73 posts categorized "Municipal Bankruptcy"

Puerto Rico Bankruptcy: More on Audio

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Standing Order 8As my last post mentioned, release of hearing audio recordings does not appear to be standard practice in the District of Puerto Rico district court. But that isn't for lack of authority within that court. Standing Order 8, adopted in 2011, expressed with some pride that the District of Puerto Rico would be the "first in the entire Nation" after the pilot program (discussed in prior post) to make audio files available through PACER. The order makes clear that the recording is not the official record, preserving the role of court reporters. The use of the technology is left to the discretion of the presiding judge. The court's website indicates this order remains in effect.

Ideally recordings of the Puerto Rico hearings would be released for free on the court's website. But even if posted only on PACER for a flat fee, opting into this practice would increase accessibility. 

Puerto Rico Bankruptcy: Audio Recordings?

posted by Melissa Jacoby

As noted as an update in the prior post, May 17 is the first hearing in Puerto Rico's PROMESA restructuring cases (which also have new case numbers). However much interest these cases hold for the professional bankruptcy world, they are of critical importance to Puerto Rico residents. The idea of a government unit being bankrupt is frightening, with the anxiety heightened when the extent to which one's elected officials remain in charge is unclear. Sensitive to the number of stakeholders and high public interest, the courthouse has overflow space reserved for the first hearing. But even a capacious courthouse imposes natural limits on the in-person population.

If the court released audio recordings of hearings for free on its website, as happened in the Detroit bankruptcy, that would provide a window into the federal court process that could help build trust and legitimacy. Ordering and using hearing transcripts is critical to many parties and their lawyers, but that process is not a feasible form of education and access for others. In addition to being prohibitively expensive for residents to acquire, especially on an expedited basis, written transcripts provide insufficient contextual cues for those less familiar with federal courts and lawyers.

Releasing digital recordings does not appear to be standard practice in the District of Puerto Rico. Might this be an opportune moment for an experiment, or at least an exception?*

Continue reading "Puerto Rico Bankruptcy: Audio Recordings? " »

Puerto Rico Bankruptcy: Week One

posted by Melissa Jacoby

[May 10 update: a hearing has now been scheduled for May 17] 

It is nearing the one-week anniversary of the biggest government bankruptcy in U.S. history: the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

  1. The debtor(s) and cases: So far, Puerto Rico's Oversight Board has filed the equivalent of a bankruptcy petition for the Commonwealth (17-1578) and COFINA (17-1599). Bond insurers have filed the equivalent of an adversary proceeding (17-1584). The Oversight Board has retained Prime Clerk, so dockets will be available to those who don't have access to PACER, Bloomberg Law, etc. In Detroit's bankruptcy, digital recordings of nearly all hearings were posted for the public, usually within 24 hours; I hope the same will be true for Puerto Rico, but so far I have not seen an indication either way on the District of Puerto Rico's PROMESA web page.
  2. Presiding judge: PROMESA greatly restricted Chief Justice Roberts' choice of presiding judge by excluding bankruptcy judges. Thus, it is especially a relief that a wonderful district judge with bankruptcy court experience has accepted Chief Justice Roberts' request to preside. Judge Swain will sit by designation in the District of Puerto Rico
  3. Venue: The Oversight Board filed in the District of Puerto Rico, rather than New York, which was also a venue option. Filing in San Juan makes hearings accessible for more residents (creditors or not) who are deeply affected by the Commonwealth's financial situation. Curiously, a New York Times story attributes to the Oversight Board's outside counsel the proposition that the presiding judge "has the option of holding proceedings" in Manhattan as well as in San Juan. I don't read the Judicial Code and Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, particularly 5001, to be so flexible (PROMESA makes the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure applicable to these actions). Absent venue transfer or an emergency, it is reasonable to expect hearings to take place in Puerto Rico.
  4. Eligibility: PROMESA did not adopt the municipal bankruptcy eligibility test wholesale, although it incorporated parts. It sounds like some creditors may challenge eligibility and/or whether the Oversight Board satisfied the restructuring duties set forth in PROMESA. It is hard to imagine these cases getting dismissed on such grounds, but we will get a better sense from the parties' pleadings when and if they are filed.
  5. What else is formally pending: The docket does not yet reflect the magnitude of the case to come. As in municipal bankruptcy, Puerto Rico's filings created no bankruptcy estate and the debtors do not need federal court approval for decisions and expenditures to the same extent as, say, chapter 11 debtors. Thus far, the court docket is populated primarily by requests for notice and pro hac vice admission by lawyers. Also pending is a motion for the appointment of a retiree committee. Retiree committees have been common in municipal bankruptcies, but there remains the question of who will pay the committee's expenses in this case. Another twist is that the motion asks the court to restrict the member appointment discretion of the United States Trustee, requiring that the committee be constituted from a preexisting ad hoc committee. Yet another indication, perhaps, that this case will be a challenge from top to bottom.

Judge Selection in Municipal Bankruptcy and PROMESA

posted by Melissa Jacoby

In light of the timeline on the Puerto Rico debt situation, I have just posted on SSRN a contribution to the ABLJ/ABA symposium last fall. The paper examines PROMESA's judicial selection requirements applicable to a Puerto Rico Title III filing (the equivalent of a bankruptcy), and puts them in the context of municipal bankruptcy history.  This paper can be downloaded here.

Brooklyn Law School Conference on Public Debt

posted by Melissa Jacoby

AboutthesymposiumOn March 1, 2016, Credit Slips commenced a virtual symposium on Puerto Rico's financial crisis. Where do things stand today, a year later? And what governance lessons can be learned from municipal bankruptcy cases like Detroit for the public debt problems of tomorrow? Thanks to a fortuitously timed conference at Brooklyn Law School, a subset of Slipsters will be considering these very questions on Friday March 3, 2017. Check out the agenda and join us in Brooklyn - register here today.

Chapter 9's Cabinet of Constitutional Curiosities: Ongoing Constitutional Violations

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Just a handful of modern big-city bankruptcies have revealed foundational questions about chapter 9's fit within federal courts and constitutional jurisprudence. Given that chapter 9 no longer is simply an adjustment of bond debt, bankrupt cities restructure a wide range of claims in their plans, including those arising from long-lingering disputes; to this point, a Ninth Circuit panel just heard oral argument on a dispute from Stockton's exercise of its eminent domain power twelve years before Stockton filed its chapter 9 petition, only to put the case on hold pending rehearing en banc of a chapter 11 equitable mootness dispute. But my commentary today focuses on the impact of events and decisions during a bankruptcy case. If cases no longer must be prepackaged, a city's decisionmakers have a longer period of automatic stay protection during which to act in ways that might generate controversy, causes of action, or both.

