TCEH Bankruptcy: SDNY Transfers Delaware Trust Company v. Wilmington Trust N.A. Intercreditor Dispute to Delaware Bankruptcy Court, Reaffirming Broad View of Bankruptcy Jurisdiction

By Mark Ellenberg, Howard Hawkins, Ivan Loncar, Ellen Halstead, Michele Maman and Tom Curtin of Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP

In Delaware Trust Company v. Wilmington Trust N.A. the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York found that a complaint based on an intercreditor agreement among secured creditors of Texas Competitive Electric Holdings LLC constituted a core proceeding.  Accordingly, the court denied a motion to remand the case to New York state court, where it had originally been filed, and also transferred the case to the US District Court for the District of Delaware.  The case was subsequently referred to the bankruptcy court presiding over the TCEH bankruptcy cases.  Plaintiff had alleged that the dispute, which involved allocation of adequate protection payments ordered by the Delaware Bankruptcy Court, was an intercreditor dispute that turned solely on the interpretation of a prepetition intercreditor agreement and, accordingly, should be decided in state court.  As such, the issue before the District Court was whether a New York court or the Delaware Bankruptcy Court should resolve the intercreditor dispute.

The District Court ruled that the dispute was core because the dispute would have no meaningful existence but for TCEH’s bankruptcy filing, as the ability to receive adequate protection derives solely from the Bankruptcy Code.  In addition, the Court found that the dispute was core because the intercreditor issue would likely arise again in the context of plan confirmation.   The decision is important because it reaffirms the often-challenged principle that contractual disputes solely among creditors may nonetheless qualify as “core” proceedings where, as here, the underlying dispute could only arise in the context of a bankruptcy proceeding.

For our full memo, please click here.

Bankruptcy in Groups

By William H. Beaver, Stanford University; Stefano Cascino, London School of Economics; Maria Correia, London Business School; and Maureen F. McNichols, Stanford University

Group bankruptcies tend to be large and affect a significant number of stakeholders. Business groups constitute a common way for ultimate owners to exercise control over a large number of companies while containing their risk exposure to different parts of the business through limited liability. In countries with underdeveloped financial infrastructures, business groups overcome difficulties in accessing external finance by reshuffling funds within the corporate structure.

In our study, we seek to understand how financial distress takes place within a business group. Using a large cross-country sample of group-affiliated firms, we show that group structure matters for parent and subsidiary bankruptcy prediction. Moreover, we show that the re-allocation of resources among group firms is likely to be a channel through which parent firms manage intra-group credit risk. Parents may be required to support financially distressed subsidiaries as a result of explicit or implicit agreements. Absent these agreements, parents might also have an incentive to support financially distressed subsidiaries as the bankruptcy of a subsidiary may impose severe costs (e.g., reputational damage, cross-default, direct liability under veil piercing). Intra-group support can also flow in the opposite direction as distressed parents may seek financial aid from healthy subsidiaries. The results of our study show that the association between parent and subsidiary default probabilities varies with the level of subsidiary integration within the group and country-level institutional quality. A shock to the parent probability of default is less likely to propagate to subsidiaries in countries with strong anti-self-dealing, investor protection, director liability and related-party transaction regulations.

Our findings are relevant for financial reporting regulators, auditors, investors and credit rating agencies, and speak to the regulatory debate on cross-border insolvencies.

The full article is available here.

Chapter 11 Duration, Pre-Planned Cases, and Refiling Rates: An Empirical Analysis in the Post-BAPCPA Era

By Foteini Teloni, Fordham University School of Law

The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (“BAPCPA”) enacted and amended several business bankruptcy provisions that triggered a heated debate over their effects on the chapter 11 landscape and the debtor’s reorganization chances.

In this article, I use multivariate regression models to examine empirically and quantify, for the first time, BAPCPA’s effect on three distinct aspects of the chapter 11 process: (a) the duration of traditional chapter 11 cases; (b) the use of preplanned bankruptcies; and (c) debtor refiling rates.

