Viability Assessment in Corporate Debt Restructuring: Optimizing the Filtration Effect of the European Directive on Restructuring and Insolvency

By Lydia Tsioli (King’s College London)

Lydia Tsioli

Despite being pivotal in corporate debt restructuring, viability, an intricate notion with double meaning and double role, has not been systematically examined in Europe. Against this background, and especially given that the new European directive on restructuring and insolvency (the “Directive”) is currently under transposition and restructuring law is making its first steps as a harmonized field across Europe, my recent paper, published in Norton Journal of Bankruptcy Law and Practice, undertakes a doctrinal, comparative [USA, UK] and economic analysis of law examination of viability with the aim of putting forward suggestions that will make viability the linchpin of the Directive, thus optimizing its filtration effect as defined below. 

In doing so, the paper first analyses and distinguishes the two different meanings of viability, namely financial viability and economic viability, and clarifies what the precise role of law is within the viability-related discourse. Such role consists in providing indicators of viability and incorporating appropriate “filtering mechanisms”, a term of art introduced by the paper, which refers to mechanisms filtering non-viable debtors out of the restructuring procedure, hence contributing towards satisfaction of restructuring’s overall goal of saving viable debtors only. 

The way in which such filtering mechanisms are triggered depends on who plays the role of the “ultimate viability assessor” within a restructuring framework, for example an Insolvency Practitioner (“IP”) or a court. Depending on this, the paper distinguishes between IP-centered and Non-IP – centered models of viability assessment and identifies the Directive as standing closer to the Non-IP – centered one. 

What the paper suggests though, is that, what ultimately matters is the appropriateness of filtering mechanisms in any chosen model of viability assessment. Such mechanisms can be most characteristically found under Chapter 11, Title 11 of US Bankruptcy Code and are the conversion/dismissal of a Chapter 11 case and stay relief under section 362. The paper examines them extensively and demonstrates how the existence or inexistence of viability in its double meaning, constitutes the “litmus test” for the triggering of Chapter 11’s filtering mechanisms. 

In light of these comparative findings, the paper finally turns to the European directive and identifies its filtering mechanisms. The paper subsequently, and most importantly, makes suggestions on how the filtration effect of the Directive’s existing mechanisms can be optimized through appropriate interpretation, transposition, judicial practice or future reform. Through these suggestions, it is aspired that first, the Directive will properly reflect the notion of viability and consequently achieve an effective filtering of viable debtors from non-viable ones, and second, viability will ultimately become the primary point of focus and linchpin of European corporate debt restructuring overall.

The paper, entitled “Viability Assessment in Corporate Debt Restructuring: Optimizing the Filtration Effect of the European Directive on Restructuring and Insolvency” is available here.

Reprinted from Norton Journal of Bankruptcy Law and Practice, Vol. 30 No. 5 (October 2021), with permission of Thomson Reuters. Copyright © 2021. Further use without the permission of Thomson Reuters is prohibited. For further information about this publication, please visit https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/en/products/law-books or call 800.328.9352.

The paper has been awarded the 2021 Silver Medal in the International Insolvency Institute’s “Prize in International Insolvency Studies”.

The Case for Bankruptcy Court Discretion to Shift Attorney’s Fees

By Daniel J. Bussel (Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law)

Daniel J. Bussel

Neither the “American Rule” (each party pays its own attorney) nor the “English Rule” (loser pays both parties’ attorneys) is the baseline principle in insolvency cases.  Most major parties do not bear their own attorney’s fees, win or lose.  Fee-shifting is pervasive; the bankruptcy court is directly involved in reviewing the fees; sometimes it’s almost impossible to figure who actually foots the bills.  This is true in US courts, which still generally purport to follow the “American Rule,” and courts in the UK, which generally purport to follow the “English Rule.”  In both countries, theory notwithstanding, equitable principles, born in England’s ancient chancery courts, permit discretionary fee-shifting in light of the collective nature of insolvency proceedings.

