Justia Bankruptcy Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals
In re: Paul Ruitenberg, III
Before Paul filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Paul and Candace were in divorce proceedings in New Jersey. No final judgment existed nor was there a division of marital assets. Based on an estimate of her expected share of marital assets, Candace filed a timely proof of claim for $577,935 against Paul’s bankruptcy estate, apparently premised on her stake in a partnership that was legally titled in Paul’s name and, therefore, passed to his bankruptcy estate. It would likely be distributed as shared marital property in a divorce decree. The trustee sought to expunge the claim, arguing that Candace’s interest in equitably dividing marital property in Paul’s bankruptcy estate was not a “claim” under 11 U.S.C. 101(5), because the state court had not entered a final divorce decree before Paul’s filing. The bankruptcy judge found that the claim for equitable distribution arose prepetition and must be allowed. On direct appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed. Although Candace did not have an equitable distribution decree in hand at the time Paul filed for bankruptcy, the focus should not be on when the claim accrues, but whether a claim exists. Given the Bankruptcy Code’s expansive definition of “claim,” a non-debtor spouse has an allowable pre-petition claim against the bankruptcy estate for equitable distribution of marital property when the parties are in divorce proceedings before the bankruptcy petition is filed. View "In re: Paul Ruitenberg, III" on Justia Law
In re: Emoral, Inc.
Aaroma acquired certain assets and liabilities of Emoral, a manufacturer of diacetyl, a chemical used in the food flavoring industry. The parties were aware of potential claims arising from exposure to diacetyl. Their agreement stated that Aaroma was not assuming liabilities related to “Diacetyl Litigation,” and was not purchasing Emoral’s corresponding insurance coverage. Emoral filed for bankruptcy. The Trustee and Aaroma entered into an agreement, under which Aaroma paid $500,000 and the Trustee released Aaroma from any “causes of action . . . that are property of the Debtor’s Estate.” In response to objections by the Diacetyl Claimants, the parties added that their agreements would not “operate as a release of, or a bar to prosecution of any claims held by any person which do not constitute Estate’s Released Claims.” The Bankruptcy Court approved the settlement without resolving whether the Diacetyl claims constituted “Estate’s Released Claims.” The Diacetyl Claimants filed individual complaints, alleging that Aaroma was a “mere continuation” of Emoral. The Bankruptcy Court held that the Diacetyl claims were not property of the estate. The district court reversed, finding that the claim for successor liability was a “generalized” claim belonging to the estate because a finding that Aaroma was a “mere continuation” of Emoral would benefit Emoral’s creditors generally. The Third Circuit affirmed. Because the Diacetyl claim belongs to the bankruptcy estate, it falls within the “Estate’s Released Claims.” The Diacetyl Plaintiffs have no apparent recourse against Aaroma. View "In re: Emoral, Inc." on Justia Law
In Re: Friedman’s Inc
In the 90 days prior to filing for bankruptcy Debtor made payments for personnel to Roth Staffing totaling $81,997.57. After these preferential transfers, but before the petition was filed, Roth provided Debtor with services valued at $100,660.88 and was not paid. Debtor sought to pay its employees and independent contractors prepetition wages, compensation, and related benefits. The Bankruptcy Court granted the motion and after filing its bankruptcy petition, Debtor paid $72,412.71 to Roth for pre-petition staffing services. Debtor’s successor in interest later sought to avoid transfers made to Roth. Under the Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. 547(b), the trustee may avoid certain preferential transfers made by a debtor to a creditor during the 90 days before its bankruptcy petition was filed. A creditor who gives the debtor new value after a preference payment, however, may use the “new value” defense to offset an otherwise avoidable preference. That defense is not applicable to the extent that, thereafter, the debtor makes “an otherwise unavoidable transfer” to the creditor on account of the value received. The Bankruptcy Court, district court, and Third Circuit agreed that where “an otherwise unavoidable transfer” is made after the filing of a bankruptcy petition, it does not affect the new value defense.View "In Re: Friedman's Inc" on Justia Law
In Re: Nortel Networks, Inc.
