Generally, bankruptcy filings are public record, available to anyone who wishes to review them. You can access the case documents online through PACER, an electronic public access service of United States federal court documents. Alternatively, you can search the bankruptcy records in person at the relevant bankruptcy court clerk's office. Bankruptcy filings consist of all the documents that are filed in a particular case. Some important motions for which you should watch are motions to dismiss the case or motions to convert to another type of bankruptcy proceeding. These motions reflect a possible failure on the part of the debtor to follow bankruptcy rules and may affect your rights if the debtor owes you money.
Gather Information About the Debtor
To search the bankruptcy filings either in person or online, you'll need some basic information about the debtor and the bankruptcy case. If a debtor owes you money, the bankruptcy court will mail you the case number, which you can use to pull up the records. If you do not have the case number, you can search using the debtor's full name and county, or you can use the debtor's Social Security number.
Researching Filings Online
The easiest method to research bankruptcy cases is through PACER, an electronic public access service of United States federal court documents. After registering with the PACER website and logging in, you are able to research bankruptcy filings by case name or case number. When you enter the name, PACER provides a list of all the cases that match that particular name. For example, if the debtor has a common name, such as John Smith, many cases will show. However, if you search by the case number, PACER will bring up that particular case (although if you do a nationwide search for that case number, you may get results from different courts). PACER charges a small, per-page fee for each document you download.
Researching Filings in Person
Each state has one or more federal districts, each with its own bankruptcy court. You can search the bankruptcy records in person at the relevant bankruptcy court clerk's office. You can locate the court you need on the United States Courts website. Each bankruptcy court has a clerk's office, which provides the administrative support for that court. You can review and research bankruptcy filings by visiting the court clerk's office and requesting to view all the files for a particular bankruptcy case. To do this, you will either need to know the case number of the proceeding or the name of the person or business that filed the bankruptcy petition.
How to Review Bankruptcy Filings
Whether you are reviewing bankruptcy filings electronically or in person at the courthouse, you review the records in the same way. Each bankruptcy case has what is known as a docket. A docket is an index of all the documents filed in a particular case. This allows you to quickly review all filings in a bankruptcy case and choose which specific documents you need. For example, if you are looking for the schedule of property filed by a debtor, visually search for the word "schedule" in the docket. If you are looking for a motion to dismiss, visually scan the docket for the word "dismiss." If you are reviewing the docket on a computer, you can use the computer's search function to quickly find these words. You can download a document from PACER, or if you are searching in person, you can request the particular document from the clerk.
Read More: Stages of Bankruptcy
Bankruptcy cases are all matters of public record. You can easily search through bankruptcy records by registering for an account with PACER, which is the federal court system's online docket review system. You can also go to the bankruptcy court where the case is filed and review the docket and documents at the clerk's office.
Andrew Mayfair has written professionally since 2009 when his article on patent law was published in the "Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review." Mayfair earned his Bachelor of Science in biochemistry from the University of California, Davis and his Juris Doctor from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law.