Justia Bankruptcy Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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IImerys sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in response to mounting asbestos and talc personal injury claims. Many of the claimants who will suffer harm from asbestos exposure traceable to the debtor will not manifest those injuries until long after the reorganization process has concluded. Cases involving asbestos liability, therefore, use trusts designed to compensate present and future asbestos claimants, coupled with an injunction against future asbestos liability to allow the debtor to emerge from bankruptcy without the uncertainty of future asbestos liabilities while ensuring claimants would not be prejudiced just because they had not yet manifested injuries at the time of the bankruptcy, 11 U.S.C. 524(g), The provision requires the appointment of a legal representative (FCR) to protect the rights of future claimants. The FCR participates in the negotiation of the reorganization plan and objects to terms that unfairly disadvantage future claimants.A group of insurance companies appealed the appointment of an FCR in the Ilmerys bankruptcy, arguing that the FCR had a conflict of interest because the FCR’s law firm also represented two of the insurance companies in a separate asbestos-related coverage dispute. The Third Circuit affirmed the appointment. The Bankruptcy Court did not abuse its discretion in appointing the FCR. it gave due consideration to the purported conflict and correctly determined that the interests of both the insurance companies and the future claimants were adequately protected. View "In re: Imerys Talc America, Inc" on Justia Law

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A group of insurance companies appealed an order appointing a representative for the interests of unidentified future asbestos and talc claimants in an ongoing bankruptcy proceeding. According to these insurers, who fund the asbestos claims trust established under 11 U.S.C. 524(g), this “future claimants’ representative” (FCR) has a conflict of interest precluding him from serving in this role because the FCR’s law firm also represented two of the insurance companies in a separate asbestos-related coverage dispute.The Third Circuit held that the Bankruptcy Court did not abuse its discretion in appointing the FCR. The court gave due consideration to the purported conflict, and correctly determined that the interests of both the insurance companies and the future claimants were adequately protected. View "In re: Imerys Talc America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Century issued insurance to BSA and purchased reinsurance. After BSA made claims related to sexual abuse litigation, Century sought to collect on those policies and hired the Sidley’s Insurance Group. The representation did not extend to the underlying direct insurance; BSA was not a party to the reinsurance disputes. BSA later retained Sidley to explore restructuring; the engagement letter specified that Sidley would not “advis[e] [BSA] on insurance coverage.” Sidley filed BSA’s bankruptcy petition.Through Haynes, its insurance counsel, BSA engaged in substantive discussions with its insurers, including Century. Sidley attorneys were present at some meetings. Century did not object. When Century later objected, Sidley implemented a formal ethics screen between its restructuring team and its reinsurance team. Ultimately, the Bankruptcy Court recognized Sidley’s withdrawal. Century is separately pursuing its grievances about Sidley’s representation in arbitration.The Bankruptcy Court concluded that while Sidley may have received confidential information in the reinsurance matter relevant to BSA’s bankruptcy, no privileged or confidential information was shared between the Sidley's legal teams; it approved Sidley’s retention nunc pro tunc, finding no violation of 11 U.S.C. 372(a). The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. Century continued to have standing and the matter is not moot. Because Sidley’s representation of BSA did not prejudice Century, but disqualifying it would have been a significant detriment to BSA, it was well within the Court’s discretion to determine that the drastic remedy of disqualification was unnecessary. View "In re: Boy Scouts of America" on Justia Law

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The Debtors filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. The IRS filed a proof of claim for unpaid taxes and interest, including a $927.00 shared responsibility payment the Debtors owed for failing to maintain health insurance in 2018 as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) “Individual Mandate,” 26 U.S.C. 5000A(a). The IRS’s proof of claim characterized the payment as an “EXCISE” tax entitled to priority. The Debtors argued that the shared responsibility payment was a penalty not entitled to priority. The Bankruptcy Court confirmed the Debtors’ repayment plan and subsequently held that the shared responsibility payment is a tax, not a penalty, for bankruptcy purposes and is entitled to priority under 11 U.S.C. 507(a)(8), as either an income or an excise tax.The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. The shared responsibility payment is a tax “measured . . . by income” entitled to priority under Section 507(a)(8)(A). The court noted that the statute describes the payment as a “penalty,” but it is collected by the IRS along with one’s federal income tax return. In 2012, the Supreme Court held that the shared responsibility payment is a tax for constitutional purposes but is not a tax for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. View "In re: Szczyporski" on Justia Law