Recall, for example, Detroit's headline-making residential water shutoff policies and practices. The bankruptcy court used informal control to coax the city into increasing protections for low-income residents. In response to an adversary proceeding requesting more formal intervention, the bankruptcy court held it did not have the power to enter an order enjoining the policy or directing changes. But Judge Rhodes' analysis included a significant caveat: in a follow-up written ruling, Judge Rhodes held that section 904 of the Bankruptcy Code does not shield a municipal debtor from injunctions of ongoing constitutional violations:

The Court concludes that § 904 does not protect the City from the bankruptcy court's jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' constitutional claims because the City does not have the "governmental power" to violate the due process and equal protection mandates of the Constitution [citations omitted]. The City must comply with those constitutional mandates [citation omitted]. Accordingly, the Court concludes that those claims, unlike the plaintiffs' other claims, do survive the City's § 904 challenge.

Lyda v. City of Detroit, 2014 WL 6474081 at *5 (Bankr. E.D. Mich., Nov. 19, 2014). That holding did not get the Lyda plaintiffs far because, according to the court, the allegations failed to state a constitutional claim on which relief could be granted. The adversary proceeding was dismissed. Judge Rhodes' decision rightly signaled, though, that a municipal bankruptcy petition is not a license to engage in constitutional violations without consequence. The district court had affirmed the ruling. Lyda v. City of Detroit, 2015 WL 5461463 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 16, 2015).

Last week, the Sixth Circuit reversed the portion of the bankruptcy court's decision on the relationship between section 904 and alleged ongoing constitutional harms. The reversal did not change the outcome for the parties, but generates a troubling question: can municipal bankruptcy allow a city to continue to violate constitutional rights with no redress? Surely the answer must be "no"?

Continue reading "Chapter 9's Cabinet of Constitutional Curiosities: Ongoing Constitutional Violations" »

Police Misconduct in Bankrupt Cities: Ninth Circuit Update

posted by Melissa Jacoby

"But Chapter 9 has awakened, and we do not presume further disputes over its interpretive and practical complexities will remain long at rest."

So says a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Deocampo v. Potts (14-16192), filed since the last Credit Slips posting about civil rights debts in municipal bankruptcy. My working paper is newly revised to discuss the Ninth Circuit's ruling. Just a few points here.

The Ninth Circuit reached the right result in holding that the Vallejo bankruptcy did not relieve the police officer defendants of their individual liability for 1983 violations (excessive force). The court also held that Vallejo's state law obligation to indemnify the police officer defendants was not discharged by the city's bankruptcy, arising as it did after the city received its discharge.

Another element of the opinion should alarm civil rights advocates, however. For example, although it does not decide the issue, the panel suggests a surprising (especially for the Ninth Circuit) level of openness to explicit non-debtor releases of police officers in municipal bankruptcy restructuring plans. Surely everyone involved with the pending San Bernardino case is paying close attention.

Police Misconduct in Bankrupt Cities

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Bankruptcy filings by major cities have reinvigorated attention to municipal bankruptcy. As chapter 9 and its application have become more like chapter 11, a wide range of creditors are being swept into the process. As written before, city cases now have classes of general unsecured creditors. Those classes also have been including plaintiffs in civil rights lawsuits alleging unconstitutional police conduct. The proposed payouts vary.  San Bernardino's bankruptcy plan, which seeks to release the liability of non-debtor officers as well as the debtor, has been proposing a 1% payout. The confirmation hearing is currently set for October 2016.  Some cities with systemic police practice problems - Ferguson, Chicago - also are known to have pervasive financial difficulties. I am not suggesting or predicting they will end up in bankruptcy, but it is another reminder that civil rights advocates need to be up to speed on the impact of chapter 9, if only to be able to bargain in its shadow as other types of creditors do.

I have just posted a paper on this topic (revised and updated from a version posted earlier this summer). It walks through the issues and gives three brief case studies. Feedback from the Credit Slips readership would be very welcome, and/but please also pass along the link to civil rights lawyers who do § 1983 litigation. Here is the brief abstract:

When a financially distressed city files for bankruptcy, recovery for civil rights violations is at risk. This article examines the impact of bankruptcy on civil rights claims, with an emphasis on allegations of police misconduct resulting in lawsuits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We walk through how a bankruptcy filing affects civil rights plaintiffs, starting with the immediate injunction against litigation and debt collection activity, and ending with the legal release of debt and a restructuring plan. Using primary source materials, we offer three brief case studies: Detroit, Vallejo, and San Bernardino. We conclude with suggestions on where to go from here in research and advocacy.

PROMESA and the Recovery Act

posted by Stephen Lubben

It has become something like conventional wisdom that the pending SCOTUS case involving the Recovery Act is no longer relevant. After all, the giant interest payment due July 1 is largely attributable to GO bonds, and the Commonwealth itself is not even subject to the Recovery Act. And the pending PROMESA bill would expressly override the Recovery Act.

Taking the last point first, we should not assume that PROMESA will be enacted before the Supreme Court rules. Indeed, there are many political reasons why Congress – the Senate in particular – might want to wait until the Supreme Court acts before advancing PROMESA. 

Moreover, what the Supreme Court says with regard to the Recovery Act matters. For example, what if they rule that the 1984 addition of section 101's definition of "State" was impermissible, in the way that it treated the Commonwealth? That might render the Recovery Act subject to section 903 preemption, while at the same time allowing Puerto Rico the ability to authorize its municipal entities to file under chapter 9.

That could possibly force some rethinking of PROMESA, although I think we will still see some legislation. The details might change, however, if SCOTUS effectively amends the current Bankruptcy Code.

On the other hand, if the Recovery Act is upheld, what would stop Puerto Rico from expanding it to cover much more of the overall capital structure at issue? And the Recovery Act might serve as a model for a statue that could apply to the Commonwealth itself.

That, of course, might provide further incentives to pass PROMESA.  Quickly.

In short, the Recovery Act is still important, just not in its present form. The current Recovery Act is too narrow to solve very much of the Commonwealth's problems. But what the Supreme Court has to say with regard to the Recovery Act might be very important.

To mention one final point in this regard, what if SCOTUS says that the Commonwealth is unlike other territories? PROMESA purports to be grounded in Congress' power over territories under Article IV, section 3 ...

