Harmonizing Consumer Insolvency Law

posted by Jason Kilborn

HarmonyIn contrast to the cacophony created by Brexit, EU authorities have been working for several years on a project to move toward greater harmony among the discordant insolvency laws of the Member States. Though the project is focused on business rescue and restructuring, the Commission Recommendation "on a new approach to business failure and insolvency" makes specific reference to non-business cases, as well, as "Member States are invited to explore the possibility of applying these recommendations also to consumers" (para. 15).

A fantastic conference at Brunel University London this May explored the question whether there was a need for comprehensive EU intervention in the historically national-law arena of consumer debt relief. The conference presented several instructional vignettes on the varying situations in the UK, Germany, Italy, and Greece, as well as some reflections on the very limited degree of EU involvement in ensuring "fair" consumer credit markets as a supposed bulwark against overindebtedness. The presentations at the conference vividly illustrated the weakness of this supply-side-only approach, as well as the extreme divergence among exisiting European personal insolvency relief regimes. A fascinating book published in connection with this conference's greater project nicely illustrates the messy state of overindebtedness regulation in the EU today.

All of which has me thinking about a topic that recurs in the academic debate in the US from time to time:

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A few thoughts on Brexit and Restructuring

posted by Stephen Lubben

Over at Dealb%k.

Further Thoughts on Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust

posted by Stephen Lubben

The opinion is a good reminder that oral argument impressions don't always carry over to the final written product. In short, both the majority and dissent approach this as a simple matter of statutory construction, and in that regard the majority opinion is simply a more clearly articulated version of the First Circuit's opinion.

Neither the majority or dissent address the 10th Amendment implications of saying that states have to use chapter 9 if they want to reorganize their municipalities. After this opinion, there is no other option. This might suggest that the 10th Amendment concerns that once hovered around chapter 9 are effectively gone.

I find the majority's approach to the placement of the 1946 addendum to section 903 unconvincing, but of course I've already written that I saw section 903 as only coming into force when a state accepts the chapter 9 "bargain."

Is there any other provision of the Code in one of the operative chapters (7 and onward) that applies even when there is no eligible debtor? Here we have Justice Thomas telling us that part of section 903 applies to Puerto Rico right now, while the opening paragraph of the section is apparently hanging around "just in case."  

The end result is that Puerto Rico now faces the unattractive choice of attempting an Argentina/Greece style workout (with likely lesser sovereign immunity than either of those debtors had) or swallowing PROMESA, along with its oversight board.

The composition of the former is an issue that Puerto Ricans might understandably worry about, especially since the board, and not the Commonwealth, has final say on what a reorganization plan looks like. Indeed, it is not so much a matter of "final say," as whether the oversight board will listen to Puerto Rico at all. There is no formal requirement in PROMESA that they do so. Nonetheless, given the alternatives, Puerto Rico might decide it has to hold its nose and take PROMESA.

The only thing we know for sure is that Puerto Rico is headed for a default on July 1. One branch of the decision tree has been taken away.

The Demise of the Recovery Act

posted by Stephen Lubben

I'm still digesting the opinion, but the obvious conclusion is that impressions from oral argument may be misleading. It also suggests that states that do not use chapter 9, have no ability to come up with a state law alternative. It is chapter 9 or nothing, which may suggest that the 10th Amendment is no longer a serious concern with regard to chapter 9. And early in the opinion Thomas says that City of Ashbury Park was indeed overruled by the 1946 Amendments to 903, despite some actual doubt on that point (and nobody really addressing it in this case).

Payday Rulemaking: Is Too Much Competition a Bad Thing?

posted by Adam Levitin

The CFPB's proposed payday rule making is out.  There's a nice summary here.  

I'm going to reserve comment other than to note a critical implication of a rare area of agreement between the supporters and opponents of the payday rule:  it will result in a lot of payday lenders closing up shop.  That might be just what the industry needs.

Payday lending differs materially from bank lending in (among things) that there are very low barriers to entry.  Bank regulators restrict the number of bank charters in order to reduce interbank competition. (What was that about free markets, Jamie Dimon?) That mode of regulation does not exist in payday, and it results in a self-cannibalization of the industry. Most storefront lenders have very few actual customers--a few hundred per store per year. Often stores average less than one customer per day (offset only partially by the fact that these customers tend to take out multiple loans). That means that payday lenders have to amortize their fixed and semi-fixed costs over a small borrower base, which in turn results in very high priced loans even without outsized profit margins. (This also suggests that bank payday lending, like Postal payday proposals, is economically more feasible because of a broader base over which to spread fixed costs.) In other words, too much competition is actually pushing up prices.  

The situation is somewhat analogous to a population of deer (or wolves) that grows too large for the sustenance base.  The resulting overgrazing (or overpredation) can ultimately result in a catastrophic collapse.  The typical wildlife husbandry solution is to cull the herd in order to ensure that the survivors are stronger and healthier.  Regulations that have the effect of reducing the number of lenders can be thought of as functioning in a similar way. In banking, this is done through control over chartering. Insurance does this through rate regulation (preventing destructive rate races). The CFPB's rulemaking is likely to achieve something similar in payday lending. 

We've seen this happen before. In 2010 Colorado undertook a major regulation of its in-state payday industry (this after an unsuccessful round of regulation in 2007). Pew has nicely analyzed the results.  The result of the regulation was that the number of in-state payday lenders fell by half (-53%).  Demand slackened only a little (-7%; why would it disappear?), however, so the number of customers per storefront almost doubled (up 99%).  The terms borrowers received were much better under the Colorado reform, and the revenue per store increased (+26%).  

