§ 64 Liability for payments following illiquidity or over-indebtedness
The directors shall be obligated to compensate the company for payments made after the company has become illiquid or after it is deemed to be over-indebted. This shall not apply to payments which, after this point in time, are compatible with the due care of a prudent businessman. The directors shall be under the same obligation in regard to payments to shareholders if these led to the company becoming illiquid, unless this was not recognisable whilst observing the due care referred to in the second sentence. Section 43 (3) and (4) shall apply mutatis mutandis to any claim for compensation.
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Relevance for legal relations
1Section 64 is the central provision for the liability of the managing director of a company in distress. If a managing director does not file for insolvency proceedings in time, although the GmbH being technically insolvent, he may be liable to a very considerable extent under this provision. Past precedent in this field has been described as "draconian",Schmidt/Uhlenbruck, Die GmbH in der Krise, Sanierung und Insolvenz, 5th ed. (2016), marginal number 11.38 with some even talking of the "modern torture" of the managing director.
If a GmbH becomes insolvent, it is part and parcel of the duties of the insolvency administrator to determine whether the petition for insolvency was filed in time and – if it was not – whether the managing director is personally liable on that account.
It is often apparent that the greatest concern of managing directors in the case of a delay in filing for insolvency is that they will render themselves liable to prosecution for the delay. Usually, however, the consequences of liability under section 64 have a much greater impact on them than any criminal liability.
21) Section 64 from the point of view of the managing director
3a) Required action ahead of insolvency
The central act required of the managing director under section 64 is to verify at regular intervals whether there could be grounds for insolvency (illiquidity or overindebtedness) as soon as there is any indication that the company might be in crisis. If grounds for insolvency exist, section 15a (1) of the German Insolvency Code (InsO) requires the managing director to file a petition for insolvency without culpable delay, and within not more than three weeks. For as long as he delays in filing for insolvency, e.g. in order to explore restructuring options, he is not allowed – even in the three-week period – to make any payments or undertake any other asset-reducing measures if he wishes to avoid being held personally liable.
4aa) Examination of grounds for insolvency
A solvent company must be in a position at all times, to meet its due obligations. Payment liabilities fall due at the time the agreed payment date or the payment date granted by the creditor expires. If the text on the invoice, for instance, says "payable solely net within 20 days", the invoice must be paid without deduction within 20 days. If an invoice contains no such text, it is due for payment immediately and not – as is often believed – only after 30 days or upon default in payment. The common practice of letting suppliers' invoices unpaid for a while and not paying them until after two or three months – something which suppliers often tolerate for the sake of maintaining the business relationship – is not permitted with a GmbH.
If a GmbH is unable to pay all its due obligations, it is illiquid.
The Federal Court of Justice tolerates a temporary funding gap of 10%. Accordingly, a GmbH must be able to pay at least 90% of its due obligations if it is not to be considered illiquid. However, this only applies if it is not already evident that the funding gap will be greater than 10% in the near future. Moreover, a 10% funding gap is not tolerated in the long term.
The Federal Court of Justice also allows funding gaps of more than 10% if these can be closed or reduced to less than 10% again within three weeks. Even if a GmbH can only pay less than 90% of its due obligations, it is not illiquid if it can meet at least 90% of its due obligations at least within the next three weeks. Such a situation is known as a "temporary stagnations of payments".
In extreme exceptions the Federal Court of Justice tolerates an even longer existence of a liquidity shortfall of 10% if the liquidity gap can "with a likelihood approaching certainty" be closed or almost completely closed in the near future (three to six months). In principle, there should be no or virtually no liquidity gap, not even a gap of 10%, by the end of this time. Since this exception comes with considerable uncertainty, it can only be "risked" in close consultation with legal and business management experts. Generally no use is made of it.
7(b) Avoiding illiquidity
If illiquidity is imminent, it can be avoided by an injection of funds. When planning the cash flow, therefore, the managing director must make sure that the necessary liquidity is provided in time, e.g. through an extension of the existing credit lines or by the shareholders contributing the necessary funds or providing a shareholder loan. It is also possible to sell goods and "make money" in this way. Common methods of acquiring liquidity include factoring or the sale-and-lease-back of fixed assets. Since the above three-week period is normally not sufficient for such measures, they need to planned and implemented in good time.
If the necessary funds cannot be obtained at short notice, deferral agreements may also be reached with creditors. However, these must be properly documented, normally in writing, so that they can be used as evidence later if necessary.
