postings by Melissa Jacoby

"Don't give me so much that you've given me nothing" - Remembering M. Caldwell Butler's Contribution to Bankruptcy Law

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Former Virginia Congressman M. Caldwell Butler died last week. He is widely known for his role in the Nixon impeachment proceedings, his efforts to limit extensions of the Voting Rights Act, and his support for ensuring legal representation for low-income individuals. But Congressman Butler is also a major figure in the history of bankruptcy law. He was a principal co-sponsor of the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 that serves as the foundation of the modern bankruptcy system. Professor and lawyer Kenneth N. Klee worked closely with Congressman Butler on the House Judiciary Committee in the 1970s. I asked Professor Klee to share a few words of remembrance with us, which I repeat in their entirety here:

I first met M. Caldwell Butler in 1975 when he became the Ranking Minority Member of the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the House Judiciary Committee. Caldwell was most interested in the Voting Rights Act legislation and finding a way for the South to get out from under the Act. In his view, Washington was improperly interfering with the sovereignty of the southern states based on predicate acts that had long since ceased to serve as a basis for federal control. He asked me to draft a series of amendments that would permit the South to extricate itself from the Voting Rights Act. The requirements to regain sovereignty were quite demanding, to the point that the amendments became known as the "impossible bailout."  Nevertheless, the amendments did not come close to passing. It was evident that there were no circumstances under which the majority in Congress wanted to let the southern states out from the Voting Rights Act.

Caldwell assumed his responsibilities over bankruptcy legislation with diligence and good cheer. His fabulous sense of humor carried us through many long markup sessions during which the members of the Subcommittee read the bankruptcy legislation line by line. He had a sharp legal mind and deep curiosity. He also was very practical and to the point. He was fond of telling me "don't give me so much that you've given me nothing."

It was a privilege and honor to work with him. The bankruptcy community should join in paying him tribute.

                        -- Ken Klee

Congressman Butler made another round of contributions to bankruptcy reform in the 1990s. The fact that they are not all reflected in today's Bankruptcy Code makes this story more pressing, not less. Well over a decade after he had returned to the practice of law in Virginia, Congressman Butler was appointed to the National Bankruptcy Review Commission, for which I was a staff attorney. Expressing satisfaction with the 1978 Code, the House Judiciary Committee directed this Bankruptcy Commission to focus, for two years, on "reviewing, improving, and updating the Code in ways which do not disturb the fundamental tenets of current law."  Not one to leave the heavy lifting to others, even in a pro bono post, Congressman Butler stepped up to the challenge of forging a compromise, among those with diverging politics and views, to improve the consumer bankruptcy system.

Continue reading ""Don't give me so much that you've given me nothing" - Remembering M. Caldwell Butler's Contribution to Bankruptcy Law" »

Small Formalities, Big Consequences in Secured Credit Law - An Update

posted by Melissa Jacoby

FolderRowTo what extent does secured credit law protect creditors from the consequences of mistaken actions made on their behalf? I wrote about this issue in March 2013. As discussed in that post, the bankruptcy court issued both a decision on the merits and a certification for a direct appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

The 2nd Circuit has now certified the following question to the Delaware Supreme Court: 

Under UCC Article 9, as adopted into Delaware law by Del. Code Ann. tit. 6, art. 9, for a UCC-3 termination statement to effectively extinguish the perfected nature of a UCC-1 financing statement, is it enough that the secured lender review and knowingly approve for filing a UCC-3 purporting to extinguish the perfected security interest, or must the secured lender intend to terminate the particular security interest that is listed on the UCC-3? 

The 2nd Circuit decision is here.  (The date of oral argument on the cover page should say March 2014, not March 2013). 

