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Bankruptcy Remoteness Going to a Court of Appeals (Progress Report No. 3)

Our February 22 post reported that the Franchise Services of North America, Inc. decision of Bankruptcy Judge Edward Ellington of the Southern District of Mississippi dismissing a Chapter 11 petition because a shareholder had not approved the filing as required by the debtor’s charter was going directly to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on an expedited basis.  It is the first case concerning the merits of contractual or structural bankruptcy-remoteness in my memory to reach a Court of Appeals since the adoption of the Bankruptcy Code in 1978.  We promised to report on developments as they occur and reported on the filing of the debtor-appellant’s brief on March 19 and the appellees’ brief on April 16.

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Check Pleas: Reimbursement Check Delivered to Employee Pre-Petition is Unauthorized Post-Petition Transfer

Section 549 of the Bankruptcy Code permits a trustee or debtor in possession to avoid (and ultimately recover) a transfer of the debtor’s property “that occurs after the commencement of the case” and “is not authorized under this title or by the court.”  11 U.S.C. § 549.  This sensible provision safeguards property of the estate for ratable distribution to creditors in accordance with the priorities established by the Bankruptcy Code and provides the Trustee with the necessary authority to pursue transferees that receive property of the estate without Court approval. 

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Bankruptcy Remoteness Going to a Court of Appeals (Progress Report No. 2)

Our February 22 post reported that the Franchise Services of North America, Inc. decision of Bankruptcy Judge Edward Ellington of the Southern District of Mississippi dismissing a Chapter 11 petition because a shareholder had not approved the filing as required by the debtor’s charter was going directly to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on an expedited basis.  It is the first case concerning the merits of contractual or structural bankruptcy-remoteness in my memory to reach a Court of Appeals since the adoption of the Bankruptcy Code in 1978.  We promised to report on developments as they occur and reported on the filing of the debtor-appellant’s brief on March 19.

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Has Partial Substantive Consolidation Taken Off with Republic Airways Holdings?

Substantive consolidation is the ultimate disregard of the corporate separateness of a group of related debtors--it is “the effective merger of two or more legally distinct (albeit affiliated) entities into a single debtor with a common pool of assets and a common body of liabilities,”[1] but without the actual de jure merger of the debtors.  All of the assets of the several debtors are thrown into a single (metaphorical) pot, and all of the liabilities of the several debtors[2] are combined (with intercompany debts and multiple claims for the same underlying liability, such as parent or subsidiary guaranties, eliminated) against that pot of assets.  The substantive consolidation of entity debtors is not mentioned anywhere in the Bankruptcy Code[3] and rests entirely on judge-made law with its origins predating the adoption of the Code in 1978.[4]

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Delaware District Court Dismisses Appeal by Creditors’ Committee After Case is Converted from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7

The Bankruptcy Code provides for the appointment of a creditors’ committee in chapter 11 bankruptcy cases. See 11 U.S.C. § 1102. There is no parallel provision applicable to chapter 7 cases. When a bankruptcy case is converted from chapter 11 to chapter 7 while the creditors’ committee is pursuing an appeal, what happens to that appeal? In In re Constellation Enterprises LLC, Civ. No. 17-757-RGA, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47153 (D. Del. Mar. 22, 2018), the United States District Court for the District of Delaware held that such an appeal should be dismissed because the appellant, the creditors’ committee, had been dissolved by the conversion.

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Court Decision Reviews Key Concepts Concerning Executory Contracts

This post reviews some concepts concerning executory contracts. The ground covered will be familiar to insolvency experts and should be insightful for readers who don’t specialize in U.S. bankruptcy law.

The springboard for the overview is an opinion issued last week, In re Cho, Case No. 17-22057, 2018 LEXIS 700 (MMH) (Bankr. D. Md. Mar. 13, 2018).  Before the chapter 11 case was filed, Chong Ok Lim and Young Jun (“Plaintiffs”) owned a dry cleaning business that was later owned and operated by Byung Mook Cho (“Cho”).  The parties had a dispute that led to lawsuit and a judgment for the Plaintiffs.  Plaintiffs later alleged that Cho and He Sook Paik (“Paik“) “conspired to fraudulently convey” the dry cleaning business to Cho.

