Justia Bankruptcy Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
In re: Tribune Co.
In Tribune’s reorganization bankruptcy plan, Senior Noteholders were assigned their own class (1E) of unsecured creditors. When they did not accept the Plan but other classes did, the Bankruptcy Court confirmed it under the cramdown provision.The provision at issue, 11 U.S.C. 1129(b)(1), provides: Notwithstanding section 510(a) … [making subordination agreements enforceable in bankruptcy to the extent they would be in nonbankruptcy law], if all of the applicable requirements of subsection (a) of this section  other than paragraph (8) [which requires that each class of claims has accepted the plan] are met with respect to a plan, the court, on request of the proponent of the plan, shall confirm the plan notwithstanding the requirements of such paragraph  if the plan does not discriminate unfairly, and is fair and equitable, with respect to each class of claims or interests that is impaired under, and has not accepted, the plan.The Third Circuit agreed with the district court that the text of section 1129(b)(1) supplants strict enforcement of subordination agreements. When “cramdown plans play with subordinated sums, the comparison of similarly situated creditors is tested through a more flexible unfair discrimination standard.” Subsection 1129(b)(1) does not require subordination agreements to be enforced strictly. The difference in the Senior Noteholders’ recovery is not material. Although the Plan discriminates, it is not presumptively unfair. View "In re: Tribune Co." on Justia Law
In re: Wilton Armetale Inc
Artesanias recorded its $900,000 judgment as a lien on Wilton’s warehouse. Artesanias learned that Wilton was insolvent and that its previous owner and North Mill, another creditor had plotted with Wilton’s law firm, Leisawitz, to plunder the company’s remaining assets. They had engineered a sale of Wilton’s non-real estate assets; allowed North Mill to file inflated judgments against Wilton; and paid Leisawitz future legal fees. North Mill tried to foreclose on the warehouse. Artesanias sued North Mill and Leisawitz, alleging they had hindered Artesanias’ ability to enforce and collect Wilton’s obligations.Wilton filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The automatic stay stopped the warehouse foreclosure. The trustee entered settlements, agreeing to split the warehouse sale proceeds between North Mill and Artesanias, release the estate’s claims against North Mill, and not interfere with Artesanias’s claims against North Mill and others. All agreed that nothing in the settlements would “affect [Artesanias’s] litigation” against North Mill. After selling the warehouse, Wilton’s bankruptcy estate had few assets. Among them were legal claims against those who had allegedly plundered the company. Rather than spend the estate’s remaining assets pursuing those claims, the bankruptcy court let the trustee abandon all but professional-liability claims against Leisawitz.Artesanias’s claims against North Mill were dismissed for lack of standing. The Third Circuit vacated. Chapter 7 trustees can relinquish the statutory authority to pursue a claim back to a creditor. View "In re: Wilton Armetale Inc" on Justia Law
In re: SS Body Armor I Inc.
In 2005, revelations surfaced that Body Armor—a publicly-traded company—was manufacturing its body armor, which it sold to law enforcement agencies and the U.S. military, using substandard materials. Its stock price plummeted, prompting shareholders to bring numerous actions that were consolidated into a shareholders’ class action and a derivative action on behalf of Body Armor against specified officers and directors. Since then, the matter has traveled, through bankruptcy, trial, and appellate courts throughout three U.S. jurisdictions. In its second review of the case, the Third Circuit affirmed a 2015 Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware order, approving a settlement entered in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case of S.S. Body Armor I. The court reversed in part the Bankruptcy Court’s order that granted the objector fees on a contingent basis and remanded for a determination of the appropriate amount of the fee award. The court affirmed the part of that order that denied the objector’s claim to attorneys’ fees and expenses under the Bankruptcy Code and an order awarding fees to counsel in one of the underlying lawsuits. View "In re: SS Body Armor I Inc." on Justia Law
In re: Energy Future Holdings Corp.
