By Richard J. Cooper and Boaz S. Morag (Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, LLP).
On January 3, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit dealt a significant blow to Crystallex International Corporation’s long-running effort to recover its $1.2 billion arbitral award and judgment against the Republic of Venezuela for appropriating Crystallex’s rights to the Las Cristinas gold mine. In a 2-1 decision, the Third Circuit reversed a decision of the Delaware district court that had allowed Crystallex to allege a Delaware fraudulent transfer claim against a Delaware corporation wholly owned by the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA. Instead, the Third Circuit decided that a non-debtor transferor cannot be liable for a fraudulent transfer under the Delaware Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (“DUFTA”).
For PDVSA’s secured 2020 bondholders, the decision is welcome news, and makes the chances of any of those transactions being unwound, and the liens granted to 2020 bondholders set aside, even more remote. While Crystallex’s chance at a recovery against PDVSA remains alive if it is successful in its alter ego claims, PDVSA 2020 bondholders can rest easier knowing that they will retain their liens and priority to any proceeds from a sale of their collateral ahead of Crystallex or similar claimants even if such claimants successfully pursue alter ego claims against PDVSA. For other Republic creditors considering a similar strategy to Crystallex, the chances of jumping ahead of the 2020 secured PDVSA bonds or even debt below PDV Holding are now less likely, and with each passing day of litigation, the challenge of collecting any award from the cash-strapped nation only increases.
The article is available here.
By Todd E. Phillips, Kevin C. Mackley and Sally J. Sullivan (Caplin & Drysdale).
In September, the First Circuit Court of Appeals joined several other Circuits in holding that section 1109(b) of the Bankruptcy Code provides an official creditors’ committee with an “unconditional right to intervene” in an adversary proceeding related to a bankruptcy. The case, Promesa Financial Oversight and Management Board, was the appeal of an order from the District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, which had denied an intervention motion in a debt adjustment case brought under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (“PROMESA”). The First Circuit reversed the order, distinguishing the case from the First Circuit’s own precedent In re Thompson upon which the District Court had relied. The Promesa Financial Oversight and Management Board decision aligns the First Circuit with the Second and Third Circuits and evidences a growing Circuit trend toward recognizing the unconditional right of a creditors’ committee to intervene, rejecting the Fifth Circuit’s contrary analysis in the Fuel Oil case, which had previously represented the prevailing view for many years.
The full paper can be found here.
On February 27, the Supreme Court decided Merit Management Group, LP v. FTI Consulting, Inc., holding unanimously that the § 546(e) safe harbor does not protect allegedly fraudulent transfers “in which financial institutions served as mere conduits.” The Court’s decision resolves a circuit split on the reach of § 546(e). In reaching its conclusion, the Court focused on the “end-to-end transfer” that the trustee seeks to avoid, rather than any “component parts of the overarching transfer.” In FTI, because the overarching transfer was made between two parties not otherwise shielded by the safe harbor, the transfer will now fall outside the safe harbor.
As many law firms recognize, this decision will have wide-ranging implications on the finality of securities transactions effected through financial institutions, especially leveraged buyouts. Mayer Brown notes that as the decision enhances a trustee’s ability to recover fraudulent transfers, it also increases the bankruptcy estate’s leverage against recipients of pre-petition transfers. Cleary observes that “debtors or trustees may strategically frame avoidance actions in order to limit the scope of the safe harbor.” Mayer Brown concludes that the decision may also expose investors, investment funds and similar entities to fraudulent transfer litigation risks.
The bottom line, as Davis Polk notes, is that the § 546(e) safe harbor is no longer a blanket safe harbor for the recipients of transactions that pass through financial institutions. But the safe harbor will still shield financial institutions operating as escrow agents or clearinghouses, as the Court expressly stated that a financial institution under § 546(e) is protected whether the institution acts as a principal or as an intermediary.
