24 posts categorized "Small Business"

Secured Credit, Churches, and Reorganization

posted by Pamela Foohey

Chapter 11's ability to empower true reorganization has received much criticism of late in light of an increasingly held assumption that most Chapter 11 cases end in a 363 sale of the debtor's assets. Around this time last year, the American Bankruptcy Institute and the University of Illinois College of Law co-hosted a symposium dedicated to discussing secured creditors’ rights and role in modern Chapter 11. Papers from the symposium (including by Slips contributors) very recently became available here.

I was lucky enough to moderate a couple of the symposium panels. As I was listening to the discussion, I noticed that what I was hearing about secured creditors and 363 sales did not match  what I had observed in my study of how religious organizations (mainly smaller churches) currently use Chapter 11. To accompany the release of the symposium papers, I wrote a short piece describing how secured creditors influenced religious organizations' Chapter 11 cases in ways that did not lead to widespread sales, but rather, plans and settlements.

Continue reading "Secured Credit, Churches, and Reorganization" »

Coming to Law -- Churches in Bankruptcy Edition

posted by Bob Lawless

Credit Slips contributor Pamela Foohey has just posted her most recent work in her series of articles on churches in bankruptcy. I have been a big fan of this research project since Pamela was a fellow at the University of Illinois. She tells us not only about bankruptcy but also about the ways in which these churches look like most any small business. Most impressively, the work builds on existing literature on how people come to law to solve their problems and expands that literature into a new and nonobvious setting, suggesting this literature may have deep explanatory power to help us understand more about how people perceive and use law. It is exactly what we need more of in the law reviews -- scholarship using rigorous social science to help us understand what actually happens in the legal system.

Pamela's most recent paper, "When Faith Falls Short: Bankruptcy Decisions of Churches," relies on structured interviews with church leaders and and their lawyers. One of the most surprising things is the church leaders did not see their problems as legal. Foreclosure may have beckoned, but the leaders had to be brought to law. They turned to social and professional networks both to get information about the law and for support that bankruptcy was the correct thing to do. There is much more in Pamela's paper. Get it before SSRN runs out of electrons to send it to you.

Rethinking “Small” Business Bankruptcies

posted by Michelle Harner

Shutterstock_228943780It may surprise some, but approximately 90% of all chapter 11 debtors have less than $10 million in assets or liabilities, less than $10 million in annual revenues, and 50 or fewer employees (see data on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the ABI Commission Report, here). These companies are the heart of chapter 11. Nevertheless, most of the media and caselaw coverage discusses only the megacases—e.g., Caesars, American Airlines, Tribune Company, etc.—representing approximately 2-3% of chapter 11 debtors. It is time to change the focus of the conversation.

When a small business closes its doors, an entire community feels the impact. Consider the following description of the ripple effects of the closing of a small mine in Lincoln County, Montana:

In addition to the workers and families directly impacted by the loss of jobs, the ripple effects of the loss of that income will impact local businesses at every level. Restaurants, stores and other shops depend upon local consumers to keep themselves afloat, the dollars that are paid to those employees find their way into the hands of a number of additional places, keeping a small local economy alive.  (Full story here.)

Similar stories occur most everyday in towns across America (see, e.g., here).

Continue reading "Rethinking “Small” Business Bankruptcies" »

Let’s Not Just Create Jobs, Let’s Save Them, Too

posted by Michelle Harner

Shutterstock_120243664In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, President Obama talked a lot about job creation. I am all for growing the economy and creating more U.S. jobs, but I also am for saving jobs and keeping people employed at U.S. companies, even if those companies fall upon hard financial times. Strikingly, approximately 18,500 people lost their jobs when Hostess closed its doors; 34,000 people lost their jobs when Circuit City suffered the same fate; and over 9,900 people were let go as a result of four casinos in Atlantic City closing in the past twelve months.

It is undeniable that chapter 11 changes people’s lives. It can save an employee’s job, continue a customer relationship for a vendor, and preserve a tenant for a landlord. It also can, however, devastate all of these relationships in what feels like a nanosecond—relationships that many people rely on to support their families or their own business operations. As I suggested in an earlier post, I believe that the human face of chapter 11 often gets lost in all of the noise concerning the rate of return to creditors, disputes among institutional creditors, and whether a company should be sold quickly, or at all, through the chapter 11 process.

Continue reading "Let’s Not Just Create Jobs, Let’s Save Them, Too" »

Attorneys' Advice on Representing Religious Organizations in Chapter 11

posted by Pamela Foohey

As part of my study of religious organizations' Chapter 11 cases, I interviewed attorneys who represented a variety of churches and other faith-based institutions in their reorganization cases. Some of my findings are presented in this new paper. In short, the interviews confirm my previous conclusion based on an analysis of documents filed in religious organizations' Chapter 11 cases: reorganization oftentimes can be beneficial for these debtors.