The multinational telecommunications firm Nortel declared bankruptcy in 2009 and various debtors comprising the Nortel brand auctioned their business lines and intellectual property, raising $7.5 billion. The debtors subsequently disputed whether they had agreed to allocate the auction funds through arbitration. The Bankruptcy Court held that they had not agreed to arbitrate their disputes about allocation. The Third Circuit affirmed: the contract at issue does not reflect the debtors’ intent to arbitrate disputes about the auction funds. The court declined to consider the Joint Administrators’ related challenge to the Bankruptcy Court’s decision to allocate the contested funds, noting that the Bankruptcy Court has not yet held the hearing to allocate the funds, so that review would be premature. View "In Re: Nortel Networks, Inc." on Justia Law
In re: KB Toys Inc.
In Chapter 11 liquidation of KB Toys Inc. and affiliated entities, the Residual Trustee of the KBTI Trust sought to disallow certain trade claims that ASM (a company in the business of purchasing bankruptcy claims) obtained from creditors. Under 11 U.S.C. 502(d) a claim can be disallowed if a claimant receives property that is avoidable or recoverable by the bankruptcy estate. The Bankruptcy Court disallowed the claims, concluding that a claims purchaser holding a trade claim is subject to the same 502(d) challenge as the original claimant. ASM was on “constructive notice” of potential preference actions, could have discovered the potential for disallowance with “very little due diligence,” and was not entitled to protection as a “good faith” purchaser. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed, holding that a trade claim that is subject to disallowance under502(d) in the hands of the original claimant is similarly disallowable in the hands of a subsequent transferee. View "In re: KB Toys Inc." on Justia Law
Simon v. FIA Card Servs., NA
The Simons filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, identifying a nonpriority credit-card debt to FIA. FIA retained Weinstein, which sent the Simons a letter and notice through their bankruptcy counsel, stating that FIA was an adversary proceeding under 11 U.S.C. 523 to challenge dischargeability, but offering to forego the proceeding if the Simons stipulated that the debt was nondischargeable or agreed to a reduced amount. The letter stated that a Rule 2004 examination had been scheduled, but that Weinstein was open to settlement; it mentioned the possibility of rescheduling and set out information about challenging the debt. The subpoena certificate, signed by a Weinstein attorney, stated that a copy was mailed to the Simons’ home and their attorney’s office. The Simons allege that Weinstein did not actually send it to their home. Their counsel received copies. The Simons moved to quash, alleging violations of Bankruptcy Rule 9016 and Civil Rule 45 subpoena requirements, and filed an adversary proceeding asserting Fair Debt Collection Practices Act claims based on the letter. The Bankruptcy Court quashed the notices, but ruled that it lacked jurisdiction over the FDCPA claims. The Simons then sued FIA and Weinstein in the district court, which dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of 15 U.S.C 1692e(5) and (13) claims for allegedly failing to identify the recording method in the Rule 2004 examination and by issuing the subpoenas from a district other than where the examinations were to be held. The court also affirmed dismissal of a 1692e(11) claim because its mini-Miranda requirement conflicts with the Bankruptcy Code automatic stay. The court reversed dismissal of claims based failing to serve the subpoenas directly on the individuals and failing to include the text of Civil Rule 45(c)–(d) in the subpoenas. View "Simon v. FIA Card Servs., NA" on Justia Law
In re: Miller
The Millers retained Ettinger in 2008 to represent them in a landlord/tenant dispute. Over 23 months, Ettinger billed $43,000. The dispute settled for $9,500. The Millers paid Ettinger $20,000, but even before the landlord-tenant matter settled, Ettinger sought relief in Pennsylvania state court to accelerate the speed at which he was paid. He petitioned to withdraw as a counsel, first based on alleged failure to pay and then due to professed “lack of cooperation.” Both petitions were rejected, though the Millers were ordered to make “good faith” payments. Despite their continued payments, Ettinger sued the Millers, who filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection the following month. Ettinger filed an adversary proceeding in the Bankruptcy Court to prevent discharge of the Millers’ remaining debt to him, alleging fraud. The Bankruptcy Court rejected the complaint and imposed a $20,000 sanction against Ettinger jointly with his attorney. The district court vacated on the ground that the sanctions violated the “safe harbor” requirements of Fed. R. Bankr. P. 9011, which requires 21 days between serving and filing a sanctions motion, during which period the challenged conduct may be remedied, but refused to remand for further consideration. The Third Circuit remanded with instructions to permit the Bankruptcy Court to consider alternative avenues to impose sanctions. View "In re: Miller" on Justia Law
In Re: W.R. Grace & Co.