File folder photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Detroit: My Complication Had A Little Complication

posted by Melissa Jacoby

GazellesUntil a few days ago, it looked like Detroit's chapter 9 plan confirmation would come and go untouched by appellate process. In February 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted seven petitions for direct appeal of the bankruptcy court's eligibility decision, which included the finding that public pension claims could be impaired in chapter 9 bankruptcy. But the Sixth Circuit did not act on the request for expedited consideration. Somewhat remarkably, it agreed to do what the bankruptcy court had requested in its certification memo: consult with the bankruptcy court's lead mediator to consider the impact of the appeal's timing on negotiations. According to the bankruptcy court, "the interests of the City, its residents and its creditors are better served by adjusting the pace of the legal process, including the appeals, to meet the needs of the mediation process." (p. 14)  Don't know for sure, but it seems plausible that the lead mediator preferred deferral of the appeal until after plan confirmation; doing otherwise might throw a wrench in implementation of plan settlements he oversaw - especially the Grand Bargain, for which he has pressed for many months. Because the eligibility decision included the finding that public pensions could be impaired in bankruptcy, the Sixth Circuit docket has swelled in the meantime to include many amici appearances and briefs, including from CalPERS, the Illinois Public Pension Fund Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and AARP.

A host of appeals from other bankruptcy court orders in Detroit's bankruptcy also are pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. In at least several - and possibly all, as I haven't yet checked each and every one - the district judge sua sponte stayed the matter until the Sixth Circuit decided the eligibility appeal. 

This week, the Sixth Circuit shattered the blockade on appeals from Detroit's bankruptcy.  

Continue reading "Detroit: My Complication Had A Little Complication" »

The Puerto Rico Public Corporation Debt Enforcement and Recovery Act

posted by Melissa Jacoby

PRflag

6/30 UPDATE: here's the  amended complaint.

The fast-moving legislation's title does not include the word bankruptcy. Materials distributed by the Puerto Rico government explain, though, that the bill is meant to provide chapter 9-like relief to Puerto Rico public corporations through one of two paths - one more prepack-like than the other. Calling the effort "dazzling," Cate Long notes, "[s]eldom have financial markets seen such an elegantly choreographed approach to haircutting sovereign debt."

However elegant, investors say the bill violates multiple provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Quiz yourself, or directly check out the action just filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico seeking a declaratory judgment.  H/T Cate Long.

Puerto Rico flag courtesy of Shutterstock

The "New" New Legislation on Student Loans and Bankruptcy

posted by Melissa Jacoby

AbstractSenator Harkin's discussion draft of the Higher Education Affordability Act (described here) is expected to include a provision restoring bankruptcy relief from private for-profit student loans. A few years ago, I offered justifications for that move here. Prof. Scott Pryor agrees.

But wait, there's more. S.2471, The Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2014, introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, co-sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren. Section 6 would offer relief from student loans for some bankruptcy filers. Take a look. 

Abstract image courtesy of Shutterstock

 

"You Can't Eat Principles" - Detroit's Grand Bargain Moves Another Step Forward

posted by Melissa Jacoby

PressConferencePinA little like the ship that Fitzcarraldo (and Werner Herzog) pushed, hoisted, and willed up up up and over a mountain, Detroit's Grand Bargain continues to defy expectations and make forward progress. A significant step today: A big press conference as Governor Snyder signed the necessary bills. Watch here.

The Detroit Retired City Employees Association produced the button in the picture (photo courtesy of Matt Helms of the Detroit Free Press). Shirley Lightsey, President of the association, produced the slogans: You Can't Eat Principles, and Uncertainty Doesn't Pay the Bills. Of the speakers at the press conference today who advocated for the Grand Bargain, Ms Lightsey was the most persuasive.

And practical too. Some retirees are skeptical, but it is hard to imagine retirees will do financially better by voting no or abstaining and hoping for an appellate court victory on the Michigan Constitution questions.

Voting is not, though, the last hurdle for the Grand Bargain - a point lost in the shuffle of the bill-signing press conference.

Continue reading ""You Can't Eat Principles" - Detroit's Grand Bargain Moves Another Step Forward" »

A Three-Hour Tour and Other Distractions

posted by Melissa Jacoby

MichiganRoadsThe City of Detroit has proposed a three-hour bus tour of the City to start its chapter 9 plan confirmation hearing. Some creditors object. The City's motion says "[i]f any case ever warranted a Site Visit, this one does." I don't agree, for reasons explored below, but in any event, the eligibility trial would have been a more logical place for it. And even Gilligan and the Skipper too couldn't cover 139 square miles in three hours. So what is going on here?

