postings by Dalié Jiménez

Facebook: the new Credit Reporting Agency?

posted by Adam Levitin

Facebook, it seems, has developed a system of rating users trustworthiness. It's not clear if this is just a system for internal use or if users' trustworthiness scores are for sale to third parties, but if the latter, then would sure seem that Facebook is a Consumer Reporting Agency and subject to CRA provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

FCRA defines a CRA as

any person which, for monetary fees, dues, or on a cooperative nonprofit basis, regularly engages in whole or in part in the practice of assembling or evaluating consumer credit information or other information on consumers for the purpose of furnishing consumer reports to third parties, and which uses any means or facility of interstate commerce for the purpose of preparing or furnishing consumer reports.

A consumer report is, in turn, defined as:
 
any written, oral, or other communication of any information by a consumer reporting agency bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living which is used or expected to be used or collected in whole or in part for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing the consumer’s eligibility for [credit, insurance, employment or government license].
 
Thus, if Facebook is selling information about a consumer's general reputation—trustworthiness—to third parties that might reasonably be expected to use it for credit, insurance, or employment, it's a CRA, and that means it's subject to a host of regulatory requirements as well as civil liability, including statutory damages for willful noncompliance.
 
Facebook is hardly the only tech company that might be a CRA--I've written about this in regard to Google previously.  While Facebook has a bunch of money transmitter licenses and knows it is in the consumer finance space on payments, I suspect it hasn't thought about this from the data perspective.  Indeed, I don't think tech companies think about the possibility that they might be CRAs because we think of CRAs as being firms like Equifax that specialize in being CRAs, but FCRA's definition is broader.  If I collect data on you that I sell to third parties for employment or insurance or credit purposes, I'm a CRA.  Once one plays in consumer data, it's pretty easy to fall into the world of consumer finance regulation. Welcome to a very different Social Network, Mr. Zuckerberg. 
 
Update:  Having just read Alan White's post about Thomson Reuters selling data to ICE, it makes me wonder more generally about the applicability of the FCRA to any firm that sells browsing history to parties that use it for credit, insurance, or employment.  I suspect that's a more aggressive of a reading of FCRA than a court would accept, but the statutory language is pretty broad, and perhaps it gets a party to discovery.

Corporate Bankruptcy as a Public-Private Partnership

posted by Melissa Jacoby

I have just posted on the Social Science Research Network a forthcoming article called Corporate Bankruptcy Hybridity. Although the article has several intersecting objectives, today's post focuses on the first aim: conceptualizing corporate bankruptcy as a public-private partnership.  A public-private partnership, most plainly stated is "a legal hybrid which possesses some characteristics of a purely private corporation and others of a purely government.... however it is structured, it is formed to accomplish a public purpose."* As writings of scholars outside of bankruptcy make clear, the fact that a system relies in part on private actors and private funds does not absolve the system of its obligation to the public's broader constitutional, democratic, and welfare aims. In other words, even if a system is driven by a particular public purpose, other public objectives remain salient.

Reframing the system in this fashion explicitly rejects the common assumption that bankruptcy is best understood as a species of private law, as well as the belief that a workable theory requires that the bankruptcy system have only one public purpose.

In addition to enhancing scholarly debates, considering corporate bankruptcy a public-private partnership has real-world implications - most notably, helping reformers (statutory and otherwise) think creatively about the institutional actors and structures that can respond to identified problems, such as the problems carefully documented in the ABI Commission to Study the Reform of Chapter 11. The range of interventions described and prescribed in administrative law and related privatization scholarship is considerably broader than in reform projects such as the National Bankruptcy Review Commission or the ABI Chapter 11 Commission Report.

Of course, the article elaborates on these points, and I hope to highlight other objectives of Corporate Bankruptcy Hybridity in future posts. But in the meantime, I'd love it if you downloaded and read the article.

* This definition comes from an article published in 1969 by Robert Amdursky.

Westlaw: A Digital Deportation Machine?

posted by Alan White

Lawyers and legal academics may be surprised to learn that Thomson Reuters, owners of the Westlaw electronic law library, sells its data to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, and reserves the right in its privacy policy to share browsing history and search terms with law enforcement agencies. My colleague Sarah Lamdan explores the ethical issues for lawyers and the legal publishers in a recent paper, "When Westlaw Fuels ICE Surveillance: Ethics in the Big Data Policing Era." 

Some Thoughts on the Alter Ego Ruling in Crystallex

posted by Mark Weidemaier

I have had a bit of time to digest the district court’s ruling that PDVSA is Venezuela’s alter ego, and here are some preliminary thoughts. The opinion is 75 pages and covers a lot of ground, but I’ll focus on perhaps the most important and least technical question: Is the case a one-off or a harbinger? Put differently, assuming the ruling stands after appeal and further proceedings in the district court, does it definitively establish that PDVSA is Venezuela’s alter ego? If so, the ruling could have important consequences for a future attempt to restructure the debts of both entities.

The answer isn’t clear. Or rather, it depends whether one wants a formal or a functional answer. Formally, the decision is a one-off; it need not have implications for future alter ego determinations. Functionally, however, the decision creates real risks for PDVSA and the government.

Continue reading "Some Thoughts on the Alter Ego Ruling in Crystallex " »

Court Lets Crystallex Attach Equity in CITGO Parent

posted by Mark Weidemaier

[Edit: Here is the opinion, with redactions related to the OFAC license.]

Just a quick post for now, as the court is keeping its opinion under seal for the time being. Crystallex, a creditor of Venezuela, has been trying to enforce its claims by attaching PDVSA's equity interest in PDV Holding, the ultimate U.S. parent of CITGO. For more background, there have been a number of posts already here on Credit Slips. The district judge overseeing the action in Delaware has just granted Crystallex's request.

I'll have more to say once the opinion becomes public, although portions will undoubtedly be redacted in that version. The secrecy seems to be associated with an OFAC license obtained by a third party (presumably the entity financing this litigation), which Crystallex believes authorizes attachment notwithstanding U.S. sanctions against Venezuela. Those sanctions require OFAC authorization for "attachment of an equity interest in any entity in which the Government of Venezuela has a 50 percent or greater ownership interest" (see FAQ 596) and define "Government of Venezuela" broadly to include PDVSA. I assume the redactions will mostly affect this part of the opinion.

Even more important, the opinion will have to explain why Crystallex, a creditor of Venezuela, can attach PDVSA's property. Presumably the reason is that the court has found the two entities to be alter egos. If so, that's an important ruling that may have much broader consequences in any attempted restructuring of PDVSA or Republic debt.

Edit: I should add that the fact that the court has issued the writ does not necessarily mean Crystallex will immediately be allowed to execute. Leaving aside any delay associated with appeal, the district judge has previously distinguished the decision to issue the writ from the decision to allow execution. Any attempt to execute the writ will also raise new questions. For instance, must there be an attempt to sell the shares? If not, how should the shares be valued (since Crystallex is only entitled to receive the amount of its judgment plus interest)?

Older Americans’ Rising Bankruptcy Filings

posted by Pamela Foohey

Older Americans (age 65 and over) are increasingly likely to file bankruptcy and now comprise a larger proportion of the people who file bankruptcy -- and the effects are not small. Using data from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, in a new working paper just posted to SSRN -- Graying of U.S. Bankruptcy: Fallout from Life in a Risk Society -- my co-authors (past Slipster Debb Thorne, Slipster Bob Lawless, and past Slipster Katie Porter) and I find a more than two-fold increase between 1991 and now in the rate at which older Americans file bankruptcy. We further find an almost five-fold increase in the percentage of older persons in the bankruptcy system. The magnitude of growth in older Americans in bankruptcy is so large that the broader trend of an aging U.S. population can explain only a small portion of the effect.

