Category: Case Summaries
We generally advise clients to think carefully before commencing an involuntary bankruptcy petition against an alleged debtor. One of the primary reasons for our caution is section 303(i) of the Bankruptcy Code, which provides that “(i) If the court dismisses [an involuntary] petition under this section other than on consent of all petitioners and the debtor, and if the debtor does not waive the right to judgment under this subsection, the court may grant judgment—(1) against the petitioners and in favor of the debtor for—(A) costs; or (B) a reasonable attorney’s fee; or (2) against any petitioner that filed the petition in bad faith, for—(A) any damages proximately caused by such filing; or (B) punitive damages.” A recent unreported decision of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals underscores the serious consequences that can flow from an adverse judgment under this section of the Code.
Third Circuit Enforces Plan Releases Against Later-Purchasing Shareholders Bringing Claims Concerning Post-Confirmation Conduct
Bankruptcy plans often include provisions releasing debtors and their officers and directors from certain potential liability. In Zardinovsky v. Arctic Glacier Income Fund, No. 17-2522 (3d Cir. Aug. 20, 2018), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that such a provision bound shareholders who purchased the shares after confirmation, as to post-confirmation claims including securities fraud and breach of fiduciary duty. Because this decision was at the motion to dismiss stage, what follows are the court’s characterization of the facts as alleged in the complaint.
In January 2014, Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc. (“Lehman”) settled claims filed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac arising out of each of their purchases of mortgage loans from Lehman and its affiliates. Lehman then sought to recoup the amounts paid to Fannie and Freddie by way of third-party indemnification claims brought in the Bankruptcy Court against financial institutions that it alleges sold or submitted the defective mortgage loans into Lehman’s loan sale and securitization channels in the first place. A number of the financial institutions moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Earlier this week, Bankruptcy Judge Shelley Chapman held that the Bankruptcy Court has “related to” jurisdiction over the indemnification claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1334(b) and therefore denied the motions to dismiss.
The Bankruptcy Court in Delaware recently denied a request for an administrative expense claim to an entity that tried but failed to buy a debtor’s key assets. The decision arises out of the first of three attempts by entities to purchase Oncor Electric Delivery Company LLC (“Oncor”) in the complex Energy Future Holdings Corp. bankruptcy cases. In re Energy Future Holdings Corp., 2018 Bankr. LEXIS 2257 (Bankr. D. Del. Aug. 1, 2018).
In 2010, Lehman Brothers Special Financing Inc. (“Lehman”) commenced an adversary proceeding against Shinhan Bank (“Shinhan”) to avoid and recover pre-bankruptcy transfers made to the South Korean bank. In 2015, while a motion to dismiss the case was pending, a mediator proposed a resolution to both sides at a settlement conference. Two weeks later, counsel for Shinhan emailed the mediator that “Shinhan has agreed to accept” the settlement, whereupon the mediator notified both parties that a settlement was reached.
An accounting firm in the United States must produce workpapers to a chapter 15 foreign representative even if the law where the foreign main proceeding is pending would not permit such production. CohnReznick LLP v. Foreign Representatives of Platinum Partners Value Arbitrage Fund L.P. (In re Platinum Partners Value Arbitrage Fund L.P.), No. 18-5176 (DLC), 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109684 (S.D.N.Y June 29, 2018).
Courts in the Fourth and Seventh Circuits have disagreed whether objection and attendance at a hearing are prerequisites for satisfying the “person aggrieved” requirement for appellate standing. Compare In re Schultz Mfg. Fabricating Co., 956 F.2d 686, 690 (7th Cir. 1992) (attendance and objection at a bankruptcy court proceeding are requirements for appellate standing) with In re Urban Broad. Corp., 401 F.3d 236, 244 (4th Cir. 2005) (attendance and objection are not necessary for standing to appeal a bankruptcy court order).
Supreme Court Resolves Circuit Split on the Dischargeability of Debts Obtained by Oral Misrepresentations
On June 4, the Supreme Court decided Lamar, Archer & Cofrin, LLP v. Appling, No. 16-1215, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Sotomayor. The Court affirmed the Eleventh Circuit and resolved a circuit split about the meaning of “statement respecting the debtor’s . . . financial condition” in section 523(a)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code.
Judge Martin Glenn granted recognition to a UK scheme of arrangement with third-party releases that lacked full creditor consent. In re Avanti Communs. Grp., PLC, No. 18-10458, 2018 Bankr. LEXIS 1078 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. Apr. 9, 2018). While stating that “granting third-party releases in chapter 11 cases is controversial,” Judge Glenn noted that courts will more willingly enforce third-party releases in chapter 15 cases, given the importance of comity and respect for foreign proceedings.
In a recent decision, In re B.C.I Fins. Pty Ltd. (In Liquidation), No. 17-11266, 2018 Bankr. LEXIS 1217 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. Apr. 24, 2018), Judge Sean Lane granted a chapter 15 petition after rejecting a challenge to jurisdiction in the Southern District of New York. He held that, under Bankruptcy Code section 109(a), jurisdiction was established in the district because the debtors had a retainer payment there and claims against corporate directors for breaching fiduciary duties.
Bankruptcy Court Holds That Transferee Not Liable For Intentional Fraudulent Transfer Where Funds Were Returned To Debtor
Section 544 of the Bankruptcy Code permits a bankruptcy trustee to avoid any transfer that would be avoidable by creditors under state fraudulent transfer law. Section 550 of the Bankruptcy Code permits the bankruptcy trustee to recover from the transferee the transferred property in a fraudulent transfer avoided under section 550. Where funds were transferred in an intentional fraudulent transfer, but subsequently an equal or greater quantity of funds were transferred back to the debtor from the transferee, can the trustee still recover from the transferee? The Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently considered this question in In re Incare LLC, Adv. No. 14-0248, 2018 Bankr. LEXIS 1339 (E.D. Pa. May 7, 2018), and held that the answer was no, the trustee cannot recover.
In BFP v. Resolution Tr. Corp., 511 U.S. 531 (1994), the Supreme Court held that a mortgage foreclosure sale conducted in accordance with state law was shielded from avoidance under the Bankruptcy Code’s fraudulent conveyance provision, 11 U.S.C. § 548. In the wake of BFP, the federal courts have wrestled with the question of whether tax sales—distinct from foreclosures, but similar in concept—may be avoided in bankruptcy. Two strands of analysis have emerged: whether tax sales may be set aside as a fraudulent conveyance under section 548, and whether tax sales may be attacked as a preferential transfer under section 547. In both strands, the federal courts have continued to reach divergent, and often contradictory, results.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
The Second Circuit recently issued an important decision on a “related to” jurisdiction case arising out of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. SPV Osus, Ltd. v. UBS AG, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 3088 (2d Cir. Feb. 9, 2018).
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Dispute Evolution: A bona fide dispute regarding claim amount may disqualify creditor from maintaining an involuntary case.
Section 303(b)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code generally requires three petitioning creditors to join an involuntary petition, each of which must hold claims against the debtor that are not contingent as to liability and are not the subject of a bona fide dispute as to liability or amount.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.”
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.”
Court decisions about failed Ponzi schemes often make good reading. The fact patterns always involve actual fraud. The illicit schemes give rise to insightful discussions on various legal concepts.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the Nortel Networks Inc. bankruptcy cases, Judge Kevin Gross rejected a challenge by two bondholders to fees charged by an indenture trustee and its professionals. In re Nortel Networks Inc., 2017 Bankr. LEXIS 674 (Bankr. D. Del. Mar. 8, 2017).
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