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Bankruptcy Remoteness Going to a Court of Appeals (Progress Report No. 1)

Our February 22 post reported that the Franchise Services of North America, Inc. decision of Bankruptcy Judge Edward Ellington of the Southern District of Mississippi dismissing a Chapter 11 petition because a holder of “golden share” stock had not approved the petition as required by the debtor’s charter was going directly to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on an expedited basis.  It is the first case concerning the merits of contractual or structural bankruptcy-remoteness in my memory to reach a Court of Appeals since the adoption of the Bankruptcy Code in 1978.  We promised to report on developments as they occur.

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In “Non-Statutory Insider” Case, Supreme Court Clarifies the Standard of Review for Mixed Questions of Law and Fact

In U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n v. Village at Lakeridge, LLC, No. 15-1509, 2018 U.S. LEXIS 1520 (Mar. 5, 2018), the Supreme Court analyzed the appropriate standard of review for appellate courts reviewing a bankruptcy court’s determination of a “mixed question” of law and fact.  But the Court did not address whether the lower courts’ various “non-statutory insider” tests should be refined—although the concurrences strongly suggest that issue may be ripe for increased scrutiny.

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Journal of Corporate Renewal Features Article by Daniel A. Lowenthal

On March 7, 2018, Journal of Corporate Renewal featured an article written by Daniel A. Lowenthal, Chair of Patterson Belknap’s Business Reorganization and Creditors' Rights Practice, entitled “Venezuelan Debt Crisis Intensifies as Its Leaders Ponder Responses.” Mr. Lowenthal discusses Venezuela's current debt crisis and the uncertainty of how it will unfold and how long it will take to resolve.

To read the full article, click here.

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Major Section 546(c) Safe Harbor Issue Resolved by the Supreme Court

Our post last year concerning “[t]he long-running litigation spawned by the leveraged buyout of Tribune Company . . . and the subsequent bankruptcy case” described a case--FTI v. Merit--that was then pending in the Supreme Court.  In that case, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit had construed the safe harbor provided in Section 546(e) of the Bankruptcy Code in conflict with its construction by the Second and Third Circuits (among others).  On February 27, the Supreme Court announced its unanimous decision affirming the Seventh Circuit.

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Bankruptcy court holds that state consumer fraud claims against corporations are dischargeable in bankruptcy

Section 1141(d)(6)(A) and section 523(a)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code together provide that debts owed by a corporation to a government entity are not dischargeable if such debts were obtained by false representations. Does this rule apply to claims by government entities seeking to enforce consumer fraud laws, where the government entities were not themselves the victims of the fraud? On February 14, 2018, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware held that it does not, ruling that such claims against corporations brought by states on behalf of their citizens are dischargeable in bankruptcy. In re TK Holdings Inc., Case No. 17-11375, 2018 Bankr. LEXIS 414 (Bankr. D. Del. Feb. 14, 2018).

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Bankruptcy Remoteness Going to a Court of Appeals

Back in the day--say, the last two decades of the twentieth century--we bankruptcy lawyers took it largely on faith that the right structural and contractual provisions purporting to confer bankruptcy-remoteness were enforceable and likely to be successful in preventing an entity from becoming, voluntarily or involuntarily, a debtor under the Bankruptcy Code.  During the latter part of the first decade of the twenty-first century, however, that faith began to erode as bankruptcy court case law began to accumulate which denied motions to dismiss petitions based upon remoteness provisions. 

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One and Done. Cramdown Requirement for an Impaired Assenting Class Applies on a Per-Plan, Not a Per-Debtor, Basis.

Confirmation of a Chapter 11 plan of reorganization generally requires the consent of each impaired class of creditors.  But, upon satisfaction of additional statutory requirements, a plan proponent can obtain confirmation of a “cramdown” plan over the dissent of one or more classes of creditors as long as “at least one class of claims that is impaired under the plan has accepted the plan.”

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Eighth Circuit rejects foreseeability test for notice to unknown creditors

In Dahlin v. Lyondell Chemical Co., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 1956 (8th Cir. Jan. 26, 2018), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an argument that bankruptcy debtors were required by due process to provide more prominent notice of a case filing than they did, such that the notice might have been seen by unknown creditors with claims to assert.

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Trademark Licenses . . . Again

A long-running issue concerning the treatment of trademark licenses in bankruptcy has seen a new milestone with the January 12 decision of the First Circuit in Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC.

