Finding Acceptance: Using Strategic Impairment to Satisfy 1129(a)(10)

by David L. Curry, Jr. and Ryan A. O’Connor (Okin Adams LLP; Houston, Texas)

Section 1129(a)(10) of the Bankruptcy Code – requiring acceptance of a proposed plan from at least one impaired voting class – can often pose a unique challenge for single asset real estate debtors. Finding Acceptance: Using Strategic Impairment to Satisfy 1129(a)(10) (the “Article”), explores the potential use of “strategic” or “artificial” impairment as a means of achieving plan confirmation in contested cases where consensual restructuring of the secured creditor’s claim is not obtainable.  Whether such artificial impairment is permissible remains an open question, but the Article notes a growing majority of courts finding that impairment need not be economically driven. Yet, while artificial impairment may not be prohibited by § 1129(a)(10), courts have found that plans relying upon such may be subject to heightened scrutiny under § 1129(a)(3)’s good faith requirements. Thus, the Article goes on to contrast two recent circuit court opinions – Western Real Estate Equities, L.L.C. v. Vill. At Camp Bowie I, L.P. (In re Vill. at Camp Bowie I, L.P.), 710 F.3d 239, 244 (5th Cir. 2013) and Vill. Green I, GP v. Fannie Mae (In re Vill. Green I, GP), 811 F.3d 816 (6th Cir. 2016) – and their opposing outcomes in an effort to understand what factors a court may consider when determining whether a plan has been proposed in good-faith.  Ultimately, the Article concludes that while strategic impairment of insiders or other closely related parties may give rise to an inference of bad faith, the impairment of unrelated, minor creditors should be permissible.

The full article is available to download here.

David L. Curry, Jr. is a partner, and Ryan A. O’Connor is an associate, in the Houston office of Okin Adams LLP. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors, and not Okin Adams.

 

Through Jevic’s Mirror: Orders, Fees, and Settlements

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By Nicholas L. Georgakopoulos (McKinney School of Law, Indiana University)

This article takes the United States Supreme Court’s simple “no” to nonconsensual structured dismissals in Jevic as an opportunity to study its contours. The first issue is the pending clarification on whether the right to object to a structured dismissal is an individual or a class right. An individual right would leave little space for consensual structured dismissals, whereas a class right would fit with the anti-hold-out scheme of reorganization law. Second, Jevic implies increased scrutiny on first-day orders, especially in liquidating reorganizations, pushing for additional caution and negotiation before early payments. Third is the issue of fees—latent in Jevic but burning in the academy—the tension between race-to-the-bottom and race-to-the-top views of jurisdictional competition with the Court’s silence in the foreground. Fourth is the Court’s approval of settlements (via interim orders) that violate priorities provided they promote a bankruptcy goal, as Iridium’s approval did. Fifth, the juxtaposition of the settlements in Iridium and Jevic stresses the importance of the bankruptcy court’s role in approving settlements when the parties’ incentives are biased.

The full article is available here.


The roundtable has posted previously on Jevic, including a report of the case by Melissa Jacoby & Jonathan Lipson and a roundup of law firm perspectives on the Court’s decision. For opposing views on the case leading up to oral argument, see Melissa Jacoby & Jonathan Lipson on their amicus brief and Bruce Grohsgal making the case for structured dismissals. For other Roundtable posts related to priority, see Casey & Morrison, “Beyond Options”; Baird, “Priority Matters”; and Roe & Tung, “Breaking Bankruptcy Priority,” an article that the Jevic opinion referenced.

Post-Jevic, Expansive Interpretation by Bankruptcy Courts Possible

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By Andrew C. Kassner and Joseph N. Argentina, Jr. (Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP)

In Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp., 137 S. Ct. 973 (2017), the Supreme Court held that structured dismissals that violate the distribution scheme set forth in the Bankruptcy Code are not permitted.  The Court distinguished such situations from other, somewhat common bankruptcy practices that also violate the Code’s distribution scheme, such as critical vendor orders, employee wage orders, and lender “roll-ups.”  Those practices, the Court noted, “enable a successful reorganization and make even the disfavored creditors better off.”  The question remained, however, how subsequent bankruptcy courts would analyze such practices in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Jevic.

This article summarizes two early post-Jevic decisions and concludes that at least some courts will read the Jevic holding expansively into areas of chapter 11 practice other than structured dismissals.  In In re Fryar, 2017 Bankr. LEXIS 1123 (Apr. 25, 2017), the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee would not approve a settlement agreement and § 363 sale that provided payment to a lender on account of its prepetition claims.  In In re Pioneer Health Servs., 2017 Bankr. LEXIS 939 (Apr. 4, 2017), the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Mississippi would not permit a hospital debtor to pay three physicians as “critical vendors.”  These courts concluded that Jevic required additional scrutiny of distribution-violating proposals other than structured dismissals.