In the paper, we link older Americans’ increased filing rates with the shrinking social safety net. A story published today in the New York Times (on actual paper and on the front page!) does an exceptional job of both describing our study and detailing the ways in which the risks of aging have been off-loaded onto older Americans: “vanishing pensions, soaring medical expenses, inadequate savings.” The story also highlights the financial and life travails of a few older Americans who filed bankruptcy. Their struggles stem from declining income, lost insurance, and unmanageable medical expenses.   

Continue reading "Older Americans’ Rising Bankruptcy Filings" »

MoviePass Bankruptcy Watch

posted by Adam Levitin

The financial travails of MoviePass and its parent company Helios & Matheson caught my eye today. I almost never go to see movies in theaters, so MoviePass was an unfamiliar business to me, but the basic idea is that the consumer pays an upfront subscription fee and then MoviePass provides an unlimited number of tickets for the consumer (although one per show, and more recently with various additional restrictions):  basically an all-you-can-eat buffet model applied to movies.  The buffet model requires the Jack Sprats of the world to subsidize their wives:  those who go to the counter once and get low-cost foods are subsidizing those who make multiple trips for the foie gras, etc.  The buffet model can work for a few reasons. First, there is a limit to how much anyone (except Joey Chestnut) can eat.  Second, people often go to restaurants in groups, which means that there will be some Jack Sprat wives in the mix.  Third, there are sales of other items (drinks, liquor) that can offset the buffet to the extent it's a loss leader.  And fourth, the buffet can be priced high enough that it won't lose too much money.

MoviePass doesn't seem to have many of these factors working in its favor.  People can watch a lot more movies in a month than they can make trips to a buffet table in an evening. There's going to be an adverse selection of heavy users among subscribers, and they don't bring along Jack Sprat wives--the extra business of friends who come to the theater doesn't go to MoviePass, but to the theaters.  And MoviePass doesn't have much in the way of other sale items to offset losses on tickets.  OK, so we've got a really bad business model that will only work if lots of people sign up, but don't actually go to the movies.  This strikes me as different from other subscription models, like gyms.  People are likely to overestimate their likelihood of going to the gym. My guess is that they are much less likely to overestimate how often they'll go to the movies. 

Well, this is all very interesting, but what does it have to do with Credit Slips?  Three things, I think, one dealing with payment systems and secured lending, and the other two dealing with bankruptcy, which seems to be where this is all headed (assuming that MoviePass is not run out of a bankruptcy remote entity). 

Continue reading "MoviePass Bankruptcy Watch" »

Jay Alix v. McKinsey Update

posted by Stephen Lubben

As my summer of poutine, donairs, and nippy waters winds down, a quick post to note that the long-expected motion to dismiss has been filed in the battle between the chapter 11 financial advisors. A McKinsey spokesperson also provided the following statement, which gives some insight into how they intend to respond to this case:

“Jay Alix has waged a years-long crusade against McKinsey & Company to stifle competition in the bankruptcy advisory market. His attempt to bootstrap a disclosure dispute into a RICO action is devoid of any legal basis and obviously intended to do nothing but inflict reputational damage. Courts have previously upheld the appropriateness of McKinsey’s disclosures. This lawsuit is just one more part of Mr. Alix’s anticompetitive campaign to push out of the market a competitor whose deep expertise and unmatched scale deliver superior bankruptcy outcomes.”

Ian Fletcher

posted by Jay Lawrence Westbrook

Ian Fletcher has passed away. He was a very important figure in insolvency law in England and elsewhere and a giant in the international side of our field. His passing is a great loss of a wonderful scholar and friend. His career is described on line at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/laws/people/prof-ian-fletcher and in a posting by the distinguished Dutch scholar Bob Wessels, http://www.bobwessels.nl/blog/2018-07-doc3-passing-away-of-prof-ian-f-fletcher/.

In the Festschrift in his honor I recounted how I met him:

I remember so well my first meeting with that great scholar and teacher Ian Fletcher. I had been astounded to come upon Cross-Border Insolvency: Comparative Dimensions (The Aberystwyth Papers). At a time when international and comparative insolvency was in its infancy, to come upon so sophisticated an editor and author was remarkable. As soon as I could, I hied myself to the very tip of Wales to meet him. I have learned from him and enjoyed his friendship ever since. One reason we fell in so quickly together was a common conviction that international juridical cooperation was a growing necessity and that insolvency presented perhaps the most pressing case for it. As he later put it in his outstanding treatise on international insolvency: “The increased awareness in recent times of the negative consequences of [the] international fragmentation of policy and approach to cross-border insolvency issues has fueled the quest for improved solutions.”

As part of the Internationalist Principle, he wisely advised that: “flexibility and pragmatism must be substituted for the dogmas so beloved of former ages.”

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Passing of Ian Fletcher

posted by Bob Lawless

It is with great sadness that the news reached my desk of the passing of Professor Ian Fletcher of University College London. Ian was a leading international insolvency expert, well known to all of us at Credit Slips, and we extend our condolences to his family and friends. Professor Bob Wessels has a tribute.

Silver Linings Playbook: The Weinstein Co. Chapter 11 Hearings #7 & #8

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Sale closedSince I last wrote on Credit Slips about The Weinstein Co. chapter 11, the sale of the company to Lantern Capital has  closed. Shortly after it closed, it was announced that Harvey Weinstein's brother Bob Weinstein was resigning from the TWC board of directors, along with several others. (If you read the investigative news reporting on TWC last fall through winter, you may be wondering why there hadn't been earlier board turnover. I have no good answer). Also of potential interest is that, after the closing of the sale, Lantern was immediately sued in California state court by another investment firm for breaching written and oral agreements connected with due diligence that allegedly gave Lantern a bidding advantage in buying TWC. 

The seventh public court hearing, on July 11, 2018, paved the way for the sale to close. It was then and there that Judge Sontchi, filling in for Judge Walrath, approved an amendment to the sale agreement reducing the sale price. The judge telegraphed early in hearing #7 that he viewed other pending objections (dealing with executory contracts and default cure amounts, which still remain pending) as collateral attacks on the prior sale order. The objection that would have prompted a bona fide evidentiary hearing, from the creditors' committee, had been settled.  Although hearing #8 on July 18 was extremely brief, it is clear there's much left to be worked out behind the scenes in this case - most notably, how to allocate the money.

It's Been Twelve Years

posted by Bob Lawless

12th BirthdayToday is the twelfth anniversary of the Credit Slips launch date. I always like to mark the date because it is hard to believe that it has been that long. When we started, Barack Obama was a senator, and Elizabeth Warren was blogging (for us and others). The solar system had nine planets. Worldcom was the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history, and we were trying to parse the meaning of the not-always-clear bankruptcy amendments in 2005. OK, we are still trying to do the latter.

Happy birthday to us. Thanks for reading.

And, yes, that is a picture of Zachary Taylor.

Keeping up with the Appointments Clause: Puerto Rico bankruptcy update

posted by Melissa Jacoby

In January I wrote about Aurelius seeking a do-over. In a carefully reasoned thirty-five page decision, the district court has denied the do-over.  Put more legally, the court held that PROMESA's method of establishing the Puerto Rico Oversight Board did not run afoul of the Constitution's Appointments Clause. The Oversight Board is an instrumentality of Puerto Rico, concluded the court, not officers of the United States.

Keeping up with the Contracts Clause: the Supreme Court's decision in Sveen v. Melin

posted by Melissa Jacoby

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Sveen v. Melin, a case applying Contracts Clause* jurisprudence to a state revocation-on-divorce statute and preexisting insurance contract. It isn't like the Supreme Court hears a Contracts Clause case every week, every term, or even every decade. Given its relevance to many Credit Slips topics, such as a financially distressed government unit without bankruptcy access or mortgage/foreclosure crises, it seems worth fostering a conversation about the case here.  

