Justia Bankruptcy Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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A group of individuals, including D&T Partners LLC and ACET Global LLC, alleged that Baymark Partners Management LLC and others attempted to steal the assets and trade secrets of their e-commerce company through shell entities, corrupt lending practices, and a fraudulent bankruptcy. The plaintiffs claimed that Baymark had purchased D&T's assets and then defaulted on its payment obligations. According to the plaintiffs, Baymark replaced the company's management, caused the company to default on its loan payments, and transferred the company's assets to another entity, Windspeed Trading LLC. The plaintiffs alleged that this scheme violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The district court dismissed all of the plaintiffs' claims with prejudice, finding that the plaintiffs were unable to plead a pattern of racketeering activity, a necessary element of a RICO claim.The case was then taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The appellate court agreed with the district court, holding that while the complaint alleges coordinated theft, it does not constitute a "pattern" of racketeering conduct sufficient to state a RICO claim. This is because the alleged victims were limited in number, and the scope and nature of the scheme was finite and focused on a singular objective. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "D&T Partners v. Baymark Partners" on Justia Law

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Highland Capital Management, L.P., a firm co-founded by James Dondero, filed for bankruptcy in 2019 due to litigation claims. As part of a settlement agreement, Dondero relinquished control of Highland to three independent directors, one of whom, James P. Seery, was appointed as Highland’s Chief Executive Officer, Chief Restructuring Officer, and Foreign Representative by the bankruptcy court. To protect Seery from vexatious litigation, the bankruptcy court issued an order that no entity could commence or pursue a claim against Seery relating to his role without the bankruptcy court's prior approval. Despite this, two entities founded by Dondero, the Charitable DAF Foundation and its affiliate CLO Holdco, filed a lawsuit against Highland in district court, alleging that Highland, through Seery, had withheld material information and engaged in self-dealing related to a settlement with one of its largest creditors, HarbourVest.The bankruptcy court held the appellants in civil contempt for violating its order and ordered them to pay $239,655 in compensatory damages. The district court affirmed the bankruptcy court's decision, concluding that the award was compensatory and therefore civil. The appellants appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, arguing that the sanction was punitive and thus exceeded the scope of the bankruptcy court’s civil contempt powers.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's decision and remanded the case. The appellate court found that the bankruptcy court had abused its discretion by imposing a punitive sanction that exceeded its civil contempt powers. The court held that the sanction was not compensatory because it was not based on the damages Highland suffered due to the appellants' decision to file the motion in the wrong court. The court instructed the bankruptcy court to limit any sanction award to the damages Highland suffered because of this error. View "Charitable DAF Fund v. Highland Captl Mgmt" on Justia Law