PROMESA Observations

posted by Stephen Lubben

After taking a look at titles III and VI of the new draft, some quick observations:

  • After some waffling between drafts, it is now clear that title III cases will be heard by district court judges. The judge for a case involving a territory (as opposed to a sub-entity) will be chosen by the Chief Justice. Venue will either be in the territory, or in another place where the oversight board has an office. As I've previously noted, that clearly opens up the possibility of New York.
  • One draft of the bill had incorporated sections 327 et al. regarding professional retention and compensation. I noted that was inconsistent with chapter 9, and incorporation of those sections disappeared in the next draft. Now the new draft has its own professional compensation provision in proposed section 316 (see also section 317).
  • Title VI continues to be a provision that is rather obviously stapled onto the larger bill:  see, for example, section 601, which redefines "Oversight Board" as "Administrative Supervisor" for purposes of Title VI alone.  I have a suggestion:  there is a "find and replace" function in Word ...
  • I continue to worry that title VI's process for splitting bondholders up into various "pools" is a morass waiting to happen, especially given the possibility of competing workout proposals under title VI.
  • That said, much of the "gating" features of the previous versions of title VI are now gone (i.e., it seems it would now be possible to go directly to title III, subject to the oversight board's 5 out of 7 vote).
  • The composition of the oversight board gets more convoluted with each iteration of the bill.

Overall, although the bill is not necessarily "ideal" or "optimal," it seems to at least be making forward progress.  Of course, the Senate has not weighed in at all on this ... at least not publicly. And we should probably expect that even when enacted the bill is apt to be hit with a Recovery Act style Constitutional challenge.

PROMESA Amusement

posted by Stephen Lubben

I'm still working through the new draft of the PROMESA bill, which readers will recall provides new restructuring options for US territories (including Puerto Rico, of course). But I have to say I got a chuckle out of proposed section 303(3), which provides:

unlawful executive orders that alter, amend, or modify rights of holders of any debt of the territory or territorial instrumentality, or that divert funds from one territorial instrumentality to another or to the territory, shall be preempted by this Act.

If the orders are unlawful, do we really need a federal statute to preempt them?

Puerto Rico: Legislative Update

posted by Stephen Lubben

It appears that the House legislation has bogged down.  Two or three issues keep coming up, none of which make a whole lot of sense:

First, "bailouts."  I'm not sure if people making this argument actually believe it or are just using a convenient, politically toxic buzzword. But the claim that extending chapter 9 to include some or all of Puerto Rico constitutes a "bailout" can't really be taken seriously. A bailout involves (a) the use of taxpayer money to (b) help investors avoid realizing risks they voluntarily agreed to take.

Neither is applicable here. Instead, this is the basic insolvency process doing its thing. Namely, losses will be allocated pro rata if bankruptcy applies.  But no taxpayer money is involved, and in no case are investors being saved from their own poor investment choices.

Second, expanding chapter 9 does not raise takings or other scary "retroactivity" problems. If it did, then Congress could never have enacted chapter 9 in the first place. After all, there was no chapter 9 until there was a chapter 9.

More generally, it is quite clear that unsecured bondholders do not have a valid takings claim (under the Fifth Amendment) as a result of the enactment of a new bankruptcy law, in any context. For example, if a secured creditor is owed $1,000 and has a lien on a house worth $400, a new bankruptcy law that discharges the $600 unsecured portion of the claim raises no constitutional issues. That's Congress' power under the Bankruptcy Clause in action. A law that resulted in the creditor obtaining substantially less than $400 on the secured portion might raise a constitutional question, because the secured portion of a claim is "property" for these purposes. But that still does not prevent the rescheduling of secured debt, just the complete elimination of it.

And finally, no, no, no this does not open the door to Illinois filing for chapter 9. Illinois is a state, with full 11th Amendment and 10th Amendment powers. Puerto Rico is a territory of uncertain legal status. Apples ≠ Oranges.

 

Puerto Rico Restructuring Options That Don't Rely on Congress

posted by Mark Weidemaier

The revised draft PROMESA bill (available here) is now under debate in Congress. The bill appears to respond to some early criticisms, although its length and complexity obscures answers to some important questions. Under the circumstances, it seems sensible for the Commonwealth to consider all of its options, including those that do not require Congressional action. These include, as Mitu Gulati and I write in the Financial Times (here, subscription required), changing Puerto Rico's own law in ways that might facilitate a restructuring. 

We asked law students in a class we taught jointly at the University of North Carolina and Duke to consider ways the Commonwealth could restructure without Congressional authorization. Working in groups, they came up with some answers that are both creative and plausible. That doesn't necessarily mean easy or agreeable from the perspective of Commonwealth politicians. Some proposals envision amending Puerto Rico's constitution, while others rely on provisions of Puerto Rico law that authorize collectively binding debt modifications but that haven't been previously applied in this context. The important point, however, is that Puerto Rico may have a wider range of options than many think. The attractiveness of these options is relative. If Congress cannot provide an effective restructuring mechanism that respects the Commonwealth's right to democratic governance, other lawful options will begin to seem more attractive. Two of the student groups have made their work available on-line; their short papers can be found at the links above.

Puerto Rico: PROMESA draft bill, title III revised

posted by Stephen Lubben

I again offer some initial thoughts on the revised draft bill, now subject to much debate in Congress:

  • The bill now clearly provides for reference of cases from the district court to the bankruptcy court
  • There is no longer a requirement that the oversight board have an office in D.C. But the board can have offices outside of the territory it is overseeing. As Jacoby has previously noted, this opens up the possibility that cases could be filed outside of the territory, which for present purposes of course means Puerto Rico. The most obvious locale would be New York, where an board office might make sense for negotiations with bondholders.
  • I don't see a provision comparable to §921(b), which would allow for the selection of a specific judge to preside over the case.
  • The provisions regarding professional compensation and retention are no longer incorporated into title III, so title III becomes more like chapter 9 in this respect.
  • Those parts of chapter 9 that are not incorporated into title III are largely set forth within title III itself – e.g., §§929, 941, 943. Title III is chapter 9+ in all but name. The bill expressly provides that it will not be codified in title 11, however.
  • I wonder if all the implications of the definition of "trustee" in title III to mean "the board" have been thought through. For example, do they intend this to apply with regard to section 926, which is incorporated into title III?
  • The relationship between the board and the debtor during the case generally seems like it will be quite confusing. Under proposed section 315, the board will act on behalf of the debtor throughout the case, but in other instances the bill speaks as though the debtor itself will be taking action in the case.

Puerto Rico: The Commonwealth Plays Hardball

posted by Stephen Lubben

The question is whether it is playing against the House of Representatives, and its heavy handed PROMESA draft bill, or its creditors.

