Jevic: SCOTUS Holds That Priority Rules Apply in Structured Dismissals

posted in: Cramdown and Priority | 0

By Jonathan C. Lipson (Temple University-Beasley School of Law) and Melissa B. Jacoby (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill School of Law)

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp., in which we coauthored a brief for amici curiae law professors in support of Petitioners, truck drivers whom Jevic terminated shortly before it filed for bankruptcy. Holding about $8.3 million in priority wage claims, these workers objected to a settlement that Jevic’s shareholders and senior lenders reached with the creditors’ committee. The settlement denied the workers their priority payment, dismissed the bankruptcy, and foreclosed the workers’ rights to challenge under state law the leveraged buyout that led to the bankruptcy. The Third Circuit concluded that such a settlement was permissible in “rare” circumstances. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that structured dismissals must comply with priority rules absent consent of the affected parties.

Justice Breyer’s majority opinion is notable for at least two reasons. First, it recognizes what was ultimately at stake: the integrity and efficiency of the chapter 11 process. The consequences of failing to reverse, the Court explains, “are potentially serious,” and include “risks of collusion,” “making settlement more difficult to achieve,” and eroding procedural protections that “Congress granted particular classes of creditors,” such as unpaid workers. The Court found no basis in bankruptcy law to allow for exceptions to priority rules in “rare” cases, and seemed to doubt that Jevic was such a case in any event.

Second, consider what Justice Breyer’s decision does not do. It does not, contrary to some reports, prohibit all structured dismissals: “We express no view about the legality of structured dismissals in general,” Justice Breyer noted. The decision also distinguishes the impermissible final distribution in Jevic from interim distributions, such as critical vendor orders, which might deviate from bankruptcy’s priority rules temporarily, but serve other fundamental objectives. By contrast, the Court in Jevic could not find “any significant offsetting bankruptcy-related justification.” The opinion also avoided related issues, such as the propriety of “gift plans” or third-party releases. It shows, however, that Justice Breyer may be the best Justice for the job, if or when the Court chooses to tackle those questions.

The Court’s opinion is available here, and our brief is available here.


The Roundtable posted opposing views on Jevic leading up to oral argument in the case see. See Melissa Jacoby & Jonathan Lipson on their amicus brief and Bruce Grohsgal making the case for structured dismissals. For other Roundtable posts related to priority, see Casey & Morrison, “Beyond Options”; Baird, “Priority Matters”; and Roe & Tung, “Breaking Bankruptcy Priority,” an article that was referenced in the Jevic opinion.

Fair Equivalents and Market Prices: Bankruptcy Cramdown Interest Rates

posted in: Cramdown and Priority | 0

By Bruce A. Markell (Northwestern University Law School)

Cramdown is the confirmation of a plan of reorganization over the dissent of an entire class of creditors. Bankruptcy’s absolute priority rule permits such confirmation only if the dissenting class is paid in full, or if no junior class receives anything. “Paid in full,” however, does not require payment in cash. It can consist of intangible promises to pay money that banks, investors, and markets regularly value.

Whether this market value can precisely be transferred to cramdown has vexed many. This Article, “Fair Equivalents and Market Prices,” surveys the doctrinal background of such valuations and devises three short apothegms that can synthesize the history and doctrine under these phrases: “don’t pay too little”; “don’t pay too much”; and “don’t expect precision.”

Against this background, debates arose recently when a New York bankruptcy court applied a chapter 13 case, Till v. SCS Credit Corp., to a large corporate cramdown in In re MPM Silicones, LLC (“Momentive”). Given the legislative history and precedents in the cramdown area, the Article takes the position that Momentive was correct, that it is compatible with the doctrinal roots of cramdown, and that in the future, courts should resist using pure market-based valuations in cramdown calculations.


This article recently appeared in the Emory Bankruptcy Developments Journal (2016). The Roundtable has also recently posted Anthony Casey’s related article from the same issue, “Bankruptcy’s Endowment Effect.”