Continue reading "Keeping up with the Contracts Clause: the Supreme Court's decision in Sveen v. Melin" »

Tripling Down on Plain Meaning: Bankruptcy and the Kavanaugh Appointment

posted by Jason Kilborn

It seems fairly clear that, if Trump's latest nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, is sworn in, the Court's trend of resolving virtually all statutory disputes on the basis of "plain meaning" will be cemented in place. An analysis of Kavanaugh's bankruptcy-specific jurisprudence seems unnecessary in light of his fairly clear comments, nicely summarized by Anthony Gaughan over at the Faculty Lounge blog. His rejection of legislative history and search for intent/purpose does not bode well for bankruptcy and consumer-protection disputes, such as Obduskey v. McCarthy & Holthus LLP, the FDCPA case on the Court's docket for next year. Perhaps the words in these statutes are less clear and meaningful than those in the Constitution, but it seems likely that a Justice Kavanaugh would retreat to the comfortable confines of statutory language as frequently as possible to maintain his vision of a passive and unthreatening judiciary. Dust off your Webster's and probably also your Garner!

Unsolicited, Live Check-Credit

posted by Adam Levitin

The Washington Post has an interesting story about consumer installment lender Mariner Finance.  Three brief observations.

First, Mariner has found an interesting regulatory loophole.  The Truth in Lending Act prohibits the issuance of "live," unsolicited credit cards.  That provision, however, only applies to devices that can be used for multiple extensions of credit, not single use items like a check. So Mariner can mail out live checks to consumers (it presumably prescreens a population to target), without running afoul of the federal prohibition on mailing live, unsolicited credit cards.  That's a  creative way of reaching customers without having an extensive and expensive brick-and-mortar presence.  It also avoids some of the adverse selection problems of internet-based lending.

Second, there is no federal preemption obstacle to states prohibiting the issuance of live, unsolicited checks used to create a credit balance. Mariner seems to be the only major firm doing this, and it doesn't have any preemption argument I can see.  

Third, no one should be shocked that large financial institutions provide the money behind Mariner. Large banks don't do small dollar lending themselves; there are too many regulatory and repetitional issues, but they will provide the financing for small dollar lenders, whether by providing lines of credit or by making equity investments in them. And this has political consequences:  the lobby opposing the regulation of small dollar lenders isn't just finance companies, but also the large financial institutions that are funding them.  Consider how that might affect efforts to close the unsolicited live check loophole on either the federal or state level. 

 

Access to Justice, Consumer Bankruptcy Edition

posted by Pamela Foohey

The Great Recession, the CFPB's creation, the rise of debt buying, changes in the debt collection industry, and advances in data collection have encouraged more research recently into issues of access to justice in the context of consumer law and consumer bankruptcy. This spring, the consumer bankruptcy portion of the Emory Bankruptcy Development Journal's annual symposium focused on access to justice and "vindicating the rights of all consumers." Professors Susan Block-Lieb, Kara Bruce, Alexander Sickler, and I spoke at the symposium about how a range of consumer law, finance, and bankruptcy topics converge as issues of access to justice.

We recently posted our accompanying papers (detailed further below) to SSRN. My essay overviews what we know about the barriers people face entering the consumer bankruptcy system, identifies areas for further research, and proposes a couple ideas for improving access to bankruptcy. Susan Block-Lieb’s essay focuses on how cities can assist people dealing with financial troubles. And Kara Bruce’s and Alex Sickler’s co-authored essay reviews the state of FDCPA litigation in chapter 13 cases in light of Midland Funding v. Johnson and explores alternatives to combat the filing of proofs of claim for stale debts.

Continue reading "Access to Justice, Consumer Bankruptcy Edition" »

Hurry Up and Wait: The Weinstein Co. Chapter 11 Hearing #6

posted by Melissa Jacoby

All Credit Slips readers are old enough to remember when a quick going-concern sale of The Weinstein Company was said to be imperative. So much so that even the seemingly skeptical creditors' committee ultimately went along, thus making the request to sell the company to Lantern Capital uncontested.

On June 22, at its 6th hearing, and about 6 weeks after the court's sale approval, TWC essentially acknowledged it cannot close the sale to its stalking horse bidder on the terms requested and approved by the court, and certainly not by the end of June as represented at hearing #5. TWC therefore will be seeking court approval for Lantern to acquire the company for less money than the agreement and court order specified. By the creditors' committee's calculation, TWC is seeking a 11% reduction in the cash price, but that estimate is one of several points of contention between it and TWC. Given the dates and deadlines in various financing orders and deals, TWC said the issue absolutely positively must be resolved in early July - while the presiding judge is out of the country. The parties did not embrace the presiding judge's suggestion of a popular federal court tool: mediation by a fellow sitting judge. So a key outcome of the June 22 hearing is that a different Delaware bankruptcy judge will preside over a July 11 hearing on changing the TWC/Lantern deal. That judge already has held a quickly-scheduled telephonic status conference today, June 25 (see dockets ##1106, 1107).

As an outside observer not privy to the negotiations, I have no idea whether this deal will close. Perhaps due to lack of imagination, I have never understood how a potential purchaser could be deemed the highest and best bid for a company without a basic understanding what contracts and licenses were included. Meanwhile, especially if it was true that some competing bidders could not meet the deadline due to inability to get information from TWC in a timely fashion, significantly changing the deal without resuming some competitive process seems troubling.

No one at the June 22 hearing disputed that general unsecured creditors would be directly affected by TWC's request to change the terms of the sale. But the judge implied some skepticism by asking whether, say, "very secured" creditors have reason to care. The answer depends, it seems to me, on how  "very secured" is determined, due to allocation issues among entities in the TWC corporate family. If there was ever a case to highlight why one should resist the assertion of a single waterfall, it is this one.

 

 

Ohio v. American Express

posted by Adam Levitin

The Supreme Court handed down a disastrous antitrust opinion in Ohio v. American Express.  In a 5-4 opinion the Court's conservative majority held that the district court failed to properly define the relevant market because it looked only at the merchant-side of Amex's business, not the also the consumer side.  The case has far-reaching implications for any so-called "two-sided" markets--basically platform markets that connect buyers and sellers.  Justice Breyer wrote a lengthy and very lucid dissent that tries furiously to cabin the scope of the majority's opinion (explicitly arguing that most of it is dicta).

I'm not going to try to parse through the analysis in the case here, but suffice it to say Justice Thomas's opinion reads like the sort of just-so arm-chair law-and-economic analysis that the academy has largely moved beyond. Justice Breyer scores a lot of points in his dissent.  Damningly, he points out some findings of fact by the District Court that the majority simply wouldn't address, most notably that Amex was able to raise prices 20 times over 5 years without losing appreciable market share and that most of the price increases were retained by Amex, not passed through to its cardholders.  Under any market definition, that should be pretty convincing evidence of an exercise of market power. 

There is also a pretty embarrassing factual mistake in Justice Thomas's opinion.  He writes "Visa and MasterCard earn half of their revenue by collecting interest from their cardholders, Amex does not.”  Visa and MasterCard don’t make ANY money from interest. Their issuer banks do, but their issuer banks are not the networks. If the Court can't get this level of factual description right, it doesn't leave me with much confidence in its ability to parse the economics.

I don't think this ruling completely shuts the door on credit card antitrust litigation, but it makes it harder--plaintiffs will have to plead facts about the consumer half of the card market.  Given that only a fraction of interchange fees actually get passed through to consumers in the form of rewards, I think it's still possible for plaintiffs challenging anti-steering rules to make a case—indeed, I don't see what prevents the state plaintiffs in the case from simply repleading their case, as the decision that now stands is simply that they did not prove their case because they didn't prove market power.  There's no double-jeopardy issue in civil suits, and res judicata here only covers the question of market definition. 