9(a) Mathematical overindebtedness
An enterprise is overindebted if its assets are no longer sufficient to cover its liabilities, or in other words liabilities exceed assets and the equity is therefore negative. In the case of a GmbH, overindebtedness alone establishes a duty to file for insolvency even if the GmbH is still solvent, i.e. can meet all its due obligations. Whereas illiquidity is felt "physically" (it is generally noticed when one can no longer pay one's bills), overindebtedness tends to "creep up". This is why it is so dangerous for managing directors: if a GmbH is overindebted, the managing directors are liable (or render themselves criminally liable) if they continue to manage the enterprise and do not file for insolvency. Overindebtedness is so difficult to spot because overindebtedness within the meaning of insolvency law is not necessarily the same as overindebtedness in the commercial or tax balance sheet.
If the commercial or tax balance sheet shows a shortfall not covered by equity, one can usually also assume overindebtedness as defined in insolvency law. If this is the case, immediate consideration must be given to whether, and if necessary how, the overindebtedness can be eliminated. Otherwise a request for insolvency must be filed.
Often, however, an enterprise is overindebted even though the commercial or tax balance sheet shows a positive equity. The commercial or tax balance sheet is produced on the assumption that the enterprise will be continued as a going concern (section 252 (1) no. 2 of the German Commercial Code (HGB)), whereas the overindebtedness balance sheet must be drawn up at liquidation values if the continuation of the enterprise is not overwhelmingly likely.
10(b) Going-concern prognosis
The central issue for an assessment of overindebtedness is therefore whether the enterprise has a positive going-concern prognosis. This in turn demands a cash flow prognosis (and with it a detailed cash flow forecast) for the current and the subsequent financial year. Only if this cash flow prognosis indicates that the enterprise will in all expectation (with overwhelmingly likelihood) survive the next one to two years may the going-concern value from the commercial balance sheet be applied when assessing overindebtedness within the meaning of insolvency law.
If, on the other hand, the cash flow prognosis for the next one to two years indicates that the continued existence of the enterprise is not certain in terms of cash flow (at least not "overwhelmingly likely"), the assets on the assets side of the balance sheet may only be stated at their liquidation values (i.e. the probable proceeds from an individual auction). With respect to most enterprises this leads to their overindebtedness.
Only in rare cases does an enterprise have significant hidden reserves, e.g. if the assets of the company include a business property of high value that was acquired a long time ago and so is only shown on the assets side at a low book value. Hidden reserves may be revealed in the overindebtedness test and can, in individual cases, be sufficient to compensate for a shortfall not covered by equity or even the write-down of the other assets to their liquidation values in the event of a negative going-concern prognosis.
The overindebtedness test therefore hinges on the going-concern prognosis. The term overindebtedness can thus result in a misleading perspective. In reality, what usually matters in the case of overindebtedness is whether the enterprise has a prospect of continuing as a going concern or is about to become illiquid. Since the managing director must be able to demonstrate a positive going-concern prognosis if the situation is serious (and especially if everything did in fact go wrong and a positive prognosis subsequently proved to be incorrect), it is recommended that an external management consultant be commissioned to produce a going-concern prognosis if there are any signs of a crisis or the commercial or tax balance sheet shows a shortfall not covered by equity.
If the going-concern prognosis is positive, even mathematical overindebtedness is not harmful to going-concern values.
11bb) Filing for insolvency
If a ground for insolvency exists (illiquidity or overindebtedness), the managing director must file for insolvency without undue delay. Section 64 indirectly formulates such a requirement to act by setting out the consequences of liability. Until 1 November 2008 the duty to file for insolvency was enshrined in section 61 (1) GmbHG. Since then the duty to file for insolvency has been contained in the German Insolvency Code (section 15a InsO). A failure to file for insolvency despite technical insolvency having occurred is a criminal offence (section 15 (4) InsO), even if the act was only negligent (section 15 (5) InsO).
Regardless of the requirement to act under criminal law, the managing director should file the necessary request for insolvency if he wishes to avoid liability pursuant to section 64.
12cc) Withholding of payments
The managing director may also avoid any liability under section 64 by refraining from any measure that reduces the net worth of the company (or shrinks a subsequent insolvent estate). To a certain extent, therefore, he must "freeze" the company's activities, as it were. While business continues this is only possible for a limited and generally very short period of time, as otherwise the entire business activities will come to a stop. Since liability under section 64 begins from "second one" after technical insolvency has occurred (and not only after the three-week period allowed for filing the request has elapsed), the subsequent duties of conduct are particularly relevant for the managing director who wishes to act in accordance with his duties and make full use of the three-week period for filing.