Unfortunately, some US courts, including the Supreme Court, disregarding this history and practice, anomalously cling to the American Rule, creating perverse incentives that disrupt the efficient functioning of the reorganization process.  Two leading examples are the Supreme Court’s decisions in Baker & Botts and Midland Funding, both critiqued in my paper, Fee-Shifting in Bankruptcy.  In Baker & Botts, the American Rule denies full compensation to the prevailing debtor’s attorney from any source, disincentivizing the pursuit of meritorious estate claims.  In Midland Funding, the American Rule rewards strategic manipulation by the holder of meritless claims, disincentivizing clearly valid objections.         

Abandoning the American Rule and authorizing a discretionary version of the English Rule as the default rule in bankruptcy for recovery of attorney’s fees is no radical step.  Empirical work is limited, but supports the conclusion that shifting from the American Rule to a discretionary version of the English Rule will have only a modest impact. In bankruptcy cases, an enormous amount of explicit and implicit fee shifting already occurs.  The bankruptcy courts have a well-developed set of procedures for regulating and allowing reasonable attorney’s fees.  They are well-positioned to exercise discretion in awarding attorney’s fees to control bullying and holdout tactics calculated to confer leverage by pressing weak claims and imposing costs on others.  

Several factors can appropriately guide court discretion to award fees in insolvency cases, including: 

  1. Whether the prevailing party or its adversary has a right to recover fees in nonbankruptcy litigation over the same issues. 
  2. Whether the bankruptcy code expressly contemplates recovery of fees as a component of damages. 
  3. The amount of fees and whether the stakes justify them. 
  4. The strength of the prevailing party’s merits case.
  5. Whether the nonprevailing party played the part of bully, holdout, or squeaky wheel. 
  6. Whether a systemic asymmetry exists between the parties allowing one party to implicitly shift fees whether it prevails or not and regardless of the court’s fee award. 
  7. Whether the prevailing party’s success in litigation will economically benefit others similarly situated or creditors generally. 
  8. Whether a fee award will advance the public interest in equitable administration of bankruptcy cases. 
  9. The extent to which a given fee award may be so onerous to the non-prevailing party that it would unreasonably deter access to the courts.
  10. Vexatious and unreasonable conduct by either (or both) of the litigants. 
  11. The extent to which the prevailing party incurred fees for considerations apart from the case at bar because of its status as a repeat player. 
  12. The extent to which the party seeking recovery of fees practically prevailed in the litigation.
  13. Whether the prevailing party is a natural person, a minor private party, a major party, the bankruptcy estate, or a governmental entity.
  14. Whether the non-prevailing party is a natural person, a minor private party, a major party, the bankruptcy estate, or a governmental entity.
  15. Assessing the practical economic incidence of fees initially borne by the estate.

The UK, starting from the English Rule, has created a discretionary fee-shifting regime in insolvency cases resembling the discretionary approach advocated here.  The English cases exhibit a continuing push-pull among (i) the desire to socialize costs of reorganizations that benefit third parties; (ii) concern about unduly discouraging participation by all affected constituents; and (iii) the problems posed by hold-outs, bullies and excessive litigiousness. See Matter of Virgin Active Holdings Ltd (Snowden, J.).  The realities of insolvency practice are impelling both the English and American systems towards court-supervised discretionary fee-shifting.

The damage done by the American Rule is limited by how pervasive fee-shifting already is in bankruptcy.  Fully embracing discretionary fee-shifting in favor of prevailing parties, however, is low-hanging fruit we can promptly gather in to facilitate sound administration of insolvent estates.

The full paper is available here.

Reviewing Redwater: An Analysis of the U.S. and Canadian Approaches to Environmental Obligations in Bankruptcy

By Laura N. Coordes (Associate Professor of Law, Arizona State University – Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law)

Laura N. Coordes

The United States and Canada have both seen significant litigation over the treatment of environmental obligations in bankruptcy proceedings. Both countries also have robust regulatory and statutory frameworks with respect to bankruptcy and environmental law, making the two jurisdictions ripe for comparison.

Although the U.S. legal landscape differs somewhat from Canada’s, courts in both countries have struggled to sort out the treatment of environmental obligations in bankruptcy. However, in 2019, the Supreme Court of Canada decided Orphan Well Association v. Grant Thornton Limited (“Redwater”), which characterized environmental obligations, not as claims, but as duties owed to the public that could not be compromised in bankruptcy. Meanwhile, U.S. courts continue to grapple with the question of how to treat a company’s environmental obligations in bankruptcy.