File This Under Calling BS on Bankruptcy Fearmongering

posted by Jason Kilborn

As anyone familiar with bankruptcy would have predicted, the dire predictions of disaster for municipalities seeking bankruptcy protection have proven to be ... let's just say exaggerated. Bloomberg is out with a notable story this morning on Jefferson County's healthy return to the bond market, carrying an investment-grade rating of AA-  within five years of emerging from municipal bankruptcy. This squares with similar accounts of consumers rehabilitating their credit within two to four years of a chapter 7 liquidation-and-discharge (see, for example, here and here). Let's all file this in our "lying liars and their bankruptcy impact lies" file and be prepared to continue to counter this, among the many, many other, bankruptcy scare myths to be debunked.

Combatting Fear of Abuse--A Sisyphean Task?

posted by Jason Kilborn

Over the past few weeks, at conferences with judges and policymakers in Varna (Bulgaria), Seoul, and Beijing, I've been confronted with a surprising degree of skepticism about personal insolvency systems and fear of opportunistic individuals abusing the ability to evade their debts (especially while hiding assets). I've pointed out the interesting progression identifiable in Europe in recent years of a marked relaxation of such fear of abuse, especially in places like France and most recently Slovakia, which have gone all the way to adopting a very US-like open-access system to immediate discharge. For the real skeptics--and they are numerous in Bulgaria and China, both of whom are considering adopting their first personal insolvency laws--these arguments seem to fall on more or less deaf ears. Detractors put me in a no-win situation by offering one of two rejoinders: (1) the incidence of discovered abuse is low in these systems because debtors are crafty or anti-abuse institutions are weak, or (2) anti-abuse institutions like the means test and restrictive access hurdles are successfully dissuading abusers from seeking access, so we need more--not less--of this kind of effort (which I've criticized as wasteful, unnecessary, and counterproductive). A common third response is the classic "we're different" position--that is, any comparative empirical evidence from elsewhere is irrelevant to the new, entirely unique context of [insert skeptical country's name here].

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CFPB Enforcement Paralyzed

posted by Patricia A. McCoy

Normally we say that a law is as strong as its enforcement. On February 7, however, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau raised questions about the enduring strength of the consumer financial laws in its third Request for Information under Acting Director Mick Mulvaney. This time, the topic is CFPB enforcement. It is not hard to guess where this third "RFI" is headed, insofar as only two new enforcement orders have been entered under Mr. Mulvaney to date. In contrast, from the CFPB's inception through November 2017 (when Mr. Mulvaney took office), the Bureau brought a total of 200 public enforcement actions.

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Savings Plans and Chapter 13

posted by Mitu Gulati

David Jones, Chief US Bankruptcy Judge of the Southern District of Texas, has just posted a nifty empirical study of the effects of savings plans on the success of Chapter 13 filings. And, yes, part of the cool study is figuring out how to measure what counts as success in a bankruptcy filing.  The study takes advantage of a natural experiment in the Texas courts and has a bunch of fascinating findings, including about the impact of lawyers and legal culture on the choices that end up being made by the subjects of the bankruptcy proceedings.

Part of the reason I know about this study is that David was doing a graduate degree at Duke (in the judicial masters program) and I got to see the project at its inception stage in the thesis workshop that I run with Jack Knight. All of the credit goes to David though (and his wonderful advisor, John de Figueiredo) -- a fact that will be obvious to my fellow slipsters who know that I don't know squat about Chapter 13. But this is a fun study in terms of the design and findings regardless of whether you love Chapter 13 (okay, I realize that everyone else who reads this blog probably does in fact like or love Chapter 13).  It takes a basic fact about the inevitable fluctuations in expenses that almost everyone has to deal with, and tests what happens when these provision is made for these fluctuations ahead of time (versus when it is not).  Savings plans do indeed seem to make a difference; but a bunch of other factors also appear to matter - some of them quite surprising.  Clearly, as David emphasizes at the end of the paper, there is a lot here that is worthy of further investigation (and maybe legislative change).

The abstract for the draft on ssrn (that is forthcoming in the American Bankruptcy Institute's journal) reads:

This paper examines the effects of debtor savings on the viability of chapter 13 bankruptcy plans. The paper further examines the impact of lawyer culture, debtor participation in the bankruptcy process, and judicial activism in the use of the savings program by chapter 13 debtors. Using a data set of randomly selected chapter 13 bankruptcy cases filed in the Southern District of Texas, the analysis demonstrates that while savings has a direct positive impact on the success of chapter 13 plans, the degree of that success is significantly influenced by the views held by debtors' lawyers, chapter 13 trustees, and judges.

 

Dunning at the Drive-Thru

posted by Adam Levitin

The CFPB announced the first new enforcement action since Mulvaneyshchina.  It's a settlement with an installment lender, Security Group, Inc. (d/b/a under a lot of different names) over unfair debt collection practices.  We now know just how badly a firm has to behave to get in trouble with the Mulvaney CFPB:  

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 12.11.41 PM

If I'm reading this correctly, it sounds as if the debt collectors drove up to drive-thru windows at a fast food restaurants where the consumers worked and dunned them through the drive-thru window.  I imagine it went something like this:  "Where my money, ya lousy deadbeat? Oh, and can I have an Extra Value Meal #2 with a large Coke, please?"  

So now we know:  under the Mulvaney CFPB, there's no dunning at the drive-thru.  And debtor's kids seem to be off-limits too, at least the young ones.  It's good to know that there are still some lines that can't be crossed.    

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The Weinstein Co. Chapter 11 Hearing #5

posted by Melissa Jacoby

The fifth hearing in The Weinstein Co. chapter 11 occurred on June 5, 2018. The hearing included discussion about when the sale to Lantern Capital, approved by the court in early May, will actually close. Among other regulatory and transactional hurdles, TWC's lawyers mentioned that it still is not resolved which contracts will be included in the sale, but they hoped the sale would close within the month.

As for matters that resulted in a ruling, I'll briefly mention two.

  1. Sustaining a United States Trustee objection, the court denied the motion for Harvey Weinstein's October 15, 2015 employment contract to be filed under seal, as the standards of 11 U.S.C. § 107 were not satisfied. That contract is now available on the bankruptcy court docket. The document was filed by the Geiss plaintiffs (stemming from alleged sexual misconduct, discussed below) but TWC was the party advocating for sealing.
  2. The court approved the Geiss parties' motion to lift the automatic stay to permit the Geiss action to go forward against TWC, alongside other defendants, in the Southern District of New York, allowing liquidation of those claims. The SDNY district judge presiding over the Geiss action directed the plaintiffs to file the lift-stay motion; hearing transcripts illustrate his aim to minimize duplication of efforts. Part of TWC's argument against lifting the stay was the classic matter of distraction. Applying the relevant case law to the facts, the court observed that while closing the sale was a complicated matter, TWC was neither reorganizing in a traditional sense or seeking to stabilize its operations at this time. And, as in other cases, the distraction argument may be weakened when separate lawyers are handling the non-bankruptcy litigation. Seyfarth Shaw was representing TWC in the Geiss litigation, at least prior to the bankruptcy (leading the firm to successfully seek payment of its prepetition claim out of an insurance policy, over the creditor committee's objection - seek dkt #1000).

Speaking of professionals, initial interim fee applications for TWC's professionals for March 19-April 30, 2018 were not on the June 5 agenda, but are on the court docket. TWC has NY counsel and local counsel. Just to give you a sense, Cravath's fee application includes over 3,200 hours billed by 27 attorneys (dkt #929). Richards, Layton & Finger's fee application includes over 1,200 hours billed by 16 attorneys (dkt #932). Plus paraprofessionals at these two firms. Billing separately, of course, are FTI Consulting (dkt #870) and Moelis, the investment banker (dkt #946).