Beyond Options

posted in: Cramdown and Priority | 0

By Anthony J. Casey (University of Chicago Law School) and Edward R. Morrison (Columbia Law School)

Scholars and policymakers now debate reforms that would prevent a bankruptcy filing from being a moment that forces valuation of the firm, crystallization of claims against it, and elimination of junior stakeholders’ interest in future appreciation in firm value. These reforms have many names, ranging from Relative Priority to Redemption Option Value. Much of the debate centers on the extent to which reform would protect the non-bankruptcy options of junior stakeholders or harm the non-bankruptcy options of senior lenders. In a new paper, “Beyond Options,” we argue that this focus on options is misplaced. Protecting options is neither necessary nor sufficient for advancing the goal of a well-functioning bankruptcy system. What is needed is a regime that cashes out the rights of junior stakeholders with minimal judicial involvement. To illustrate, we propose an “automatic bankruptcy procedure” that gives senior creditors an option to restructure the firm’s debt or sell its assets at any time after a contractual default. Under this procedure, restructuring occurs in bankruptcy, but sales do not. Sales are either subject to warrants (which give junior stakeholders a claim on future appreciation) or are subject to judicial appraisal (which forces senior lenders to compensate junior stakeholders if the sale price was too low). Our proposal can be seen as an effort to design a formalized restructuring procedure that borrows from traditional state law governing corporate-control transactions. We show that this procedure minimizes core problems of current law—fire sales that harm junior stakeholders, delay that harms senior lenders, and the uncertainties generated by judicial valuation, which are exploited by all parties.

The full paper is available here.

Supreme Court to Hear Arguments in Jevic on November 28

posted in: Cramdown and Priority | 0

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp. on November 28. In this week’s posts, Bruce Grohsgal argues in favor of structured dismissals in his forthcoming article, and Melissa Jacoby and Jonathan Lipson, in an amicus brief signed by several law professors, argue that the Court should reject the structured dismissal in this case as a violation of absolute priority.

How Absolute is the Absolute Priority Rule in Bankruptcy? The Case for Structured Dismissals

By Bruce Grohsgal (Widener University School of Law)

A structured dismissal in a chapter 11 bankruptcy case is a court-approved settlement of certain claims by or against the debtor followed by the dismissal of the case. Courts have held that a bankruptcy court cannot approve a settlement unless it complies with the absolute priority rule, paying senior claims in full before any distribution to junior stakeholders.

The Supreme Court will consider structured dismissals this fall in In re Jevic Holding Corp. The question before the Court is: “Whether a bankruptcy court may authorize the distribution of settlement proceeds in a manner that violates the statutory priority scheme.”

The argument that a structured dismissal always must follow the absolute priority rule, even when a chapter 11 plan is not confirmable, overstates the current statutory reach of the rule. The rule reached its zenith by judicial launch in 1939 in Case v. Los Angeles Lumber, when the Supreme Court construed the statutory term “fair and equitable” to be synonymous with “absolute priority.” Congress has circumscribed the rule repeatedly since: in 1952 under the Bankruptcy Act, in 1978 with enactment of the Code, and in 1986 and 2005.

As a result of these enactments, the absolute priority rule is a special, limited rule that does not pervade the current Code. Indeed, the very reorganization plan—a consensual chapter 11 plan—that the Supreme Court held was not confirmable in Los Angeles Lumber would be confirmable under the current Code.

My article, forthcoming and available here, concludes that Congress has authorized the bankruptcy court to approve a structured dismissal in chapter 11 when it is in the best interest of creditors—such as when a plan is not confirmable—even if distributions do not follow the absolute priority rule. Accordingly, the Supreme Court should resolve the current circuit split by affirming Jevic.

Brief for Amici Curiae Law Professors in Support of Petitioners, In re Jevic

posted in: Cramdown and Priority | 0

By Jonathan C. Lipson (Temple University Beasley School of Law) and Melissa B. Jacoby (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill School of Law)

Fair treatment of creditors is one of the first lessons of a law school bankruptcy course. Congress created detailed and deliberate rules governing the payment of creditors to resolve a bankruptcy case. When a creditor has a priority claim under the Bankruptcy Code, it must be paid in full before any more junior creditors receive anything at all. This principle is one of the elements of bankruptcy that also fosters predictability.