13(1) No payments
No more creditors may be paid once technical insolvency has occurred, in particular not from accounts in credit or current accounts in debit if the overdraft facility is secured against the assets of the company. Although payments may in theory still be made from an unsecured debit account, this might constitute a breach of duty towards the bank. It is not permitted, on the other hand, to receive payments on unsecured debit accounts. That is why the managing director is obliged to get in touch with the customers and persuade them to make their payments to a different account that is in credit rather than the account to which they might normally make them. If no such account exists, the managing director must open a credit account and persuade the customers to withhold their payments until then.
14(2) No other reduction in net worth
The managing director may also not do anything that would result in a reduction in the net worth of the company when considered by itself. Nor may he deliver any goods if the customer has already paid for them in advance. Only if delivery of the goods generates a claim for the GmbH (as in the usual course of business) the goods may be delivered.
15(3) "Permitted" payments
The managing director may only make payments if not doing so would threaten the collapse of the business. He may accordingly continue to pay electricity, water, gas and telephone bills. Generally he is allowed to pay suppliers on a cash-in-advance basis so that they supply the necessary raw materials. In addition, he may pay the employer's share of social insurance contributions as well as payroll taxes and VAT, because otherwise he could make himself personally liable towards the social security institutions or the tax authorities.
16(4) Liability risks in the event that insolvency has occurred
The standard duties of the insolvency administrator in any insolvency proceedings include examining the possibility of liability claims against the managing director. The insolvency administrator will therefore always check when the insolvent GmbH was already technically insolvent, regardless of when the request for insolvency was actually filed. If it turns out that the GmbH was already illiquid or overindebted before the request for insolvency was filed, the managing director is liable for all payments and reductions in net worth occurring since that date. Even relatively short periods of time can lead to considerable liability amounts. Generally almost all expenditure of the enterprise constitutes prohibited payments within the meaning of section 64. Only a few payments are privileged (see a) cc) (3) above), and the privilege generally only applies for a short period of time. Since a technically insolvent enterprise rarely posts a profit, in the best case "breaking even", the expenditure is usually just as high as the sales (if not higher). The rule of thumb, therefore, is that the extent of the managing director's liability under section 64 corresponds in order of magnitude to the sales in the period of the delay in filing for insolvency. In the absence of any management liability insurance (D&O insurance), it is not uncommon for this liability to pose an existential threat for managing directors as well. Often the insolvency of a GmbH alone will perforce lead to the insolvency of the managing director also.
For this reason alone, it is vital to ensure that the request for insolvency is filed in time. For as long as the enterprise is "healthy", the conclusion of a D&O insurance policy is a matter of urgent consideration even for smaller GmbHs. Care must be taken to ensure that the policy terms do not provide for any exclusion in the case of insolvency.
172) From the point of view of the company
Section 64 has little relevance for the GmbH itself, at least for as long as it is "alive". The provision is ultimately only of relevance for the insolvency administrator. For the insolvency administrator, though, section 64 plays a major role in increasing the size of the insolvency estate, particularly as insolvencies in Germany are requested with an average delay of ten to twelve months. Nevertheless, in practice it is not easy for the insolvency administrator to demonstrate the claim.
18a) Demonstration of illiquidity
If the illiquidity is to be determined precisely on the basis of a liquidity status, the liabilities due at every relevant point in time must be compared with the liquid assets available on those dates. Since the accounting departments of small GmbHs are often unable to analyse the due dates, frequently the accounting data will need to be processed all over again.
The burden of proof for the insolvency administrator can, however, be eased if a suspension of payments can be assumed on the basis of external indicators (section 17 (2) 2nd clause InsO). Such external indicators include enforcement measures of individual creditors, considerable levels of arrears with several or major creditors, in some circumstances also numerous reminders and enforcement notices for a long period of time and the fact that long overdue obligations had stopped being paid by the time insolvency proceedings were opened. If the insolvency administrator can demonstrate a suspension of payments on the basis of such external facts, the burden of proof is reversed. In that case the managing director he is taking legal action against would have to present a liquidity status and prove that the GmbH was still able to meet payments despite the external indicators.
