The New Mass Torts Bargain

By Samir D. Parikh (Lewis & Clark Law School)

Samir D. Parikh

Mass torts create a unique scale of harm and liabilities. Corporate tortfeasors are desperate to settle claims but condition settlement upon resolution of substantially all claims at a known price—commonly referred to as a global settlement. Without this, corporate tortfeasors are willing to continue with protracted and fragmented litigation across jurisdictions. Global settlements can be elusive in these cases. Mass torts are oftentimes characterized by non-homogenous victim groups that include both current victims and unknown, future victims—individuals whose harm has not yet manifested and may not do so for years. Despite this incongruence, the claims of these future victims must be aggregated as part of any global settlement. This is the tragedy of the mass tort anticommons: without unanimity, victim groups are unable to access settlement resources in a timely or meaningful way, but actual coordination across the group can be impossible.

Current resolution structures have proven ill-equipped to efficiently and equitably address the novel challenges posed by mass torts. Many cases cannot satisfy Rule 23’s requirements for class action certification. Multidistrict litigation is the most frequently invoked resolution structure, but the MDL process is distorted. The process was initially designed for one district court to streamline pretrial procedures before remanding cases for adjudication. Instead, MDL courts have turned into captive settlement negotiations. In response, a new strategy for resolving modern mass torts has emerged. Corporate tortfeasors—including Purdue Pharma, Boy Scouts of America, and USA Gymnastics—have started filing for bankruptcy. These mass restructurings automatically halt the affected MDL cases and transfer proceedings to a bankruptcy court—a process I describe as bankruptcy preemption. Unfortunately, bankruptcy preemption replaces one deficient structure with another. Mass restructuring debtors are exploiting statutory gaps in the bankruptcy code in order to bind victims through an unpredictable, ad hoc structure. The new bargain creates myriad risks, including insolvent settlement trusts and disparate treatment across victim classes.

This Article is the first to attempt a reconceptualization of how modern mass torts should be resolved and delivers an unprecedented normative construct focused on addressing anticommons dynamics through statutory amendments to the Bankruptcy Code. These changes, coupled with an evolved perspective on fundamental structural anomalies, are designed to improve predictability, efficiency, and victim recoveries. More broadly, this Article attempts to animate scholarly debate of this new, non-class aggregate litigation strategy that will reshape the field.

The full article is available here.

Bankruptcy Tourism and the European Union’s Corporate Restructuring Quandary: The Cathedral in Another Light

By Samir D. Parikh (Lewis & Clark Law School)

Samir D. Parikh

For the last decade, the European Union has been reconceptualizing its corporate restructuring framework with the hope of bolstering capital markets and improving cross-border lending. Unfortunately, the system remains plagued by two intractable problems: divergent substantive law at the Member State level and jurists unaccustomed to guiding reorganization cases. The result is a system beset by uncertainty and disparate treatment. The EU is intent on addressing these problems, but progress has been elusive. The EU must work through recommendations and directives to encourage Member States to align substantive restructuring law with policy design. But Member States have been unresponsive to the EU’s recent efforts. The prospect of addressing these intractable problems in the foreseeable future is grim. Therefore, this Article breaks with current scholarship and urges the EU to adopt a radical alternative. The EU should consider making legal and structural changes that will facilitate bankruptcy tourism. I argue that affording corporations increased discretion as to the location of restructuring cases will aid in creating judicial hubs of optimal law and experienced jurists. The EU has the power to adopt my recommendations by simply modifying its own law and procedure, which should accelerate implementation timelines.

Ultimately, economists foresee an impending financial correction. The EU’s restructuring framework is unprepared to offer predictable and comprehensive reorganization outcomes for the next wave of distressed corporations. This Article proposes a novel vantage point from which to assess policy alignment.

For previous Roundtable posts on for bankruptcy tourism, see Wolf-Georg Ringe, “Bankruptcy Forum Shopping in Europe.”

The full article is available here. Forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law.

Falling Cities and the Red Queen Phenomenon

posted in: Municipal Bankruptcy | 0

By Samir D. Parikh (Lewis and Clark Law School) and Zhaochen He (Lewis and Clark College)

Cities and counties are failing.  Unfunded liabilities for retirees’ healthcare benefits aggregate to more than $1 trillion.  Pension systems are underfunded by as much as $4.4 trillion.  Many local government capital structures ensure rising costs and declining revenues, the precursors to service-delivery insolvency.  These governments are experiencing the Red Queen phenomenon.   They have tried a dizzying number of remedies but their dire situation persists unchanged.  Structural changes are necessary, but state legislatures have failed to respond.  More specifically, many states have refused to implement meaningful debt restructuring mechanisms for local governments. They argue that giving cities and counties the power to potentially impair bond obligations will lead to a doomsday scenario: credit markets will respond by dramatically raising interest rates on new municipal and state bond issuances. This argument – which we term the paralysis justification – has been employed widely to support state inaction.  But the paralysis justification is anecdotal and untested.

This article attempts to fill a significant gap in the literature by reporting the results of an unprecedented empirical study. Our study aggregates data for every general obligation, fixed-rate municipal bond issued in the U.S. from January 1, 2004 to December 31, 2014, over 800,000 issuances in total.  By employing multivariate regression analysis, we are able to conclude that the paralysis justification is a false narrative.  Municipalities located in states that offer meaningful debt restructuring options enjoy the lowest borrowing costs, all other things equal.  This article removes one of the largest obstacles to financial relief for many cities and counties. We hope to encourage recalcitrant state legislatures to enact the structural changes their local governments need desperately.

The full article is available here.

A New Fulcrum Point for City Survival

posted in: Municipal Bankruptcy | 0

By Samir D. Parikh, Lewis & Clark Law School

ParikhMunicipalities face daunting fiscal challenges that threaten debt repayment and undermine basic service delivery.  Policymakers and scholars have struggled to formulate meaningful restructuring options.  Up to this point, the literature has focused on federal bankruptcy law and the options available under Chapter 9.  But this resource-draining process is not the fulcrum point for any meaningful solution.  Indeed, for the vast majority of distressed municipalities, the lever of municipal recovery will not turn based on the solutions that have to date been offered.

In an article forthcoming in the 2015 William & Mary Law Review, I attempt to radically shift the municipal recovery debate by arguing that state law is the centralized point at which officials can exert the necessary amount of pressure to gain concessions from key creditor constituencies.  I propose a comprehensive system that (i) identifies pressured municipalities at a time where measured adjustments are sufficient to create sustainable viability, and (ii) shepherds distressed municipalities through a dynamic negotiation structure in an effort to capture Chapter 9’s primary benefits without the costs, inefficiencies, and constitutional quandaries.  Animating this proposal is a more nuanced understanding of the Contracts Clause that allows a municipality to explore unilateral contract modification in an effort to facilitate consensual agreements with creditor constituencies.

My proposal offers systemic rehabilitation at a time when a new approach is desperately needed.  The full version of the article is available here.

For previous posts on Municipal Bankruptcy see here and here.