First Circuit Holds That Trademark Licensee Loses Right to Use Trademarks When Debtor-Licensor Rejects License

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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.

Recent Developments in Bankruptcy Law, February 2018

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

The full memo, discussing these and other cases, is available here, and the full (900-page) compilation of all prior editions is available here.

The Janus Faces of Reorganization Law

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.

Secured Transactions and Financial Stability: Regulatory Challenges

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.

Bankruptcy Court Rules That It Has Constitutional Authority to Grant Nonconsensual Releases in Chapter 11 Plan

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.