Do Bankruptcy Courts Have Constitutional Authority to Approve Nonconsensual, Third-Party Releases?

By Shmuel Vasser and Cara Kaplan (Dechert)

Shmuel Vasser
Cara Kaplan

The Third Circuit, applying the Supreme Court’s decision in Stern v. Marshall, recently held that the Bankruptcy Court has the authority to confirm a chapter 11 plan containing nonconsensual, third-party releases when such releases are integral to the debtor’s successful reorganization.

In Stern, the Supreme Court examined the scope of the bankruptcy court’s constitutional authority and found, among other things, that the bankruptcy court can resolve a matter that is integral to the restructuring of the debtor-creditor relationship.  Analyzing Stern, the Third Circuit in In re Millennium held that the Bankruptcy Court could confirm a plan that included non-consensual, third party releases because the releases were the result of “highly adversarial” and “extremely complicated” negotiations and without the releases, the debtor would not have been able to successfully reorganize.

The full article is available here.

Inequitable Subordination: Distressing Distressed Claims Purchasers by Propagating Subordination Benefit Elimination Theory

By Jay Rao (University of California, Berkeley, School of Law)

Jay Rao

This Article examines the application of equitable subordination under Title 11 of the United States Code to bankruptcy claims purchasing transactions that transpire after the occurrence of inequitable conduct by a third party. Although a significant issue with practical consequences, it has drawn relatively scant commentary. To the author’s knowledge, no scholarship to date has attempted to comprehensively discuss the issue or describe the indirect cleansing and washing of tainted claims resulting therefrom. While analyzing and criticizing the current state of the law, this Article introduces the concepts of the “subordination benefit,” “subordination benefit elimination theory,” and “limited subordination benefit theory” to facilitate and further conversations related to the intersection of equitable subordination and bankruptcy claims trading.

This Article primarily aims to promote an active, fluid bankruptcy claims trading market to, on an ex post basis, benefit creditors and, on an ex ante basis, reduce the cost, and induce the extension, of credit in the primary capital markets, thereby supporting the broader economy. Additionally, this Article seeks to reduce indirect cleansing of tainted claims and indirect claims washing through the bankruptcy claims market.

The subject matter is particularly timely and relevant, given the recent publication of the Final Report and Recommendations of the American Bankruptcy Institute Commission to Study the Reform of Chapter 11, the significant growth of the claims trading market and increasing activity and sophistication of distressed investors, and the recent formation of the American Bankruptcy Institute’s Claims Trading Committee.

This Article argues that subordination benefit elimination theory, which represents the dominant theory propagated by courts and commentators, finds support in a misguided reading of caselaw and conflicts with sound economic policy and logic. Further, while acknowledging limited subordination benefit theory is a superior approach to subordination benefit elimination theory, this Article argues that limited subordination benefit theory also runs contrary to sound economic policy and logic. This Article requests commentators and courts halt and reverse the propagation of subordination benefit elimination theory and avoid disseminating limited subordination benefit theory. Instead, this Article proposes post-misconduct discounted claims purchasers be entitled to participate in the subordination benefit to the same extent as pre-misconduct claimholders.

If commentators and courts are unready to abandon both theories and if required to make a suboptimal binary choice, this Article suggests limited subordination benefit theory be propagated and utilized in lieu of subordination benefit elimination theory.

The full article is available here.

Chapter 11 Plan Distributions Are Not Collateral Covered by Intercreditor Agreement’s Waterfall Provision

By Brad B. Erens and Mark G. Douglas (Jones Day)

Brad Erens
Brad Erens
Mark G. Douglas

In In re Energy Future Holdings Corp., 773 Fed. Appx. 89, 2019 WL 2535700 (3d Cir. June 19, 2019), a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that adequate protection payments made during a bankruptcy case and distributions under a chapter 11 plan are not distributions of collateral for purposes of a “waterfall” provision in an intercreditor agreement. The ruling is a reminder that intercreditor agreements will apply only in accordance with their terms.Although the parties could have drafted the intercreditor agreement to apply to any consideration received from the debtor by the noteholders, they did not. Therefore, the intercreditor agreement did not apply to the adequate protection payments and plan distributions made to the noteholders.Creditors have recently learned similar lessons in other cases. Because the ruling was unpublished, the decision is not binding on courts in the Third Circuit.

