Case of the Day: In re Barkats

The case of the day is In re Barkats (Bankr. D.D.C. 2014). In early 2014, several creditors of Pierre Philippe Barkats filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition. They served it on him by “delivery through owner and co-resident” at a home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, which Barkats’s lawyer had listed as Barkats’s address in a document filed with the District of Columbia Superior Court in an unrelated case. But the lawyer later averred that he had given the address solely as an address for receiving mail in the Superior Court action and that Barkat lived in France. After Barkat failed to answer the petition and the creditors obtained an order for relief, Barkats moved to vacate the order on the grounds that he had never been served with the petition.

According to Barkats’s affidavit, Barkats had never lived at the Chevy Chase address and had lived in Paris since 2011. The form of the affidavit is imprecise. It states that Barkats was “first duly sworn,” but the notarial certificate seems to indicate that the notary took his acknowledgment, not his oath:

I hereby certify that on this 16th day of April, 2014, before me, the undersigned Notary Public, personally appeared Pierre Philippe Barkats, and acknowledged himself to be the individual signing this affidavit, and that he executed the foregoing instrument for the purposes therein contained by signing his name.

Moreover, the form of the notarial certificate is typically American, though it was signed and sealed by a French notary.

The judge chose to exclude the affidavit on the grounds that it did not bear an apostille and was not otherwise legalized.1 The court’s conclusion seems right to me, though I think, given what I’ve written above, that he could also have excluded the affidavit on the grounds that it wasn’t sworn. When you make an affidavit, it’s not enough to recite that you’ve taken an oath. You actually have to take one, and that fact should be reflected in the certificate of the person with authority to administer the oath, namely the notary.

As the judge noted, Barkats could have avoided these problems altogether by simply following the procedure set out in 28 U.S.C. § 1746, which allows for unsworn declarations in lieu of affidavits. All that is required is a certificate “under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America” that the contents of the document are “true and correct.”

In the end, though, these technicalities didn’t matter. The court held that the creditors had failed to carry their burden to prove service because there was no evidence Barkats had ever lived at the Maryland address, and Barkats’s lawyer had stated, in an affidavit, that his address was in Paris.

  1. The creditors were wrong to argue that the apostille was mandatory—the traditional “chain legalization” method remains available, though there’s no reason to use it when an apostille is available.

5 responses to “Case of the Day: In re Barkats”

  1. Three Creditors

    One of the problems with this international “affidavit” is that there is no penalty for submitting it, even though it can be proven to be false. Since the Court did not accept it, it cannot be “material” and thus it cannot be perjurious by definition; of course, it cannot be perjury under U.S. law because it was not sworn to at all and the “affiant” obviously did not subject himself to the penalties of perjury in this country.

    If someone can incur huge debts in this country and then exit to spend the money in the country of his choice while he makes himself immune to service of process and thus effectively “judgment proof,” why should any person who has connections outside the U.S. bother to honor his obligations to Americans?

    1. I don’t think it’s possible to draw such broad conclusions from this decision. It seems that there was some evidence that the defendant lived in Paris and none that he lived in Chevy Chase, and so the plaintiffs, who had the burden of proof, lost. But the defendant has hardly made himself judgment-proof. There are still several avenues for making service of process. Anyway, well-advised creditors can avoid these sorts of problems ex ante by appropriate language in the loan agreement.

    2. Février

      Je crois comprendre dans cet article que vous avez des problèmes avec Pierre Philippe Barkats avocat? Moi aussi j’en ai car il ne veut pas partir de mon appartement à Paris où il se trouve depuis au moins 2 ans et il ne paie plus les loyers etc.…

      Dites moi ce qu’il en est et peut être pouvons nous unir nos forces? …

      1. Février, I don’t have any involvement with Mr. Barkats or any knowledge of him beyond what I’ve written in this post. I suggest you consult with a French lawyer. Good luck!

  2. I am closing the comments on this page. Over the last week, I have received several comments praising Mr. Barkats, all originating from Ukrainian IP addresses, and all with email addresses that seemed fishy.

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