The latency period for some asbestos-related diseases may last 40 years In bankruptcy, most classes of asbestos plaintiffs are divided between those who have already contracted an asbestos-related disease and those who have been exposed and are at risk but may not realize the fact of their exposure. Normally, a bankruptcy court sets a bar date before which proofs of claim against the estate must be filed; upon confirmation of a plan, all claims for which proofs are not filed are discharged. Under 11 U.S.C. 524(g) a court can deal with latent claims by establishing a trust and appointing a representative of future claimants’ interests.EFH, a holding company, and its subsidiaries filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition. EFH’s holdings included Oncor, the largest electricity company in Texas. EFH could not sell Oncor alone without triggering massive tax liability; a buyer would need to acquire EFH’s other properties, including the Asbestos Debtors. A potential buyer proposed avoiding section 524(g) by relegating discharged claimants to the post-confirmation process. Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 3003(c)(3) provides that a bankruptcy court “shall fix and for cause shown may extend” the time within which proofs of claim may be filed; claimants may file after the bar date if they show “excusable neglect.” Latent asbestos claimants unsuccessfully argued that the plan would violate their due process rights. EFH implemented a notice plan for potential claimants. The bankruptcy court confirmed the plan, discharging claims that were not filed before the bar date.The Federal Circuit affirmed. Rule 3003(c)(3) is capable of affording latent claimants a fair opportunity post-confirmation to seek reinstatement of their claims The court noted the flaw in debtors attempting to circumvent section 524(g). This alternative route has produced a similar result as a section 524(g) trust but with unnecessary back-end litigation. View "In re: Energy Future Holdings Corp." on Justia Law
In re: Somerset Regional Water Resources, LLC
Mostoller owned the Debtor, a business that serviced oil and gas wells. The Debtor owed the Trust $3 million, secured by a blanket lien on most of the Debtor’s assets and a personal guarantee by Mostoller. The Debtor petitioned for Chapter 11 reorganization. To entice the Trust to lend more money, Mostoller agreed to assign his anticipated federal tax refund. The taxable income and losses of the Debtor, an S Corporation, passed through to Mostoller, who had paid millions of dollars in federal taxes on that income. He could file amended 2013 and 2014 tax returns to carry back the Debtor’s 2015 losses, which would offset his taxable income for those two years and trigger a refund. 26 U.S.C. 172(a), (b)(1)(A)(i). Mostoller pledged “any rights or interest in the 2015 Federal tax refund due to him individually, but attributable to the operating losses of the Debtor. The bankruptcy court approved the agreement The Debtor defaulted on the emergency loan and converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation. Mostoller first refused to file the tax returns. When the tax refund came, Mostoller tried to keep it.The district court and Third Circuit affirmed in favor of the Trust, rejecting Mostoller’s argument that he pledged his refund on taxes that he paid for 2015 alone, excluding any refund on his 2013 and 2014 taxes. That reading would make the collateral worthless, so the Trust would never have made the loan. View "In re: Somerset Regional Water Resources, LLC" on Justia Law
Wells Fargo, N.A. v. Bear Stearns & Co., Inc.