The full article is available here.

Same Class, Different Recoveries — No Bar to Plan Confirmation

By Francis J. Lawall and John Henry Schanne II (Pepper Hamilton LLP)

In Ad Hoc Committee of Non-Consenting Creditors v. Peabody Energy Corp., (In re Peabody Energy Corp.), 933 F.3d 918 (8th Cir. 2019), the Eighth Circuit held that a debtors’ Chapter 11 plan complied with Bankruptcy Code Section 1123(a)(4) (which mandates that a plan provide the same treatment to all members of a particular class), despite providing more favorable treatment to creditors that agreed to backstop a rights offering by paying the participating creditors significant premiums and allowing them to purchase preferred stock at a deep discount.

The Eighth Circuit’s decision in Peabody joins decisions from the Second, Fifth and Ninth circuits in ruling that a plan may treat one set of claim holders within a single class more favorably than another so long as the treatment is not for the claim but for distinct, legitimate rights or contributions from the favored group separate from the claim. As bankruptcy cases continue to grow in size and complexity, creative approaches such as that employed in Peabody are certain to be utilized in efforts to salvage businesses in troubled industries.

The article may be found at Law.com: the original publication.

Bankruptcy’s Cathedral: Property Rules, Liability Rules, and Distress

By Vincent S.J. Buccola (University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School)

What good can a corporate bankruptcy regime do in the modern economy? The question bears asking because the environment in which distressed companies find themselves is so markedly different from the environment of just twenty years ago—to say nothing of the days of the equity receiverships, of sections 77 and 77B, of Chapters X and XI. The most important changes are well known: increased depth and liquidity of financial markets and, especially, increased capacity of financial contracting to say ex ante how distress will be resolved ex post. Recent efforts to take stock of contemporary bankruptcy practice, most notably the ABI’s Chapter 11 reform project, grapple implicitly with the significance of a changing environment. But by leaving the matter implicit, they underscore a lacuna about what the law’s marginal contribution to the economic order might be.

In a forthcoming article, Bankruptcy’s Cathedral, I hazard a general answer and elaborate its implications for a few prominent uses of bankruptcy in today’s practice.

The characteristic function of bankruptcy law, I say, is to recharacterize the mode in which an investor’s relationship to a distressed firm is governed. In particular, bankruptcy frequently toggles the protection of an investor’s economic interests from a property rule, in the Calabresi and Melamed sense, to a liability rule. It swaps out the investor’s unilateral right upon default to withdraw her investment, when such a right would ordinarily prevail, in favor of a judicially mediated procedure designed to give her the official value of her right. The automatic stay furnishes an example. It extinguishes a secured creditor’s power to repossess and sell collateral, and supplies instead a right only to what the bankruptcy judge determines to be “adequate protection” of its interest in the collateral.

This toggling function can be useful, Property rules are often more efficient during a company’s financial health than during distress. A state-contingent meta rule that switches between the two thus might be optimal. But what about financial contracting? Why can’t investors stipulate state-contingent meta rules if indeed they can maximize surplus by doing so? The short answer is that in some cases contract is sufficient, but in other cases legal or practical impediments are insuperable. The marginal contribution of bankruptcy law, then, is to supply toggling rules where investors cannot practically do so on their own.

One implication of my approach is to index the justifiable scope of bankruptcy to contingent facts about the efficacy of financial contracting. In environments where it is difficult for investors to specify state-contingent toggling rules, whether because of legal prohibition or practical impossibility, the compass for bankruptcy law is wider. As contract becomes more efficacious, bankruptcy’s brief grows correspondingly shorter.

This normative schema can be used to assess one-by-one the many actual interventions of bankruptcy laws. I scrutinize three uses of bankruptcy that are important in today’s practice: to confirm prepackaged plans, to effect going-concern sales, and to take advantage of the automatic stay. I find plausible justifications for a legal institution to bind holdout creditors and to extinguish in rem claims against a debtor’s assets. The automatic stay, on the other hand, is harder to justify. (The curious must read within to find out why.) More generally, though, my approach shows how one can weigh the contributions of a bankruptcy regime against its redundant or even counterproductive in light of contracting innovations.