On the facts of Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp., to be heard this term by the United States Supreme Court, the Bankruptcy Code’s priority structure entitled workers, whose jobs had been abruptly terminated, to an estimated $8.3 million. Instead, they received nothing. An agreement and dismissal order (known collectively as a “structured dismissal”) resolving litigation over a leveraged buyout that contributed to the company’s demise skipped the workers and provided payment to junior creditors because the LBO defendants so insisted. A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit approved this arrangement.

Our amicus brief illustrates that nothing in the Bankruptcy Code permits this kind of priority-skipping settlement in the absence of creditor consent. By blessing this arrangement, the Third Circuit majority opinion undercut the Bankruptcy Code’s priority rules and longstanding norms. Although the majority suggested it was limiting this result to rare cases, that majority decision contained neither a workable standard for determining what makes Jevic itself rare, nor guidance on what should trigger deviations in future cases—or how far such deviations may go. Left standing, the holding erodes the predictability and fairness of bankruptcy law and produces perverse incentives: powerful parties regularly will seek to write their own distribution rules through structured dismissal orders or other means.

The full amicus brief may be found here.

Bankruptcy Sales

posted in: Cramdown and Priority | 0

By Melissa B. Jacoby (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill) and Edward J. Janger (Brooklyn Law School)

Bankruptcy courts have become fora for the sale of entire firms as going concerns, as well as for the liquidation of assets piecemeal. This book chapter teases out the advantages and disadvantages of conducting such sales under federal bankruptcy law as compared to state law. We first describe the forms that bankruptcy sales can take, and the contexts in which they occur. Next, we explore the concept of “bankruptcy created value,” identifying the ways in which the federal bankruptcy process can create value over and above what can be realized through compulsory state processes. We then identify several procedural and governance-based concerns about all-asset sales. We suggest that our recent proposal, the Ice Cube Bond, might address concerns about sales of substantially all assets by withholding a portion of the sale proceeds. To recover the withheld funds, claimants would have to establish that the sale did not harm the bankruptcy estate and that they would be legally entitled to the funds under the normal bankruptcy priority rules or pursuant to an agreement reached after the sale. To conclude, we explore the related issues of credit bidding and the permissible scope of sale orders that declare assets to be “free and clear” of various kinds of claims and property interests.

The full chapter may be found here.

This draft chapter has been accepted for publication by Edward Elgar Publishing in the forthcoming Corporate Bankruptcy Handbook, edited by Barry Adler, due to be published in 2017.

Supreme Court to Resolve Circuit Split Over Structured Dismissals

posted in: Cramdown and Priority | 0

By Douglas Mintz, Robert Loeb and Monica Perrigino of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe

The Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp. to decide whether a bankruptcy court may authorize the distribution of settlement proceeds through a “structured dismissal” in a way that violates the statutory priority scheme in the Bankruptcy Code.  Specifically, the Court must decide whether Section 507 of the Bankruptcy Code, which details the order of payment of certain priority claims, must be followed outside of a plan when distributing proceeds pursuant to a structured settlement of a bankruptcy case.

The Supreme Court’s decision should resolve an important circuit split.  There is a strong textual argument to permit such distributions and structured dismissals, given the lack of provisions in the Bankruptcy Code dictating that priorities apply to settlements (as opposed to plans).  A ruling in favor of structured dismissals would serve to channel cases away from chapter 11 plans and toward consensual settlements, thereby reducing administrative costs and facilitating quicker bankruptcy resolutions.  However, this could also lead to settlements that run counter to the expected results under the absolute priority rule.  The Supreme Court’s decision may also indirectly permit “gifting” payments outside the scope of a plan – as courts have generally limited gifts in the plan context.

The full article is available here.