19b) Demonstration of overindebtedness
Given the considerable difficulties associated with valuation, it will likewise be far from simple for the insolvency administrator to prove overindebtedness if the commercial or tax balance sheet has not yet shown a negative equity. As soon, however, as the commercial or tax balance sheet shows a shortfall not covered by equity, the insolvency administrator can infer from this that the GmbH was also overindebted within the meaning of insolvency law. It is then up to the managing director at the centre of the legal action to prove that the GmbH was not actually overindebted (e.g. due to hidden reserves) or that it had a positive going-concern prognosis.
20c) Demonstration of prohibited payments
Demonstration of the prohibited payments also requires a certain amount of effort, because the insolvency administrator must demonstrate all the payments in detail. This can be particularly complicated if the account balances varied sharply, e.g. an account being run temporarily in credit and temporarily in debit (known as an oscillating account). This is crucial for determining whether the outgoing or incoming payments are relevant for liability within the meaning of section 64.
21d) Economic enforceability
Given the considerable liability amounts, a major role in the enforceability of the claim is played not least by the financial circumstances of the managing director. If no D&O insurance exists, it will therefore frequently be recommended that a financially oriented settlement with the managing director be sought instead of liability proceedings that can drag on for years.
223) From the point of view of the shareholders
Section 64 is of only secondary importance for the shareholders, because only in the rarest of cases can they be held liable under this provision. This would only happen if, through liability under section 64 – in the case of a very solvent managing director – the amount that can be realised for the insolvency estate is so high that, after all creditors of the estate (including the insolvency administrator) and all insolvency creditors (including those of lower rank) have been satisfied, there is an excess that can be distributed to the shareholders. While this set of circumstances is conceivable, since in terms of amount section 64 is not limited to the damage suffered by insolvency creditors, such a situation is really only possible in theory.
Section 64 sentence 3 establishes a right to refuse performance vis-à-vis shareholdersFCJ, verdict of 09.10.2012 – II ZR 298/11 = ZIP 2012, 2391, marginal number 18; very contentious - for an alternative view, Roth/Altmeppen, GmbHG, 8th ed. (2015), Section 64 marginal number 81; Baumbach/Hueck/Haas, GmbHG, 20th ed. (2013), Section 64 marginal number 107; HRG Munich, verdict of 06.05.2010 – 23 U 1564/10 = ZIP 2010, 1236, 1237 and HRG Munich, verdict of 22.12.2010 – 7 U 4960/07 = ZIP 2011, 225, marginal number 48 if the company is technically insolvent or if payment to the shareholder would exacerbate the technical insolvency or establish it in the first place.
234) Section 64 from the point of view of third parties
Section 64 establishes only an internal liability of the managing director towards the (insolvent) GmbH that is normally pursued by the insolvency administrator. Third parties can, however, come into the "enjoyment" of a managing director's liability under section 64 if the opening of insolvency proceedings is rejected for insufficiency of assets. In that eventuality third parties can attach the liability claim under section 64 against the managing director by way of individual enforcementCf. Baumbach/Hueck/Haas, GmbHG, 20th ed. (2013), Section 64 marginal number 11 a; Roth/Altmeppen, GmbHG, 8th ed. (2015), Section 64 marginal number 9 if they have acquired an enforceable writ against the GmbH.
