Bankruptcy cases filed in the U.S. federal courts continued to surge in the twelve months ended September 30, 2009, according to statistics released on November 25, 2009 by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The statistical release, which can be found here, shows that for year ending on September 30, 2009, there were 58,771 business bankruptcy filings, up 52 percent from the 38,651 business filings in the 12-month period ending September 30, 2008.


Data accompanying the release show that the number of filings has increased in the 12-month periods preceding the quarter end for each quarter since the end of the third quarter of 2006.


Though the twelve-month data show a rising number of bankruptcy filings, the quarterly data for the most recent quarter show a slightly different picture, suggesting that the number of bankruptcy filings may have peaked earlier this year, and that during the most recent months the number of business-related bankruptcy filings may even have begun to decline slightly, at least from their 2009 year-to-date highs.


Thus, according to the Administrative Office’s monthly filing data (which can be found here), there were 15,177 business-related bankruptcies in the third quarter of 2009, compared to 16,098 during 2Q08, which represents a third quarter filing decline of about 5.7%. The highest monthly total during 2009 was in April 2009, when there were 5,621 business-related bankruptcy filings, compared to 4,853 in September 2009.


But while the 3Q09 business filings were down slightly from the preceding quarter, the third quarter filings nonetheless remained at very high levels. Thus, by way of comparison, the third quarter business bankruptcy filing total of 15,177 filings is considerably higher than the quarterly totals in 4Q08, when there were 13,021 filings, and in 1Q04, when there were 14,425 filings.


Whether or not bankruptcy filing peaked earlier this year, the number of bankruptcy filings remains significant. The possibility of bankruptcy remains a significant threat for financially troubled businesses. As I have previously noted (here), among the events that often follows after the filing of a bankruptcy petition is the arrival of claims against the bankrupt firm’s directors and officers.


Bankruptcy associated-claims present a host of complications, not least of which is the intricate way that D&O insurance policies respond in the bankruptcy context. One recent development illustrating the difficulties that can arise in the bankruptcy context was the July 2009 decision in the Visitalk case (about which refer here), in which the Ninth Circuit upheld the carriers’ denial of coverage for a lawsuit brought by a company as debtor in possession against former directors and officers of the company, as a result of the policies’ insured vs. insured exclusion.


These kinds of complications underscore the need for D&O insurance policies to be closely scrutinized for their ability both to withstand and to respond to claims arising in the context of bankruptcy.


Hat tip to the SOX First blog (here) for the link to the bankruptcy statistics.


More About FCPA Enforcement and Pharmaceutical Companies: As I recently noted (here, scroll down), both the DoJ and the SEC have indicated that Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement has a high priority and that FCPA enforcement in the pharmaceutical industry is a particular focus.


A November 24, 2009 memo from the Latham & Watkins law firm entitled "U.S. Department of Justice Announces Stepped-Up Criminal Enforcement of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Against Pharmaceutical Industry" (here) takes a closer look at these prosecutorial priorities.


The memorandum explains that among other reasons for the new focus on pharmaceutical companies is that "many foreign health systems, are regulated, operated and financed by government entities, and competition is intense, which creates more opportunities to ‘pay off foreign officials for the sake of profit.’" Of particular concern is the fact that it may not always be obvious which medical functionaries are "foreign officials" within the meaning of the FCPA.


The article includes a variety of suggested practical steps that pharmaceutical companies can take in light of these concerns.


Special thanks to Adam Savett of the Securities Litigation Watch for providing a copy of the law firm memo.