For more than 30 years, Grace has defended itself against asbestos-related lawsuits filed by building owners seeking redress for costs involved in removing Grace products. AMH owns a hospital complex that used Grace products in its construction and filed a class action lawsuit in South Carolina state court. Before resolution of that litigation, Grace filed a petition for Chapter 11 protection. After about 10 years, most property damage claims against Grace had been settled, contingent on approval of an 11 U.S.C. 524(g) trust and an injunction channeling property damage claims against Grace to that trust for payment. AMH did not settle. The Bankruptcy Court confirmed Grace’s reorganization, including a trust and channeling injunction, over AMH’s objections. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the reorganization plan did not meet the requirements of section 524(g), which provides a mechanism for handling overwhelming asbestos-related liabilities in Chapter 11 proceedings; that the plan failed to provide equal treatment as required by 11 U.S.C. 1123(a)(4), (C) ; that Grace did not show that the Plan was proposed in good faith under 11 U.S.C. 1129(a) and did not show that the Plan is feasible. View "In Re: W.R. Grace & Co." on Justia Law
In re: W.R. Grace & Co.
Grace has manufactured and sold specialty chemicals and construction materials for more than 100 years. The company began facing asbestos-related lawsuits in the 1970s, based on several products and activities, including operation of a Montana vermiculite mine that released asbestos-containing dust into the atmosphere and sale of Zonolite Attic Insulation (ZAI). Montana and the Crown (Canada) have been sued for alleged failure to warn citizens of the risks posed by Grace’s products and activities. Montana settled its cases for $43 million in 2011. The Crown is a defendant in lawsuits arising from the use of ZAI. Montana and the Crown sought indemnification from Grace. Grace sought protection under the Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. 524(g), which allows a company to establish a trust to handle such liabilities. Montana and the Crown objected to confirmation of a Plan of Reorganization that will send all asbestos claims to two trusts, allowing protected parties to be “unconditionally, irrevocably and fully released.” The personal injury trust is funded by $ 1.5 billion from settlements with Grace’s insurers and former affiliates, an initial payment from Grace of $ 450 million, a warrant to acquire 10 million shares of Grace common stock at $ 17 per share, and annual cash payments from Grace of $100-110 million through 2033. The property damage trust is funded by an initial payment of 180 million dollars, and a subsequent payment of 30 million dollars. The two trusts have separate mechanisms for resolving claims. The bankruptcy court, the district court, and the Third Circuit confirmed the plan. View "In re: W.R. Grace & Co." on Justia Law
In re: SemCrude LP
The companies supplied oil and gas to SemCrude on credit. After SemCrude petitioned for bankruptcy, the companies filed a complaint contending that they retained property and statutory lien rights in those commodities and asserted that their claims could not be discharged without affording them the opportunity to litigate their claims in an adversary proceeding. They were not given that opportunity. The court instead established global procedures that entitled the companies to file one representative proceeding for each state in which they supplied oil and gas. All interested parties had the right to brief, and present oral argument on, their claims. Regardless whether a company participated, however, the rulings from the representative action would be binding on it. After such proceedings, the court rejected the companies’ claims that that they retained property and statutory lien rights. Following confirmation of Semcrude’s reorganization plan, the companies appealed to the district court, which rejected their claims as equitably moot. The Third Circuit reversed. The record did not support SemCrude’s claims that granting the companies relief would collapse its plan of reorganization or undermine the justifiable reliance of third parties to their significant harm. View "In re: SemCrude LP" on Justia Law