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Third Circuit Holds Transfer from Non-Debtor Precludes Liability Under Delaware Fraudulent Transfer Law

In Crystallex Int'l Corp. v. Petróleos de Venez., S.A., Nos. 16-4012, 17-1439, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 95 (3d Cir. Jan. 3, 2018), the U.S. Court of Appeals held there could be no fraudulent transfer liability under the Delaware Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (“DUFTA”) where the transfer was made by a non-debtor entity—even where the debtor exercised complete control over the non-debtor and allegedly orchestrated transfers through the non-debtor to frustrate creditors.

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Chapter 15: U.S. Creditor Required to Seek Recovery in Foreign Main Proceeding

In this post, we return to cross-border insolvencies and examine one of the first decisions issued in 2018 by a bankruptcy court in a chapter 15 case: In re Energy Coal S.P.A., No. 15-12048 (LSS), 2018 Bankr. LEXIS 10 (Bankr. D. Del. Jan. 2, 2018), where the court allowed a creditor to liquidate its claim in a lawsuit brought against a debtor in the U.S., but required the creditor to seek collection from the debtor in the country where the foreign main proceeding was filed. The upshot of the decision is that respect for the foreign main proceeding and the concept of comity trumped contractual choice of law and venue provisions.

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Court Holds that Bankruptcy Judges Cannot Impose Punitive Sanctions

Bankruptcy courts lack the power to impose serious punitive sanctions, a federal district judge ruled recently in PHH Mortgage Corporation v. Sensenich, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 207801 (D. Vt.  Dec. 18, 2018). Judge Geoffrey Crawford reversed a bankruptcy judge’s ruling that had imposed sanctions against a creditor based on Rule 3002.1(i) of the Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, the bankruptcy court’s inherent authority, and Bankruptcy Code section 105.

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Debtor’s Subchapter S Status Isn’t Property of the Estate

This post examines an interesting intersection between bankruptcy and tax laws: if a corporation terminates its Subchapter S status pre-bankruptcy, can a bankruptcy trustee bring fraudulent transfer claims against the corporation’s shareholders to recover resulting tax refunds they receive? One bankruptcy court recently dismissed such fraudulent transfer claims on the ground that the corporation’s S status wasn’t property of the debtor’s bankruptcy estate, and thus the trustee couldn’t pursue the claims. Richard Arrowsmith v. United States (In re Health Diagnostic Lab., Inc.), 2017 LEXIS 4148 (Bankr. ED Va. Dec. 6, 2017). This decision adds to a split of authority on this issue.

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Litigation Funders’ Collateral Did Not Include Malpractice Claims

When the fallout from failed intellectual-property litigation collides with bankruptcy, the complexities may be dizzying enough, but when the emerging practices and imperatives of litigation financing are imposed on those complexities, the situation might be likened to three-dimensional chess.  But in the court of one veteran bankruptcy judge, the complexities were penetrated to reveal that elementary errors and oversights can have decisive effects.

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Forum Selection Clause in an Unsigned Pre-Petition Engagement Letter is Binding on Chapter 11 Trustee.

Every lawyer knows that it is important to enter into a signed engagement letter with a client before commencing legal representation.  But, as one law firm recently discovered, even an unsigned engagement letter is better than none at all.  The decision of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Glass v. Miller & Martin, PLLC addresses this plus several other key concepts for Bankruptcy Court litigants.[1]  

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Solicitor General recommends US Supreme Court review in dischargeability case

On November 9, responding to a request from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Solicitor General filed a brief at the Court recommending that the petition for writ of certiorari in Lamar, Archer & Cofrin, LLP v. Appling, No. 16-11911, be granted. The petition, seeking review of a unanimous panel decision of the Eleventh Circuit, presents the question of “whether (and, if so, when) a statement concerning a specific asset can be a ‘statement respecting the debtor's . . . financial condition’ within Section 523(a)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code.” There is a circuit split on this question, though the parties dispute its extent and its ripeness.

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Non-Consensual Third-Party Releases in Chapter 11 Plans: a Recent Decision

A recent decision of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York provides important guidance on the limits of nonconsensual third-party releases in the Second Circuit. SunEdison, Inc. sought confirmation of a plan for itself and its affiliated debtors.  The plan included releases of claims against non-debtor third parties by any creditor that was entitled to but did not cast a vote on the plan. No party objected to the release at the confirmation hearing, but Judge Bernstein asked sua sponte whether he had authority to bind non-voting creditors to broad releases of claims against third parties.