A step back. In the earliest days of my bankruptcy court clerkship, the United States Trustee sought to dismiss or convert the chapter 11 of a small nonprofit on the south side of Chicago. The debtor and the U.S. Trustee parties presented starkly contrasting depictions of this debtor - I remember the dueling photographs - with neither more obviously credible than the other. The case, like most in the bankruptcy court, had a starkly human element: the debtor was a rehabilitation center of sorts. The U.S. Trustee essentially was alleging that the residents lived in deplorable conditions, and the debtor strongly disagreed. To resolve the discrete factual dispute between two parties about the property's condition, Judge Ginsberg decided to schedule a time to leave the modernist skysraping box that was the Dirksen Federal Courthouse and visit the premises, in a van, with law clerk, court reporter, and others in tow. No easy way to verify -  the name of the case is lost to me now - but my strong recollection is that the site visit idea prompted no objections. The case cratered for an unrelated reason, mooting the trip. No other case during my clerkship prompted Judge Ginsberg to make a similar proposal.

Over the years, I have learned of other judges' experiences with site visits, revealing similar characteristics: cases with limited parties in interest, specific factual disagreement, the resolution of which could be accomplished efficiently by visiting circumscribed sites. 

Continue reading "A Three-Hour Tour and Other Distractions" »

Q & A on C of D

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Yesterday's Is. It. Legal. provoked some comments and questions. Some quick replies above the line, so to speak.

Q: Is it clear that this is going to be a cramdown plan?

    Multiple groups of creditors have not settled with the City (e.g., those with financial interests in certificates of participation, water and sewer bonds, LTGO, a few police and fire groups). Non-settling claimants are actively challenging plan confirmation from top to bottom, including whether Detroit's current plan passes muster under the standards applicable to nonconsensual plans. Those who hold or insure COPs are most relevant to yesterday's comments on unfair discrimination.  In addition to offering little payment, the City has challenged the COPs' validity altogether. Will all of that get settled?  Stranger things have happened in the history of bankruptcy and municipal finance law. But I would guess that result would necessitate some sharing in the Grand Bargain premium.

Q: If it is not a cramdown, then all of the unfair discrimination and absolute priority issues are moot.

    I disagree. The strength of the cramdown-related arguments contribute to the leverage of the parties to compromise and settle.

Continue reading "Q & A on C of D" »

Is.It.Legal.

posted by Melissa Jacoby

BomeyDetroitIn a week bustling with municipal finance activity (e.g., conclusion of the Stockton confirmation hearing), the Michigan Senate rather easily passed legislation to contribute money to Detroit's restructuring, earmarked for pension claims and permanent insulation of the City-owned art museum against the City's creditors. The bankruptcy is not fully resolved yet, of course. For one thing, creditor voting is not complete, and some pension claimants must be resolicited because of errors in ballots. Assuming that the requisite votes materialize, the City has the burden to prove that its plan of adjustment meets all requirements of the Bankruptcy Code by a preponderance of the evidence. Due to a series of document production delays on the City side, the trial will likely be postponed by at least a few weeks.

Since I last wrote about Detroit, the City filed an omnibus reply to plan objections (doc #5034). Exceeding 250 pages, brief it is not. But the City had much ground to cover, and the end pages are a very useful chart breaking down who made which objections. Several assertions I found troubling relate to whether the plan unfairly discriminates in favor of pension claimants who benefit from the Grand Bargain premium and against dissenting classes of creditors who do not.

