In this digital age, the courts increasingly have zero tolerance for errors on a UCC-1 financing statement intended to perfect a lender’s security interest in collateral as part of a loan transaction. Most recently, a federal court in Rushton v. Standard Industries, Inc., et al. (In re C.W. Mining Company), 488 B.R. 715 (D. Utah, 2013) ruled that a UCC financing statement that omitted two periods from the debtor’s name was materially misleading, and the “secured party” was therefore not perfected. A lender who thought it was properly secured on a $3 million obligation suddenly found itself entirely unsecured because of this seemingly trivial mistake!
The debtor in this matter was C.W. Mining Company, whose fortunes had slipped, leading to a bankruptcy. Well before the bankruptcy petition was filed a creditor with a security interest in coal owned by the debtor (C.W. Mining Company was a coal producer) filed a UCC-1 financing statement naming the debtor as “CW Mining Company.” The bankruptcy trustee (usually the bad guy in these situations, from the secured creditor’s point of view) brought an action to, among other things, avoid the lien because of this mistake, arguing that the creditor was not properly perfected.
The Bankruptcy Court and the Federal District Court, on appeal, agreed with the trustee. They held that the manner in which the creditor set forth the debtor’s name on the UCC-1 financing statement was seriously misleading, as it omitted the two periods. Of major importance was the fact that the search algorithm used by the state – Utah in this instance – did not pick up the filing in its data base when the debtor’s proper name was entered.
This recent case is in line with the harsh holdings for creditors by other courts on this issue. So what is the take-away lesson? If you intend to be a secured creditor, treat the debtor’s name as you would a new email address or a phone number. If you are off by one character or digit, the communication fails. This means getting the debtor’s registered name (when the debtor is a corporation, limited liability company or LLC, or limited partnership) correct from the beginning by searching the Secretary of State’s business entity information and/or obtaining copies of articles. Don’t rely on the name put down on a letterhead, logo or business card, which may simply be a trade name. Also, when filling out a UCC-1 financing statement, be sure the information inserted on the form is carefully checked and the process supervised, not delegated to an inexperienced person and forgotten.
There is a UCC Safety Net but it has Many Holes!
If you discover that a financing statement has a mistake in the debtor’s name, you of course should take steps to correct it, but even without doing so a possibility exists that the security interest will nevertheless be perfected and enforceable. The Uniform Commercial Code provides that if a search of the records in a state’s filing office under the correct debtor name using “the filing office’s standard search logic” would disclose the creditor’s financing statement, the error in the debtor’s name is not seriously misleading. (This is found in Section 9506 of the California Commercial Code.) The more sophisticated the particular state’s UCC search algorithm, the more likely it is that errors or inconsistencies will be recognized and the financing statement nevertheless captured and displayed in a search, providing a small measure of safety for the secured creditor. The obvious problem is that it is difficult or impossible to know in advance whether a seemingly minor mistake on the financing statement will be fatal or not. Therefore, the only safe approach is to get the debtor’s registered name right on the UCC-1 financing statement, character-by-character.
A Legal Note Concerning UCC Financing Statements and Perfecting a Security Interest in Collateral
To have an enforceable security interest in most types of business assets, a UCC-1 financing statement must be filed in the filing office of the state where a debtor is registered – assuming the debtor is a business entity such as a corporation, limited liability company or limited partnership. In California and most other states, the filing office is run by the Secretary of State. Most lenders and borrowers are very familiar with this process. The UCC-1, once filed, becomes part of the searchable data base in the state where it is filed. In lawyer-speak, filing the UCC-1 financing statement “perfects” the security interest, which is an essential requirement to making it generally enforceable. The UCC-1 filing also gives the lien priority over any lien described in a later filed UCC-1 financing statement, as well as certain other types of filings. If a person wants to learn whether anyone has a lien encumbering assets of a particular debtor, a search can be conducted under the debtor’s name and all generally enforceable encumbrances on the business assets of the debtor will show up – so long as the correct debtor name is entered.
A UCC-1 filing will not perfect a security interest in certain types of collateral. To perfect a security interest in real estate in California and most other states (as is well known by most lenders and borrowers), a deed of trust or mortgage must be recorded in the real property records of the county in which the real property is located. Other types of specialized collateral, such as copyrights, aircraft and motor vehicles, have unique filing offices and requirements for perfection of security interests. A security interest in some other types of collateral, such as bank accounts, stocks and securities, may be perfected by possession or control.
You probably can guess the last point to be made here. Perfection of security interests can be a confusing matter, so if you have any questions, consult your attorney!
The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.