By Mark Ellenberg, Howard Hawkins, Lary Stromfeld, Ivan Loncar, and Thomas Curtin of Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP
On February 6, 2015, in Franklin California Tax-Free Trust v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico held that the Puerto Rico Public Corporation Debt Enforcement and Recovery Act (the “Recovery Act”) is expressly preempted by section 903 of the Bankruptcy Code. Section 903 of the Bankruptcy Code expressly prohibits all states, including Puerto Rico, from enacting laws that prescribe a “method of composition” that discharges debts. The Recovery Act, which was loosely based on chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code, would have permitted Puerto Rico’s power authority (PREPA), highway authority (HTA) and water authority (PRASA) to adjust their debts without the consent of all creditors. The court concluded that this scheme ran afoul of section 903, even though municipal entities in Puerto Rico are expressly excluded from the coverage of Chapter 9. The decision is among the first to explicitly hold that section 903 expressly preempts the states, including Puerto Rico, from enacting any debt adjustment scheme that results in the discharge of indebtedness, even if the affected entities have no remedy under the Bankruptcy Code. The court also denied the Commonwealth’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims under the Contracts Clause and certain of the plaintiffs’ claims under the Takings Clause.
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