HomeBanc, in the residential mortgage loan business, obtained financing from Bear Stearns under 2005 repurchase agreements and transferred multiple securities to Bear Stearns. In 2007 HomeBanc failed to repurchase the securities or pay for an extension of the due date. Bear Stearns issued a notice of default. HomeBanc filed voluntary bankruptcy petitions. Bear Stearns, claiming outright ownership of the securities, auctioned them to determine their fair market value. After the auction closed, Bear Stearns’s finance desk determined that Bear Stearns’s mortgage trading desk had won. Bear Stearns allocated the $60.5 million bid across 36 securities. HomeBanc believed itself entitled to the August 2007 principal and interest payments from the securities. HomeBanc claimed conversion, breach of contract, and violation of the automatic bankruptcy stay. Following multiple rounds of litigation, the district court found that Bear Stearns acted reasonably and in good faith. The Third Circuit affirmed. A bankruptcy court’s determination of good faith regarding an obligatory post-default valuation of collateral subject to a repurchase agreement receives mixed review. Factual findings are reviewed for clear-error while the ultimate issue of good faith receives plenary review. Bear Stearns liquidated the securities at issue in good faith compliance with the Repurchasing Agreement. Bear Stearns never claimed damages; 11 U.S.C. 101(47)(A)(v) “damages,” which may trigger the requirements of 11 U.S.C. 562, require a non-breaching party to bring a legal claim for damages. The broader safe harbor protections of 11 U.S.C. 559 were relevant. View "Wells Fargo, N.A. v. Bear Stearns & Co., Inc." on Justia Law
In re: Millennium Lab Holdings II LLC
Millennium provides laboratory-based diagnostic services. In 2014, it entered into a $1.825 billion credit agreement with several lenders, including Voya. Millennium refinanced existing financial obligations and paid a $1.3 billion special shareholders dividend. The U.S. Department of Justice, which had been investigating since 2012, then filed a False Claims Act complaint; Millennium’s Medicare billing privileges were revoked. Millennium agreed to pay the government entities $256 million to settle. Millennium lacked adequate liquidity to pay both its debt and the settlement and began working with the lenders, including Voya, to restructure its obligations. The lenders suggested that there were potential claims based on Millenium's lack of disclosure regarding the government’s investigation. Millennium, its equity holders, and the lenders, except Voya, entered into an agreement that required Millennium’s equity holders to transfer their equity interests to the lenders, including Voya. The equity holders were to “receive full releases.”Millennium filed a petition for bankruptcy with a “Prepackaged Joint Plan of Reorganization” that contained broad releases that would bind even non-consenting lenders. Voya objected, stating that it intended to assert claims for material misrepresentations in connection with the 2014 credit agreement against Millennium and Millennium’s equity holders and that the Bankruptcy Court lacked authority to approve the releases. The Bankruptcy Court overruled Voya’s objections and confirmed the plan. Voya filed suit, asserting RICO and other claims. The district court affirmed the Bankruptcy Court’s ruling on constitutional authority. The Third Circuit affirmed. On these facts, the Bankruptcy Court can, without running afoul of Article III of the Constitution, confirm a Chapter 11 reorganization plan containing nonconsensual third-party releases and injunctions. The releases and injunctions were “integral to the restructuring of the debtor-creditor relationship.” View "In re: Millennium Lab Holdings II LLC" on Justia Law
L&L Painting Co., Inc. v. Odyssey Contracting Corp.
A contractor and the prime contractor, involved in repainting the Queensboro Bridge, became embroiled in a dispute. The subcontractor stopped work. The parties sued each other for breach of contract. The subcontractor filed for bankruptcy. At the final pre-trial conference on an adversary proceeding, the parties entered into a stipulation that if the Bankruptcy Court determined that the subcontractor was the breaching party, then “all of the [p]arties’ pending claims will be withdrawn and disposed of in their entirety with prejudice” and the adversary proceeding “shall be deemed to be finally concluded in all respects.” Following a bench trial, the Bankruptcy Court concluded that the subcontractor was the breaching party and ordered compliance with the stipulation. Instead, the subcontractor appealed. The district court concluded that the subcontractor had released its claims and waived its right to appeal and modified the Bankruptcy Court’s order to make it a dismissal of the adversary proceeding with prejudice. The Third Circuit affirmed. The stipulation’s language confirms an intent to end all pending claims based on the Bankruptcy Court ruling: a party that seeks to appeal must make its intent to do so clear at the time of the stipulation setting the manner for resolution. View "L&L Painting Co., Inc. v. Odyssey Contracting Corp." on Justia Law
In re: Denby-Peterson
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
In re: Healthcare Real Estate Partners LLC
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