In any event, according to the Financial Times, Puerto Rico's legislature has passed a law giving its governor "the power to declare a state of emergency and halt payments to creditors until January 2017."

There is a long history of these sorts of laws in the United States, most from the Nineteenth Century, although there were a few in the Great Depression too.  Most were eventually struck down as violations of the Contracts Clause, but collection against Puerto Rico itself might run up against whatever sovereign immunity the Commonwealth might posses.

Puerto Rico: PROMESA draft bill, title III (initial thoughts)

posted by Stephen Lubben

Some quick thoughts on the "bankruptcy" part of the proposed bill:

  • If we read Ry. Labor Execs.’ Ass’n v. Gibbons, 455 U.S. 457 (1982) carefully, especially its discussion of the Commerce Clause, I'm not sure it really matters that this is proposed under Congress' territories powers, rather than the Bankruptcy Clause.
  • Proposed title III incorporates all of the same provisions that section 901 of the Code incorporates into chapter 9, other than section 301.
  • The proposed title also incorporates section 327 to 331, so apparently the court will have oversight of professionals under the procedure.
  • Speaking of courts, I see no provisions to move cases under title III to the local bankruptcy court. In short, these cases will stay with the district judges. It's unclear which district, as Jacoby notes.
  • Presumably the lack of a reference concept is driven by the same considerations that keeps the district courts involved in the various proposed "chapter 14" procedures for financial institutions. On the other hand, the district judges in almost every district tend to be from public law backgrounds, and largely have no experience with insolvency law.

So this will be a chapter 9 preceding in all but name, with the oversight board acting for the debtor, whether the debtor likes it or not, in front of district judge who will be reading up on chapter 9 on the fly. In short, we are reinventing the wheel in a new, more complicated way.

Puerto Rico: Debt Restructuring and Takings Law

posted by Melissa Jacoby

ConstitutionPer the last words of my PROMESA post, click here for an interview with Professor Charles Tabb, who discusses the (limited) impact of the Takings Clause on debt restructuring and moratorium legislation. 

Constitution image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Puerto Rico: PROMESAnkruptcy

posted by Melissa Jacoby

301The House Natural Resources Committee has released draft legislation - with the acroynym PROMESA - in response to Puerto Rico's financial crisis and Speaker Ryan's call for action. The contents continued to shift over the past few days but a recent version is here. PROMESA spans many topics, including an oversight board, employment law, infrastructure, and beyond. Without detracting from the importance of this range of topics, this is Credit Slips, so these initial observations focus on debt restructuring provisions principally housed in Title III of the bill.

  1. PROMESAnkruptcy: The new territorial debt restructuring law would not be in title 11 (home of the Bankruptcy Code). But as shown in the visual, section 301 incorporates many key title 11/Bankruptcy Code provisions, including automatic stay, financing, majority voting rules, cramdown, discharge, and the discharge injunction. Other sections of PROMESA repurpose title 11 provisions with slight tweaks, while still others expressly depart from current bankruptcy law and make new rules. For the lawyers, also note that the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure also apply (section 308). Still, the drafters don't want to call it bankruptcy or chapter 9. Okay. I commend the drafters for recognizing the importance of a mechanism to bind holdouts and I'll call it whatever they want, within reason. PROMESAnkruptcy may sound a little funny, but let's be clear that Puerto Rico's dire situation is no joke. 

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Puerto Rico: The Recovery Act's Potential Second Wind

posted by Melissa Jacoby

 

This post continues the long-running Credit Slips discussion of Puerto Rico's Recovery Act, now the subject of U.S. Supreme Court review in Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust, 15-233, as indicated in Lubben's recent post and in last week's preview. In the video above, posted with permission of the American Bankruptcy Institute, I interview Bill Rochelle, who was at the Supreme Court for oral argument and makes some intriguing predictions on the vote, timing of issuing the opinion, judicial selection, and other matters. A few more reflections below the break.

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Lessons for Puerto Rico from ... Arkansas?

posted by Jason Kilborn

I did not realize that a US state had defaulted on its bonds, offering a historical comparative example of the difficulties facing Puerto Rico, its creditors, and mostly its citizens if the mess there is not subjected to an orderly, judicially supervised debt cleanup process of some kind. In a new working paper from the Cleveland Fed, O. Emre Ergungor tells the interesting story of the Depression-era default by Arkansas on various road construction bonds and its messy and politically charged path to a workout. A couple of apparent lessons are troubling. First, reaffirming the aphorism that $#!@ rolls downhill, most of the pain was suffered by Arkansas citizens and ordinary creditors, with bondholders pulling every available lever to ensure a soft landing for themselves. Ergungor sums up this lesson nicely: "in the absence of a dedicated judicial process for preserving the governmental functions of a state in debt renegotiations, sovereignty offers meager protections for the interests of the general public." Second, in a prophetic warning about bailouts, Ergungor describes the intervention of the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation to provide liquidity for a refinancing of the workout bonds years later. As one would expect, a Chicago Tribune article took the feds to task for helping Arkansas in this way, insisting that the RFC chief "ought to be willing to to do as much for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, and all the rest of the states." I know Illinois would surely appreciate some federal support for its current behemoth pension burden. If the Executive intervenes in the Puerto Rico situation today, will we see another Tribune article like the one that criticized selective federal intervention for Arkansas? Does it matter that, technically, it is Puerto Rico's sub-units that are in distress, not the Territory itself? I struggle to understand even what all the issues are in the Puerto Rico debate, but Ergungor's paper helps me to put at least the financial problems in some useful context.

Puerto Rico: Further Supreme Court Thoughts

posted by Stephen Lubben

So Noah Feldman has a column up on Bloomberg that suggests that section 903(1) of the Code should clearly apply to the Commonwealth. It's a sensible argument, if you read that section entirely in isolation and know nothing about the overall structure of the Bankruptcy Code.

And while I say that intending a bit of the obvious snark – what else could be expected, he’s suggesting that my analysis is essentially daft – it is important to remember that the Supreme Court is not made up of bankruptcy experts. Thus, his column provides a fairly clear analysis of how Puerto Rico might still lose, despite the apparent leanings of the Justices in yesterday’s oral argument.

So if there is a non-frivolous argument for preemption of the Recovery Act, why do I think the Court might still overturn the First Circuit? It could happen one of two ways.

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Puerto Rico: Supreme Court Argument

posted by Stephen Lubben

The transcript can be found here.  Based on my initial read, it seems like the First Circuit might be reversed, which opens up all the issues Jacoby noted earlier (namely, will the statute pass Contracts Clause review – assuming the Clause even applies to the Commonwealth).