The complete article is available for download here.

Bankruptcy Sales: Is A Public Auction Required to Assure That Property Is Sold for The Highest and Best Price?

By Vicki R. Harding (Vicki R. Harding, PLLC)

A buyer negotiating acquisition of commercial real estate from a Chapter 7 trustee or a Chapter 11 debtor-in-possession will almost always hear the mantra: “I have a fiduciary duty to maximize value for the benefit of the bankruptcy estate” – which the seller insists means the property must be sold through a public auction. The potential buyer may be designated as the stalking horse (e.g. its offer will be treated as an opening bid), and it may have input on the bidding procedures (bidder qualifications, minimum overbid, purchase price payment terms, etc.). But at the end of the day it runs a risk that after investing time and money in pursuing the acquisition someone else may be selected as having made a “higher and better” offer.

However, that is not always the case.  In re 160 Royal Palm, LLC, 600 B.R. 119 (S.D. Fla. 2019) presents an interesting case study. As discussed in Bankruptcy Sales: Highest Is Not Always Best, the bankruptcy court allowed a debtor to withdraw property from a previously authorized public auction and to proceed with a private sale to a designated buyer, subject only to an overbid by the stalking horse from the public auction. The court approved the private sale over the objection of a third party that claimed that in a public auction it would bid at least $1 million more than the private sale purchase price.

The full article is available here.

What’s Wrong with Chapter 11?

By Charles J. Tabb (University of Illinois College of Law)

The time has come to cast a discerning eye at chapter 11, the United States corporate bankruptcy reorganization statute, and examine how it is currently broken and what fixes can be made to improve it.

This Article first identifies five core normative goals that chapter 11 should promote: (1) maximize the value of the debtor firm; (2) distribute the maximized value of the firm fairly and equitably; (3) save jobs; (4) minimize the ripple effect of the firm’s failure; and (5) ensure that in pursuing those normative goals, the cure is not worse than the disease.

The Article then examines five critical ways in which chapter 11 in practice fails to achieve the normative ideals: (1) traditional chapter 11 restructurings are largely a thing of the past, and have given way to quick all-asset sales of the company; (2) secured lenders control everything and get a disproportionate share of the firm’s value; (3) a small number of other creditors are able to apply leverage to obtain unfair and inequitable payments on their claims compared to other creditors; (4) venue forum shopping has triggered a race to the bottom; and (5) bankruptcy judges routinely ignore the statute as written and legislate judicially.

The Article concludes by identifying seven possible reforms that could help transform chapter 11 from the current nightmare to the normative ideal dream: (1) making sales once again just sales; (2) resurrecting the “perishability” or “emergency” test for sales; (3) limiting secured creditors to foreclosure value; (4) opening up DIP financing terms and eliminating draconian terms; (5) eliminating all preferential priority-altering payments; (6) curtailing venue choice and forum shopping; and (7) eradicating judicial legislation.

The full article is available here.

Consumer Response to Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: Negative Demand Spillover to Competitors

By O. Cem Ozturk (Georgia Institute of Technology – Scheller College of Business), Pradeep K. Chintagunta (University of Chicago), & Sriram Venkataraman (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – Kenan-Flagler Business School)

We empirically study the effect of Chrysler’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing on the quantity sold by its competitors in the U.S. auto industry. The demand for competitors could increase as they may benefit from the distress of the bankrupt firm (competitive effect). On the other hand, competitors could experience lower sales if the bankruptcy increases consumer uncertainty about their own viability (contagion effect). A challenge to measuring the impact of bankruptcies is the coincident decline in economic conditions stemming from the Great Recession and the potential effect of the “cash for clunkers” program. To identify the effect of the bankruptcy filing, we employ a regression-discontinuity-in-time design based on a temporal discontinuity in treatment (i.e., bankruptcy filing), along with an extensive set of control variables. Such a design is facilitated by a unique data set at the dealer-model-day level which allows us to compare changes in unit sales in close temporal vicinity of the filing. We find that unit sales for an average competitor reduce by 28% following Chrysler’s bankruptcy filing.