Continue reading "Is.It.Legal." »

Working and Living in the Shadow of Economic Fragility

posted by Melissa Jacoby

OupbookCredit Slips readers, please note the publication of a new book edited by Marion Crain and Michael Sherraden. The New America Foundation is hosting an event on the book tomorrow, Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 12:15 EST. Not in Washington, D.C.? The event will be webcast live

The book project developed out of a stimulating multi-disciplinary conference at Washington University in St. Louis. Participants had great interest in considering how bankruptcy scholarship fits within the larger universe of research on financial insecurity and inequality. My chapter with Mirya Holman synthesizes the literature on medical problems among bankruptcy filers and presents new results from the 2007 Consumer Bankruptcy Project on coping mechanisms for medical bills, looking more closely at the one in four respondents who reported accepting a payment plan from a medical provider. Not surprisingly, these filers are far more likely than most others to bring identifiable medical debt, and therefore their medical providers, into their bankruptcy cases. We examine how payment plan users employ strategies - including but not limited to fringe and informal borrowing - to manage financial distress before resorting to bankruptcy, and (quite briefly) speculate on the future of medical-related financial distress in an Affordable Care Act world.

Detroit: So Many Questions

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Arrows...but first, a new (and short!) article: Please download here a just-published piece on the first months of Detroit's bankruptcy, resulting from a fall 2013 Fordham symposium. It reflects efforts to follow public parts of Detroit's chapter 9 through recordings of court hearings and monitoring the docket. And although largely descriptive, the piece sets the stage for unpacking the institutional and functional roles played by the federal court in municipal bankruptcies and beyond. The court's early management and oversight choices (discussed on Credit Slips here & here & here & here) can be tied quite directly to this bankruptcy's development  - most notably through the appointment of Chief District Judge Rosen as lead mediator. Without Chief Judge Rosen, would the  Grand Bargain exist?

Continue reading "Detroit: So Many Questions" »

In Memory of Leonard M. Rosen

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Rosen

As family, friends, and colleagues mourn the passing of the Leonard Rosen, the fitting tribute by Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz allows a glimpse into his exceptional contributions:

But above all, Leonard was a good man. A generous man. A kind man. A man you could trust with your most difficult problems and deepest concerns, a superb partner who represented, and will always represent, all we strive to be as lawyers, citizens, and human beings. He was much sought after for his judgment, as well as for his marvelous ability to resolve disputes and reconcile disparate views. He shaped the culture of our Firm. He was the glue that cemented a group of hard-working and talented attorneys into a leading law firm that has served as a model for other firms. He was not only admired and respected by his colleagues; he was beloved.

When the American College of Bankruptcy named Leonard Rosen as its Distinguished Service Award recipient in 2003, Harvey Miller's remarks included these words: 

Throughout his professional career and his personal life, Len has exhibited enormous talent, intellectual honesty, intelligence, objectivity, personal dignity and an infectious good will – qualities that have enabled him to calm stormy waters and allow competing parties to reconcile their differences and resolve their disputes. His ability to diffuse conflict is legendary. . . .  During the 43 years that I have known Len, I have never heard anyone utter a bad word about him. . . . Len truly is a man for all seasons.   

Leonard Rosen's speech that weekend in 2003 concluded with a call to duty:

Justice Earl Warren has been quoted as saying, “Law floats in a sea of ethics.” We all have social and ethical responsibilities as professionals to help protect important economic and social interests in our society, including the public trust that is essential to the functioning of our capital markets. We need to be a part of the debate that shapes the necessary solutions — leaving our clients and our own self-interest at the door — so that we can play a most persuasive and important role in the battle to restore confidence in our economic system.

Deepest condolences to the Rosen family. And may we all strive harder to live up to Leonard Rosen's example.  

Terrific New Paper on Arkison & Authority of Bankruptcy Court

posted by Melissa Jacoby

BlankPaperThe paper was just posted here. Its authors are Elizabeth Gibson and Jonathan Landers, and it was written for the National Bankruptcy Conference. A key sentence from the abstract: "The paper contends that the Court’s analysis in [Commodity Futures Trading Commission v.] Schor supports the constitutionality of bankruptcy court adjudication of private rights with the parties’ consent, notwithstanding the decision of three federal circuits to the contrary." The paper also discusses consequences for the bankruptcy system, magistrate system, and the workload of district courts in the event that the Supreme Court rejects the consent route. All in an efficient seventeen-page package.

Paper image courtesy of Shutterstock.