Puerto Rico: Help Still Wanted

posted by Melissa Jacoby

BranchFor the past two weeks, Credit Slips posts have considered the role of the Executive Branch in facilitating a Puerto Rico debt restructuring in the absence of Congressional action. That constraint is hereby relaxed, and thus future posts may well include the role of Congress and the judiciary in various combinations. For example, whatever one's view of the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies, they show that the administration can shape a restructuring by working within the framework of formal bankruptcy law. Imagine, for example, that Congress adopts the most modest of the proposals, H.R. 870, which merely fixes the unfortunate exclusion of Puerto Rico municipalities from ordinary chapter 9. The administration could put together post-filing financing packages with the stream of loan proceeds conditioned on the inclusion of various covenants, including those imposing fiscal reforms.  

Meanwhile, March 22 is drawing near. On that date, the United States Supreme Court will review a legal challenge to the Puerto Rico Public Corporation Debt Enforcement and Recovery Act. Below the jump are reminders and new points about the role of this court fight in Puerto Rico's debt crisis and why Congress and the Executive Branch are not off the hook. 

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Lessons on Puerto Rico Bonds from the Financial Crisis

posted by Katie Porter

With a fiasco as big as the financial crisis, one of the only positive outcomes is there are a lot of lessons for the future. As Credit Slips thinks about how the administration might influence the resolution of Puerto Rico's bond problems, I think there are a few points from the financial crisis to consider.

First, and foremost, is the importance of explaining the issue. Particularly in times of crisis, the explanation/education end of things tends to be pushed to the back of policymakers. "Action" is favored over explanation, but ultimately if the public does not understand what is at stake and the administration's goals, the White House and others quickly have to waste time on the defensive or retreat into silence. Neither strategy helps the problem. One need only look at all the calls to audit or disband the Federal Reserve Board in the wake of the crisis actions around Bear Stearns to see the long-term problems that come from policy without a good public relations campaign. If you need another example, read this great and short piece by William Sage, called Brand New Law! The Need to Market Health Care Reform.

Second, lawyers are fairly lousy at administration. They negotiate hard but the practicability of getting relief is not their strength. We can take a lot of blame for this as law school professors, in that we should teach skills in organizational behavior, project management, etc, especially for those interested in policy. With the financial crisis, the problem was not that the HAMP loan modification term was too stingy or bad on its substance. The problem was severe delays and tangles in rolling out the relief. Jean Braucher has an excellent piece--the title, Humpty Dumpty and the Foreclosure Crisis, gives away the punchline. Whatever is done with respect to Puerto Rico needs to be efficiently administered. In this regard, I think the involvement of seasoned chapter 11 bankruptcy lawyers is a great development. These lawyers are used to being keenly focused on administrative costs in an insolvency situation, and provide a much needed counter-perspective to traditional Washington policymakers. I think if more consumer bankruptcy lawyers had been consulted during the design of HAMP and similar Making Homes Affordable programs, those programs could have been more consumer-friendly, using where people stumble in bankruptcy to identify likely obstacles in obtaining a loan modification (such as submitting paperwork and describing one's own financial situation accurately).

Third, and finally I think the financial crisis reminds us not to get lost in the billions of dollars at stake and the high finance concepts. Behind every bond, there are real people--investors, Puerto Rican residents, taxpayers, and others. The quality of a solution to Puerto Rico's financial problems is not a Wall Street issue; it is a Main Street issue.

Puerto Rico Bondholders: Fact and Fantasy

posted by Katie Porter

When I think about "bondholders," I tend to think about their lawyers. (That probably says a lot about the crowds that I run in). In the case of Puerto Rico, we've seen affable, whip smart, expensively dressed New York lawyers make cogent arguments against many of the bond restructuring proposals. But these lawyers are not the bondholders themselves, who are a much more diverse lot. While the hedge funds may be voicing many of the arguments via their fancy attorneys, there is a large, and and largely silent, bondholder community of Puerto Rican residents. The number that I've seen for the share of bond debt held by residents is 40%, although it is difficult to validate this, and it almost surely varies depending on the bond issuer, bond vintage, and other factors. Thomas Mayer estimated to Congress that $15 billion in PR bonds are held by Puerto Ricans (this works out to a lower figure than the 40% share it's still hefty).

In the public debate about Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis, people have noted that the debt is widely held across the country--that this is not "just" a Puerto Rico issue. PR bonds were given tax-advantaged status, regardless of the bondholder's place of residence. But that  does not mean that residents of Puerto Rico themselves--for either fiscal or civic reasons--are not an important group of bondholders. Their concerns about a bond default and willingness to restructure may be quite different than hedge funds or institutional investors. Why? And how might this affect the Administration's interest--or taxpayers' interest generally--in a workout for bondholders?

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Puerto Rico: Colonial Chickens, Structural Priority, and Contingent Debt

posted by Anna Gelpern

It has been a humbling torrent of creativity, and I am honored to chip in a tuppence at the eleventh hour. After an existential preface, I consider how one might use (or resist using) federal credit enhancement in the inevitable debt exchange.

Continue reading "Puerto Rico: Colonial Chickens, Structural Priority, and Contingent Debt" »

Puerto Rico: LoPucki's Virtual Bankruptcy Proposal

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Hard to believe it has been over a year since a creditor representative opposing H.R. 870 characterized chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy as "the Wild West" in Congressional testimony. Whatever uncertainties bankruptcy law contains (and, sure, they are not trivial), our symposium reveals that the true legal wilderness in government debt restructuring lies beyond the boundaries of title 11. 

Enriching the collective brainstorm is a proposal by the always-innovative UCLA law professor Lynn M. LoPucki published in the Huffington Post. Here's the link, and here's a quote:  

LoPuckiVirtual9

 

 

 

 

 

The full story offers plenty of caveats and risks for creditors - including that this approach could be considerably less protective of creditors' interests than bankruptcy - so do read the whole thing. Although the piece does not expressly mention the Executive Branch, prior Credit Slips posts (such as here) have illustrated the potential combination of the Administration's use of soft powers to promote restructuring efforts formally initiated by Puerto Rico - again, potentially without the creditor protections normally associated with bankruptcy and without other pieces of financial reform that many have advocated. 

 

 

[UPDATED] Puerto Rico: More Views, Including on the Role of the Obama Administration

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Watch here at 1pm ET to see former Treasury official Brad Setser, now senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, talk about Puerto Rico (along with Cate Long, Dick Ravitch, and Aaron Kuriloff). [March 9 UPDATE: transcript available here]

Read here for proposals of Puerto Rico governor candidate Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, including Treasury assisting with interim financing, with an analogy to GM and Chrysler during the 2008 financial crisis (see point 6 in the document).