Priority Matters

posted in: Cramdown and Priority | 0

By Douglas G. Baird, University of Chicago Law School

Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code is organized around the absolute priority rule. This rule mandates the rank-ordering of claims. If one creditor has priority over another, this creditor must be paid in full before the junior creditor receives anything. Many have suggested various modifications to the absolute priority rule. The reasons vary and range from ensuring proper incentives to protecting nonadjusting creditors. The rule itself, however, remains the common starting place.

This paper uses relative priority, an entirely different priority system that flourished until the late 1930s, to show that using absolute priority even as a point of departure is suspect when firms are being reorganized. The essential difference between absolute and relative priority is the effect of bankruptcy on the exercise date of the call-option component of the junior investment instrument. Under absolute priority, the bankruptcy accelerates the exercise date; a regime of relative priority leaves it untouched.

Absolute priority is naturally suited for regimes in which the financially distressed firm is sold to the highest bidder. It is much less appropriate for a regime that puts a new capital structure in place without a market sale. In the absence of an actual sale, absolute priority requires some nonmarket valuation procedure. Such a valuation is costly and prone to error.

Chapter 11 attempts to minimize these costs by inducing the parties to bargain in the shadow of a judicial valuation, but rules are needed to police the strategic behavior that arises from the ability of parties to exploit information they have, but the judge does not.

Once one decides in favor of a reorganization rather than a market sale, the commitment to absolute priority is suspect. Instead of trying to find a bankruptcy mechanism that best vindicates the absolute priority rule, one is likely better off trying to identify the priority rule that minimizes the costs of bankruptcy itself. Asking which priority rule is most likely to lead to a successful plan at reasonable cost is a better point of departure than a debate over which priority rule provides the best set of ex ante incentives.

Looking at Chapter 11 from this perspective shows that much of the complexity and virtually all of the stress points of modern Chapter 11 arise from the uneasy fit between its priority regime (absolute instead of relative) and its procedure (negotiation in the shadow of a judicial valuation instead of a market sale). These forces are leading to the emergence of a hybrid system of priority that may be more efficient than one centered around absolute priority.

Read the full article here (forthcoming 165 U. Pa. L. Rev.).

Bankruptcy’s Quiet Revolution

posted in: Cramdown and Priority | 0

Douglas G. Baird, University of Chicago School of Law

 

Over the last few years, reorganization practice has undergone a massive change. A new device—the restructuring support agreement—has transformed Chapter 11 negotiations. This puts reorganization law at a crossroads. Chapter 11’s commitment to a nonmarket restructuring with a rigid priority system requires bankruptcy judges to police bargaining in bankruptcy, but the Bankruptcy Code gives relatively little explicit guidance about how they should do this policing.

In the past, the debtor initiated multiple rounds of negotiations in which everyone participated. Each party would push back against the claims of the other, and a consensus eventually emerged that left things roughly in equipoise. This has now changed. Instead of bargaining in which everyone participates, there is now a sequence of two-party bargains, beginning with the key players.

Changing the structure of negotiations in this fashion would not matter much if there were not much to bargain over. If bankruptcy’s substantive rules allowed for little variation in what each party received or if the debtor had an incentive to limit what each creditor group received, changing the rules would not change outcomes. But neither is the case, at least not any more.

Priority rights in bankruptcy are sufficiently uncertain that there are a broad range of confirmable plans in any case, each with radically different distributional consequences for the various creditor groups. And modern debtors are interested in a speedy and successful exit from Chapter 11. They are relatively indifferent to how rights in the firm are divided among competing creditors.

These changes have become manifest only in the last few years, and there is little wisdom about how the bankruptcy judge should respond. This essay suggests that long-established principles inform how bankruptcy judges should go about this task. In assessing whether a plan is “fair and equitable” and whether it has been filed in “good faith,” judges should focus not on how the plan apportions rights in the reorganized firm, but whether the process that has led to the plan ensures that everyone’s cards are on the table.

In particular, judges should ensure that restructuring support agreements do not interfere with the flow of information to the judge. Negotiations that lead to a confirmable plan should be problematic to the extent, but only to the extent, that they keep the judge in the dark and limit her ability to ensure that the plan complies with the terms of the Bankruptcy Code.

Click here to view the full article.

1 2 3