The next hearing in TWC's bankruptcy is scheduled for June 22, 2018. The SDNY Geiss action, in the motion to dismiss phase, is also very much worth watching.

The Government-by-Grift Mentality

posted by Adam Levitin

Mick Mulvaney's entirely classless and petty firing of the CFPB's Consumer Advisory Board (CAB) has been amply covered elsewhere. Having served on the CAB from 2012-2015, however, I've got to comment on the statement by Mulvaney's henchman that “The outspoken members of the Consumer Advisory Board seem more concerned about protecting their taxpayer funded junkets to Washington, D.C., and being wined and dined by the Bureau than protecting consumers.”

Put aside that this statement is gratuitously offensive to a bunch of hard working folks who volunteer their time and expertise. The "junkets" I enjoyed from my CAB service involved flying coach with numerous connecting flights, staying at the Days Inn, being transported around in busses, attending full-day working meetings held in windowless rooms at community college campuses in small cities around the US, and then paying for my own dinner. But I sure made out with the free coffee, pastry, and box lunch. 

What's remarkable here is that Mulvaney's flunky believes that people serve in government or on advisory boards for the perks and self-enrichment.  In a world of Pruitt's first class flights, mattress, and security detail, Carson's dining room set, and Mnuchin and his Marie Antoinette jaunting off to see the eclipse on a military flight, not to mention the President and his emoluments plus tax-payer-funded vacations at his Mar-a-Lago timeshare, well, it's just natural to assume that's how everyone operates.  It's a new twist on "government for the people."  It's really sad that it doesn't enter the Mulvaney's dude's head that maybe some of us actually act out of true volunteerism and a desire to make the country a better place. 

The End of Bankruptcy

posted by Jay Lawrence Westbrook

 

 

 

 

Credit Slips/IACCL

The End of Bankruptcy

“Bob Rasmussen, call the Chapter 11 Desk.” Two recent decisions, one on each side of the Atlantic, have enshrined contract bankruptcy—or at least the defeat of bankruptcy law by contract.  Although the context for both was international, in principle they could work for domestic cases as well and at last achieve the demise of bankruptcy law proclaimed in the above-titled 2002 article by Rasmussen and Douglas Baird. The analysis is complex, so this brief note will focus on results and implications.

The cases are Bakhshiyeva in London [Bakhshiyeva -and- Sberbank of Russia, et al., [2018] EWHC 59 (Ch).] and Sun Edison in Manhattan [In re SunEdison, 577 B.R. 120 (2017). Their common ground is that a choice of law clause in a contract may trump the applicability of bankruptcy law to that contract. In the hands of any competent lawyer, the result may be party autonomy in the application of bankruptcy law to contractual obligations, making bankruptcy law largely irrelevant.

Continue reading "The End of Bankruptcy " »

More on "Undue Hardship" and Student Loans in Bankruptcy

posted by Pamela Foohey

Following up on Bob's post earlier this week about the Department of Education's request for information (RFI) regarding evaluating "undue hardship" claims in adversary proceedings to discharge student loans, a group of 23 academics, including myself, also submitted written comments in response. The effort was spearheaded by Slipster Dalié Jiménez. Matthew Bruckner (Howard Law), Brook Gotberg (Missouri Law), and Chrystin Ondersma (Rutgers Law) also were part of the drafting team.

Our primary recommendation is that the Department establish ten categories of borrower circumstances under which the Department would agree to the borrower’s discharge of federal student loans. As with the ABI Commission on Consumer Bankruptcy's comments (and the National Bankruptcy Conference's comments), our categories are designed to offer objective criteria for when the Department should agree to a discharge of student loans. The overall aim of the proposal is to establish clear, easy-to-verify, dire circumstances that merit the Department’s acquiescence to a student loan discharge and thereby promote the efficient use of taxpayer funds. To this end, we also recommend that the Department accept "reasonable proof" that a borrower fits into one of the ten categories without engaging in formal litigation discovery. Our response also calls on the Department to collect and release more data about federal student loans.

OCC Payday Lending Bulletin

posted by Adam Levitin

The Office of Comptroller of the Currency put out a Bulletin this week encouraging banks to make short-term small-dollar installment loans to their customers—basically bank payday loans.  The OCC seems to envision 2-12 month amortizing, level-payment loans, but they're meant to be a payday substitute.  

I suspect many readers of this blog will react with indignation and possibly shock (well, maybe nothing's shocking these days), but I think the issue is more complicated.  Depending on what one sees as being the policy problem posed by payday lending, bank payday lending might make a lot of sense.  Specifically, if one sees the policy issue with payday lending as being its high costs, then bank payday lending (like postal banking) holds out the promise of lower-cost loans. If, however, one sees the policy issue as being about payday borrower’s inability to repay even the principal on their loans, then bank payday lending (or postal payday lending) isn’t a solution at all, but a whitewash. Yet, as we'll see, there's surprising convergence between these positions on the ground in regulatory-land.

Continue reading "OCC Payday Lending Bulletin" »

Student Loans and Other Doings for the ABI Consumer Bankruptcy Commission

posted by Bob Lawless

The American Bankruptcy Institute's Commission on Consumer Bankruptcy has been hard at work (Full disclosure: I am the Commission's reporter.) Yesterday, the Commission submitted written comments to the Department of Education's request for information (RFI) on the "undue hardship" standard for the discharge of student loans in bankruptcy. As the Commissions make clear in the cover letter, our comments respond to the RFI and thus focus on what can be accomplished at the regulatory level. Recommendations for statutory change will appear in our final report. Indeed, we had intended to release only the complete set of recommendations at the end of our work, but given the Department of Education's RFI, the Commission voted to release its recommendations that were responsive.

The Commission's recommendations fall into two broad categories. First, the Commission advocates for the adoption of bright-line rules that will identify persons for whom repayment of student loans will be an undue hardship, such as an existing governmental determination of disability or income below 150% of the federal poverty line. Second, the Commission made a number of recommendations around the judicially crafted Brunner test that courts use to determine undue hardship. You can read the full set of recommendations from the link above.

Continue reading "Student Loans and Other Doings for the ABI Consumer Bankruptcy Commission " »

Shakespeare Meets ALJs: Much Ado About Nothing

posted by Patricia A. McCoy

In a recent oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court, conservatives urged the Court to outlaw the use of administrative law judges (ALJs) in agency enforcement actions.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is paying notice. On January 31, 2018, the CFPB reprised the ALJ debate in its second Request for Information under Acting Director Mick Mulvaney. This RFI asked:  should the CFPB shift course to litigate all of its enforcement cases in federal court and none before ALJs? Suffice it to say, there is less here than meets the eye.

Continue reading "Shakespeare Meets ALJs: Much Ado About Nothing" »

Call for Papers on College Completion and Student Debt

posted by Patricia A. McCoy

For those of you writing on student loans, you may be interested in a new call for papers for a conference I am working to organize. On November 30, 2018, the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy, Boston College Law School, and the National Consumer Law Center will hold a daylong symposium on Post-Secondary Education Non-completion and Student Loan Debt on the Law School campus. Our call for papers is out and we are accepting submissions through midnight on Sunday, June 17, 2018. We are especially interested in proposals that examine some aspect of the interaction among student debt, college completion, and/or resulting socioeconomic outcomes. Do consider submitting.

Epic Systems and the Atomization of Employment Disputes

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Millions of American workers are parties to arbitration agreements that require them to bring claims against their employers in individualized arbitration proceedings (rather than as part of a class or collective action, as authorized by some federal and state laws regulating the workplace). In Epic Systems v. Lewis, a 5:4 majority of the Supreme Court held today that these agreements must be enforced even though the federal National Labor Relations Act declares it an unfair labor practice for an employer to interfere with the ability of employees to engage in “concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” The decision is not unexpected, but it is consequential given the number of affected employees.

