Proposal #18: Authorization for Local Mediation Programs
Throughout its deliberations, the Commission has noted the importance of reducing
unnecessary costs of the bankruptcy process. This principle has been a prominent theme of its
recommendations thus far. Many judges and attorneys have noted that mediation has become a
lower-cost, higher-satisfaction alternative to litigation. In the bankruptcy field, clear statutory
authority would facilitate the development of mediation programs.
Congress should authorize judicial districts to enact local rules establishing
mediation programs in which the court may order non-binding, confidential mediation
upon its own motion or upon the motion of any party in interest. The court may order
mediation in an adversary proceeding, contested matter, or otherwise in a bankruptcy
case, except that the court may not order mediation of a dispute arising in connection
with the retention or payment of professionals or in connection with a motion for
contempt, sanctions, or other judicial disciplinary matter. The court should have explicit
statutory authority to approve the payment of persons performing mediation functions
pursuant to the local rules of that districts mediation program who satisfy
the training requirements or standards set by the local rules of that district. The statute
should provide further that the details of such mediation programs that are not provided
herein may be determined by local rule.
Reasons for the Change
Both Congress and many judicial districts have endorsed cost minimization through case
management techniques and alternative dispute resolution. Although it may not be directly
applicable to bankruptcy courts, Congress enacted the Civil Justice Reform Act of 1990, [ FN: 28 U.S.C. §471 et
seq.] which set the groundwork for alternative dispute resolution programs
in the district courts. Likewise, a considerable number of districts have implemented mediation
programs for disputes that arise in bankruptcy cases and adversary proceedings. [ FN: "As of May 9, 1997, twenty-six bankruptcy
courts were using mediation (as well as, in some cases, other ADR methods) pursuant to district
court or bankruptcy court rules, general orders or guidelines . . . In addition, approximately
twenty more bankruptcy courts are considering an ADR program and several others frequently
use ADR on an ad hoc basis. " Memorandum from Richard S. Toder & Scott D. Talmadge
to Professor Elizabeth Warren Re: "National Bankruptcy Review Commission — Use of ADR
Procedures in Bankruptcy Cases, " at p.2 (June 5, 1997).] The programs
are in various stages of development; for example, the Southern District of California established
its mediation program in 1986, while the Northern District of Illinois just recently made the local
bankruptcy rule changes to implement its mediation program. However, while the Bankruptcy
Rules currently provide forconsensual and binding arbitration, [ FN: Fed. R. Bankr. P. 9019(c).]
neither the Bankruptcy Code nor Bankruptcy Rules authorize or endorse the use of mediation
programs, which presently are reducing costs and successfully facilitating the resolution of
disputes. Rather, courts have used their "inherent power" [ FN: See, e.g., Link v. Wabash Railroad Co. 370 U.S.
626 (1962) (courts have inherent power to manage judicial affairs to achieve orderly and
expeditious resolution of cases).] or section 105 to establish mediation
The experiences with the currently-existing mediation programs appear to be quite positive.
The programs have been successful in resolving numerous issues and disputes involving claims,
adversary proceedings and plan issues. Mediation offers litigants the opportunity to resolve
disputes creatively and provides a catalyst for settlement, while reducing the costs, delay, and
burdens that often accompany litigation or the plan negotiation process. [ FN: See, e.g., Judges Desk Book on Court
ADR, National ADR Institute for Federal Judges (Federal Judicial Centerl Center for Public
Resources 1993); Form of General Order on Mediation, American Bar Association Business
Bankruptcy Committee, chapter 11 Subcommittee Task Force on ADR in Bankruptcy (February
1, 1996).] While not all mediation attempts will avert the need for
litigation completely, mediation can help to narrow the issues of dispute. This process can be
effective in specific matters, and it also can be helpful in the plan negotiation process. [ FN: See Final Report of Cyrus R. Vance, As
Mediator, Pursuant to the Standing Mediation Order and the Mediation Order Entered in the
Macy s Reorganization Cases " (December 8, 1994) (reporting attainment of consensual
plan, fair treatment of creditors and employees, and significant cost reduction) attached as
appendix to paper of Myer O. Sigal, Plan Mediation Proposal for Large chapter 11 Cases,
submitted in connection with testimony to National Bankruptcy Review Commission, May 14,
The recommendation includes authorization for payment of a mediator. Although some
programs already provide for the payment of mediators, some people believe that statutory
authority is necessary for payment from estate assets. Mediators should be compensated pursuant
to the same rules as other professionals. Authorizing payment of mediators would complement
and not preclude the use of pro bono mediation. Currently, the local rules of certain paid
mediation programs require mediators to do some pro bono mediation, suggesting that both paid
and unpaid mediation services may be integrated successfully and both are important parts of a
functional mediation program.
While the nationwide authorization of mediation provides a uniform structural basis, most
parties familiar with currently-existing mediation programs have concluded that the details of
mediation programs should be left to local rules. With the basic framework in place, districts can
determine what type of program best serves their needs, which may depend in part on the types of
cases or disputes that dominate their dockets and that experience reveals are well suited for
mediation. Although this proposal has been discussed primarily in the context of business
reorganization cases, the use of a mediator would not necessarily be so limited.
Likewise,although it is critical that all districts impose standards on the qualifications for
mediators, the types of cases in various districts might dictate what those standards should be.
The mediator selection process in particular cases also can be determined locally.
It also is unnecessary to delineate the types of matters suitable for mediation, for courts are
best able to make this determination in the cases before them. The proposal would exclude only
two types of disputes: issues surrounding the retention or payment of professionals [ FN: Not everyone agrees that professional issues
should be excluded per se. For example, the ABA s Form of General Order on Mediation
Comment 3.0 notes that mediation of disputes relating to employment and compensation of
professionals, trustees and examiners "if the mediation simply seeks to resolve factual disputes. "
However, the Form also notes that a mediated settlement could not affect the court s role
under sections 326-330 of the Bankruptcy Code.] and matters involving
contempt of court, sanctions or other judicial disciplinary actions. These issues have been
identified as those belonging before the court for judicial resolution. Nothing would preclude
districts from further restricting the range of subject matter in their mediation programs, nor
would judges be compelled to order mediation in any case where they believed the process would
not be useful.
Because many districts already have established some mediation programs, some people
question whether specific statutory authority is necessary.
Some people may have reservations about authorizing courts to mandate mediation if the
parties do not consent. However, mediation often is a useful tool for a multi-party dispute, and
one party could withhold consent as a leverage tool or a delay tactic unnecessarily. Because
mediation is not binding and entails only a good faith effort by the parties, requiring parties to
meet with a mediator when the court so determines should not unduly prejudice any parties.
Existing mediation programs employ mandatory but non-binding mediation with little problem.