Justia Bankruptcy Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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Denby-Peterson purchased a Chevrolet Corvette. Several months later, the Corvette was repossessed by creditors after Denby-Peterson defaulted on her car payments. Denby-Peterson subsequently filed an emergency voluntary Chapter 13 petition, notified the creditors of the bankruptcy filing, and demanded that they return the Corvette to her. They did not comply with her demand. Denby-Peterson filed a motion in the Bankruptcy Court, seeking to require the creditors to return the Corvette and sanctions for alleged violation of the Bankruptcy Code’s automatic stay. The court ordered turnover of the Corvette to Denby-Peterson but denied her request for sanctions. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. As a matter of first impression, the Third Circuit held that a secured creditor’s failure to return collateral that was repossessed pre-bankruptcy petition upon notice of the debtor’s bankruptcy is not a violation of the automatic stay. A secured creditor does not have an affirmative obligation under the automatic stay to return a debtor’s collateral to the bankruptcy estate immediately upon notice of the debtor’s bankruptcy because failure to return the collateral received pre-petition does not constitute “an[] act . . . to exercise control over property of the estate,” 11 U.S.C. 362(a)(3). View "In re: Denby-Peterson" on Justia Law

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Healthcare managed investment funds. Investors filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition with the intention of seeking Healthcare's removal as the fund manager. Healthcare was not served with process; the petition was uncontested. The bankruptcy court entered an order for relief. Healthcare was removed as the fund manager. The investors installed Summit as the new manager. Summit then dissolved the funds. About a month later, having learned what had transpired, Healthcare successfully moved to vacate the order for relief. Healthcare opposed dismissal asserting that it had claims for damages under 11 U.S.C. 303(i) because the investors filed the petition in bad faith. The bankruptcy court granted the investors’ motion for voluntary dismissal but retained jurisdiction, stating that “nothing herein shall limit [Healthcare’s] right to seek damages, including without limitation, fees and costs.” Healthcare sought section 303(i) damages and instituted an adversary proceeding against the investors asserting section 362(k) claims for violation of the automatic stay by the removal of Healthcare as the fund manager and the installation of Summit without court orders. The district court affirmed the dismissal of the 362(k) action. The Third Circuit reversed and remanded for reinstatement of the claim. The bankruptcy court had jurisdiction over Healthcare’s 362(k) adversary action. A section 362(k) action, no matter when instituted, is a case under title 11. The bankruptcy court lacked authority to limit what claims Healthcare could bring in the bankruptcy court after the dismissal of the bankruptcy petition. View "In re: Healthcare Real Estate Partners LLC" on Justia Law

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Arianna Holding Company purchased a tax lien on a piece of property owned by the Hacklers and eventually obtained title to the Hacklers’ property via foreclosure proceedings. Shortly after Arianna obtained title, the Hacklers filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and sought to void the transfer of the title as preferential, 11 U.S.C. 547(b). The Bankruptcy Court and the district court ruled in favor of the Hacklers. The Third Circuit affirmed. The title transfer meets 547(b)’s requirements for avoidance. The transfer was made to or for the benefit of a creditor, was made for an antecedent debt, was made while the debtor was insolvent, was made on or within 90 days before filing for bankruptcy, and enabled the creditor to receive more than it would have received in a Chapter 7 liquidation proceeding. The petition and schedules listed the value of the property at $335,000, which far exceeded the value of the liens against the property; Arianna filed a proof of claim for $42,561.21 and other liens totaled no more than $89,000. The Hacklers’ Chapter 13 plan proposed to pay Arianna’s claim in full. Federalism concerns raised by Arianna cannot overcome the plain language of the Code. View "In Re: Hackler" on Justia Law