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Grace operated a Montana asbestos facility, 1963-1990. Facing thousands of asbestos-related suits, Grace filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Its reorganization plan provided for a several-billion-dollar asbestos personal-injury trust to compensate existing and future claimants. All asbestos-related personal injury claims were to be channeled through the trust (“Grace Injunction,” 11 U.S.C. 524(g)(4)). CNA provided Grace's general liability, workers’ compensation, employers’ liability, and umbrella insurance policies, 1973-1996 and had the right to inspect the operation and to make loss-control recommendations. After 26 years of litigation regarding the scope of CNA’s coverage of Grace’s asbestos liabilities, a settlement agreement ensured that CNA would be protected by Grace’s channeling injunction. CNA agreed to contribute $84 million to the trust.The “Montana Plaintiffs,” who worked at the Libby mine and now suffer from asbestos disease, sued in state court, asserting negligence against CNA based on a duty to protect and warn the workers, arising from the provision of “industrial hygiene services,” and inspections. The Bankruptcy Court initially concluded that the claims were barred by the Grace Injunction but on remand granted the Montana Plaintiffs summary judgment.The Third Circuit vacated. Section 524(g) channeling injunction protections do not extend to all claims brought against third parties. To conform with the statute, these claims must be “directed against a third party who is identifiable from the terms of such injunction”; the third party must be “alleged to be directly or indirectly liable for the conduct of, claims against, or demands on the debtor”; and “such alleged liability” must arise “by reason of” one of four statutory relationships, including the provision of insurance to the debtor. The Bankruptcy Court erred in anlyzing the “derivative liability” and “statutory relationship” requirements. While the claims meet the derivative liability requirement, it is unclear whether they meet the statutory relationship requirement. View "In re: WR Grace & Co" on Justia Law

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When Aleckna filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, she still owed the University (CCU) tuition. The filing of her bankruptcy petition imposed an “automatic stay” of all collection actions against her. While her case was pending, Aleckna, who had completed her coursework, asked CCU for a copy of her transcript. The University would only provide her with an incomplete transcript that did not include her graduation date, explaining that a “financial hold” had been placed on her account. Aleckna filed a counterclaim in the Bankruptcy Court arguing that CCU violated the automatic stay by refusing to provide her with a complete certified transcript, 11 U.S.C. 362(a)(6).The Bankruptcy Court found in Aleckna’s favor, concluding that she was entitled to receive her complete transcript, plus damages and attorneys’ fees because CCU’s violation was “willful.” The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. Section 362(k) provides that an individual who commits a willful violation is liable for damages and attorneys’ fees unless “such violation is based on an action taken by an entity in the good faith belief” that the stay had terminated. Precedent establishes a “willfulness” defense that is distinct from one of good faith but CCU failed to show that the law regarding the transcript issue was sufficiently unsettled to establish a lack of willfulness within the meaning of that precedent. View "In re: Aleckna" on Justia Law

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Westinghouse filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In June 2017, the Bankruptcy Court set a “General Bar Date” of September 1, 2017—the deadline by which creditors had to file proofs of claims for most prepetition claims. The Bankruptcy Court confirmed a Reorganization Plan on March 28, 2018, 11 U.S.C. 1129. The effectiveness of the confirmed Plan was delayed to August 1, 2018, pending the closing of a transaction that required approval from government agencies. Westinghouse gave notice that, under the confirmed Plan, August 31, 2018, was the deadline for filing administrative expense claims.In May 2018, Westinghouse terminated Ellis’s employment, explaining that his department was being restructured. Ellis, age 67, believed he was unlawfully fired due to his age. He filed an EEOC charge in July 2018. The discrimination claim “arose” when he was terminated, so it is a claim after confirmation of the Plan but before its Effective Date. Ellis never took any action in the Bankruptcy Court. In October 2018, Ellis filed suit against Westinghouse, which moved for summary judgment, arguing that Ellis’s claim, as an administrative expense claim not timely filed by the Administrative Claims Bar Date, was discharged. The Third Circuit reversed summary judgment in favor of Ellis. As a matter of first impression, the court reasoned that the holder of a post-confirmation administrative expense claim cannot choose to bypass the bankruptcy process, so if the claim is not timely filed by the bar date, it faces discharge like a preconfirmation claim. View "Ellis v. Westinghouse Electric Co LLC" on Justia Law