This article analyzes the impact of Redwater and highlights issues that U.S. scholars and policymakers should consider as they press for changes. In particular, the article focuses on three questions: (1) What is the role of the legislature as compared to the judiciary? (2) What is the role of federal law, as compared to provincial or state law? and (3) What is the role of the public interest?

These three questions implicate debates that go beyond the immediate issue of the role of environmental law in bankruptcy proceedings. However, considering environmental and bankruptcy law in light of these universal issues illuminates unresolved tensions that both the U.S. and Canada will likely continue to face on a larger scale.

The full article is available here.

Towards an Optimal Model of Directors’ Duties in the Zone of Insolvency: An Economic and Comparative Approach

By Aurelio Gurrea-Martínez (Singapore Management University)

Aurelio Gurrea-Martínez

When a company becomes factually insolvent but it is not yet subject to a formal insolvency proceeding, the shareholders—or the directors acting on their behalf—may engage, even in good faith, in various forms of behaviour that can divert or destroy value at the expense of the creditors. For this reason, most jurisdictions around the world provide a variety of legal strategies to respond to this form of shareholder opportunism. One of these strategies is the imposition of special directors’ duties in the zone of insolvency.

In a recent article, I analyse the primary regulatory models of directors’ duties in the zone of insolvency observed internationally. From a sample of more than 20 countries from Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, Africa, and North America, I distinguish six primary regulatory models: (i) the imposition of a duty to initiate insolvency proceedings, generally found in Europe; (ii) the imposition of a duty to recapitalise or liquidate the company, typically existing in Europe and Latin America; (iii) the imposition of duties towards the company’s creditors, including the duty to minimise losses for the creditors existing in the United Kingdom; (iv) the imposition of a duty to prevent the company from incurring new debts, existing in countries like Australia and South Africa; (v) the imposition of a duty to prevent the company from incurring new debts that cannot be paid in full, existing in Singapore and New Zealand; and (vi) the imposition of a duty to keep maximising the interest of the corporation, as it exists in Canada and the United States.

After analysing the features, advantages, and weaknesses of these models, my paper argues that the desirability of each regulatory model of directors’ duties in the zone of insolvency depends on a variety of country-specific factors including divergences in corporate ownership structures, debt structures, level of financial development, efficiency of the insolvency framework, and sophistication of the judiciary. For instance, in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as well as large controlled firms, there is a greater alignment of incentives between directors and shareholders. Therefore, in the event of insolvency, the directors will have more incentives to engage in a series of opportunistic behaviour that will advance the shareholders’ interests even if it is at the expense of the creditors. As a result, a more interventionist approach to protect the creditors, such as the duty to initiate insolvency proceedings, may make more sense in countries with a significant presence of SMEs and large controlled firms, as it happens in most jurisdictions around the world. By contrast, in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, where large companies usually have dispersed ownership structures and therefore the directors are less influenced by the shareholders, a more flexible approach for the regulation of directors’ duties in the zone of insolvency may be more justified. Therefore, a duty to keep maximising the interest of the company or a duty to take steps to minimise potential losses for the creditors may make sense.

Nonetheless, country-specific factors other than corporate ownership structures can also affect the desirability of each regulatory model of directors’ duties in the zone of insolvency. For example, in countries without sophisticated courts, the discretion of courts should be reduced. Therefore, the imposition of clear rules (e.g., duty to initiate insolvency proceedings) may be more desirable than the use of standards (e.g., duty to minimise losses for the creditors or duty to keep maximising the interest of the corporation). Similarly, in countries with inefficient insolvency frameworks, initiating an insolvency proceeding can do more harm than good for both debtors and creditors. Therefore, these countries should not impose a duty to initiate insolvency proceedings even if, as it happens in many jurisdictions with inefficient frameworks (e.g., emerging economies), this solution makes more sense from the perspective of the corporate ownership structure prevailing in the country.

Based on a comparative, interdisciplinary, and country-specific analysis, my articles provides various policy recommendations to enhance the regulatory framework of directors’ duties in the zone of insolvency across jurisdictions taking into account international divergences in corporate ownership structures, debt structures, level of financial development, efficiency of the insolvency framework, and sophistication of the judiciary.