[March 9 UPDATE: lest anyone need reminding of what can happen when a majority of creditors cannot bind holdouts, check out Anna Gelpern's recent assessment of the Argentina settlement]  

 

Puerto Rico Symposium: Of Wills and Ways

posted by Melissa Jacoby

JigsawDebt relief without Congress? No one promised it would be pretty.  

Our brainstorm (remember the ground rules) has included Levitin's MacGyver-inspired local currency, eminent domain, and liberally-interpreted exchange stabilization, Weidemaier's use of COFINA doubts to wedge open the door for a Executive Branch/Puerto Rico partnership, and, thanks to economist Arturo Estrella, a long menu of options with examples, summarized succinctly as "where there is a will, there is a way" (p. 1) (english report at bottom of this page). Could the federal government underwrite new bonds in an exchange offer, asks Pottow? Be the mediator with a big stick, asks Lubben?  Might a holdout creditor be liable to shareholders if it rebuffed a reasonable deal, asks Jiménez? (scroll to the comments). Marc Joffe notes the potential analogy of the City of Hercules tender offer (as well as the fact that Levitin's local currency suggestion has a history from the Depression). 

Lawless reminds us of the risks associated with discriminatory treatment of Puerto Rico's debt and access to legal tools. Of course, there is a long history here. Maria de los Angeles Trigo points to UT professor Bartholomew Sparrow's study of the Insular cases. And while most expect debt relief will be conditioned on some sort of fiscal oversight, it needs to be designed in a way to avoid the foibles of the past.

Returning to Lubben's mediation theme, let's push the brainstorming a step farther: could Treasury appoint a federal judge, such as Chief District Judge Gerald Rosen (E.D. Mich.), to oversee the mediation, and demand that all creditors participate in good faith until released? Even in the absence of legal authority for this move, would creditors formally object or fail to show up? 

Thanks to participants and readers for active involvement so far, and please keep your thoughts and reactions coming this way.  

Puzzle photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Puerto Rico: Facilitate an Exchange Offer, Now

posted by Stephen Lubben

Jacoby asks what can the Executive Branch do to help out Puerto Rico.  The most practical thing it could do, right now, is to facilitate an exchange offer.  Whether the Treasury itself can act as a mediator, or at least facilitate mediation by some outsider, this seems like the quickest way to a real solution to the near-term problems the Commonwealth faces.  Treasury might also act as an overseer of reforms and a (comparatively) neutral voice with regard to Puerto Rico’s financial information.

Yes, it would be great to resolve the Commonwealth’s awkward legal status – and maybe, just maybe the Supreme Court will do that this term.  Or at least start the process.  But long before that can happen, Puerto Rico is facing potential defaults.  Those need to be addressed right now.  If the Executive Branch can facilitate the negotiation of a comprehensive exchange offer, the Commonwealth will gain time to solve those bigger, long term issues.

Puerto Rico: Eminent Domain, Greenbacks, and the Exchange Stabilization Fund--Some Outside-the-Box Musings

posted by Adam Levitin
The Puerto Rico situation feels a little like a McGuyver episode.  How do we get out of a locked room with only a rubber band and a toothpick?  Here are some half-baked thoughts, first on the nature of the problems and then some ideas for solutions.  

Continue reading "Puerto Rico: Eminent Domain, Greenbacks, and the Exchange Stabilization Fund--Some Outside-the-Box Musings" »

Puerto Rico And (Very) Soft Executive Power

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Melissa's post asked what the executive branch could do to facilitate restructuring of Puerto Rico's debt. I'll get to that, but I first want to talk about Puerto Rico itself. At first glance, the Commonwealth seems to be in a uniquely terrible position. It has the disadvantages of a sovereign (e.g., no bankruptcy) but lacks the advantages (e.g., legal and/or practical immunity from legal enforcement). In fact, it lacks only most of the advantages. One advantage of sovereignty it does enjoy--and that many "true" sovereign borrowers are obliged to forego when they borrow--is that much of its debt is governed by its own law. That law can be changed (subject to constraints in the U.S. constitution) or interpreted in ways that give the Commonwealth needed restructuring flexibility. 

Continue reading "Puerto Rico And (Very) Soft Executive Power" »

Credit Slips Presents: A Virtual Symposium on Puerto Rico

posted by Melissa Jacoby

TablePuerto Rico debt restructuring legislation is flying fast and furious around Congress. But the air contains more than a whiff of defeatism regarding the prospects of passage. Bills vary greatly in substance and scope, and yet apparently the response of powerful creditors is consistent: they want to retain the right to be holdouts and are making that position perfectly clear to our elected representatives.

Credit Slips contributors are no strangers to anti-restructuring advocacy, whether framed as moral hazard or otherwise. To that end, we embark on a virtual symposium inspired by the following question: What could the Executive Branch do to facilitate the restructuring of government debt in Puerto Rico absent Congressional action? 

On tap to brainstorm around this theme in the next two weeks are (in alphabetical order): Anna Gelpern, Melissa Jacoby, Bob Lawless, Adam Levitin, Stephen Lubben, Katherine Porter, John Pottow, Mark Weidemaier, and Jay Westbrook.

Continue reading "Credit Slips Presents: A Virtual Symposium on Puerto Rico" »

Chicago Public Schools Bankruptcy?

posted by Jason Kilborn

SchoolbankruptThe local press has been abuzz the last two days with talk of Illinois Republicans' plans to take over Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and allow/force it to file for municipal bankruptcy. I immediately wondered whether this was just political rhetoric, part of Governor Rauner's quite clear plan to undermine public union power, especially in the school system, or if bankruptcy was the right tool for what ails CPS. As my image here suggests, it seems to me ... not so much; that is, CPS isn't quite "bankrupt" in the sense that Chapter 9 might help.  Not yet, and maybe not ever.

Continue reading "Chicago Public Schools Bankruptcy?" »

Puerto Rico's Recovery Act to be Considered by Supremes

posted by Stephen Lubben

In a somewhat surprising move, the Supreme Court has granted cert. to consider if Puerto Rico's Recovery Act is preempted by section 903 of the Code. I have previously argued it is not, but the First Circuit disagreed. We will now see who wins.

What? (Puerto Rico Edition)

posted by Stephen Lubben

So former Senator Judd Gregg has an op-ed in The Hill opposing the administration's plan for a territorial version of chapter 9. In the piece, he tells us "[a]ny bankruptcy bill for Puerto Rico would punish retirees whose pension funds invested in these bonds because they were tax-free."