Of the 52 Chapter 11 cases discussed by attorneys, 23% ended in a confirmed reorganization plan, and another 40% resulted in an agreement between the debtor and its creditors. When I interviewed the attorneys, 71% of their clients were still operating, though a couple churches were in the midst of foreclosure. When asked what "special considerations" other attorneys should be aware of in future representations, attorneys focused on six issues:

Continue reading "Attorneys' Advice on Representing Religious Organizations in Chapter 11" »

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

posted by Melissa Jacoby

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

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

Ice Cube Bonds: New Paper on 363 Sales and Chapter 11

posted by Melissa Jacoby

MatchesFAC UT ARDEAT, begins The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner. It means "made to burn," the narrator learns (from that "gasbag . . . Chesil Jones"). Whether your preferred hurry-up 363 sale metaphor involves flames, ice, or a wagon full of rotting salmon, Ted Janger and I have just posted a draft of an article reframing the problems with pre-plan going-concern sales, and reallocating the risk associated with such sales. The abstract:

Financially-distressed companies can melt like ice cubes. In Chrysler’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the finding that the debtor was losing $100,000,000 per day justified the hurry-up sale of the company to Fiat.  This assertion -- that the firm is a rapidly wasting asset -- is frequently offered, and accepted, in support of quick sales under section 363(b) of the Bankruptcy Code. This raises a policy question:  is this speed and streamlined process a “bug” or “feature?” Do these hurry-up going-concern sales create a speed premium and maximize value for the bankruptcy estate, or do they facilitate collusive deals between incumbent managers, senior creditors and potential purchasers? The answer is, “a little bit of both.” It is, therefore, crucial to distinguish between sales where the court and parties have good information about the value of the company and the costs of delay, from those in which melting ice cube leverage is used to exploit information asymmetries and to lock-in a favored deal. To accomplish this sorting and reduce transactional leverage, we seek to allocate the increased risks of foregone process to the beneficiaries of the sale. We propose that a reserve – the Ice Cube Bond – be set aside at the time of sale to preserve any potential disputes about valuation and priority for resolution after the sale has closed. This approach retains expedited section 363 sales as a useful way to quiet title in complex assets and preserve value, while preserving the opportunities for negotiation and adjudication contemplated by the Bankruptcy Code.

Perhaps Ice Cube Bonds is the long weekend reading material you were hoping would come your way? We'd value your feedback.

Match image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Stripping Down Bankruptcy Jargon

posted by Melissa Jacoby

StrongarmA Credit Slips commenter recently asked that blog posts explain (or at least spell out) acronyms and specialist terminology. This inspired me to report back on a corporate bankruptcy terminology set that University of North Carolina Law students collaboratively produced last year (technically, a wiki) in business bankruptcy, an advanced transition-to-the-profession seminar. In both comments and emailsCredit Slips readers helped me expand the list of terms (and also offered great ideas for practical writing projects). So thanks again for your contributions, and thanks also to the Spring 2012 seminar alumni - some of whom are practicing bankruptcy law or clerking for bankruptcy courts right now, or headed there soon - who tackled the collaborative vocabulary project, and the entire seminar and its experimental elements, with such great spirit and a 100% perfect attendance record! So, some observations. 

Continue reading "Stripping Down Bankruptcy Jargon" »

In Defense of Bankruptcy Courts (or, Is Bankruptcy Really That Exceptional?)

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Although not always acknowledged expressly, exceptionalism is pervasive in bankruptcy scholarship. Some work makes no attempt to contexualize bankruptcy within the federal courts, apparently assuming its unique qualities (for example, the disinterest in most bankruptcy venue scholarship about venue laws applicable to other multi-party federal litigation). But other projects are more deliberate in their exceptionalist pursuits.

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Representation and Realities of (Bankruptcy) Court Work

posted by Melissa Jacoby

The Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities held a symposium on "Courts: Representing and Contesting Ideologies of the Public Sphere" in 2011, and recently published papers from this event. Some of the contributions to this symposium, especially the piece by Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis, and the commentary by William Simon, emphasize the potential disconnect between representations of law and justice that might adorn courthouses and the nature of the actual work that goes on inside. Although these scholars did not discuss the bankruptcy court in depth (Simon does mention that scholars have long seen bankruptcy as deviating from traditional models of adjudication), each side of the disconnect may be quite interesting for our purposes.

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Article 9 and Bankruptcy Judges

posted by Melissa Jacoby

prior post addressed a proposed amendment to Article 9's official comments stating that the date of an Article 9 filing relates back to the initial filing date even if the debtor did NOT authorize the filing at that time. This post returns to that topic for two reasons. First, although it is risky to generalize, I sense that bankruptcy judges may still be unaware of this proposed amendment. This is relevant because bankruptcy judges often are on the "front lines" of Article 9 interpretation. Second, I have heard, indirectly, that at least some people want this amendment to lend approval to some lenders' current practice to routinely file without authorization during the loan application process. In other words, the loan is likely to be given within a few days, so no harm no foul. Maybe I misheard or misunderstood?  

