26 October 2009

Middle Names In Colorado

The woman in the picture above is not the person involved in the lawsuit discussed below, although they share a first and last name.

The Colorado Supreme Court is considering a question of Colorado law referred to it from federal court regarding middle names:

No. 09SA257, In re: Rocky Mountain Bank v. France


On September 10, 2009, the supreme court accepted the following certified question of law from the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Colorado:

Whether a financing statement, which identifies the individual debtor's correct first and last name, only, but does not include the debtor's middle initial or middle name and thereby does not identify the debtor's full legal name, sufficiently provides the name of the debtor consistent with Colo. Rev. Stat. section 4-9-503(a)(4)(A) so as to establish a perfected and enforceable secured claim.

As a general rule in similar cases involving real estate records, Colorado courts have held that middle names are irrelevant, although this rule hasn't been absolute unequivocal and categorical (i.e. there are some facts and circumstances that come into play). Many of the cases involved are old, however.

This case involves loans with personal property as collateral and I would be surprised if the Colorado Supreme Court reached a different conclusion. Indeed, the premise that a middle name is part of a person's "full legal name" is not well established in Colorado.

The other deep question involved in this case is that Colorado law generally allows for common law name changes. Your name is what you use, even if no formal court document authorizes the change. Common law name changes are a nightmare for the tidy bureaucratic worlds of driver's license bureaus, and Uniform Commercial Code databases and the like. Thus, even if you are born with a middle name, if you don't use it, that middle name might cease to be part of your full legal name.

Normally, a Uniform Commercial Code filing will include a taxpayer ID number and debtor address, and sometimes information about co-debtors rather than just a first and last name in a vacuum. And, since the records are kept at a state level, usually based upon the debtor's domicile, there is always at least some further specificity that rules out same named people in other states. If there are clarifying facts of any kind in the filing, as well as the name, the case that a first and last name is insufficient to identify someone seems increasingly implausible. If a filing identifies one and only one person who resides in the state, the filing can hardly be described as too vague to identify a debtor.

Also, since the filings identify the creditor, who may have additional information, the usual rule is to hold that interested persons should call the creditor if there could be a match, but the match isn't certain.

It appears that the bankruptcy trustee is making the case that middle names or initials are required on behalf of the unsecured creditors of Carl Nelson France and Jamie H. France, and that the bank is the party with a loan that has property owned by the debtors as collateral. The particular names of the parties could be legally relevant in this case, because a common name (Jose Gonzales or Henry Smith, for example) might pose issues different from those of relatively uncommon names like these. One suspects that the Carl France in this litigation is the same Carl France who owns a troubled pipeline company called IXP in Fruita, Colorado and this case involves the Jamie France who lives in Western Colorado, rather than Miss Teen Oregon 2009.

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