New Empirical Paper on Home Mortgage Foreclosure and Bankruptcy

posted by Melissa Jacoby

RibbonHouse Cross-campus colleagues and I have posted a paper that studies intersections between mortgage foreclosure, chapters of bankruptcy, and other variables, using the Center for Community Capital's unique panel dataset of lower-income homeowners. An excerpt from the abstract:

We analyze 4,280 lower-income homeowners in the United States who were more than 90 days late paying their 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. Two dozen organizations serviced these mortgages and initiated foreclosure between 2003 and 2012. We identify wide variation between mortgage servicers in their likelihood of bringing the property to auction. We also show that when homeowners in foreclosure filed for bankruptcy, foreclosure auctions were 70% less likely. Chapters 7 and 13 both reduce the hazard of auction, but the effect is five times greater for Chapter 13, which contains enhanced tools to preserve homeownership. Bankruptcy’s effects are strongest in states that permit power-of-sale foreclosure or withdraw homeowners’ right-of-redemption at the time of auction.

Bear in mind that most homeowners in foreclosure in this sample did not file for bankruptcy. Among the 8% or so who did, the majority filed chapter 13. For even more context, please read the paper - brevity is among its virtues, and exhibits take credit for page length. A later version will ultimately appear in Housing Policy Debate.

Ribbon house image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Detroit's Managerial Milestones

posted by Melissa Jacoby

PathA city in bankruptcy operates with considerably more freedom from judicial oversight than its private chapter 11 counterparts. People often say judges have just two principal points of involvement in a chapter 9: presiding over trials on eligibility and confirmation of the plan of adjustment. My earlier posts about Detroit have told a story that puts judges in a more active ongoing role, emblematic of the evolution of the federal judiciary over the second half of the Twentieth Century. Serious managerial judging (plus a team) empowers them to shape the speed and direction of municipal restructuring notwithstanding doctrinal and constitutional limits on their formal legal authority. Yesterday's evidentiary hearing in Detroit's bankruptcy is illustrative.

Continue reading "Detroit's Managerial Milestones" »

One Hundred Forty Characters (Of Detroit)

posted by Melissa Jacoby

MessageShort bursts on Detroit's Chapter 9 bankruptcy will be offered at @bankrprof. While I'm here, though, a report that the retiree committee has filed a motion to withdraw the reference from the bankruptcy court of its objections to Detroit's chapter 9 eligibility. 

Note paper image courtesy of Shutterstock

Detroit: More People, Moving Faster (and, in an instance, Slower)

posted by Melissa Jacoby

PuzzleExclamationMy Detroit posts so far (here and here) focus on the role of the judge and court. The first considered managerial judging, and there's significant news on that front this week. Having read one hundred and nine timely objections to eligibility, Judge Rhodes interpreted many objections to raise only legal issues and expedited the hearing on those issues to September 18, from October 23 (see p.3 of order). On September 19, the court will hear from individuals who filed eligibility objections, three minutes each. October 23 remains the date for objections that require the resolution of material fact. But the court is deferring objections based on treatment of pension rights in a plan because they are not eligibility issues (see section VI of the order, p. 6). This is the technically "slower" instance, per this post's title. Parties troubled by this new order have until September 6 to file objections or comments (see section XI. p.7).

Continue reading "Detroit: More People, Moving Faster (and, in an instance, Slower) " »

Doesn't Anyone Want to Talk About Jurisdiction This Week?

posted by Melissa Jacoby

PurpleElephantWith the Second Circuit's ruling in the Argentina/NML case and the now-urgent need to get secured transactions and bankruptcy into the 1L curriculum, Credit Slips has yet to give attention to Wellness International Network, Limited,  issued on Aug 21 by the Seventh Circuit. Luckily, on this issue, I don't mind getting the ball rolling, and then stepping out of the way. 