The full article is available here.

Andrew C. Kassner is the chairman and chief executive officer of Drinker Biddle & Reath, and former chair of its corporate restructuring group. Joseph N. Argentina Jr. is an associate in the firm’s corporate restructuring practice group in the Philadelphia and Wilmington offices. The views expressed in the article are those of Mr. Kassner and Mr. Argentina, and not of Drinker Biddle & Reath.


The roundtable has posted previously on Jevic, including a report of the case by Melissa Jacoby & Jonathan Lipson and a roundup of law firm perspectives on the Court’s decision. For opposing views on the case leading up to oral argument, see Melissa Jacoby & Jonathan Lipson on their amicus brief and Bruce Grohsgal making the case for structured dismissals. For other Roundtable posts related to priority, see Casey & Morrison, “Beyond Options”; Baird, “Priority Matters”; and Roe & Tung, “Breaking Bankruptcy Priority,” an article referred to in the Jevic opinion.

Recent Trends In Enforcement of Intercreditor Agreements and Agreements Among Lenders in Bankruptcy

By Seth Jacobson, Ron Meisler, Carl Tullson and Alison Wirtz (Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP)*

Over the last several decades, the enforcement of intercreditor agreements (“ICAs”) and agreements among lenders (“AALs”) that purport to affect voting rights and the rights to receive payments of cash or other property in respect of secured claims have played an increasingly prominent role in bankruptcy cases. On certain of the more complex issues that have arisen in the context of a bankruptcy, there have been varying interpretations and rulings by the bankruptcy courts. Some courts have enforced these agreements in accordance with their terms, while others have invalidated provisions in these agreements on policy and other grounds. Still others seem to have enforced agreements with a results-oriented approach.

In this article, we examine three recent leading cases: Energy Future Holdings (“EFH“), Momentive, and RadioShack. These cases addressed whether the bankruptcy court was the proper forum for intercreditor disputes, the ability of junior creditors to object to a sale supported by senior creditors, and whether an agreement providing only for lien subordination restricts a junior creditor’s ability to receive distributions under a plan of reorganization.

These leading cases illustrate three trends. First, bankruptcy courts are increasingly willing to insert themselves with respect to disputes among lenders that affect a debtor’s estate, thereby establishing that the bankruptcy court is the proper forum for interpreting ICAs and AALs. Second, the courts are applying the plain language of ICAs and AALs to the facts of the case to reach their conclusions. And, finally, senior creditors appear to continue to bear the risk of agreements that do not limit junior creditors’ rights in bankruptcy using clear and unambiguous language.

The full article is available here.

*Seth Jacobson is a partner and global co-head of the banking group at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. Ron Meisler is a corporate restructuring partner, Carl Tullson is a corporate restructuring associate and Alison Wirtz is a banking associate at Skadden. They are all based in the firm’s Chicago office. The opinions expressed in this article are solely the opinions of the authors and not of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.

Jevic: Law Firm Perspectives

On March 22, the Supreme Court decided Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp., holding that bankruptcy courts may not approve structured dismissals that provide for distributions that deviate from ordinary priority rules without the affected creditors’ consent. According to the Court, Chapter 11 contemplates three possibilities: (1) a confirmed plan; (2) conversion to Chapter 7; or (3) dismissal. Absent an affirmative indication of congressional intent, the Court was unwilling to endorse a departure from the Code’s priority scheme; thus, it rejected the Third Circuit’s “rare cases” exception allowing courts to disregard priority in structured dismissals for “sufficient reasons.”

Dechert warns the decision could short-circuit “creative solutions to difficult and unique issues” and impose a “real economic cost” on debtors, creditors, and the courts. PretiFlaherty speculates that Jevic might give additional leverage to priority claimholders who know that debtors and secured creditors now “have one less arrow in their quiver.” More generally, Winston & Strawn predicts bankruptcy professionals will “look to Jevic for insight” when developing exit strategies in difficult cases.

Foley & Lardner highlights the Court’s basic commitment to absolute priority, while noting the Court’s careful distinction between final distributions, which must follow absolute priority, and interim distributions, which may break from priority to serve the Code’s ultimate objectives.

DrinkerBiddle emphasizes that Jevic provides “support for employee wage orders, critical vendor orders, and roll-ups,” a “shot in the arm for the sub rosa plan doctrine,” and “fodder for objections to class-skipping gift plans.” Duane Morris agrees, noting that Jevic may be “cited in unexpected ways” in battles about gift plans, critical vendor payments, and the like.

Sheppard Mullin wonders how consent will be determined in structured dismissals and whether features of plan confirmation other than absolute priority — for instance, cramdown, the bests interest test, and bad faith — will be imported into the structured dismissal context as well.