The case—really, several consolidated cases—was weird for a number of reasons. The NLRB had concluded that employers who insisted on individualized arbitration were engaged in unfair labor practices. Then, in September 2017, the Board fell under Republican control, and many wondered whether it would continue to defend that position. It did, but the administration worked hard to undermine it. In fact, the Solicitor General, which had previously supported the Board in seeking Supreme Court review, later filed a brief disagreeing with it on the merits.

Continue reading "Epic Systems and the Atomization of Employment Disputes" »

How to Tie CFPB Enforcement Up in Knots

posted by Patricia A. McCoy

While Acting Director Mick Mulvaney is apparently on a tear to defang the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, some of his actions have flown under the radar. In this and future guest blog posts, I will shine light on one key initiative that largely has gone unnoticed:  namely, the twelve Requests for Information that Mr. Mulvaney launched on January 26. These notices, dubbed "RFIs," seek public comment on scaling back every core function of the CFPB, from enforcement and supervision to rulemaking and consumer complaints. 

Although the RFIs provide the veneer of public participation, in reality they are slanted toward industry. Many are couched in such vague language that consumers and consumer advocates cannot tell which rollbacks are gaining traction behind closed doors. Just last week, Mr. Mulvaney raised new concerns that the RFI process is infected with bias when he personally pressed bankers attending a meeting of the National Association of Realtors to file responses to the RFIs. 

Continue reading "How to Tie CFPB Enforcement Up in Knots" »

Welcome (Back) to Patricia McCoy

posted by Bob Lawless

Credit Slips is pleased to welcome back Professor Patricia McCoy as a guest blogger. Professor McCoy is the Liberty Mutual Insurance Professor of Law at Boston College Law School. She is a nationally known scholar, writing in the area of consumer financial regulation area. Professor McCoy worked at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during its earliest days, and I understand some of her guest posts will offer her perspective on the current state of the CFPB. We look forward to her contributions.

Approaching the Middle of the Beginning of the End in Venezuela

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Though none of it is earth-shaking, there has been a lot of news out of Venezuela recently, so it seemed an appropriate time for an update. The election looms. Henri Falcón leads some polls, though those are presumably unreliable indicators, given what Reuters slyly labels Maduro’s “institutional advantages.” A Falcón victory would increase the odds of a restructuring in the near future. A Maduro win might prompt additional U.S. sanctions; the Wall Street Journal (here, also linked above) speculates that these might finally target oil exports.

Continue reading "Approaching the Middle of the Beginning of the End in Venezuela" »

Illegal Repo Practices

posted by Adam Levitin

The Washington Post has an interesting piece about the coming of big data to the auto repossession world. But of particular note is the end of the article, wherein the repo man profiled says that he will return ransom the defaulted borrower's personal goods found in the car back to the buyer for a $50 flat fee (with child car seats given back for free). 

That's probably illegal. The auto lender's security interest extends only to the car, not to personalty that happens to be in the car (were it otherwise, it would violate the FTC Credit Practices Rule).  So the repo man, as the lender's agent, holds that personalty in the car as a bailment; there's no security interest interest in it.  The repo man can't simply destroy it or throw it away--that'd be conversion, and ransoming it back would seem to be some flavor of tort, making the repo many vulnerable to a trover action (for value) or replevin action (for the stuff itself), as well as a UDAP violation.

Now it's possible that there's contractual language in the loan agreement authorizing a storage and inventory fee or the like. But auto loan agreements aren't standardized and that language won't be in all agreements, so a blanket policy like the one described in the article surely isn't right.

As it happens state law in a handful of states (Connecticut, Florida, Maine) authorizes repo man storage fees, but I can't find anything like that in the Ohio Revised Code.  So the repo's practice looks like it's illegal to me.  

Whether or not anyone's going to litigate over this is another matter--Ohio's UDAP statute authorizes recovery of attorneys' fees, which changes the economics of litigation, and there are statutory damages of up to $5K, so with 25,500 repos last year alone there might be enough dollars at stake for a class action to make sense here (and the statute of limitations should cover more than that), but only if there's a defendant who can pay the damages.  I doubt the repo company has the assets to do so, but perhaps the lenders are liable for the repo man's actions.  And I suspect there are arbitration clauses on most auto loan agreements, so that will, at the very least, shield the lenders and perhaps also the repo man.  

Hearing #4 was held in The Weinstein Co. bankruptcy and you won't believe what happened next

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Actually, if you are in and of the corporate restructuring world, you will believe what happened next. Major objections were were resolved by the parties, and the court approved the sale of The Weinstein Co. to Lantern Capital.

Resolving objections without litigation is perceived positively in bankruptcy-land, not to mention in federal courts more generally. Some cash proceeds of the sale will be held back for the next phases of the case, and that is an important development. What, then, makes the situation seem less than satisfying, at least to this outside observer?

Continue reading "Hearing #4 was held in The Weinstein Co. bankruptcy and you won't believe what happened next" »

Thoughts: initial thoughts on the Alix-McKinsey lawsuit

posted by Stephen Lubben

The compliant alleges some damming stuff. McKinsey brushes it all off as an anti-competitive ploy. It seems to me that the biggest risk to McKinsey is that the failure to disclose can itself be the basis for an order to disgorge fees.

McKinsey 2Even if McKinsey might have been retained in these cases if it had made disclosure up front – I don't necessarily agree with the Alix complaint that the alleged connections would have been, in all cases, fatal to their retention – failure to disclose is itself a serious problem. Bankruptcy professionals always have to disclose more than what is required by section 327's adverse interest/disinterested standard, because ultimately what counts as a problem for section 327 purposes is a question for the court, not the professional, to decide.

And I wonder why the courts approved McKinsey's retention applications in the first place. And where was the US Trustee? It is alleged that many of their retention applications stated that McKinsey had no relevant conflicts to disclose.  As in none. For a company of the size and importance of McKinsey, that frankly is not plausible. 

The allegations in paragraphs 120 to 122, which I have cut out in the image, are deeply troubling. In short, Jay Alix alleges that McKinsey recommended law firms to clients, and the law firms in turn recommended McKinsey for retention in the case. Not only might this be illegal, as Alix says, but this sort of relationship would have to be disclosed in the McKinsey (and law firms) retention applications even if not illegal.

Battle of Giants

posted by Stephen Lubben

I have been studying chapter 11 professionals since before the turn of the century, but today we have a first. Jay Alix, as assignee of AlixPartners LLP, has filed a 150 page complaint against McKinsey & Co., Inc. and others, alleging RICO violations in connection with McKinsey's alleged violations of section 327 and rule 2014.  This apparently comes out of the Wall Street Journal's report last week that McKinsey was suspiciously light and vague in its disclosures in bankruptcy court, as compared with other, similar professionals.

The alleged conspiracy goes back to cases during my time in practice – that is, long, long ago. It will be interesting to watch this develop.

