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.