My study indicates that BAPCPA fulfilled, on the one hand, a long-standing desire of having shorter business reorganization cases. Indeed, the average duration of chapter 11 dropped from 480 days to 261 days in the post-2005 era, while the proportion of companies undergoing preplanned bankruptcies rose 23% in that same period. Even after controlling for various factors, including the companies’ pre-filing financial profile, BAPCPA remained correlated at a statistically significant level with shorter chapter 11 duration and more preplanned cases.

On the other hand, however, the proportion of debtors that had to refile for bankruptcy soon after exiting their previous filing increased 30% in the post-2005 era. BAPCPA’s effect on recidivism remained statistically significant even after controlling for a number of factors, including the companies’ post-emergence profitability and leverage.

It seems that the 2005 amendments force the debtor to emerge hastily from its chapter 11 proceedings, ignoring operational and structural problems and, therefore, not achieving true rehabilitation. And if one measure for successful bankruptcies is refiling rates, then BAPCPA seems to have failed in this respect.

The full article is published in 23 Am. Bankr. Inst. L. Rev. 571 (2015), and is available here.

Curbing the Exploitation of Passive Creditors in Chapter 11 Reorganization by Leveraging the Oversight Role of the United States Trustee

By Addison F. Pierce, American University – Washington College of Law

The Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 is beginning to show its age in ways similar to the forty-year-old code it replaced. In addition to being ill-suited to address changes in the underlying credit market, the current code is confronting the development of an entirely new marketplace — a market in claims trading. While some praise the enhanced liquidity, others take issue with the strains placed on the efficacy of bankruptcy.

Rather than engaging in the normative debate, this Comment seeks to redress a clear drawback to the current system: the harm endured by passive creditors. Unlike those economically empowered to participate in the reorganization process, the passive creditor lacks the economic ability and incentive to play an active role. This position leaves the passive creditor’s ability to collect on its claim solely in the hands of another: the creditors’ committee. While this committee may have provided adequate protection in 1978, the credit market and its participants are very different today. Some argue that this issue is systemic and can only be addressed by replacing the current code; however, this Comment argues that something can be done short of this massive task. The challenge is as follows: if too little is done, passive creditors will continue to be exploited and if too much is done the whole market could be damaged. Recognizing this challenge, this Comment proposes that passive creditors can be afforded adequate protection by leveraging the oversight power of the US Trustee to ensure the proper functioning of creditors’ committees. Moreover, the recommendation of this Comment would enhance protection for passive creditor while remaining market neutral.

For the full article, see 4 Am. U. Bus. L. Rev. 95 (2015), available here.

 

A Third Way: Examiners As Inquisitors

By Daniel J. Bussel, UCLA School of Law

BusselThere is a buzz concerning bankruptcy examiners. Recently in such cases as ResCap, Dynegy and Tribune, and perhaps now in Caesars, examiners have played a decisive role in resolving major Chapter 11 cases involving avoiding power claims.

“Litigate or settle” is the dispute resolution choice generally available in US bankruptcy courts. But there is another way: An inquisitorial model of justice in which an active and informed neutral investigates the facts and then assesses and applies the law to resolve a legal dispute. Chapter 11 examiners are peculiarly suited to introduce this inquisitorial process into a Chapter 11 case. In particular, Ken Klee, serving as examiner in the Tribune case, and a series of post-Tribune investigations show that inquisitorial methods make sense in certain large bankruptcy cases involving complex legal disputes (rather than financial or operational problems). Indeed Tribune and its progeny suggest that the inquisitorial experiment has already begun.

A Third Way: Examiners As Inquisitors looks at examiner methodologies in Tribune and the few post-Tribune examiner cases. It assesses the method’s comparative advantages (fact-finding accuracy, nonpartisan experts, freedom from artificial evidentiary constraints, transparency and legitimacy) and disadvantages (lack of finality, expense, delay, risks to reorganization efforts, risk of overzealousness, due process concerns) and suggests that in the absence of a countervailing business exigency demanding exclusive focus on reorganization, the Tribune model may offer a superior alternative for resolving contested avoidance claims. Indeed, large Chapter 11 cases may be an ideal proving ground for inquisitorial methods more broadly.