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Brooks, Debtor's CEO, was charged with financial crimes. In class action and derivative lawsuits, Debtor proposed a global settlement that indemnified Brooks for liability under the Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX), 15 U.S.C. 7243. Cohen, Debtor’s former General Counsel and a shareholder, claimed that the indemnification was unlawful. The district court approved the settlement, Cohen, represented by CLM, appealed. The Second Circuit vacated, noting that the EDNY would determine CLM’s attorneys’ fees award. Debtor initiated Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. The Bankruptcy Court confirmed Debtor’s liquidation plan, with a trustee to pursue Debtor’s interest in recouping its losses from the ongoing actions. Brooks died in prison. Because his appeal had not concluded, some of his convictions and restitution obligations were abated. Stakeholders negotiated a second global settlement agreement, under which $142 million of Brooks’ restrained assets were to be distributed to his victims; $70 million has been remitted to Debtor. The Bankruptcy Court awarded CLM fees for the SOX 304 claim; the amount would be determined if Debtor received any funds on account of the claim. CLM’s Fee Appeal remains pending at the district court. CLM requested a $25 million reserve for payment of its fees. The Bankruptcy Court ordered Debtor to set aside $5 million. CLM’s Fee Reserve Appeal remains pending. CLM then moved, unsuccessfully, for a stay of Second Settlement Agreement distributions. In its Stay Denial Appeal, CLM’s motion requesting a stay of distributions was denied. The Third Circuit affirmed. The $5 million reserve is sufficient. A $5 million attorneys’ fees award for 1,502.2 hours of legal work totaling $549,472.61 of documented fees would yield an hourly rate of $3,328.45 and a lodestar multiplier of over nine. In common fund cases where attorneys’ fees are calculated using the lodestar method, multiples from one to four are the norm. View "SS Body Armor I, Inc. v. Carter Ledyard & Milburn, LLP" on Justia Law

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In 1999, the Titus & McConomy law firm dissolved and, apparently, abandoned its commercial lease. Titus joined the Schnader firm, which deposited Titus’s wages into a bank account he owned jointly with his wife. The landlord sued the former Titus & McConomy partners and secured a multimillion-dollar judgment, then brought a fraudulent-transfer action in Pennsylvania state court against Mr. and Mrs. Titus. This triggered an involuntary bankruptcy. After two Bankruptcy Court trials and two appeals, the Third Circuit concluded that the Tituses are liable for a fraudulent transfer. When the wages of an insolvent spouse are deposited into a couple’s entireties account, both spouses are fraudulent transferees. The bankruptcy trustee waived any challenge to the method used to calculate their liability but the Third Circuit clarified how future courts should measure liability when faced with an entireties account into which deposits consist of both (fraudulent) wages and (non-fraudulent) other sources, and from which cash is spent on both (permissible) household necessities and (impermissible) other expenditures. Until now, a trustee had to show that wage deposits were impermissibly spent on non-necessary expenditures, even though wage and nonwage deposits had become commingled in the account. Rather than expect a trustee to trace the untraceable, future courts should generally presume that wage deposits were spent on non-necessary expenditures in proportion to the overall share of wages in the account as a whole. View "In re: Titus" on Justia Law

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When Revel entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy, its tenant, IDEA, continued to operate nightclubs and a beach club on Revel's Atlantic City casino premises. IDEA sought to protect its right to continue operating by filing an adversary proceeding. Polo became the defendant in the proceeding (and IDEA’s landlord) when the court approved a Purchase Agreement. The Sale Order authorized Polo’s purchase of Revel’s assets “free and clear of all liens, claims, encumbrances and other interests of any kind” under 11 U.S.C. 363(f). The Order contained carve-out provisions that expressly preserved certain rights relating to IDEA’s continued use of the casino premises under the Lease. After entering the Order, the Bankruptcy Court granted Revel’s long-pending motion to reject the Lease retroactively. IDEA filed a notice of its election to retain its rights as a tenant under section 365(h), as expressly allowed by the Sale Order. In an omnibus order, the Bankruptcy Court clarified major aspects of the post-petition landlord–tenant relationship between IDEA and Polo. The Third Circuit affirmed the Bankruptcy Court and the district court. IDEA is permitted to reduce its rental obligations under a tenant-protective provision, 11 U.S.C. 365(h), the Lease, and the doctrine of equitable recoupment, regardless whether its rights arose before or after Revel filed for bankruptcy and regardless whether they arose before or after Revel rejected the Lease. View "Revel AC Inc v. IDEA Boardwalk, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2008, IMMC filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in the District of Delaware. The liquidating trustee filed an adversary proceeding, alleging that Appellees, IMMC’s former officers and directors, had breached their fiduciary duties by pursuing a risky and costly litigation strategy in an unrelated suit against a competitor, overcompensating themselves in the process. In 2011, the Bankruptcy Court held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the adversary proceeding, rejecting arguments that the adversary proceeding was a “core” proceeding or that the adversary proceeding was a non-core proceeding “related to” a Chapter 11 case. The trustee did not appeal. The Bankruptcy Court then considered the trustee’s request to transfer the adversary proceeding to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania under 28 U.S.C. 1631 and concluded that it lacked authority to transfer the adversary proceeding. The district court and Third Circuit agreed. The Bankruptcy Court lacked authority over the claims in the adversary proceeding. Exercising jurisdiction over the adversary proceeding so as to transfer it under section 1631 would have been ultra vires, regardless of whether bankruptcy courts fall under section 610’s definition of courts as referenced in section 1631. The court noted that bankruptcy courts have limited authority. View "IMMC Corp. v. Erickson" on Justia Law