Our results suggest that this negative demand spillover effect is driven by a heightened consumer uncertainty about the viability of the bankrupt firm’s rivals. For example, we show that the sales of competitors’ vehicles that compete within the same segments as the bankrupt firm’s vehicles or that provide lower value for money are affected more negatively in response to the Chrysler filing. We also observe more web search activity for Chrysler’s competitors after the filing.

The full article can be found here.

How Much Value Was Destroyed by the Lehman Bankruptcy?

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Liberty Street Economics Blog has run a series of five posts seeking to estimate the total value destroyed by the Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s Chapter 11 and Lehman’s investment bank affiliate’s liquidation through separate Securities Investor Protection Act (SIPA) proceedings.

Erin Denison, Michael Fleming, and Asani Sarkar, of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Research and Statistics Group, estimate the total value destruction for Lehman, its creditors, and stakeholders to be approximately between $46 billion to $63 billion (between 15 to 21 percent of Lehman’s pre-bankruptcy consolidated assets), excluding expenses from the SIPA proceedings (an additional $1.4 billion) and the costs of resolving Lehman’s foreign subsidiaries. These estimates also exclude boarder spillover effects on the economy caused by Lehman’s collapse.

Denison, Fleming, and Sarkar suggest the main drivers of value destruction include: professional fees and expenses ($5.9 billion for Chapter 11 proceedings with an additional $1.36 billion for SIPA proceedings); liquidity costs for creditors during the lengthy proceeding ($15 billion); and lost relationships between Lehman and its equity underwriting clients ($23 billion). They break down these estimates of the value destroyed through a series of four posts, analyzing the direct costs (expenses paid to third parties for services provided during bankruptcy) and the indirect costs (opportunity costs for the firm, its creditors, and its stakeholders).

The first post on Creditor Recovery in Lehman’s Bankruptcy can be found here. The second post on Lehman’s Bankruptcy Expenses can be found here.  The third post on Customer and Customer and Employee Losses in Lehman’s Bankruptcy can be found here.  The fourth post on Indirect Costs of Lehman’s Bankruptcy can be found here.  The final summary post can be found here.


 

For previous Roundtable posts on the valuation and resolution of Lehman, see Steven Lubben, “Lehman’s Derivative Portfolio”; Mark J. Roe, and Stephen D. Adams, “Restructuring Failed Financial Firms in Bankruptcy: Selling Lehman’s Derivatives Portfolio.”

(This post was authored by Ryan Rossner, J.D. ’19.)

Courts As Institutional Reformers: Bankruptcy and Public Law Litigation

Kathleen G. Noonan (University of Pennsylvania), Jonathan C. Lipson (Temple University—Beasley School of Law), and William H. Simon (Columbia Law School)

Wags sometimes ask: What is chapter 11 good for?

In a new paper, we show that, among other things, it provides a template that both legitimates and explicates Public Law Litigation (PLL), civil class action suits against public agencies such as police departments and prison systems. These are among the most controversial disputes that courts face; often criticized, and widely misunderstood. Analogies to chapter 11 practice show how critics err, and how PLL works.

We make three basic points. First, we show that both bankruptcy and PLL, which share roots in the federal equity receivership, are judicial responses to collective action problems that other institutional mechanisms (e.g., markets or electoral politics) cannot or will not address.

Second, we show that courts in neither context “run” the organizations in question. In both types of case, management (of the debtor or agency) remains in possession and control, subject to judicial and stakeholder (e.g., creditor or plaintiff) oversight.

Third, chapter 11 and PLL both operate at the organizational level, through “restructuring.” For chapter 11, this will usually involve a plan of reorganization. The PLL analogue is a settlement agreement in a consent decree. Like plans, consent decrees typically reflect negotiated improvements in operations designed to increase the agency’s chances of success.

Critics of PLL sometimes claim that courts commandeer public instrumentalities, exceeding their expertise and authority. But this is no truer in PLL than it is in chapter 11 reorganization. Rather, judges in both spheres facilitate consensual resolutions that seek to balance stakeholder participation against managerial discretion.

This matters because the Trump Administration has vowed to “deconstruct the administrative state,” which implies a reduction in the amount and quality of public services. Increased PLL would be a plausible response.

If that happens, courts should focus not on whether they can supervise the restructuring of public agencies, but how to do so more effectively. We show that the chapter 11 system can provide helpful guidance.

The full article is available here.

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