A Successful Consumer Mediation Program in Detroit’s Bankruptcy Court

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Successful endeavors

By Donald L. Swanson

“Mediation of consumer bankruptcy disputes has been very successful in our Bankruptcy Court.”

–Steven W. Rhodes, Chief Bankruptcy Judge (Ret.) in Detroit.

Consumer disputes in bankruptcy cases rarely mediate. This appears to be a stubborn reality just about everywhere.

A Successful Consumer Bankruptcy Mediation Program

So, when I hear the words “consumer bankruptcy disputes” used in the same sentence with “mediation” and “very successful,” I take notice!

I recently heard Judge Rhodes (now a JAMS mediator and arbitrator) talk about his experiences on the bench with consumer bankruptcy mediations. Here’s the essence of what he had to say:

–He often ordered the mediation of disputes in consumer bankruptcy cases;

–Mediators were happy to provide reduced-fee (e.g., $200.00 per party for a half-day mediation) or pro bono services in consumer cases; and

–His Court-ordered mediations of consumer disputes were highly successful and resulted in many dispute resolutions.

Local Rules

Here are portions of Local Rule 7016-2 of the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, under which such mediations of consumer disputes occurred:

“(a) . . . the court may order the parties to engage in mediation. . . .

(4) Unless otherwise ordered by the court, each of the parties to the mediation process must pay $200.00 to the mediator before or at the commencement of the mediation session. . . .”

High Praise

Back in 2010, another local Bankruptcy Judge praised the mediation program in the the Detroit Bankruptcy Court like this:

–“I would also like to thank our 32 mediators . . . for their valuable contribution in helping to achieve resolution in a wide variety of adversary proceedings and contested matters.”

–“My own sense from the data that has been assembled thus far is that our mediation program has an extraordinarily high batting average. Our mediators are very skilled in achieving resolution in the cases we send them, whether adversary proceedings or contested matters in bankruptcy cases.”

Such comments are high praise, indeed.

Recommendation

This “very successful” mediation program for consumer bankruptcy disputes in the Eastern District of Michigan provides a model to be replicated everywhere!

Notably, the key element of this program is the willingness and initiative of judges to order consumer disputes into mediation.

We should all take a lesson from this!

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