The full article is available here.

A modified version of this post was published on the Singapore Global Restructuring Initiative Blog.

Independence and Impartiality of Resolution Professionals Under Indian Law: Filling the Gaps or Creating Law?

By Sanjay Kumar Yadav, Syamantak Sen, and Vivek Badkur (National Law Institute University, Bhopal, India)

Sanjay Kumar Yadav
Syamantak Sen
Vivek Badkur

Under Indian Insolvency Law, any person may be designated as a resolution professional (“RP”), provided he is enrolled with an insolvency professional agency and registered with the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India. The role of an RP, under Indian Insolvency Law, is similar to that of a private trustee under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code.

Any person is eligible to be appointed as an RP, provided he is independent of the corporate debtor and no further eligibility criterions have been prescribed, under Indian Insolvency Law. However in a surprising turn of events, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal in State Bank of India v. Metenere Ltd. (May 22, 2020), directed substitution of an Interim RP, based on him being a former employee of the financial creditor.

This raises concerns as it is prevalent in India for retired bankers to be appointed RPs and may therefore alter such practice, besides potentially disqualifying all former employees from acting as RPs, where the employer is involved. In this article, we discuss whether such substitution is founded in law and its consequent impact on the Indian insolvency jurisprudence, with respect to appointment of RPs.

The full article is available here.

Insolvency Law in Emerging Markets

By Aurelio Gurrea-Martínez (Singapore Management University)

Aurelio Gurrea-Martínez

Corporate insolvency law can serve as a powerful mechanism to promote economic growth. Ex ante, a well-functioning insolvency framework can facilitate entrepreneurship, innovation and access to finance. Ex post, corporate insolvency law can perform several functions, including the reorganization of viable companies in financial distress, the liquidation of non-viable businesses in a fair and efficient manner, and the maximization of the returns to creditors. Therefore, if having an efficient corporate insolvency framework is essential for any country, it becomes even more important for emerging economies due to their potential for growth and their greater financial needs.

Unfortunately, the academic literature has generally paid more attention to the regulation of corporate insolvency in developed countries. Thus, it has largely omitted the debate about the optimal design of insolvency law in jurisdictions that, in addition to requiring a more active policy debate, amount to 85% of the world’s population and 59% of the global GDP, since they include some of the world’s largest economies such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and Indonesia.

In my new article, ‘Insolvency Law in Emerging Markets’, I seek to fill this gap in the academic literature by analyzing the problems and features of insolvency law in emerging economies and suggesting a new framework for financially distressed companies in these countries. My paper argues that, even though, in an ideal scenario, any improvement of the insolvency framework in these countries should start by enhancing the judicial system and the sophistication of the insolvency profession, these reforms usually take time, resources and political will. In fact, due to a variety of factors, including corruption, lack of awareness about the importance of the insolvency system for the real economy, or lack of political incentives to engage in such complex reforms whose benefits will only be shown in the long run, they might never occur. For this reason, my paper suggests an insolvency framework for emerging economies taking into account the current market and institutional features of these countries. If these conditions change over time, or they do not exist in some particular emerging economies, my proposal would need to be adjusted accordingly.

My proposed corporate insolvency framework for emerging markets is based on three fundamental pillars. First, pre-insolvency proceedings and out-of-court restructuring should be promoted as a way to avoid an insolvency system that is usually value-destroying for both debtors and creditors. Second, insolvency proceedings should be reformed to respond more effectively to the problems and features existing in emerging markets, which generally include the prevalence of small companies and large controlled firms, as well as the existence of inefficient courts and unsophisticated insolvency practitioners. Finally, emerging economies should adopt a more contractual approach to deal with a situation of cross-border insolvency. Thus, by facilitating the choice of insolvency forum, debtors, creditors and society as a whole will be able to enjoy the benefits associated with having access to more sophisticated insolvency frameworks. Besides, since many debtors and creditors would be using foreign insolvency proceedings, this value-creating forum shopping may incentivize many Governments in emerging economies to invest the resources needed to improve the market and institutional environment existing in these countries, hopefully making the insolvency framework suggested in this article no longer needed.

The full article is available here.

Another version of this post was previously published on the Oxford Business Law Blog and the Singapore Global Restructuring Initiative Blog.