Firms have noted that the decision also left open some ambiguities. First, Schulte Roth & Zabel writes that the Court leaves open possible arguments that any “customer” of a “financial institution” is also itself a “financial institution” under § 546(e). Second, Mayer Brown points out that the Court did not address whether the transaction at issue actually qualified as a transfer that is a “settlement payment” or made in connection with a “securities contract” under § 546(e). These ambiguities will draw the attention of defendants in future fraudulent transfer litigation.
Finally, Weil notes that the decision raises the question of how the preemption of state-law creditor remedies under § 546(e) will be applied in light of the Supreme Court’s now-narrow construction of the safe harbor.
By Jianjian Ye, Harvard Law School, J.D. 2018.
The roundtable has posted on FTI before. Some of those posts are: an analysis of the FTI oral argument, the Amici Curiae Brief of Bankruptcy Law Professors, an article by Ralph Brubaker on the meaning of § 546(e), and a roundup of law firm perspectives on the Seventh Circuit’s decision in FTI Consulting, Inc. v. Merit Management Group, LP, 830 F.3d 690 (7th Cir. 2016).
By Brian S. Hermann, Alan W. Kornberg, and Erica G. Weinberger (Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP).
Last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit addressed two questions critically important to trademark licensees: (1) can a trademark licensee use section 365(n) of the Bankruptcy Code to retain licensed trademarks (and exclusive distribution rights) following a debtor-licensor’s rejection of its license and (2) if not, can a licensee otherwise continue to use the licensed trademarks post-rejection? In re Tempnology, LLC, 879 F.3d 389 (1st Cir. 2018). The Court held that section 365(n) does not apply to trademarks (or distribution rights) and, in a split (two-to-one) decision, ruled that a licensee’s right to use licensed trademarks terminates upon rejection of its license. In so ruling, the Court expressly rejected a contrary decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Sunbeam Products, Inc. v. Chicago American Manufacturing, LLC, 686 F.3d 372 (7th Cir. 2012), establishing a clear circuit split regarding the consequences of trademark license rejection for licensees. This Memorandum discusses the First Circuit’s decision in Tempnology, as well as the scope of section 365(n) of the Bankruptcy Code and the consequences of rejection more generally.
The First Circuit’s decision in Tempnology may not be the last word on these important trademark license issues. Given the split in Court of Appeals rulings, the Supreme Court could weigh in, if asked. If not, it remains to be seen whether other courts will adopt Tempnology or Sunbeam or craft an entirely different rule.
The full article is available here.
By Richard Levin (Jenner & Block LLP)
The bankruptcy courts and their appellate courts continue to explore issues of interest to practitioners and academics. This quarterly summary of recent developments in bankruptcy law covers cases reported during the fourth quarter of 2017.
The Eleventh Circuit was particularly noteworthy, holding that an individual debtor may recover attorneys’ fees for litigating a damages claim for a stay violation, including fees on appeal (Mantiply v. Horne) and, perhaps more ominously, that a chapter 13 confirmation order is not binding on a creditor who does not object to confirmation but has filed a stay relief motion and that state forfeiture laws may remove property from the estate while the case is pending (Title Max v. Northington). A rehearing motion has been filed in the latter case.
The First Circuit has diverged from the Seventh Circuit, holding that rejection of a trademark license deprives the licensee of future use of the license. (Tempnology)
The Delaware bankruptcy court reaffirmed what should have been clear that a trustee’s avoiding power and recovery claim is not limited to the amount of creditor claims, because section 550 speaks to benefit of the estate, not of creditors. (Physiotherapy Holdings)
Two bankruptcy courts have clarified the prerequisites for and the scope of third party releases and their jurisdiction to issue them, limiting releases by non-voting creditors and of non-indemnified insiders or professionals (New York: SunEdison) and prohibiting a “purchase” of a release solely by making a contribution to the estate. (Colorado: Midway Gold)
By Vincent S. J. Buccola (University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School – Legal Studies & Business Ethics Department).
In Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corporation, 137 S. Ct. 973 (2017), the Supreme Court held that bankruptcy courts lack authority to implement structured dismissals that sidestep the absolute priority rule. The bankruptcy judge’s power to resolve cases by dismissal, a power the Bankruptcy Code grants explicitly, is implicitly limited by the norm of waterfall distribution—or so in any case the majority reasoned. The Court’s decision rested on an interpretive default rule. Because distributional priorities are so important to bankruptcy, the Code will be understood to bar departures absent a clear statement. At the same time, however, the Jevic majority went out of its way to distinguish (and seemingly bless) what it called “interim distributions” such as critical vendor orders, notwithstanding their capacity to undermine priorities and their dubious textual basis.
This article argues that this seeming inconsistency in Jevic is no misstep, but that there might be some sense to the conflicting interpretive approaches after all. Two distinctive paradigms now color interpretation of the Bankruptcy Code. One paradigm governs during the early stages of a case and is oriented toward the importance of debtor and judicial discretion to use estate assets for the general welfare. The other paradigm governs a bankruptcy’s conclusion and is oriented toward the sanctity of creditors’ bargained-for distributional entitlements. In combination, they produce what appears to be policy incoherence. But, at least in a world of robust senior creditor influence, a rule under which judicial discretion diminishes over the course of a case—discretion giving way to entitlements—may in fact tend to maximize creditor recoveries.
The full article is available here.
By Steven L. Schwarcz (Duke University School of Law)
Secured transactions traditionally are regulated to protect transacting parties and to increase transactional efficiency. This essay argues they should also be regulated to protect the stability of the financial system. This raises numerous challenges.
In our increasingly complex financial system, for example, regulation to control moral hazard in the originate-to-distribute model of secured loan origination faces the challenge that the relevant market failure is less likely to be asymmetric information than mutual misinformation—neither the originator (i.e., seller) of the loans nor the buyer may fully understand the risks. Non-traditional secured transactions, including securitization and other forms of structured finance, exacerbate the challenges of complexity and the limits of disclosure.
The regulation of collateralization levels and interconnectedness faces fundamentally different challenges than those underlying the (technically) analogous post-Depression regulation of “margin” lending to acquire publicly traded stock. The Fed’s Regulation U then required that stock pledged as collateral be worth at least twice the loan amount. Requiring overcollateralization of home-mortgage lending, however, could be highly regressive.
The potential for the widening gap between the rich and the poor to undermine stability also raises the challenge of whether to recognize de facto rights, in order to enable the poor to use their homes as collateral to raise capital. This challenge is itself partly informed by the Uniform Commercial Code’s innovative disentanglement of commercial and property law, which articulates the former to reflect commercial realities rather than the arbitrary shifting of rights based on property. Innovating secured transactions law to recognize those de facto rights could help to unlock a worldwide entrepreneurial potential.
The full paper can be found here.
By Charles M. Oellermann and Mark G. Douglas (Jones Day)
Many chapter 11 plans include nonconsensual third-party releases that preclude certain non-debtors from pursuing claims against other non-debtors as part of a restructuring deal in which such releases are a quid pro quo for financial contributions made by prepetition lenders or old equity holders. However, bankruptcy and appellate courts disagree as to whether such non-consensual plan releases should be permitted due, among other things, to concerns regarding the scope of a bankruptcy court’s subject matter jurisdiction and constitutional authority. Several court rulings handed down in 2017 addressed these concerns.
For example, In In re Midway Gold US, Inc., 575 B.R. 475 (Bankr. D. Colo. 2017), the court held that, although Tenth Circuit law does not categorically forbid third-party releases in chapter 11 plans, it lacked jurisdiction to “adjudicate” plan releases of claims against non-debtors because the underlying claims should not be considered as part of the proceedings to confirm the plan and were not within either its “core” or “related to” jurisdiction. In addition, in In re SunEdison, Inc., 2017 BL 401968 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. Nov. 8, 2017), the court ruled that, as a matter of contract law, merely implied consent for plan releases is insufficient, and it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to approve releases that were overly broad.