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Second Circuit Addresses Key Chapter 11 Plan Issue

It is a unique characteristic of debt restructuring under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code that a majority of a class of creditors can accept a modification of the terms of the debts owed to the class members, as provided in a plan of reorganization, and thereby bind non-accepting class members.  The ordinary route to confirming a Chapter 11 plan is to obtain its acceptance by a majority of every impaired class of creditors and equity holders.

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In Preference Suit, Seventh Circuit Holds That Debtor’s Assignment of Contractual Rights Does Not Negate Creditor’s New Value Defense

In Levin v. Verizon Bus. Global, LLC (In re OneStar Long Distance, Inc.), 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 18374 (7th Cir. Sept. 22, 2017), the Seventh Circuit recently addressed a situation where a debtor sought to reduce a creditor’s new value defense in a preference avoidance action.  The Seventh Circuit held that the debtor’s assignment of contractual rights to a third party did not constitute a transfer “to or for the benefit of” the creditor, such that the transfer would reduce the creditor’s new value defense under 11 U.S.C. § 547(c)(4)(B).

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Waivers of Jury Trials and Lawsuits in Bankruptcy Cases

Figuring out when a pre-petition waiver of a jury trial will be respected in lawsuits brought in bankruptcy cases can be tricky. In a recent case, In re D.I.T., Inc., 2017 Bankr. LEXIS 3386 (Bankr. S.D. Fla. Oct. 2, 2017), a court distinguished between claims belonging to a debtor pre-petition and those belonging to a debtor-in-possession.

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Fees for Fees: Testing the Limits of ASARCO

Unsecured creditors and other stakeholders sometimes challenge the reasonableness of fees incurred by estate professionals in a bankruptcy case.  Whether this is to augment unsecured creditor recoveries or serve as a check on the private bar is in the eye of the beholder.  Whatever the reason, fee litigation in bankruptcy caused many professionals to seek payment from the bankruptcy estate for any fees incurred defending against an objection to their fees. This practice was eventually challenged and, in 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bankruptcy Code does not permit it.  The Court’s holding was grounded in the American Rule, which provides that “[e]ach litigant pays his own attorney’s fees, win or lose, unless a statute or contract provides otherwise.”  Section 330(a)(1)’s provision for “reasonable compensation for actual, necessary services rendered,” the Court announced, “neither specifically nor explicitly authorizes courts to shift the costs of adversarial litigation from one side to the other—in this case, from the attorneys seeking fees to the administrator of the estate—as most statutes that displace the American Rule do.”

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Court Nixes Amended Claim Filed After the Effective Date

In a recent post, here, we wrote about a court decision that discussed deadlines for proofs of claim in a case involving a Ponzi scheme. Then, last week, another court issued a decision concerning late amendments to proofs of claim. In re James F. Humphreys & Assocs., L.C., Case No. 2:16-bk-20006 (Bankr. S.D. W.Va. Sept. 27, 2017). The upshot of this case is that amendments to proofs of claim filed after a plan’s effective date will be denied absent “compelling reasons.”

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Hartford Bankruptcy Looming after Latest Downgrade

The City Once Dubbed “New England's Rising Star” Has Fallen on Hard Times

On Tuesday, two leading credit-rating agencies again downgraded the city of Hartford:  Moody’s Investors Service now rates the struggling city at Caa3, while S&P Global Ratings has lowered its rating to CC.  They attribute the junk classification to the increasing likelihood of a default by Hartford on its debt service obligations to bondholders. 

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Reversing the District Court, the First Circuit Says PROMESA Provides for an “Unconditional Right to Intervene,” Deepening Circuit Split on Applicability of 11 U.S.C. § 1109(b) in Adversary Proceedings

Last week, in Assured Guaranty Corp. v. Fin. Oversight and Mgmt. Bd. for Puerto Rico, No. 17-1831, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 18387 (1st Cir., Sept. 22, 2017), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit issued a noteworthy decision in the Puerto Rico quasi-bankruptcy proceedings.  Overturning the district court’s ruling, the Court of Appeals held that the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (“PROMESA”), 48 U.S.C. §§ 2161-2177, provides for a non-discretionary “unconditional right to intervene,” pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a)(1).  Although decided within the context of the Puerto Rico proceedings, the First Circuit’s decision deepens a circuit split on whether the unconditional right to intervene, set forth in 11 U.S.C. § 1109(b), applies to adversary proceedings.