What the Colorado experience suggests is that it's possible to have both better loan terms for consumers, and a healthier payday lending industry, but only if there is a contraction in the number of lenders. Put another way, some lenders have to go out of business in order for others to do better and for consumers to get better terms. It's rather counterintuitive--normally we think of competition as an important force for consumer protection, but at a certain point, it seems, too much competition actually results in price increases.  But it goes to show that the free market may not always produce the socially efficient result. (Obviously this isn't Pareto efficient, but it could well be Kaldor-Hicks efficient.) Curious to hear thoughts. 

 

Law & Society, 2016 Panels on Household Finance

posted by Bob Lawless

If you happen to be at the 2016 Law & Society Association meetings in New Orleans, stop by the panels from the Collaborative Research Network (CRN) on Household Finance. This group got its start as an international collaborative studying overindebtedness thanks for the leadership of people like the late Jean Braucher, Johanna Niemi, Iain Ramsay, and Bill Whitford. We have scholars from all over the world and from diverse disciplines thinking about how law on the ground affects household financial outcomes. Below the fold is a listing of panels, topics, and presenters for this year. If you are an academic and want to be on the CRN email list, contact me or Credit Slips blogger Dalie Jimenez.

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Digital Wallets: The Honor All Devices Rule

posted by Adam Levitin

Every wondered how ApplePay works?  What the whole deal with Chip cards is?  Those contactless readers at stores?  If you're looking to nerd out on 21st century payment technology...and its legal and business implications, look no further.  I have a new paper out entitled Pandora’s Digital Box:  Digital Wallets and the Honor All Devices Rules.  The paper was commissioned by the Merchant Advisory Group, a retail industry trade association that focuses on payment issues.  The paper, which benefitted from interviews with the payments teams from a number of the largest merchants in the US, covers the range of technologies known as "digital wallets," including mobile wallets like ApplePay and Samsung Pay (with the magnetic stripe emulation).  The paper focuses on the potential benefits, but particularly the risks posed by digital wallets to merchants, and the legal implications, which are primarily antitrust issues.  

The basic issue with digital wallets is that they aren't all the same in terms of costs and benefits, but merchants have to accept them equal on an all-or-nothing basis.  Digital wallets involve lots of different technological and business arrangements that affect security, control over data, control over customer relationships, IP litigation risk, choice of payment method, and cost of payment.  Some wallets are very attractive to merchants; others less so.  Merchants, however, cannot accept digital wallets selectively or condition the terms of acceptance for particular wallets.  This is because Visa, MasterCard, and American Express all have so-called "Honor All Devices" rules that require merchants to accept payments without discrimination from all devices using any technology accepted by the merchant.   The arrangement has the nasty (but probably not coincidental) effect of foreclosing entry to digital wallets that offer cheaper payments, such as those that use PIN debit or ACH.   

If this sounds a bit like a redux of the Honor All Cards rule and the two previous monumental rounds of antitrust litigation that produced (first on the tying of signature-debit and credit, second on the tying of different credit products, among other things), well, you're right. The problems that arise with the Honor All Devices rule show that things have not been properly resolved in terms of anticompetitive behavior in the payment card space, and the issues are just migrating over to new technologies.  

Essential Resources on Burdens of Proof in Bankruptcy Litigation: Property Exemptions and Beyond

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Shutterstock_380908687Deliberations of the Advisory Committee on Bankruptcy Rules have generated great materials relevant to burdens of proof in bankruptcy litigation that judges and lawyers should read and keep on their shelves, whether physical or virtual. Judge Christopher Klein's Suggestion 15-BK-E, submitted in July of 2015, posited that Rule 4003(c) (which gives the objecting party the burden of proof in property exemption disputes) exceeds the authority of the Rules Enabling Act "with respect to claims of exemption that are made under state law that does not allocate the burden of proof to the objector." The document includes a detailed court decision, In re Tallerico, setting forth the reasoning. In a memorandum starting on page 67 of the agenda book downloadable here,  Assistant Reporter/Professor/prior Credit Slips guest Michelle Harner takes a deep dive into the intersection of burdens of proof and the Rules Enabling Act. The Harner memo considers two key Supreme Court decisions that present different standards. The first is Raleigh v. Illinois Dept. of Revenue, 530 U.S. 15 (2000), which played a central role in Judge Klein's submission and court decision. The second is Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460 (1965). Harner concludes that Hanna is more on point in the event of a conflict between a federal bankruptcy rule and state law. And, as Harner explains, the Supreme Court in Hanna "rejected the argument that a rule is either substantive or procedural for all purposes" (p78), walks through the questions to be considered, and seeks to apply them to the exemption issue at hand. It looks like the Bankruptcy Rules Committee will not be proposing changes to Rule 4003(c) at this time, but this memo should live on, alongside the case law, as an essential resource for judges and lawyers who encounter disputes over the propriety of burdens of proof in federal rules. 

Bookshelf image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

 

Ukraine's Defense: Russian Suit Part of a "Broader Strategy of Aggression"

posted by Mark Weidemaier

It has taken several months, but the Russian Particulars of Claim and Ukraine's Defence (akin to complaint and answer in U.S. civil procedure) have now been filed. Distilled to its essence, Ukraine's response, as the Financial Times notes, is that "if you wanted your money back you should not have invaded our country." Or as Ukraine's lawyers put it in the Defence: "The [Russian] claim forms part of a broader strategy of unlawful and illegitimate economic, political and military aggression ... aimed at frustrating the will of the Ukrainian people to participate in the process of European integration." 

Russia's version of events is straightforward and looks like any other debt case: Russia lent the money, Ukraine committed a breach of contract by not repaying. Ukraine, by contrast, will have a harder time translating its defenses into the dry language of legal doctrine. But it can be done. As I have written here at Credit Slips, and in more detail elsewhere, contract law provides Ukraine with a number of potentially viable arguments. Now that we know the arguments asserted by Ukraine, here are some preliminary thoughts.

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