Tax free retirement funds investing in tax free bonds?  Now we are just making stuff up.

Municipal Bankruptcy After Detroit

posted by Melissa Jacoby

ArrowsA new commentary stemming from my draft article Federalism Form and Function in the Detroit Bankruptcy is now posted on the Columbia Law School Blue Sky Blog. The post frames the current skirmishes over other municipalities' access to chapter 9 at least in part as a referendum on the procedural tools used by the court to supervise the Detroit bankruptcy. For two prior Credit Slips posts on the article, see here and here.

Arrow image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Puerto Rico Seeks Help From the Supreme Court

posted by Melissa Jacoby

CertPetitionPuerto Rico is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the First Circuit decision that Puerto Rico's Recovery Act is preempted and thus unconstitutional. Here's the petition. In addition to parsing the legal issues, the petition is framed around Puerto Rico's financial emergency, the need for the Supreme Court to step in notwithstanding the lack of circuit split (or even a dissent to the First Circuit ruling). It makes sense that Puerto Rico would challenge a ruling making it harder for the Commonwealth, in a nebulous legal zone, to write laws to solve its problems. The difficulty with the financial crisis framing is that even if (1) the Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter, (2) heard the matter quickly, (3) decided the matter quickly, and (4) actually reversed the First Circuit - a chain of tough "even ifs"  - public corporations in Puerto Rico will not be able to start using the law because another formidable constitutional challenge is still alive: whether the Recovery Act can survive scrutiny under the Contracts Clause. That hotly contested fight would be fact intensive in a way that the preemption dispute was not. A fix from the federal government must come from one of the other two branches. Speaking of which, the persuasive argument against H.R. 870/S.1774 continue to be underwhelming. For example, the fact that chapter 9 would not be a complete solution for, say, PREPA, is really beside the point.

If the Supreme Court agreed to review the First Circuit's decision, then fellow Slipster Stephen Lubben's work on Puerto Rico and the Bankruptcy Clause would become even more important than it is already. While I am not on board with Stephen's conclusions regarding preemption, his research and arguments are central to this debate. So check out his article if you haven't already.

Picking a Judge to Preside over a Municipal Bankruptcy

posted by Melissa Jacoby

GavelLast week I introduced to Credit Slips readers my draft article on federal court oversight of Detroit's bankruptcy. An easily overlooked element of what I called The Detroit Blueprint is non-random judge selection, required by Congress for municipal bankruptcy cases.

Departing from the random assignment norm in the federal judiciary, section 921(b) of the Bankruptcy Code requires the chief judge of the applicable circuit court of appeals to select the judge who will preside over a municipal bankruptcy. In 1997, the National Bankruptcy Review Commission unanimously recommended eliminating section 921(b).  That Commission's Final Report observed that the fear prompting the provision - random draw of a judge unable to handle the case - was no longer salient. Congress did not take up this recommendation. What difference did section 921(b) make in Detroit?

Continue reading "Picking a Judge to Preside over a Municipal Bankruptcy" »

Chapter 9 and Federal Courts: The Detroit Blueprint

posted by Melissa Jacoby

BlueprintAmong its other effects, the Puerto Rico debt crisis has dramatically increased the number of public figures and politicians whose verbal repertoire includes the term "chapter 9." Bondholders' resistance to chapter 9 access for Puerto Rico municipalities is fueled in part by an earlier public debt crisis: Detroit. As suggested in my Credit Slips posts, Detroit made some new law but its major lasting legacy is procedural. I just posted a draft article, based on original empirical research, documenting that procedural blueprint, Federalism Form and Function in the Detroit Bankruptcy. It shows the paths by which the federal court became a major institutional actor throughout Detroit's restructuring.

After reading scholarship and case law on chapter 9, one might envision that, because of the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and federalism principles, presiding judges are essentially locked in a closet for much of the duration, released only when the parties affirmatively seek an adjudicator. That's never entirely accurate, but to say it is inaccurate regarding Detroit is the understatement of the year.

Although The Detroit Blueprint will have broader ripple effects, I am dubious that its most significant elements could or would be implemented in, say, a PREPA bankruptcy. Detroit should not be an impediment to changing the Bankruptcy Code to cure the wrongful omission of Puerto Rico municipalities. More on that, and additional perspectives from the article, in future posts.  
 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Chapter 9 and Puerto Rico

posted by Stephen Lubben

As Melissa has noted, the First Circuit has found that the Commonwealth's attempt to solve its own problem runs afoul of Congress' "intent" to leave Puerto Rico without a municipal bankruptcy system.

Professor Eichengreen, in an interesting essay on Greece and Puerto Rico, suggests that Congress will fix the problem with the Bankruptcy Code. Word from Washington is somewhat less optimistic.

Puerto Rico Preemption Redux: Back to You, Congress

posted by Melissa Jacoby

1stCircuitCoverOn February 6, 2015, a district court held Puerto Rico's Recovery Act to be expressly preempted by section 903 of the Bankruptcy Code.

On July 6, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the finding: The Recovery Act is preempted, on both express preemption and conflict preemption grounds. 

Judge Torruella wrote a separate concurrence starting on page 50 of the decision. One of his points bearing special mention here is that he finds unconstitutional the 1984 Bankruptcy Code amendment that stripped Puerto Rico's right to authorize chapter 9 for its municipalities, due to the lack of a rational basis. Had he secured another vote for that view...

Credit Slips contributors surely will weigh in more, in this space or elsewhere, on the decision and  next steps. For now, Congress needs to move on H.R. 870, which now has support in the Senate. H.R. 870 simply reinstates Puerto Rico's ability to authorize its municipalities to use chapter 9, akin to states. Others advocate for bankruptcy relief for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico itself; that proposal is separate from, and considerably more controversial than, H.R. 870.

 

Catching Up

posted by Stephen Lubben

So I've been off the grid for a few weeks, and of course after months of little to talk about, the world gave us a bounty of stories about financial distress, and related topics, each of which would merit its own post. But I'm going to hit them quickly to get caught up again this holiday weekend:

  • I've always enjoyed reading Hamilton's Report on Public Credit, which has something of a reorganization plan about it, as well as a good discussion of distressed debt trading. Thus, I'm largely in agreement with those that say that Jackson and not Hamilton should go to free up space on one of our bills. But what about having two types of bill in each denomination? Harriet Tubman on some dollar bills, with Washington on the others, seems about right. 
  • I joined an amicus brief for the loosing side in in Baker Botts, L.L.P. v. ASARCO, L.L.C., the most important case of the term.  (Or maybe not.)  Thus, it will be no surprise that I think the dissent has the better argument. The majority seems to be totally out of touch with the reality of bankruptcy practice, and its opinion seems to be an open invitation for bomb throwers who stop just short of Rule 11. Image
  • Greece in undoubtedly between a rock and a hard place. Its economy is likely to be devastated if it leaves the Euro, at least in the short term, and it certainly will be further devastated by more austerity. Does it really matter which way they vote? The larger EU has to think about precisely what it is trying to achieve here. Yes the current Greek government is a bit buffoonish, but who helped to elect them?
  • Puerto Rico is obviously in quite a similar situation. The most realistic outcome seems to me to be (a) an exchange offer of the Commonwealth debt tied to realistic (non-punitive) reforms and (b) chapter 9 for the utilities. Part "a" of course risks holdout problems – can exit consents do the trick?

