest of justice” or “for the convenience of the parties”.
In the same example, such a Debtor residing in Citrus County may find that having the Bankruptcy prosecuted in the Tampa Division rather than the Jacksonville Division is more convenient because Citrus County is much closer geographically to Tampa than Jacksonville, and therefore more convenient not only to the Debtor but also any Counsel the Debtor may employ in the vicinity of Citrus County.
By Jay Weller