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In this case, Fieldwood Energy LLC, and its affiliates, who were previously among the largest oil and gas exploration and production companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2020 due to declining oil prices, the COVID–19 pandemic, and billions of dollars in decommissioning obligations. In the ensuing reorganization plan, some companies, referred to as the "Sureties", who had issued surety bonds to the debtors, were stripped of their subrogation rights. The Sureties appealed this loss in district court, which held their appeal to be statutorily and equitably moot. The Sureties appealed again to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, contending that a recent Supreme Court decision altered the landscape around statutory mootness and that the district court treated Section 363(m) as jurisdictional. However, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision, concluding that the Supreme Court’s recent decision did not change the application of Section 363(m) in this case, the district court did not treat the statute as jurisdictional, and the Sureties’ failure to obtain a stay was fatal to their challenge of the bankruptcy sale. The court also determined that the provisions stripping the Sureties of their subrogation rights were integral to the sale of the Debtors’ assets, making the challenge on appeal statutorily moot. View "Swiss Re Corporate Solutions America Insurance Co. v. Fieldwood Energy III, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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In this case, Louisiana Pellets (LAP) built a wood processing facility but encountered financial issues that led to bankruptcy. LAP pursued Chapter 11 bankruptcy and a bankruptcy judge confirmed a Chapter 11 plan along with a liquidating trust agreement. Under the agreement, LAP transferred its remaining assets and causes of actions to the trust. More than a year after the creation of the trust, third parties assigned certain legal claims to the trust that the trustee, Craig Jalbert, pursued in state court. The claims involved misstatements made by Raymond James & Associates in its efforts to raise funds to construct LAP's facility. In response to Jalbert's filing, Raymond James asserted affirmative defenses, citing a pre-bankruptcy indemnity agreement it made with LAP.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that Raymond James could not maintain those defenses against the assigned claims. The court reasoned that the express language of the confirmation plan enjoined Raymond James's defensive maneuver. Also, the post-confirmation trust is not the appropriate entity against whom to invoke LAP's indemnity obligation. The court affirmed the bankruptcy court's ruling. View "Raymond James & Assoc v. Jalbert" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit addressed an unprecedented issue in its circuit regarding the sale of preference claims arising under 11 U.S.C. § 547, in the context of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. The court was required to decide whether such claims could be sold and if the purchaser had the standing to pursue them.The case was initiated by South Coast Supply Company (South Coast), which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after experiencing financial difficulties. During the proceedings, the company borrowed funds from its then-CFO, Robert Remmert. South Coast later filed a lawsuit against Remmert to avoid more than $300,000 of allegedly preferential transfers made before the bankruptcy proceedings. The company's sole secured lender, Briar Capital Working Fund Capital, L.L.C. (Briar Capital), eventually acquired South Coast's interest in this pending preference action against Remmert.Upon acquiring the lawsuit, Briar Capital was substituted as the assignee of South Coast. Remmert argued that Briar Capital lacked standing to prosecute the preference action. The district court agreed, holding that since a successful recovery would not benefit South Coast’s estate or its unsecured creditors, Briar Capital lacked standing to bring the preference claim against Remmert as a representative of the estate under 11 U.S.C. § 1123(b)(3)(B) of the Bankruptcy Code.On appeal, the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The court held that preference actions can be sold pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 363(b)(1) because they are property of the estate under 11 U.S.C. §§ 541(a)(1) and (7). Furthermore, even if Briar Capital does not qualify as a representative of the estate, it has standing to pursue the preference claim as it validly purchased the claim outright. Therefore, the court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Briar Capital Working Fund v. Remmert" on Justia Law

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Appellee attempted to use an “inversion table” located at an Anytime Fitness franchise. The equipment allegedly failed, and Appellee suffered neuromuscular injuries. Appellee filed a personal injury suit in Louisiana court against the franchise owner, Thornhill Brothers Fitness, LLC (“Thornhill”). An amended complaint named an additional defendant, franchisor Anytime Fitness, LLC (“Anytime”). Thornhill agreed to assign all rights it had “against Anytime Fitness LLC” to the Appellees, including any rights arising from “the indemnity agreement contained in the Franchise Agreement” between Thornhill and its franchise parent, Anytime. Anytime then protested in the bankruptcy court. The bankruptcy court vacated its prior order and allowed Anytime a hearing. But in July 2022, the bankruptcy court entered a new order ratifying the actions it took originally. Anytime appealed that July 2022 order and the district court affirmed.  At issue on appeal is whether 11 U.S.C. Section 365(f) or any other portion of Title 11, authorizes a bankruptcy court’s approval of a debtor’s partial assignment of an executory contract.   The Fifth Circuit wrote that it does not and reversed the bankruptcy court’s contrary order and remanded. The court explained that it does not construe any other provision of the Code to permit circumvention of the court’s interpretation of Section 365(f). It’s true that the Code contains various catch-all provisions. But those catch-alls do not create substantive powers not committed to the bankruptcy court by some other section. The court wrote that since the bankruptcy court order at issue here does not satisfy Section 365, it does not matter whether it satisfied Jackson Brewing. View "Anytime Fitness v. Thornhill Brothers" on Justia Law

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This litigation stems from the bankruptcy of Imperial Petroleum Recovery Corporation (“IPRC”). IPRC once marketed microwave separation technology (“MST”) machines, which purported to recover usable oil from various emulsions. The Carmichael parties held security interests in IPRC’s assets—including its MST units. The Carmichaels filed an involuntary Chapter 7 liquidation proceeding against IPRC. After various proceedings, the amended judgment cut the actual damages owed to the Carmichaels to $4,000, cut the fee and cost award to around $92,000, and made no provision for post-judgment interest. All told, the sum due to the Carmichael parties declined roughly 96%, from over $2.3 million to approximately $96,000. The Carmichaels appealed to the district court. The district court affirmed.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. The court wrote that the bankruptcy court’s factual findings related to the assigned assets were not clearly erroneous. The court wrote that the district court’s damages award nevertheless rested on clearly erroneous factual findings. The court explained that the Carmichaels are entitled to post-judgment interest pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1961. Finally, the court disposed of the Carmichaels’ contention that the bankruptcy court’s judgment did not provide adequate declaratory relief. The court wrote that applying a preponderance standard and viewing the record holistically, it is persuaded that the Carmichaels’ damages for reassembly exceed $4,000. But the court wrote that it does not attempt to specify the Carmichaels’ reassembly damages here. Instead, the court remanded so that the bankruptcy court may consider the Carmichaels’ asserted damages under the correct standard of proof. View "Carmichael v. Balke" on Justia Law