That might generate some comments this weekend.

No Evading Illinois Pension Woes

posted by Jason Kilborn

The Illinois Supreme Court issued its unanimous opinion this past Friday putting a stake through the heart of the legislature's latest attempt to evade its responsibility for woefully underfunding four of the state's five public pensions. Adam (among others) has discussed the pension issue in the Detroit bankruptcy case and the Michigan constitutional provision protecting pension benefits from impairment. The Illinois Constitution of 1970 has an identical provision (art. XIII, s. 5), which will have much more bite in the case of the state of Illinois--an entity that, unlike Detroit, is not eligible for bankruptcy protection. Long story short: the Supreme Court all but scoffed at the state's arguments that contracts can sometimes be impaired (and the state has a really, really good reason here) and that prohibiting the legislature from reducing vested pension benefits is an impermissible abdication of sovereign authority. The Court pointed out that it wasn't the legislature, but the people of Illinois, who imposed the pension protection restriction ... and it seems now the people will likely have to revisit the idea of vastly increased state income taxes and the like, as "[a]dherence to constitutional requirements often requires significant sacrifice, but our survival as a society depends on it."

I had long wondered why we still see defined-benefit pensions, in either the public or the private sector. It seemed obvious to me that defined-benefit plans are not sustainable and that every retirement protection system needed to switch to defined-contribution plans (like 403(b) and 401(k) retirement savings plans). It turns out that even this "obvious" switch won't necessarily fix the problem prospectively, as this paper reports.

Where's bankruptcy (or some other kind of restructuring) protection when you need it!?

Puerto Rico's Municipalities

posted by Stephen Lubben

As previously predicted, and in light of recent events, legislation has been reintroduced to allow Puerto Rico's municipalities into chapter 9. Two Slipsters are quoted in the accompanying press release.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth has appealed to the 1st Circuit. I would note that once the district court found the Recovery Act preempted by the Bankruptcy Code, and thus enjoined the Recovery Act, the point of the remainder of the opinion becomes something of a mystery to me. In short, there probably is no problem appealing from the district court's order at this point.

Puerto Rico – Recovery Delayed?

posted by Stephen Lubben

As Melissa has noted, the district court has ruled that Puerto Rico's Recovery Act is preempted by the Bankruptcy Code, among other things. I want to amplify one point that she made in her post.

The court's preemption analysis is exceedingly week. In particular, the court never grapples with the 10th Amendment implications of its decision, despite holding that no state can address municipal insolvency, even those jurisdictions that do not allow their municipalities to file under chapter 9. Treating the 10th Amendment as a dead letter seems like something that is about two Chief Justices too late.

In a recent article, I argued that this Constitutional problem, and some statutory conflicts (like the definition of "creditor" in section 101) can be avoided by reading section 903 to only apply to municipalities that are eligible under chapter 9 (because their state governments permit filing, and the Code does not otherwise prohibit entry into chapter 9 – cf. §101(52)).  The district court gives that argument the back of the hand in footnote 19.

The obvious solution is to fix section 101(52) and allow Puerto Rican municipalities into chapter 9. But absent Congressional action, the First Circuit awaits.

Puerto Rico Preemption

posted by Melissa Jacoby

PRholdingLast summer, PREPA bondholders filed actions challenging the constitutionality of Puerto Rico's recently enacted, but as yet unused, Public Corporation Debt Enforcement and Recovery Act. Last night, the district court filed a seventy-five page opinion. It did not dispose of the actions in full (e.g., the contract clause challenges remain alive but not decided), but did hold the Recovery Act is preempted. Given that the judge's order permanently enjoins Puerto Rico from enforcing the Recovery Act, I believe it is immediately appealable under 28 USC 1292(a)(1).

Continue reading "Puerto Rico Preemption" »

Detroit's Bankruptcy: The Conversation

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Readers who have not otherwise received notice in the twittersphere may be interested in this commentary at The Conversation.

Detroit's Bankruptcy: End(s) and Means

posted by Melissa Jacoby

TobecontinuedOn Friday November 7, 2014, Judge Rhodes confirmed the City of Detroit's plan of adjustment. As previously noted, this judicial act permits the release of debt and clears the way for the City to forge ahead, but the future of Detroit is in the hands of many others. Although a fuller written decision is expected, the court's oral ruling already hints strongly at new bankruptcy doctrine. Two examples: unfair discrimination and professional fees.

Continue reading "Detroit's Bankruptcy: End(s) and Means" »

Settling Detroit: Remembering General Unsecured Creditors

posted by Melissa Jacoby

ChessThe trial on the City of Detroit's restructuring takes a hiatus while insurer Syncora and others try to finalize a settlement. The deal seems to be a hybrid of enhanced treatment for Syncora's class of claims in Detroit's plan (class 9) and other value for Syncora alone, such as rights in Detroit property, and possibly a release from insurance obligations on interest rate swaps. The deal does not resolve class 9 objections as a whole. Indeed, it may give others in the class, e.g., insurer FGIC, more to grumble about. Signals are flashing that the judges (intentionally plural) overseeing Detroit's bankruptcy want a full class 9 settlement and want it now. At the end of Wednesday's bankruptcy court hearing, Judge Rhodes requested an off-the-record conference with representatives from FGIC and the City. Yesterday, the lead facilitative mediator entered a bring-your-toothbrush order; it requires mediation participation "continuing day-to-day thereafter as deemed necessary, until released by the mediators." (document 7419)

But what about plaintiffs alleging civil rights violations/constitutional torts who had section 1983 actions pending before the bankruptcy? Or plaintiffs holding state law tort claims, or rejected contract claims? In a municipal bankruptcy pitched as a battle between workers, Wall Street, and residents, it can be easy to overlook other kinds of unsecured creditors. 

Continue reading "Settling Detroit: Remembering General Unsecured Creditors" »

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