For previous Roundtable posts on insolvency reforms in China and India, see Xiahong Chen, INSOL Europe/LexisNexis coronavirus (COVID-19) Tracker of Insolvency Reforms—China; Xiao Ma, China Continues to Issue New Rules Promoting Corporate Rescue Culture, Facilitation of Bankruptcy Proceedings; and Himani Singh, Pre-packaged Insolvency in India: Lessons from USA and UK.

INSOL Europe/LexisNexis coronavirus (COVID-19) Tracker of Insolvency Reforms—China

By Xiahong Chen (China University of Political Science and Law)

Xiahong Chen

The modification of Enterprise Bankruptcy Law of the People’s Republic of China in 2006 had been announced to be in legislative organ’s amendment procedure for years. As there is no further progress in 2020, the slow process must not catch the urgent needs of economic community for corporate rescue after breakout of coronavirus epidemic. Consequently, the Supreme People’s Court of P.R.China was playing an active role in policy-making from judicial perspective concerning civil disputes resolution. From April to June 2020, the Supreme People’s Court of P.R.China had issued 3 judicial guidance in series to direct judicial hearing of civil case in all level of courts during and after the epidemic, with purpose to guide judicial hearing of civil cases relating to disputes caused by coronavirus. Among them, the second one, published on 19 May 2020, contains 7 important guidelines for judicial hearing of bankruptcy cases relating to COVID-19, aiming to improve possibility of corporate rescue and enhance viability of those financial-distressed companies further.

Changes of bankruptcy policy in above-mentioned guidance include: (1) Court-supervised negotiation between the insolvent debtor and those creditors before the opening of bankruptcy proceeding; (2) Distinguishing real causes of insolvency when examining bankruptcy criteria; (3) Further promoting the link between civil execution proceedings and bankruptcy proceedings; (4) Extending the reorganization period from maximum of 9 months according to EBL 2006 by another 6 months; (5 ) Highlights of effective protection of creditors’ substantive rights and procedural rights in bankruptcy proceedings;(6) Maximizing the debtor’s ability to continue operations and the value of property disposal; (7) Promoting the efficient hearing of bankruptcy cases.

In this short note, the author Xiahong Chen, fellow of Bankruptcy Law and Enterprise Restructuring Research Center of CUPL, was invited by the INSOL Europe, introduces the main points of adjustments of bankruptcy policies relating to epidemic in detail. According to his observation, like the global legal and policy changing trends in bankruptcy area all over the world recently, the changes concerning judicial hearing of bankruptcy cases in China is expected to be helpful for survival of those financial struggling companies.

The full article is available here.

The Evolution of European Insolvency Law Part 3: The EU Parliament’s Report on the Amendment of the European Insolvency Regulation (EIR)

By Robert Arts and Dr. Björn Laukemann (Maîtr. en droit)

Robert Arts Laukemann PicAfter the external evaluation of European Insolvency Law (Part 1) and the European Commission’s proposal for the amendment of the EIR (Part 2), the report of the European Parliament (EP) on this proposal marked the latest stage of the reform process.

While the Parliament generally supports the changes proposed by the Commission and many of its amendments simply clarify wording or align the text with the existing legislation, the draft report made some noteworthy revisions:

  1. To prevent abusive venue-shopping, the draft requires the factual circumstances of the debtor’s centre of main interests to be established three months prior to the opening of insolvency proceedings.
  2. While welcoming the introduction of synthetic proceedings (i.e. the granting of special rights to groups of local creditors in order to avoid the opening of secondary insolvency proceedings) the EP strengthens the procedural standing of the local creditors by:

(i) granting them the power to challenge any decision to postpone or refuse the opening of secondary proceedings;

(ii) allowing them to petition the court conducting the main proceeding to take protective measures, e.g. by prohibiting the removal of assets or the distribution of proceeds, or by ordering the administrator to provide security; and

(iii) empowering the court to appoint a trustee to safeguard their interests.

  1. The coordination and cooperation between administrators appointed in different proceedings within a group of companies is further enhanced by the implementation of an independent coordinator who, for instance, is empowered to present a non-binding, court-approved group coordination plan, to mediate in disputes between insolvency representatives of group members, or to request a stay of proceedings with respect to any member of the group.