For more see A Third Way: Examiners As Inquisitors, 90 Am. Bankr. L. J. __ (forthcoming 2016), available here.

Bankruptcy Examiners in Chapter 11

By Jonathan C. Lipson, Temple University—Beasley School of Law, and Christopher Fiore Marotta, KPMG

Lipson MarottaBankruptcy examiners have long been a controversial feature of chapter 11—and remain so in recent cases such as Caesars Entertainment. Section 1104 of the Bankruptcy Code requires one if sought in large cases ($5 million+ in debt) or if “in the interests of creditors.” Congress created the position as a check on the reorganization process, since neither the SEC nor trustees typically provide oversight. Yet, system participants grouse about their costs and potential to disrupt negotiations. The ABI’s reform proposal would eliminate them.

In a recent paper, we study their use in a sample of 1225 chapter 11 cases from 1991-2010. We find that, despite the Code’s “mandatory” language, examiners are exceedingly rare, being sought in about 9% and appointed in 4% of cases. About half were very large cases, with far more than $5 million in debt, so most requests should have been granted—but they weren’t. The factors that Congress thought should matter most—such as fraud or incompetence—don’t.

What predicts whether an examiner will be appointed? Timing and location: an early request in a case outside Delaware is nearly twice as likely to be granted than otherwise. Yet, contrary to conventional wisdom, we also find that examiners correlate to better outcomes, including in post-bankruptcy earnings and headcounts.

We explain why examiners are so rare, and suggest a way to use them more frequently and economically.

For the full article see here.

Supreme Court Permits Bankruptcy Courts to Issue Final Judgments with Parties’ Consent

By Harold S. Novikoff, Douglas K. Mayer, Ian Boczko, Emil A. Kleinhaus, and Alexander B. Lees of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

The Supreme Court’s latest decision regarding the power of bankruptcy judges to resolve claims between bankruptcy estates and their creditors is Wellness International Network, Ltd. v. Sharif, handed down on May 26, 2015. In its landmark 2011 ruling in Stern v. Marshall, the Court held that bankruptcy judges have limited authority under Article III of the Constitution to determine claims asserted by an estate against creditors. However, Stern left open the question, which has split lower courts, whether parties can nonetheless consent to bankruptcy court adjudication. In Wellness, the Supreme Court held that bankruptcy litigants may waive Article III rights, and suggested that parties may forfeit untimely objections to a bankruptcy court’s lack of authority.

For a fuller analysis and summary, click here for our memo on Wellness.

Statutory Erosion of Secured Creditors’ Rights: Some Insights from the United Kingdom

By Adrian Walters, IIT Chicago-Kent School of Law

The prevailing wisdom is that Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings have been captured by secured creditors with the consequence that many Chapter 11s are little more than glorified nationwide federal foreclosures through which secured creditors exit by means of a section 363 sale.  Some scholars worry that secured creditor capture of Chapter 11 leads to asset deployment decisions that do not produce welfare-maximizing outcomes for creditors as a whole.

In an article forthcoming in the 2015 University of Illinois Law Review, I do not question this prevailing wisdom.  Instead, I seek to argue, by reference to experience in the United Kingdom, that if we are serious about curbing secured creditors’ control of bankruptcy proceedings through bankruptcy law reform, we have to acknowledge and understand the ways in which secured creditors respond to reforms that are adverse to their interests.

The article identifies four ways in which lenders may be expected to adjust to “adverse” bankruptcy reform: (i) meta bargaining; (ii) adjustments to pre-bankruptcy behaviour; (iii) transactional innovation; and (iv) shape shifting. The article then illustrates how lenders in England and Wales have successfully adjusted to sustained statutory attempts to undermine their bankruptcy priority by carving value out of their collateral, and to erode their control rights by abolishing their right to appoint an administrative receiver over floating charge collateral.

Click here to read more.