By contrast, in In re Millennium Lab Holdings II, LLC, 2017 WL 4417562 (Bankr. D. Del. Oct. 3, 2017), the court held that it had the constitutional jurisdiction to authorize nonconsensual releases, despite the existence of litigation in another forum to adjudicate one of the claims to be released. A discussion of the court’s ruling in Millennium is available here.
Earlier this month, Senators John Cornyn, R-TX, and Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, introduced the Bankruptcy Venue Reform Act of 2018. With the aim of “prevent[ing] big companies from cherry-picking courts that they think will rule in their favor and to crack down on this corporate abuse of our nation’s bankruptcy laws,” the Act would amend §1408 of the Bankruptcy Act to require debtors to file in the district “in which the principal assets or principal place of business” are located. It would also bar debtors from tag-along filings in jurisdictions where their affiliates have ongoing bankruptcy proceedings unless that affiliate “owns, controls, is the general partner, or holds 50 percent or more of the outstanding voting securities” of the debtor. In short, the proposed Act would eliminate the domicile venue option and the affiliate option that allows larger parent companies to file in the same venue as a smaller subsidiary.
Significantly, the Act would oust Delaware from its position of bankruptcy venue of choice for the many businesses that do not operate in Delaware but are domiciled in Delaware by virtue of having incorporated there. The bankruptcy court in Delaware is the venue now chosen by many public firms that file to reorganize in chapter 11.
In response to the bill’s introduction, Delaware’s Governor and congressional delegation issued a joint statement:
Many American companies, large and small, choose to incorporate in Delaware because of the expertise and experience of our judges, attorneys, and business leaders. Denying American businesses the ability to file for bankruptcy in the courts of their choice would not only hurt Delaware’s economy but also hurt businesses of all sizes and the national economy as a whole. This is a misguided policy, and we strongly oppose it.
Senator Coons later published an additional statement emphasizing that the “Cornyn-Warren bill is bad for businesses everywhere, but it would be a disaster for Delaware.”
Bankruptcy venue reform was proposed, but not passed, in 2005 (S.314) and again in 2011 (H.R.2533). In seeking to remove the domicile and affiliate bankruptcy venue options, the Cornyn-Warren bill most closely mirrors the 2011 bill, H.R.2533, which Professor David Skeel has stated “would [have] overturn[ed] a long history of bankruptcy practice; it would undermine the effectiveness of our corporate bankruptcy system; it would increase the administrative costs of the system; and it would not help the very parties the proposal is ostensibly designed to help.”
If passed, the Act would require a major change in bankruptcy strategy for many businesses, but it remains to be seen whether the Act will gain traction in Congress.
(By Harold King, Harvard Law School, J.D. 2019.)
By Erika D. White and Donald S. Bernstein of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP.
The U.S. banking agencies have issued rules that require U.S. G-SIBs and the U.S. operations of foreign G-SIBs to amend their swaps, repurchase agreements and other qualified financial contracts (QFCs) to include certain provisions designed to mitigate the risk of destabilizing close-outs of QFCs in the event the G-SIB enters resolution. The rules are part of a package of reforms implemented by the industry, Congress and the U.S. banking agencies since the financial crisis in an attempt to ensure that the largest financial institutions can be resolved in an orderly manner. Specifically, the rules seek to (1) mitigate the risk that the FDIC’s stay-and-transfer powers with respect to QFCs under Title II of the Dodd-Frank Act and the Federal Deposit Insurance Act may not be recognized and given effect outside of the United States and (2) improve the likelihood of success of a single-point-of entry resolution strategy under the Bankruptcy Code by limiting the ability of counterparties to terminate their QFCs with a solvent and performing operating entity based on cross-defaults triggered by the bankruptcy of the operating entity’s parent or other affiliate. The QFC Stay Rules do not, however, affect the rights of counterparties to terminate QFCs under the safe harbor provisions of the Bankruptcy Code in the event the operating subsidiary itself were to enter bankruptcy proceedings.
The full visual memo is available here.