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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.

Comments

You write as though Puerto Rico has a choice whether to "take or leave" PROMESA. If, as is likely, PROMESA becomes law, it has no such choice. The Oversight Board comes into effect immediately.

The choice is now – do they ask their allies to try to derail the legislation in the Senate?

Is there any speculation as to whether or not PROMESA's restructuring process will alter priority for creditors? Or in other words, will holders of general obligation bonds who would be treated as unsecured claimants in an "ordinary" Chapter 9 make out like bandits?

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