Overview of ABI Commission Report and Recommendation on the Reform of Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code

By Jay M. Goffman, George N. Panagakis, Ken Ziman, Van C. Durrer II, John K. Lyons, Mark A. McDermott, and David M. Turetsky of Skadden, Arps Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP

The American Bankruptcy Institute’s Commission to Study the Reform of Chapter 11 recently released its Final Report recommending comprehensive reforms to Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. The report is the culmination of a three-year effort by over 200 restructuring professionals to evaluate Chapter 11 in light of the changing environment in which financially distressed companies operate. The Report is approximately 400 pages long. Skadden, Arps has prepared a comprehensive overview of the Report that condenses the salient points into a 30-page summary which can be found here. Selected recommendations for reform include:

  • DIP financing orders cannot impose milestones requiring the debtor to perform material tasks within the first 60 days (e.g., conduct a sale or file a plan).
  • No 363 sales of all or substantially all assets (“363x sales”) within the first 60 days unless the debtor demonstrates a high likelihood that the value of the debtor’s assets will decrease significantly.
  • 363 sales must satisfy requirements similar to plan confirmation requirements.
  • Junior, out-of-the-money stakeholders may be entitled to receive an allocation of value from senior creditors to reflect a possible upswing in the reorganized debtor’s value.
  • The cost of capital for similar debt issued to companies comparable to the debtor as a reorganized entity should be used when determining the appropriate discount rate for purposes of cram down.
  • Eliminating the requirement of at least one impaired accepting class of creditors for plan confirmation.
  • No appointment of an unsecured creditors’ committee if general unsecured creditors do not need representation in the case (e.g., if their claims are out-of-the-money).

Venue Roundtable in WSJ Bankruptcy Beat

Venue in Chapter 11 cases has been a hot topic, particularly after a recent venue battle in Caesar’s and the ABI Commission declined to recommend changing existing law, which gives debtors a broad choice for venue. Do current venue laws afford debtors, influential creditors, and their advisors too much leeway in electing where to file? And if so, should venue law be reformed? Last week, over a dozen bankruptcy professionals offered their views in the Wall Street Journal’s “Examiners” panel.

There was near-consensus among the WSJ’s Examiners that existing venue law—while perhaps imperfect—works well.

Anders Maxwell and Sharon Levine claimed, as did several others, that the large volume of filings in Delaware and the Southern District of New York renders those districts more efficient. Levine explained that “[t]he large volume of cases adjudicated within these two districts encourages further filings which in turn gives these courts even more of a track record, predictability and specialization.” Jack Butler argued that broad venue choice is a boon, since “[i]t creates opportunities for jointly-administered, cost-efficient filings, allowing fiduciaries to exercise their business judgment about what filing location might maximize enterprise value or reduce execution risk or both.” Moreover, “parties-in-interest actually seek to transfer venue in [only] a fraction of the cases filed.”

Companies also must consider “legal differences within the circuits” in deciding where to file, according to Richard Chesley. Differences in law, he explained, “can spell the difference between a confirmable plan of reorganization and liquidation.” Mark Roe judged that although the debtor might choose to file where it would be favored, that concern is offset by the expertise that courts hearing and deciding large, complex cases develop through repetition and experience. Venue restrictions that would disperse big firm filings would fail to capitalize on this expertise and experience. If more uniformity were needed, Roe argues, a nationwide intermediate appellate court would be the best approach.

The most vocal opponent of wide venue choice, Lynn LoPucki, wrote in his 2005 book, Courting Failure, that venue law degrades the bankruptcy courts, because the courts compete for large, prestigious cases by (i) advancing favorable precedent to attract debtors and (ii) tolerating high fees to curry favor with restructuring professionals, who influence where the case will be filed. This leads to a detrimental “race-to-the-bottom” style of “forum shopping,” which, he argues, facilitates the disproportionately large percentage of filings in Delaware and the Southern District of New York.

Visit the WSJ’s Bankruptcy Beat website to read the rest of the Examiners’ views on modern venue law.

This post was written by Aaron David (J.D. ’15).

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