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After initiating Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, Debtors entered into an Agreement: NextEra would acquire Debtors’ 80% interest in Oncor, the largest electricity transmission and distribution system in Texas, for approximately $9.5 billion. The Agreement obligated Debtors to pay NextEra $275 million if NextEra did not ultimately acquire Debtors’ interest in Oncor and Debtors either sold to someone else or otherwise emerged from bankruptcy, with several exceptions. If the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) did not approve the merger, payment would not be triggered if the Agreement was “terminated . . . by [NextEra] . . . and the receipt of PUCT Approval (without the imposition of a Burdensome Condition) [wa]s the only condition . . . not satisfied or waived in accordance with this Agreement.” About a year after approving the Agreement, and after PUCT expressed concern about the condition, the bankruptcy court granted a motion for reconsideration and disallowed the Termination Fee in the event that the PUCT declines to approve the transaction and, as a result, the agreement is terminated, regardless of whether the Debtors or NextEra subsequently terminates the agreement. Were it not for that order, NextEra would be entitled to the $275 million. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting NextEra’s arguments that the motion was untimely and, alternatively, that the motion should have been denied on the merits because the termination fee provision, as originally drafted, was an allowable administrative expense under 11 U.S.C. 503(b). View "In re: Energy Future Holdings" on Justia Law

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Younge, an African-American man, was fired by WPHL, a Tribune television station. Younge claims WPHL subjected him to a hostile work environment because it scheduled him to train under a white co-worker who used racial epithets and that he was wrongfully terminated because of his race and/or color. Younge filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Commission on Human Relations but chose to litigate in Bankruptcy Court after Tribune filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition. That court disallowed his claims. In the district court, Younge challenged, for the first time, the Bankruptcy Court’s jurisdiction. The district court held he impliedly consented to jurisdiction and that the court correctly disallowed his claims. The Third Circuit affirmed. Younge voluntarily submitted to the Bankruptcy Court's jurisdiction: he filed a proof of claim, a response to Tribune’s objection, and a supplemental response, and appeared at a hearing. The Bankruptcy Court’s proceedings did not abridge his right to procedural due process, his right to a jury trial, or his right to counsel. The court rejected Younge’s Commerce Clause argument that the Bankruptcy Court’s local-counsel requirement inures to the disadvantage of out-of-state litigants. The lower courts correctly decided Younge’s hostile work environment claim. Younge did not prove respondeat superior liability. The record did not touch on WPHL’s knowledge of racial animus—a key facet of Younge’s claim-- and WPHL offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for his termination. Younge failed to demonstrate pretext. View "Tribune Media Co. v. Younge" on Justia Law

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Arctic, an income trust, filed for bankruptcy under Canada’s analog of Chapter 11 and received recognition under 11 U.S.C. 1521(a). Its bankruptcy Plan imposed few limits on the Monitor (trustee) and insulated Arctic and its officers from any claim related to the bankruptcy with limited exceptions. The Monitor sold Arctic’s assets and repaid creditors in full. On December 11, 2014, Arctic issued notices announcing that the shareholders as of December 18 would be entitled to the initial distribution without specifying how much Arctic would distribute or when. Arctic did not notify the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) of its plans. FINRA regulates distributions on the U.S. Over-the-Counter Market. Nor did the Plan refer to FINRA’s rules. Arctic’s share price held steady until January 22, 2015, although its shares no longer traded with the right to the dividend and should have lost value. Brodskis bought 12,600,000 Arctic shares on the Over-the-Counter Market. On January 21, the Monitor announced that the next day it would distribute a dividend of 15.5557 cents per share to shareholders as of December 18. Brodskis argue FINRA would have set a date of January 23, 2015, so their shares would have entitled them to the dividend. On January 23, Canadian and American regulators froze trading. When trading resumed, Arctic's share price plunged from 21 to 5 cents, reflecting the paid-out dividend. Brodskis sued Arctic. The Bankruptcy Court dismissed the complaint as barred by the releases and res judicata. The Third Circuit affirmed. Brodskis bought shares subject to the Plan’s terms, including terms that governed post-confirmation acts taken to carry out the Plan, and were on notice. View "In re: Arctic Glacier International, Inc." on Justia Law