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In re American Classic Voyages Co.

April 27, 2005

IN RE: AMERICAN CLASSIC VOYAGES CO., DEBTOR
SCOTT HEFTA
v.
OFFICIAL COMMITTEE OF UNSECURED CREDITORS; AMERICAN CLASSIC VOYAGES, CO.
IN RE: AMERICAN CLASSIC VOYAGES CO., A DELAWARE CORPORATION, F/K/A DELTA QUEEN STEAMBOAT, CO., DEBTOR
SCOTT HEFTA
v.
AMERICAN CLASSIC VOYAGES CO., F/K/A DELTA QUEEN STEAMBOAT CO.
SCOTT HEFTA, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware District Judge: Honorable Joseph Farnan, Jr. (D.C. Civil No. 02-01684) (D.C. Civil No. 03-cv-00112)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fuentes, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Submitted September 28, 2004

Before: RENDELL, FUENTES, and SMITH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Petitioner Scott Hefta, a seaman, sustained serious injuries while employed aboard a steamboat owned by his employer. His attorney sent the employer a letter to put it on notice of a claim relating to Hefta's accident. Shortly thereafter, the employer filed for bankruptcy. Hefta's attorney wrote the court-appointed claims agent informing it that his client was injured and "[had] a claim against the debtor."

While the letter also requested a claim form, Hefta did not file a formal claim prior to the court-established bar date. *fn1 The issues in this case require us to clarify the requirements for an informal proof of claim in bankruptcy. We conclude that Hefta's letter was insufficient to constitute a properly filed claim and that his failure to file a timely proof of claim did not result from excusable neglect. We will affirm the judgment of the District Court.

I. Facts and Procedural History

Scott Hefta, a Jones Act Seaman,*fn2 was injured in the course of his employment at the Delta Queen riverboat on June 28, 2000. The vessel was owned and operated by American Classic and/or its subsidiary Delta Queen Steamboat Company ("American Classic" or "Debtors"). Hefta reported the injury to American Classic the next day.

Thereafter, counsel for Hefta sent American Classic a letter dated June 15, 2001 to advise it of Hefta's claim. Hefta's employer acknowledged receipt of the letter on July 19, 2001.

Then, in October 2001, American Classic filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. The Debtors cancelled almost all of their scheduled passenger cruises, resulting in approximately 18,000 claims for deposits on cancelled cruises. Several hundred personal injury plaintiffs have also filed claims against Debtors.

Counsel for Hefta received a notification of Debtors' bankruptcy that directed creditors to file proofs of claim with the appointed claims agent, Logan & Company ("Logan"). On February 7, 2002, Hefta's counsel wrote Logan, stating that Hefta "worked on the S/S DELTA QUEEN and was injured on June 29, 2000. *fn3 He has a claim against the debtor." Hefta's letter also requested a "Proof of Claim" form and inquired whether Debtors had insurance coverage for Hefta's injury.

On March 18, 2002, the Bankruptcy Court entered an order setting a claims bar date for April 30, 2002 (the "Bar Date"). Logan sent Hefta and his attorney a notice of the Bar Date, together with a proof of claim form, on March 27, 2002. Failing to appreciate the significance of that notice, neither Hefta nor his attorney filed the proof of claim form prior to the Bar Date.

Instead, Hefta filed a Motion for Relief from Automatic Stay with the Bankruptcy Court on August 1, 2002. The next day, counsel for Hefta received via fax an objection to that Motion on the grounds that the Bar Date had passed. Hefta's counsel claims that only then did he realize that the Bar Date had passed. On August 18, 2002, Hefta's counsel filed a Motion for Enlargement of Time to File Proof of Claim seeking an extension for "excusable neglect" under Federal Bankruptcy Rule of Procedure 9006(b)(1). Hefta's counsel subsequently also argued to the Bankruptcy Court that his February 7, 2002 letter ...


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