Indentures often provide that an indenture trustee’s expenses incurred after an event of default constitute administration expenses under applicable bankruptcy law. However, § 503(b)(5) requires indenture trustees to show that they have made a “substantial contribution” in a case in order to receive their fees and costs. This means that a trustee is held to a higher standard than the “actual, necessary” standard that other administrative expense claimants must satisfy pursuant to § 503(b)(1)(A). Even so, some courts permit trustees to be paid from estate funds under the terms of a chapter 11 plan without satisfying the substantial-contribution standard, although the case law is not uniform.
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Bankruptcy Update Blog provides current news and analysis of key bankruptcy cases and developments in US and cross-border matters. Patterson Belknap’s Business Reorganization and Creditors’ Rights attorneys represent creditors’ committees, trade creditors, indenture trustees, and bankruptcy trustees and examiners in US and international insolvency cases. Our team includes highly skilled and experienced attorneys who represent clients in some of the most complex cases in courts throughout the US and elsewhere.
Bankruptcy and Labor Law: Decision by Appeals Court Permits Debtor to Discharge an NLRB Fine in Bankruptcy
If the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) fines an employer for unlawfully firing workers who tried to unionize, can the employer discharge the fine in bankruptcy, or will the exception to discharge found in Bankruptcy Code section 523(a)(6) apply? That section bars discharge of debts that arise from “willful and malicious injury.” The issue was addressed recently in a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit following proceedings before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), the NLRB, a District Court, and a Bankruptcy Court. An individual debtor had sought to use bankruptcy to discharge a liability imposed by the NLRB. However, the NLRB argued that the discharge should be denied because the debtor had engaged in “willful and malicious injury,” citing 11 U.S.C. §523(a)(6). In a 2-1 decision, the Seventh Circuit held that the administrative finding that the debtor violated §158(a)(3) of the National Labor Relations Act —which prohibits an employer from discriminating an employee to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization—did not bar the debtor from arguing that he had not acted with malice.
A court in New York has allowed offshore debtors to take control of an investment account in the U.S. over the objection of a shareholder. At stake was the court’s discretion to permit chapter 15 debtors to access the funds and to transfer them outside the U.S. The shareholder asserted that its interests weren’t fully protected, but the court ruled that on balance the debtors’ need for the money outweighed the shareholder’s concerns.
Fraudulent transfer law allows creditors and bankruptcy trustees, under certain circumstances, to sue transferees to recover funds received where a debtor’s transfers to the transferees actually or constructively defrauded its creditors. Under both the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act adopted by most states and the fraudulent transfer action created by federal bankruptcy law, a transferee of an alleged fraudulent transfer may assert a defense from such liability by establishing that it received the transfer in good faith and for reasonably equivalent value. See 11 U.S.C. § 548(c); Tex. Bus. & Com. Code § 24.009(a). Many courts have held that a transferee lacks good faith if it has “inquiry notice,” that is, if it has knowledge that would make a reasonable person suspicious and suggest a need for further investigation, even if it lacks actual knowledge of the fraudulent nature of the transfer. But some courts have held that even a transferee with inquiry notice can maintain a good faith defense if it establishes that an investigation into the facts would have been futile because it would not have revealed the fraud. In Javney v. GMAG, L.L.C., No. 17-11526, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 759 (Jan. 9, 2019), the Fifth Circuit held that such a futility defense was not available under the Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (“TUFTA”).
A sex-abuse scandal has landed another organization in bankruptcy court. USA Gymnastics (“USAG”) filed chapter 11 last week in Indiana following a team doctor’s conviction for abusing hundreds of girls.
Creditors’ Contractual Autonomy Does Not Trump the Value of Bankruptcy Law as a Collective Dispute Resolution Mechanism
In a recent cross-border insolvency case, In re Agrokor d.d., 591 B.R. 163 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. 2018), Judge Glenn of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York recognized and enforced a restructuring plan approved by a Croatian court. Due to the nature of the debt to be discharged under the plan, the Court went through an in-depth analysis of international comity in the context of international bankruptcy law.
Defendants in a lawsuit didn’t waive their right to arbitrate even after moving to dismiss and answering a complaint, a court held last week. Arbitration wasn’t waived because the defendants hadn’t filed affirmative defenses or counterclaims and had taken no discovery. Trevino v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc. (In re Jose Sr. Trevino), Adv. Pro. No. 16-7024, 2018 Bankr. LEXIS 3605 (Bankr. S.D. Tex. Nov. 14, 2018).
Started as a mail-order retailer, evolved to brick-and-mortar stores in urban areas and expanded to a big-box retailer through merger, Sears is now facing the most turbulent time in its history. On October 15, 2018, Sears Holdings Corp.—the holding company of Sears and Kmart—along with its affiliated entities, filed a voluntary Chapter 11 petition in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. With assets of approximately $6.94 billion and liabilities of approximately $11.34 billion in total, the fate of “Where America Shops” remains unclear.
It’s hard to find something positive to write about Venezuela. Some basic facts tell the story of the misery there.
Consumer prices this year might rise one million percent. The minimum wage was increased by 3,000 percent so that seven million workers will now receive $20 a month. And many others live on just $2 to $8 a month and eat one meal a day. The poverty rate is a crushing 82 percent. Medicine is scarce.
Bankruptcy Court Finds Arbitration Clause in Consumer Loan Contract to be Sufficient Cause to Grant Relief from Automatic Stay
When a bankruptcy petition is filed, an automatic stay comes into effect staying proceedings against the debtor or the debtor’s property. 11 U.S.C. § 362(a). The stay centralizes litigation regarding the debtor and its property in the debtor’s bankruptcy case. When contract entered into pre-bankruptcy contains an arbitration clause, a bankruptcy court will consider if the stay should be enforced or if the parties can resolve the matter in arbitration. In In re Argon Credit, LLC, No. 16-39654 (Bankr. N.D. Ill. Sept. 21, 2018), a bankruptcy court considered this question in a dispute between two non-debtor parties concerning the validity of loans issued by the debtor and part of the debtor’s estate. The bankruptcy court ruled that the arbitration clause was binding and ordered the stay lifted to permit arbitration to go forward.
The Third Circuit denied a $275 million break-up fee to a bidder that was unsuccessful in its attempt to buy the crown-jewel assets in the high-profile EFH bankruptcy case. In re Energy Future Holdings Corp., No 18-1109, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 25945 (3rd Cir. Sept. 13, 3018). The court held that the bidder’s efforts didn’t result in a benefit to the debtors’ estates. Therefore, the bidder’s request for an administrative expense in the form of the fee was rejected.
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.
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).
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).
Section 327(a) of the Bankruptcy Code imposes restrictions on the employment of professionals to assist a trustee, requiring that such professionals “not hold or represent an interest adverse to the estate” and be “disinterested persons.” Section 363(b) permits the trustee, after notice and a hearing, to “use, sell, or lease, other than in the ordinary course of business, property of the estate,” and does not impose restrictions on employment comparable to those of section 327(a). On Monday, in In re Nine West Holdings, Inc., Case No. 18-10947 (SCC), Judge Shelley C. Chapman of the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York considered the relationship between those provisions in deciding on an application to retain a management consultancy firm that had already been assisting the debtors prior to the bankruptcy petition. Judge Chapman held that the application was properly considered under section 363(b) rather than section 327(a). Applying the business judgment standard under 363(b) rather than the more stringent standard under 327(a), Judge Chapman approved the application.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Perhaps this is one of the first articles you’re reading about the debt crisis in Venezuela. It won’t be the last. The situation there is bad and will get worse.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).