(By David Beylik, Harvard Law School, J.D. 2018.)


The roundtable has posted previously on Jevic, including a report of the case by Melissa Jacoby & Jonathan Lipson. For opposing views on the case leading up to oral argument, see Melissa Jacoby & Jonathan Lipson on their amicus brief and Bruce Grohsgal making the case for structured dismissals. For other Roundtable posts related to priority, see Casey & Morrison, “Beyond Options”; Baird, “Priority Matters”; and Roe & Tung, “Breaking Bankruptcy Priority,” an article that the Jevic opinion referenced.

Jevic: SCOTUS Holds That Priority Rules Apply in Structured Dismissals

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By Jonathan C. Lipson (Temple University-Beasley School of Law) and Melissa B. Jacoby (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill School of Law)

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp., in which we coauthored a brief for amici curiae law professors in support of Petitioners, truck drivers whom Jevic terminated shortly before it filed for bankruptcy. Holding about $8.3 million in priority wage claims, these workers objected to a settlement that Jevic’s shareholders and senior lenders reached with the creditors’ committee. The settlement denied the workers their priority payment, dismissed the bankruptcy, and foreclosed the workers’ rights to challenge under state law the leveraged buyout that led to the bankruptcy. The Third Circuit concluded that such a settlement was permissible in “rare” circumstances. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that structured dismissals must comply with priority rules absent consent of the affected parties.

Justice Breyer’s majority opinion is notable for at least two reasons. First, it recognizes what was ultimately at stake: the integrity and efficiency of the chapter 11 process. The consequences of failing to reverse, the Court explains, “are potentially serious,” and include “risks of collusion,” “making settlement more difficult to achieve,” and eroding procedural protections that “Congress granted particular classes of creditors,” such as unpaid workers. The Court found no basis in bankruptcy law to allow for exceptions to priority rules in “rare” cases, and seemed to doubt that Jevic was such a case in any event.

Second, consider what Justice Breyer’s decision does not do. It does not, contrary to some reports, prohibit all structured dismissals: “We express no view about the legality of structured dismissals in general,” Justice Breyer noted. The decision also distinguishes the impermissible final distribution in Jevic from interim distributions, such as critical vendor orders, which might deviate from bankruptcy’s priority rules temporarily, but serve other fundamental objectives. By contrast, the Court in Jevic could not find “any significant offsetting bankruptcy-related justification.” The opinion also avoided related issues, such as the propriety of “gift plans” or third-party releases. It shows, however, that Justice Breyer may be the best Justice for the job, if or when the Court chooses to tackle those questions.

The Court’s opinion is available here, and our brief is available here.


The Roundtable posted opposing views on Jevic leading up to oral argument in the case see. See Melissa Jacoby & Jonathan Lipson on their amicus brief and Bruce Grohsgal making the case for structured dismissals. For other Roundtable posts related to priority, see Casey & Morrison, “Beyond Options”; Baird, “Priority Matters”; and Roe & Tung, “Breaking Bankruptcy Priority,” an article that was referenced in the Jevic opinion.

Fair Equivalents and Market Prices: Bankruptcy Cramdown Interest Rates

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By Bruce A. Markell (Northwestern University Law School)

Cramdown is the confirmation of a plan of reorganization over the dissent of an entire class of creditors. Bankruptcy’s absolute priority rule permits such confirmation only if the dissenting class is paid in full, or if no junior class receives anything. “Paid in full,” however, does not require payment in cash. It can consist of intangible promises to pay money that banks, investors, and markets regularly value.

Whether this market value can precisely be transferred to cramdown has vexed many. This Article, “Fair Equivalents and Market Prices,” surveys the doctrinal background of such valuations and devises three short apothegms that can synthesize the history and doctrine under these phrases: “don’t pay too little”; “don’t pay too much”; and “don’t expect precision.”

Against this background, debates arose recently when a New York bankruptcy court applied a chapter 13 case, Till v. SCS Credit Corp., to a large corporate cramdown in In re MPM Silicones, LLC (“Momentive”). Given the legislative history and precedents in the cramdown area, the Article takes the position that Momentive was correct, that it is compatible with the doctrinal roots of cramdown, and that in the future, courts should resist using pure market-based valuations in cramdown calculations.


This article recently appeared in the Emory Bankruptcy Developments Journal (2016). The Roundtable has also recently posted Anthony Casey’s related article from the same issue, “Bankruptcy’s Endowment Effect.”

Bankruptcy’s Endowment Effect

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By Anthony J. Casey (University of Chicago Law School)

The notion of endowments and entitlements has a powerful effect on corporate bankruptcy policy. Scholars and lawyers generally assume a creditor endowed with a right outside the bankruptcy system must receive the equivalent of that right when its debtor is within the bankruptcy system. Proponents of this idea often assert that the result is required by the foundational theory of bankruptcy.