Continue reading "Doesn't Anyone Want to Talk About Jurisdiction This Week? " »

It Takes A Village: Detroit, Chapter 9, and Litigotiation

posted by Melissa Jacoby

HumanspokesFirst, the most recent news: the fee examiner job in Detroit's chapter 9 has just been awarded. And the Detroit Free Press has just awarded itself a not-so-subtly snarky news headline

Similar to the bankruptcy court's order appointing a mediator, the fee examiner order authorizes the examiner to call in reinforcements - other lawyers at his law firm, as well as an accountant and the accountant's firm. Judicial Team Chapter 9 Detroit grows. 

A cadre of federal judges once fought hard - repeatedly and successfully - to exclude bankruptcy judges from the Article III judiciary. In so doing, they conceptualized bankruptcy judges as the helpers, not the ones building teams. When a district judge was asked at a Congressional hearing in the 1970s whether bankruptcy judges would need law clerks, the district judge's NO could be heard from miles around. That issue has long been resolved - of course, they need law clerks. The Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure prohibit special masters in bankruptcy cases. But bankruptcy courts commonly appoint fee examiners or fee committees in bigger cases, which seem little different from a special master. And the judges fighting against Article III status never imagined a bankruptcy judge appointing his own chief district judge as the omnibus mediator, with the potential for a raft of additional judicial and non-judicial mediators in tow. But now it has happened. And that delegation of responsibility from bankruptcy judge to district judge is already underway, per the first mediation order dated August 16.  

And yet, the building of this team should feel familiar to those Article III judges from the 1970s and 1980s. When they needed to bring order to complex cases involving unconstitutional conditions in prisons and schools, and bargaining over the remedial scheme, district judges brought in more people. Masters. Special masters. Hearing officers. Monitors. Various kinds of committees. Ombudsmen. Barring the appointment of lions, tigers, or bears, the City of Detroit case yet again illustrates commonalities between the non-adversarial aspects of bankruptcy cases and non-bankruptcy litigotiation.

Human spokes image courtesy of Shutterstock

Detroit's Chapter 9 and the Vanishing Umpires

posted by Melissa Jacoby


SpiralCrowd
When the Chief Judge of the Sixth Circuit selected Judge Rhodes to preside over the City of Detroit's chapter 9 case, she attached a letter from the Chief Judge of the Eastern District of Michigan. Among other things, it lauded Judge Rhodes' case management skills, and asserted the need for those skills in a case of this nature. To many, the phrase “case management” may evoke procedural judicial tasks of little normative content. But the sandwich of the two words should invite deeper questions about the role of courts, judges, judicial adjuncts, and trials, and the impact of the presence or absence of disputes playing out in public view.

Continue reading "Detroit's Chapter 9 and the Vanishing Umpires" »

Buying Hope

posted by Melissa Jacoby

NumbersThose interested in The Stakes of Design back in April may appreciate Why We Keep Playing The Lottery. Thanks to The Morning News for alerting readers to the article, and thanks to author Rosecrans Baldwin for co-founding The Morning News, and . . . that's enough.

Numbers image courtesy of Shutterstock

Regulars

Occasionals

Current Guests

Follow Us On Twitter

Like Us on Facebook

  • Like Us on Facebook

    By "Liking" us on Facebook, you will receive excerpts of our posts in your Facebook news feed. (If you change your mind, you can undo it later.) Note that this is different than "Liking" our Facebook page, although a "Like" in either place will get you Credit Slips post on your Facebook news feed.

News Feed

Categories

Bankr-L

  • As a public service, the University of Illinois College of Law operates Bankr-L, an e-mail list on which bankruptcy professionals can exchange information. Bankr-L is administered by one of the Credit Slips bloggers, Professor Robert M. Lawless of the University of Illinois. Although Bankr-L is a free service, membership is limited only to persons with a professional connection to the bankruptcy field (e.g., lawyer, accountant, academic, judge). To request a subscription on Bankr-L, visit http://listserv.uiuc.edu/archives/bankr-l.html and click on the link for "Join or leave the list." After completing the information there, please also send an e-mail to Professor Lawless (rlawless@illinois.edu) with a short description of your professional connection to bankruptcy. A link to a URL with a professional bio or other identifying information would be great.

OTHER STUFF

Powered by TypePad