As a result, the Parliament report  aims to strengthen the role of main insolvency proceedings while still sufficiently considering interests of local creditors and to improve coordination within groups of companies. The draft is expected to pass the European Council by the end of this year.

See the full report here.

Emerging Economies and Cross-Border Insolvency Regimes: Missing BRICs in the International Insolvency Architecture

By Steven T. Kargman, President, Kargman Associates

SK-Roslyn (July '14) (1) Many of the world’s major advanced economies are subject to some form of cross-border insolvency regime, such as Chapter 15 in the United States. However, despite this clear and important progress in the adoption of cross-border insolvency regimes among many advanced economies, there appears to be a glaring gap in the international insolvency architecture. Specifically, very few of the major emerging economies – and, in particular, none of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) – have adopted the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency or otherwise enacted effective alternative regimes for handling cross-border insolvencies.

With their growing integration into the global economy, these emerging economies may face a rising number of cross-border insolvencies at some point in the coming years. Nonetheless, while the current absence of cross-border insolvency regimes in major emerging economies may not represent an immediate problem in the next few years, it may pose challenges for the international insolvency framework over the longer term given that these economies are playing an increasingly important role in the global economy.

This two-part article, originally published in 2012-2013 in Insolvency and Restructuring International, reviewed the status of the adoption among major emerging economies of comprehensive insolvency regimes along the lines of the UNCITRAL Model Law and outlined possible pathways that emerging economies might pursue that could lead to the adoption of such cross-border insolvency regimes in these jurisdictions. The article also explored intermediate steps that emerging economies might adopt as a means of growing more comfortable with the concepts that are central to any meaningful cross-border insolvency regime.  Such intermediate steps might serve to pave the way ultimately for the adoption by these emerging market jurisdictions of a more comprehensive cross-border insolvency regime.

Part I of the article (September 2012) can be found here and Part II (April 2013) can be found here.  (This article was first published in Insolvency and Restructuring International, Vol. 6 No. 2, September 2012 and Vol. 7 No. 1, April 2013, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the International Bar Association, London, UK © International Bar Association.)

Revisiting the Voting Prohibition in Bond Workouts

posted in: Workouts and Pre-Packs | 0

Author: Carlos Berdejó, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles

Economic theory suggests that corporate law should enable parties to contract freely in order to promote their best interests, leading to socially optimal arrangements.  This is particularly true for corporate bonds, which are governed by detailed indentures and held by large, sophisticated investors.  However, the Trust Indenture Act, which for 75 years has regulated the terms of U.S. public corporate debt, contains numerous mandatory rules, including a prohibition on collective action clauses (CACs).  A CAC allows a qualifying majority of bondholders to modify the interest rate, maturity and principal of an outstanding bond issue in a manner that binds all bondholders, including those who may prefer to hold-out to extract a larger payment.  This longstanding prohibition limits the ability of firms to restructure their debt via private workouts and can exacerbate the costs of financial distress by unnecessarily forcing issuers into bankruptcy.  Most countries other than the U.S. do not prohibit CACs and afford parties flexibility in choosing the qualifying majority that may amend the core terms of a bond issue.

My article, Revisiting the Voting Prohibition in Bond Workouts, examines contracting choices in Brazil, Chile and Germany, countries that have recently enacted reforms affecting their bond markets, including changes in restrictions on CACs.  I find that not only do market participants embrace increased flexibility with respect to CACs, but that interest rates decrease as a result, lowering the cost of capital for issuers.

* * *

[Related Work Note: The work in Revisiting the Voting Prohibition in Bond Workouts provides evidence relating to the argument made in Mark Roe, The Voting Prohibition in Bond Workouts, 97 Yale L.J. 232 (1987), that the prohibition unwisely impeded out-of-bankruptcy recapitalizations and channeled some parties’ incentives towards coercive restructurings that would not have been needed if straight-forward votes were allowed.  That article can be found here.  More generally, academic bankruptcy theory has focused on the extent to which contract terms should be respected by law, inside and outside of bankruptcy.  See Alan Schwartz, Bankruptcy Workouts and Debt Contracts, 36 J. of L. & Econ. 595 (1993), available here.  –Stephen Adams, Editor]

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