In a forthcoming essay, “Bankruptcy’s Endowment Effect,” I demonstrate that this is false. The idea of sacred creditor endowments is an untenable position that misunderstands the fundamental principles of bankruptcy. Corporate bankruptcy is, at its core, a system that alters nonbankruptcy endowments according to a hypothetical bargain that all creditors of a firm would have entered if bargaining were costless. The entire point of that hypothetical bargain is to suspend and alter some nonbankruptcy endowments to maximize the value of the bankruptcy estate and the firm as a whole. Indeed, if every stakeholder retained all of its nonbankruptcy endowments, the Bankruptcy Code would have no provisions at all.

Of course, altering nonbankruptcy endowments can impose costs. Foremost among those costs is the risk of opportunistic behavior that is costly for the estate as a whole. Bankruptcy policy will, therefore, be designed to maximize estate value while minimizing opportunistic bankruptcy behavior. Thus, the guiding principle for optimal bankruptcy design should be not the preservation of nonbankruptcy rights but rather the minimization of opportunistic behavior that reduces the net value of a firm.

With that principle in hand, we can resolve many difficult questions of bankruptcy policy. In the essay, I focus on applying the principle to the debate over what interest rate a senior creditor should get in a chapter 11 cramdown. In particular, I analyze the dispute in In re MPM Silicones, LLC (“Momentive”), where the bankruptcy court mistakenly reached its final decision by importing a creditor-endowment framework from consumer bankruptcy law (where the framework might make more sense). I show that an optimal rule for corporate bankruptcy supports a cramdown interest rate based on the prevailing market rates for similar loans, which reduces the risk of opportunistic behavior by both debtor and creditor.

Recharacterization of Debt as Equity in the Fourth Circuit

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By Gabrielle Glemann (Hughes Hubbard & Reed)

In an unpublished opinion in August, In re Province Grande Old Liberty, LLC, Case No. 15-1669, 2016 WL 4254917 (4th Cir. Aug. 12, 2016), the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals shed some light on the circumstances under which a court may recharacterize debt as an equity investment, effectively subordinating the claim.  The issue before the Fourth Circuit was not one of first impression — the Fourth Circuit had long recognized that a bankruptcy court’s equitable powers include “the ability to look beyond form to substance,” and had previously articulated the factors to consider in evaluating a request for recharacterization. See Fairchild Dornier GMBH v. Official Comm. of Unsecured Creditors (In re Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors for Dornier Aviation (North America), Inc.), 453 F.3d 225 (4th Cir. 2006). The Fourth Circuit decision is notable however, because the court looked beyond the facts giving rise to the underlying claim at issue and ultimately to the economic substance of the entire context of the transaction.  In Province, the creditor whose claim was at issue was a company owned by insiders of the debtor.  The creditors’ claim was based on a loan that was used by the debtor to settle other obligations.  The court held that the settlement agreement was the “substance of the transaction” and a basis for recharacterization, notwithstanding the fact that the creditor was not a party to the settlement agreement.

The full memo is available here.

Beyond Options

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By Anthony J. Casey (University of Chicago Law School) and Edward R. Morrison (Columbia Law School)

Scholars and policymakers now debate reforms that would prevent a bankruptcy filing from being a moment that forces valuation of the firm, crystallization of claims against it, and elimination of junior stakeholders’ interest in future appreciation in firm value. These reforms have many names, ranging from Relative Priority to Redemption Option Value. Much of the debate centers on the extent to which reform would protect the non-bankruptcy options of junior stakeholders or harm the non-bankruptcy options of senior lenders. In a new paper, “Beyond Options,” we argue that this focus on options is misplaced. Protecting options is neither necessary nor sufficient for advancing the goal of a well-functioning bankruptcy system. What is needed is a regime that cashes out the rights of junior stakeholders with minimal judicial involvement. To illustrate, we propose an “automatic bankruptcy procedure” that gives senior creditors an option to restructure the firm’s debt or sell its assets at any time after a contractual default. Under this procedure, restructuring occurs in bankruptcy, but sales do not. Sales are either subject to warrants (which give junior stakeholders a claim on future appreciation) or are subject to judicial appraisal (which forces senior lenders to compensate junior stakeholders if the sale price was too low). Our proposal can be seen as an effort to design a formalized restructuring procedure that borrows from traditional state law governing corporate-control transactions. We show that this procedure minimizes core problems of current law—fire sales that harm junior stakeholders, delay that harms senior lenders, and the uncertainties generated by judicial valuation, which are exploited by all parties.

The full paper is available here.

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