Call for Papers: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

posted by Dalié Jiménez

On Friday, January 4 from 10:30-12:15 pm, the section on Commercial & Related Consumer Law and the section on Creditors’ and Debtors’ Rights are hosting a joint panel at the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans. We are also issuing a call for papers

The topic of the panel is: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Past, Present, and Future. 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created following the 2008 financial crisis with the intended goal of making markets for consumer financial products and services work for all Americans. Congress granted the Bureau broad powers to enforce and regulate consumer financial protection laws and entrusted it with a number of consumer-facing responsibilities. This program will examine the tumultuous history of the CFPB, from its creation as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, its actions over Director Richard Cordray’s tenure, the legal fight over who currently leads the Bureau, and the actions of the interim director named by President Trump. Panelists will also discuss the possible future of the CFPB and the “lessons learned” from its history and what they tell us about future fights to ensure consumers are protected in the financial products marketplace.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Patricia McCoy, Liberty Mutual Insurance Professor of Law at Boston College Law and first Assistant Director for Mortgage Markets at the CFPB.
  • Kathleen Engel, Research Professor of Law, Suffolk University School of Law, member of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Board.
  • Deepak Gupta, founding principal of Gupta Wessler PLLC and a former Senior Litigation Counsel and Senior Counsel for Enforcement Strategy at the CFPB. Gupta also represents Leandra English in English v. Trump.

Proposed abstract or draft papers are due by August 15, 2018 and should be submitted using this form to ensure blind review. Members of both sections’ executive committees will review and select papers for the program. The author(s) of the selected paper will be notified by September 28, 2018.

For more information, see the full description of the a call for papers here.

Please direct any questions about this Call to Professors Dalié Jiménez and Lea Krivinskas Shepard.

Loans and Liens: The Weinstein Company Chapter 11 Hearing #3

posted by Melissa Jacoby

CollateralThe third hearing in the The Weinstein Company chapter 11 took place on April 19, 2018 (prior 2 hearings here and here). The hearing focused on final court approval of a $25 million loan to fund the debtor during its chapter 11 (or, really, until a standalone 363 sale) ("DIP loan"). Apparently a competing offer for the DIP loan discussed at Hearing #1 never fully materialized. Prior to the chapter 11 petition, TWC had no single lender/syndicate claiming a so-called blanket lien on substantially all assets (the lender leading the now-approved DIP loan had a prepetition security interest in movie distribution rights held by TWC Domestic, and lenders with prepetition security interests in other assets also are participating in the DIP loan). As indicated in the visual accompanying this post, the DIP financing order states that TWC seeks to grant its DIP lenders a security interest in nearly all property. There are some important exclusions from the collateral package, however, including "claims arising out of or related to sexual misconduct or harassment or employment practices." 

Page 42 of the DIP financing order gives the unsecured creditors committee only until April 27 to investigate validity, perfection, and enforceability of various prepetition liens, although that date can be extended "for cause." As is typical in such agreements these days, TWC stipulated that it will not challenge prepetition loans made by the postpetition lenders. The order and agreement also require immediate payout of the DIP loan from sale proceeds (pp 55 & 138 of docket #267). If I'm reading the DIP lending agreement correctly, it also gives certain prepetition lenders the right to be paid immediately out of sale proceeds (p138 of docket #267). For reasons Credit Slips readers have heard many times before, I don't understand why paying prepetition debts at that juncture is in the best interest of the bankruptcy estate.

Meanwhile, Peg Brickley and Jonathan Randles of The Wall Street Journal have reported three TWC executives "took home more than $12 million in pay, loans, reimbursements" in the year before the bankruptcy, including after sexual misconduct allegations became public. This reporting comes from the schedules and statements of financial affairs filed just a few days ago.

Other updates:

Continue reading "Loans and Liens: The Weinstein Company Chapter 11 Hearing #3" »

Please support empirical study of decision making in business insolvency

posted by Jason Kilborn

Leiden University in the Netherlands has established an impressive strength in insolvency law studies. For example, following his retirement, the eminent Bob Wessels left his massive collection of literature on the subject to a foundation, which permanently lent the collection to the school as the Bob Wessels Insolvency Law Collection. Credit Slips readers can support the efforts of Leiden researchers without parting with their libraries by simply responding to a 15-minute online questionnaire. Niek Strohmaier is a Ph.D. candidate at Leiden conducting a study on judgment and decision making within the areas of business rescue and insolvency law. As he puts it, "We offer a novel perspective on these fields by utilizing the interdisciplinary nature of our research team and by adopting a social sciences approach with empirical research methods." If there's one thing that Credit Slips can rally around, it's empirical research! So I'm hoping we can show Niek our community spirit by responding to his survey at this link (http://leidenuniv.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_51GewBINfBAyfzv). The survey has received a good response from the professional membership of INSOL Europe, but I hope we can supercharge this qualitative data collection with responses from North America and elsewhere, as well. Thanks for your help!

Farewell to Signatures...

posted by Adam Levitin

Here's what all of the commentary I've read has overlooked.  Signatures are utterly irrelevant to consumers except to the extent that the slow down the transaction. (Ok, they also require those germaphobes among us to touch a shared pen when we were doing just great with a contactless NFC transaction). The signature requirement has ZERO effect on consumer liability.  Federal law already limits consumer liability on unauthorized credit card transactions to $50.  But that $50 liability only applies if (1) it is an "accepted card" and (2) the card issuer has provided a means to identify the cardholder, and those limitations mean that consumers are rarely, if ever, actually liable for unauthorized credit card transactions.  Put another way, the statute says $50, but it is basically saying $0.    

Continue reading "Farewell to Signatures..." »

Congressional Review Act Confusion: Indirect Auto Lending Guidance Edition (a/k/a The Fast & the Pointless)

posted by Adam Levitin

Part of the legacy of Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America (can I get damages for breach?) is the Congressional Review Act.  The CRA creates a mechanism whereby Congress can override an agency rulemaking on a simple majority vote in both houses, meaning that it is not subject to the filibuster in the Senate. Congress has only used this tool infrequently, most notably with the CRA resolution overriding the CFPB's arbitration rule. 

Some members of Congress have now turned their CRA sights on various regulatory "guidance" that they find objectionable. This guidance is not formally binding and enforceable law, but other sorts of communications from agencies that help regulated entities understand agency expectations, interpretations, and policies. Among this guidance is the CFPB's Indirect Auto Lending Guidance. I suspect that most of the folks who rail against it have never actually bothered to read it. It's a short document. Most of it is spent explaining what indirect auto lending is. In brief, you can get a car loan from a direct lender who makes the loan directly to you or you can get the loan from the dealer. If you get the loan from the dealer, the dealer will typically turn around and sell the loan to the real lender.  (The exception are buy-here-pay-here used car dealers who keep the loans.)  These indirect lenders include captive finance companies of auto manufacturers, but also banks (e.g., Santander has a large business in this space). The indirect lenders compete for dealer business, not for consumer business, and therein lies the problem. The indirect lenders set a "buy rate"--the minimum interest rate and other terms on the loan at which they will purchase it, but then allow dealers to markup the loan above the buy rate (this is the "dealer reserve," which looks an awful lot like the now-prohibited yield spread premiums on mortgages paid to mortgage brokers).  This sets up a situation in which dealers might engage in discriminatory markups in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The question is whether the indirect lenders face any liability for such discriminatory markups.  

The CFPB's Indirect Auto Lending Guidance notes that this is a possibility as indirect lenders can potentially qualify as "creditors" under ECOA. The guidance then goes on to say that because there are compliance risks, here are some things that indirect lenders should consider doing as part of their compliance programs.  Critically, the guidance doesn't actually say that the CFPB believes that dealers ar "creditors" under ECOA, only that it is possible that they could be, nor does it require that dealers do anything.

It's not clear if there are the votes in Congress to pass the CRA resolution, but even if there are, there are still a bunch of legal questions about whether such a resolution can validly be passed in regard to the Indirect Auto Lending Guidance and what its impact would be. These are discussed below the break. My short answer is that it is very questionable whether the CRA has any application of the Indirect Auto Lending Guidance and even if it does, it is unlikely to have much impact as it doesn't invalidate ECOA or ECOA enforcement actions against indirect lenders. This then raises the question of why the (GOP) wants to spend political capital pursuing a rather pointless resolution.  