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Ninth Circuit Opens the Door A Bit Wider for Recoveries from the IRS

Avoiding a fraudulent transfer to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) in bankruptcy has become easier, or at least clearer, as a result of a recent unanimous decision by a panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Zazzali v. United States (In re DBSI, Inc.), 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 16817 (9th Cir. Aug. 31, 2017).

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Puerto Rico: Commonwealth-COFINA Dispute Teed Up for Resolution by Year’s End

On June 30, 2016, the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico (“Oversight Board”), which was established under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (“PROMESA”), filed a voluntary petition for relief for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (the “Commonwealth”).  On May 5, Chief Justice Roberts appointed District Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the Southern District of New York to conduct the case.  Judge Swain was a bankruptcy judge in the Eastern District of New York before joining the district court in 2000. 

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Something New Under the Sun?

The long-running litigation spawned by the leveraged buyout of Tribune Company, which closed in December 2007, and the subsequent bankruptcy case commenced on December 8, 2008 has challenged the maxim that “there’s nothing new under the sun” even for this writer with four decades of bankruptcy practice behind him.

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Lehman Brothers Announces Settlement to Resolve Massive RMBS Claims; Estimation Hearing Slated for Later This Year

For over eight years, In re Lehman Bros., No. 08-13555-scc (Bankr. S.D.N.Y.), has been one of the most active, complex bankruptcy dockets in the country.  A large portion of the remaining contested matters in that case are claims by trustees for residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS), who continue to pursue claims against the Lehman estate for losses caused by toxic mortgages.  Recent developments show that Lehman is trying to wrap up many, if not most, of those RMBS claims by the end of this year.

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No Easy Way Out: Legal Malpractice Defendants Desiring an Alternative Forum May Be Forced to Litigate in Bankruptcy Court until the Case is “Trial Ready”

Some legal malpractice defendants are content to litigate claims asserted by debtors in the bankruptcy court.  But many others, fearing that the debtor’s creditors may view them as a deep-pocketed resource to augment their own recoveries, would prefer to defend malpractice claims in what they view as a more neutral forum.  A recent decision by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida underscores how difficult it can be for lawyers and law firms in this latter group to move a legal malpractice case out of bankruptcy court, even when it is clear that the bankruptcy court cannot finally adjudicate the dispute.

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First Circuit Clarifies the Scope of the Bankruptcy Court’s Jurisdiction in Civil Proceedings

Recently, in Gupta v. Quincy Medical Center, 858 F.3d 657 (1st Cir. 2017), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit clarified the limits of the bankruptcy courts’ subject-matter jurisdiction over civil proceedings.  The decision, authored by Judge Lipez and joined by retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter (sitting by designation), provides a thorough analysis of the bankruptcy courts’ jurisdiction in such cases.

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Non-Monetary Preferences

Most everyone who has been around the business and legal worlds for even a little while is familiar with the clawback by bankruptcy trustees of money that was paid by the debtor to creditors on the eve of bankruptcy.  We bankruptcy lawyers know this as the avoidance of preferential payments under Section 547 of the Bankruptcy Code.  Good credit and collection folks at our clients have developed an aversion to the word “preference” because they think the Code was deliberately designed to punish the diligent and reward the lazy (and, in a sense, they’re right).

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Chapter 15 Petition Granted Over Allegations of Wrongdoing

Bankruptcy Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil recently granted chapter 15 recognition to a Russian insolvency case over objections that the foreign representative had engaged in wrongdoing. In re Poymanov, 2017 Bankr. LEXIS 2130 (S.D.N.Y. Bankr. July 31, 2017). Judge Vyskocil held that the evidence did not support the allegations of impropriety and that recognition of the Russian case as a foreign main proceeding would not violate US public policy.

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An Inconvenient Truth: Litigants’ Access to U.S. Bankruptcy Courts is Subject to Doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens

A recent decision of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York confirms that despite the increasing frequency and ease with which foreign plaintiffs and defendants can gain access to Bankruptcy Courts in the United States (through Chapter 15 or otherwise), those courts will not hesitate to dismiss a case on the ground of forum non conveniens

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