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After a fatal truck accident claimed the lives of members of two families, the victims' families filed a personal injury action against the trucking company. The trucking company's insurer ultimately transferred $1 million to the law firm representing one of the families. The insurer then notified the other family that the policy limits had been exhausted. That same day, the insurer submitted two checks: one to the victim's family and one to the law firm.The family that was not party to the settlement filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against the trucking company. The trustee brought an adversary proceeding against the other victim's family and their law firm, seeking to avoid and recover the transfer of the policy proceeds pursuant to 11 U.S.C. Secs. 547 and 550 of the Bankruptcy Code. The bankruptcy court denied the law firm's motion to dismiss.On appeal, the family that settled and the law firm argued that the district court erred in determining that the trucking company held an equitable property interest in the policy proceeds. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding that these facts fit the "limited circumstances" under which the policy proceed are considered the property of the estate. View "Law Office of Rogelio Solis v. Curtis" on Justia Law

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AKD Investments, LLC (AKD), filed for bankruptcy. At that time, Magazine Investments I, LLC (Magazine), held the notes on AKD’s main asset, a building on Magazine Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. After Magazine resumed foreclosure proceedings, AKD sought permission from the bankruptcy court to obtain financing to pay off Magazine’s notes and thereby avoid the looming foreclosure sale of the building. In a February 2015 order, the bankruptcy court authorized the transaction, and the parties performed under the order. The bankruptcy court confirmed AKD’s reorganization plan in April 2017. In August 2020, AKD brought this action against Magazine as a core proceeding within the still-open bankruptcy case. AKD alleged that it had overpaid Magazine in 2015 and sought to recoup the overpayment. But the bankruptcy court granted summary judgment to Magazine. AKD contends that the bankruptcy court erred in applying the law-of-the-case doctrine because the 2015 order did not actually decide the amount AKD owed Magazine.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the bankruptcy court’s 2015 Order is internally contradictory. Its meaning is, therefore, ambiguous as to the question at hand: Whether the Order actually decided the correct amount that AKD owed to Magazine. Accordingly, we defer to the bankruptcy court’s reasonable interpretation of its Order—that it did—and affirm its invocation of the law-of-the-case doctrine to grant Magazine summary judgment as to AKD’s claim here. View "AKD Invsts v. Magazine Invsts I" on Justia Law

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Inmarsat Global Limited and related entities(collectively, “Inmarsat”) operate a satellite network providing communications services to remote locations, including ships at sea. Inmarsat sells the services at retail to end-users and at wholesale to distributors. Speedcast International Limited was a leading Inmarsat distributor, purchasing Inmarsat’s services and providing them to its own customers. Speedcast is the debtor in the bankruptcy. Several contracts governed the business relationship among the parties. Their last contract terminated all of the creditors’ claims against the debtor except for narrowly defined “Permitted Claims.” The creditors sought a reversal of the district and bankruptcy court’s conclusion that a particular claim was not a permitted one.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that the Termination Agreement’s definitions of Released Claims and Permitted Claims are unambiguous. Consequently, the court wrote that it need not consider any extrinsic evidence. The court found Inmarsat’s pricing argument unpersuasive. The Shortfall Amount is not a payment for services delivered by Inmarsat to Speedcast. The SAA provides that the Shortfall Amount is part of the performance that Speedcast promised “[i]n exchange for” Inmarsat agreeing to grant a 30% discount. The Shortfall Amount, in turn, is not levied on the services that Inmarsat delivered to Speedcast; it is levied due to the customers Speedcast failed to provide. View "Inmarsat Global v. SpeedCast Intl" on Justia Law