Continue reading "Congressional Review Act Confusion: Indirect Auto Lending Guidance Edition (a/k/a The Fast & the Pointless)" »

Tax Reform and Nonprofit Bankruptcy

posted by Pamela Foohey

It's Tax Day! When the new tax bill was debated late last year, a few reports noted an unintended consequence of the bill's expansion of the standard deduction might be decrease people's charitable contributions, in turn harming nonprofits. After the bill passed, I continued to hear comments about the increased standard deductions' potential to cause financial problems for nonprofits, and saw estimates of a loss of $2 billion to the sector. Financial problems, of course, make me think of bankruptcy. And nonprofits make me think about religious organizations, which are the nonprofits I've studied the most in the context of bankruptcy. Tax Day seems like an appropriate day for some thoughts about the tax reform's possible connection to nonprofits' chapter 11 filings, particularly churches' chapter 11 filings.

Continue reading "Tax Reform and Nonprofit Bankruptcy" »

A Series of Proposals to Restructure Venezuelan Debt

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Mitu Gulati and Mark Weidemaier

About two weeks ago, we held a small conference at the University of North Carolina School of Law: How Best to Restructure the Venezuelan Debt. The conference focused on proposals developed this semester by students in our joint UNC-Duke class on international debt finance. Some proposals started fresh; others took an existing idea and built on it. Four student groups presented their work and got feedback from a group of about twenty experienced lawyers, bankers and policy-makers. This was—to our minds—an exceptional group, extraordinarily knowledgeable about sovereign debt markets and with particular insight into Venezuela. Included were Lee Buchheit, Chanda DeLong, Brett House, Fulvio Italiani, Hongtao Jiang, Ruth Krivoy, Trevor Messenger, Siobhan Morden, Katia Porzecanski, and a list of others who we will leave unnamed for confidentiality reasons. We are immensely grateful to all of them for their generosity to us and our students.

After the student presentations, our visiting guests offered their perspectives about the Venezuelan debt crisis. It was a treat for us and our students to hear such experts—all of whom have given a great deal of thought to the crisis—discuss solutions to one of the most complicated restructuring problems in recent history. Not all of the discussion was intended for public consumption, but we have permission to post this video of a terrific conversation between Lee Buchheit and Brett House.

After incorporating feedback from the conference, our students have posted their proposals on SSRN. We are really proud of their work. We pushed them hard, at least as hard as we have pushed any prior class, and they responded in spades. Like every proposal, these have flaws (and some are more plausible than others on the risk-reward continuum). But with that caveat, each represents an immense amount of work and contains new ideas:

PDVSA’s Hail Mary: A Chapter 15 Bankruptcy Solution (Samantha Hovaniec, Ryan Nichols, Matthew Taylor, Heather Werner & Rich Gittings)

Lien-ing on PDVSA: The Positive Side of Negative Pledge (Matt Cramer, Kelsey Moore, Andrea Kropp & Charlie Saad)

The Enduring Legality of Exit Consents: A Realist’s Guide (Steven Diaz, Stephanie Funk, Isabelle Sawhney, Gavin Kim & Austin Rogers)

Oil For Debt: A Unique Proposal For the Unique Problem that is Restructuring Venezuela’s Debt (Aditya Mitra, Andres Ortiz, Bernard Botchway, Evaristo Pereira, Shane O’Neil & Will Curtis)

These papers build on a long line of students papers on topics related to sovereign debt restructuring, some of which have made it to publication. Last year, Dimitrios Lyratzakis and Khaled Fayyad got their proposal, Restructuring Venezuela’s Debt Using Pari Passu, published in the Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law. And sometimes, when the proposals are especially creative or insightful, they manage to get the attention of reporters at the Financial Times, Bloomberg, Reuters, and elsewhere.

"Drinking water from a fire hose:" The Weinstein Company Chapter 11 Hearing #2

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Sale AdNestled in a review of an album by Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls (a/k/a Harry Shearer), the April 10 edition of Variety magazine published a notice of sale of The Weinstein Company. The notice includes a bid deadline of April 30, a sale hearing on May 8, and the soothing assurance to bidders that a buyer would incur "NO SUCCESSOR LIABILITY" (bolded and all-caps) for the heinous acts TWC apparently tolerated and facilitated over many years. The notice anticipates that a buyer might agree to remain liable for some TWC obligations, however, perhaps contemplating valuable licensing contracts.

The Variety notice is a consequence of the second TWC hearing on April 6 (for the first hearing, see here). By the end, objections to the bidding procedures order had been resolved, resulting in docket #190, the order approving the procedures, including a $9.3 million breakup fee and escalating expense reimbursement for the stalking horse bidder if the sale is delayed. The number of times sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape were mentioned at the hearing: zero.

Counsel to the newly-appointed five-member creditors' committee told the court that getting up to speed in this case (no pun intended) was "drinking water from a fire hose." And a battle is brewing over whether bids should be allocated among the various asset categories (again, given the stated complexity) - something the stalking horse bidder seems to resist. Meanwhile, at least one counterparty to a licensing agreement asserts that its contract was rescinded prior to the filing. Assuming it loses that fight, the party worries it will have insufficient time to consider whether the asset buyer is providing adequate assurance of future performance.

This case invites the caustic lament, "if only the Bankruptcy Code drafters had established a fair and transparent process to deal with all of these issues!" When Harry Shearer decides to send his imaginary-band bassist into a quiet retirement, maybe he will make a film about chapter 11. After all, fairness rocks.

 

Trump’s Bank Regulators

posted by Alan White

ProPublica’s new web site “Trump Town” tracks political appointees across federal agencies. In light of the president’s promises to “drain the swamp”, it is interesting to peruse some of the Treasury Department appointees responsible for bank regulation. I previously wrote about Secretary Mnuchin and Comptroller Joseph Otting and their connections to subprime mortgage foreclosure profiteers. Lower-level political appointees at Treasury seem to come mostly from one of three backgrounds – lawyers and lobbyists for banks, real estate investors (and sometimes Trump campaign officials), or former staffers for Republican members of Congress. Here are some examples:

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Junk Cities: Insolvency Crises in Overlapping Municipalities

posted by Adam Levitin

I have a new paper out on municipal insolvency. It's called "Junk Cities:  Resolving Insolvency Crises in Overlapping Municipalities," 107 Cal. L. Rev (forthcoming 2019).  The paper is co-authored with Aurelia Chaudhury and David Schleicher. The launching point for the paper is the observation that there are frequently overlapping local government jurisdictions--cities, counties, school districts, water districts, park districts, hospital districts, sewer and sanitary districts, forest preserves, etc. These overlapping jurisdictions share a common revenue source--the same set of taxpayers. This means that they have correlated exposure to economic downturns or population declines. It also means that they face a common pool problem in terms of revenue generation, and they frequently lack coordination mechanisms whether formal or informal (such as political "machines").

The correlated economic exposure plus the common pool problem for revenues increases the likelihood of simultaneous financial crises for these overlapping jurisdictions. Chapter 9 bankruptcy, unfortunately lacks the tools to deal with the inter-governmental coordination problem. The techniques used for handling multi-entity debtors in Chapter 11--joint administration, deemed consolidation for voting and distribution purposes, and (in the extreme) full substantive consolidation do not work for municipalities that lack common corporate control and have much clearer separation of assets and liabilities.  Chapter 9 does not currently have the capacity for considering a shared revenue source that is not an asset per se.  Our paper identifies the nature of the overlapping municipal financial crisis problem, discusses why Chapter 9 is inadequate, and proposes a number of solutions ranging from incremental doctrinal improvements in Chapter 9 to the adoption of a "Big MAC Combo" (or perhaps a "supersize Big MAC") mechanism for coordinating the finances of overlapping municipalities. The abstract is below the break. 

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