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Before filing for bankruptcy, the Debtors provided general contracting services for large construction projects, including many projects for departments of the federal government. To enter into contracts with the United States, contractors are generally required to post both a performance bond and a payment bond signed by the contractor and a qualified surety (such as ICSP), 40 U.S.C. 3131. When the Debtors defaulted on the contract at issue, ICSP stepped in to make sure that the work was completed. ICSP claims that it is subrogated to the United States’ rights to set off a tax refund (owed to one or more of the Debtors) against the losses that ICSP covered. However, to settle various claims in the Debtors’ Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings, the United States and the Trustee agreed that the United States would waive its setoff rights.The Bankruptcy Court, district court, and Third Circuit held that ICSP is not entitled to the tax refund. The United States had not yet been “paid in full,” within the meaning of 11 U.S.C. 509(c), when the Bankruptcy Court approved the settlement, so ICSP’s subrogation rights were subordinate to the remaining and superior claims of the United States at the time of the settlement. The United States was entitled to waive its setoff rights in order to settle its remaining and superior claims; the waiver of its setoff rights extinguished ICSP’s ability to be subrogated to those rights. View "Insurance Co of the State of Pennsylania v. Giuliano" on Justia Law

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Venoco operated a drilling rig off the coast of Santa Barbara, transporting oil and gas to its Onshore Facility for processing. Venoco did not own the Offshore Facility but leased it from the California Lands Commission. Venoco owned the Onshore Facility with air permits to use it. Following a 2015 pipeline rupture, Venoco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and abandoned its leases, relinquishing all rights in the Offshore Facility.Concerned about public safety and environmental risks, the Commission took over decommissioning the rig and plugging the wells, paying Venoco $1.1 million per month to continue operating the Offshore and Onshore Facilities. After a third-party contractor took over operations, the Commission agreed to pay for use of the Onshore Facility. The Commission, as Venoco’s creditor, filed a $130 million claim for reimbursement of plugging and decommissioning costs. Before the confirmation of the liquidation plan, Venoco and the Commission unsuccessfully negotiated a potential sale of the Onshore Facility to the Commission. The Commission stopped making payments, arguing it could continue using the Onshore Facility without payment under its police power.After the estates’ assets were transferred to a liquidation trust, the Trustee filed an adversary proceeding, claiming inverse condemnation, against California. The district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s rejection of California's assertion of Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. The Third Circuit affirmed. By ratifying the Bankruptcy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, states waived their sovereign immunity defense in proceedings that further a bankruptcy court’s exercise of its jurisdiction over the debtor's and the estate's property. View "In re Venoco, LLC" on Justia Law

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Cohen entered into a work-for-hire agreement with SLP, a special purpose entity formed by TWC to make the film, Silver Linings Playbook. Cohen was to receive $250,000 in fixed initial compensation and contingent future compensation of roughly 5% of the movie’s net profits. The movie was released to critical acclaim in 2012. TWC purports to own all the rights pertaining to the movie, including the Cohen Agreement.In 2017, following a flood of sexual misconduct allegations against its co-founder, Harvey Weinstein, TWC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court approved TWC’s Asset Purchase Agreement with Spyglass, 11 U.S.C. 363. Spyglass sought a declaratory judgment that the Cohen Agreement and had been sold to Spyglass. If the Cohen Agreement were an executory contract, assumed and assigned under section 365, Spyglass would be responsible for approximately $400,000 in previously unpaid contingent compensation. If Spyglass instead purchased the Cohen Agreement as a non-executory contract, Spyglass would be responsible only for obligations on a go-forward basis. Other writers, producers, and actors with similar works-made-for-hire contracts made similar arguments.The bankruptcy court granted Spyglass summary judgment. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. Cohen’s remaining obligations under the Agreement are not material and the parties did not clearly avoid New York’s substantial performance rule; the Cohen Agreement is not an executory contract. View "The Weinstein Co. Holdings, LLC v. Spyglass Media Group, LLC." on Justia Law