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24a) Regulatory content
Section 64 prohibits any reduction in the value of the assets (and hence the subsequent insolvency estate) of a GmbH, and so contains a prohibition on a reduction in assets.Lutter/Hommelhoff/Kleindiek, GmbHG, 18th ed. (2012), Section 64 marginal number 1 From the moment that technical insolvency occurs the managing director should, in the interests of the entirety of creditors,
28a) Occurrence of illiquidity
Illiquidity is defined in section 17 (2) InsO. This provision states that the debtor is illiquid if he is no longer able to meet his due payment obligations. This definition also applies with regard to section 64 GmbHG.FCJ, verdict of 24.05.2005 – IX ZR 123/04, marginal number 8 = NZI 2005, 547 Illiquidity thus exists if, on a particular key date, the
3) Differentiation, casuistics
77In addition to section 64 liability, which normally only the insolvency administrator can assert (only in the case of rejection for lack of assets does an attachment of the claim by an individual creditor and hence an assertion by him come into consideration), the managing director is also liable to every single creditor under section 15a InsO in conjunction with section 823 (2) BGB.For an extensive explanation, Karsten Schmidt/Uhlenbruck, Die GmbH in Krise, Sanierung und Insolvenz, 5th ed. (2016), marginal number 11.1 ff.; Roth/Altmeppen, GmbHG, 8th ed. (2015), before Section 64 marginal number 121 ff. Accordingly, old creditors (i.e. those who were already creditors at the time technical insolvency occurred) can assert as a loss the deterioration in their insolvency quota brought about by the delay in filing for insolvency (known as the quota loss).Roth/Altmeppen, GmbHG, 8th ed. (2015), before Section 64 marginal number 122 Since in order to assert this claim the disadvantaged creditor would have to present his (hypothetical) prospects of satisfaction in the case that the request for insolvency had been filed in time, a quota loss is not asserted in practice. Of more relevance, on the other hand, is what is known as the new creditor's loss. Creditors who have entered into a contractual relationship with the insolvent GmbH or have continued to perform services for it after technical insolvency has occurred are damaged by the delay in filing for insolvency to the value of their advance performance (negative interestMüKo-Brandes/Gehrlein, InsO, 3rd ed. (2013), Section 92 marginal number 30), known as a contracting loss.Roth/Altmeppen, GmbHG, 8th ed. (2015), before Section 64 marginal number 128 Every new creditor can assert this loss individually. Section 92 InsO does not apply in this case.FCJ, verdict of 07.11.1994 – II ZR 108/93 = NJW 1995, 398, 399
4) Frequently used (chains of) clauses
Section 64 clause 1 GmbHG.
Sections 130a in conjunction with section 177a HGB.
Section 92 (2) in conjunction with section 93 (3) no. 6 AktG.
Section 823 (2) BGB in conjunction with section 15a InsO.
5) Procedural details
78In litigation it is initially incumbent upon the company or the suing insolvency administrator to show and prove the technical insolvency. Having regard to illiquidity, the insolvency administrator must show and prove either the liquidity shortfall based on a liquidity balance sheet or the suspension of payments based on objective criteria. If the insolvency administrator can only show and prove circumstances for a suspension of payments, the managing director can rebut the statutory presumption of section 17 (2) 2 InsO by presenting a liquidity balance sheet. Having regard to overindebtedness, it is already sufficient for the insolvency administrator to assert and substantiate the mathematical overindebtedness of the company.Baumbach/Hueck/Haas, GmbHG, 20th ed. (2013), Section 64 marginal number 90 Indeed, it should be sufficient for the insolvency administrator to show mathematical insolvency based on liquidation values.So, at least, Baumbach/Hueck/Haas, GmbHG, 20th ed. (2013), Section 64 marginal number 90; likewise OLG Celle, verdict of 23.12.2003 – 9 U 176/03 = GmbHR 2004, 568, 569 The insolvency administrator meets this burden of proof by showing mathematical insolvency on the basis of the commercial balance sheet.FCJ, verdict of 19.11.2013 – II ZR 229/11, marginal number 17 = NZI 2014, 232, 234 It is then incumbent upon the managing director to show and prove any higher valuations in the overindebtedness balance sheet and/or the existence of a positive going-concern prognosis.Scholz/Schmidt, GmbHG, 11th ed. (2015), Section 64 marginal number 204; Baumbach/Hueck/Haas, GmbHG, 20th ed. (2013), Section 64 marginal number 91
The suing insolvency administrator must also itemise all prohibited payments specifically by amount and recipient. The managing director must then show and prove for every single payment either that it did not lead to a reduction in the value of the estate or that it was compatible with the due diligence of a prudent businessman.
Local competence for a section 64 action rests with the local court at the registered office of the companyMüKo-H.F. Müller, GmbHG, 2nd ed. (2016), Section 64 marginal number 175 and the court of the domicile of the managing director (sections 12, 13 of the German Code of Civil Procedure, ZPO).
79Section 64 is of supreme importance in the practice of insolvency law. To avoid any liability when an enterprise is in crisis, it is absolutely essential that the managing directors seek legal advice.
The above does not claim to be an exhaustive presentation of all the problems that occur in practice and in particular is not a substitute for expert advice in the individual case. Even only a minor change in the circumstances at hand can result in a different legal assessment than the above explanations would suggest, since these tend to be based on typical sets of circumstances.
These explanations are the result of thorough research and are based on the extensive experience of the author in practice. Nevertheless, errors cannot be precluded. No warranty for the correctness and/or completeness of the above explanations is offered.