Continue reading "Article 9 and Bankruptcy Judges" »

Recommended reading: Broome on Article 9 Financing Statements

posted by Melissa Jacoby

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of giving priority to an Article 9 financing statement only from the date on which the debtor  actually authorizes the filing, and a proposed official comment contrary to this position. My colleague Lissa Broome has just posted on SSRN an article she has written about another dimension of the issue: when secured parties file financing statements with an indication of collateral that is far broader than what the debtor authorized in the security agreement. She discusses recent cases that do not deter this activity as well as potential implications, including the chilling effect on future lending transactions.

When the debtor's signature was eliminated as a requirement for a valid financing statement in Revised Article 9, the drafters justified the change by technology: medium neutrality and facilitating paperless filing. Functionally, though, the implications go far beyond technology when you combine this change with the opportunity to file all-asset financing statements AND the broadest possible reading of the first to file or perfect rule discussed a few weeks ago.

Promoting Integrity in the UCC Article 9 Recording System

posted by Melissa Jacoby

On January 1, 2011, Larry files a UCC-1 financing statement against David indicating David's equipment as collateral. At this point, David doesn't even know Larry, has not given him a security interest, and has not authorized this filing. On February 1, 2012, David meets and borrows money from Larry and signs a security agreement listing equipment as collateral (which, under UCC 9-509, automatically authorizes the filing of a financing statement against equipment). What is the relevant date for determining Larry's priority? The language of Article 9 itself strongly implies that February 1, 2012 is the relevant date. UCC 9-509 makes clear that financing statements are not valid unless authorized by the debtor - a pretty minimal burden to cloud the debtor's title. But a little-discussed 2010 amendment to the official comments of Article 9 says otherwise: to the drafters, if the filing is later authorized, Larry gets the benefit of the 1/1/2011 filing date for purposes of the "first-to-file-or-perfect" rule and other priority rules or competitions. 

The most relevant portion of the new paragraph (an addition to comment 4 to 9-322) reads as follows:

Continue reading "Promoting Integrity in the UCC Article 9 Recording System " »

Your Favorite Business Bankruptcy/Restructuring Lingo: A Word of Thanks

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Just a word of gratitude to readers for providing great responses to the prior call for corporate bankruptcy lingo. Thanks to your help, UNC Law's advanced business bankruptcy students are collaboratively examining such terms through a wiki and this will help them make an even smoother transition into the professional world. If any new lingo comes to mind, don't hesitate to pass it along! 

Revamping the Advanced Bankruptcy Class

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Thanks, Bob, for welcoming me back. I'd like to start with a quick poll. Credit Slips readers, off the top of your head, what short writings (say 5 pages or fewer) should law students be doing that would be directly relevant to business bankruptcy practice? They can be related to business cases of any size, and can be litigation, counseling, or transactionally oriented. If you'd prefer to write me directly than to comment below, I welcome your thoughts at bankruptcyprof@gmail.com. Feel free to forward my inquiry to bankruptcy listserves for which this would be appropriate. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

More on the Small Business Bankruptcy Designation

posted by Bob Lawless
A few days ago, I posted on the small-business designation in chapter 11 and how it appears to be honored in the breach. That post prompted further discussion on a listserv for bankruptcy professionals, which in turn led to a summary and some interesting comments from Michael Good on his own blog. Good is a bankruptcy lawyer in the Los Angeles area and does a lot of work with financially distressed small businesses. Whether you agree with Good, his post is worth a read, especially the part where he discusses how the traditional law firm business model might pushes lawyers away from pursuing clients who might have small business 11s.

The Disappearing Small Businesses (Designation) in Bankruptcy

posted by Bob Lawless

The 2005 bankruptcy law was not just about consumers. It made a number of changes to businesses bankruptcies, including the expansion of safe harbors for derivative claimants about which Stephen Lubben has written extensively (e.g., here). Other changes were to small business bankruptcies--not to make it easier for small businesses to get through chapter 11 but to make it more difficult. Small business bankruptcy filers got new duties and extensive new reporting requirements, both of which can lead to dismissal for debtors who fail to meet them. As I was preparing to teach these requirements this year, I came across a little surprise about the difference between this law on the books and the law on the ground that I thought I would share.

Continue reading "The Disappearing Small Businesses (Designation) in Bankruptcy" »

White House Dinner Crashers' Bankruptcy

posted by Adam Levitin

Some of the news reports on the White House dinner crashers (Tariq and Michaela Salahi) have noted that they own a winery that filed for Chapter 11 (reorganization) bankruptcy and then converted to Chapter 7 (liquidation) bankruptcy. My prurient interest was engaged, so I tracked down the petitions and relevant filings (linked below).  What follows is my attempt to sort out the Salahi family's business doings, as well as some musings about where we should really look for bankruptcy abuse--small business filings where the business is the alter ego of the owner, but where corporate law might not allow veil piercing.  In these cases the sophisticated creditors get personal guarantees, but the tax authorities, tort creditors, and unsophisticated creditors get screwed by the corporate form.

As far as I can tell, however, from the PACER filings, this part of the story has been misreported.  There are two separate, but apparently affiliated entities that filed for bankruptcy separately.  First, Oasis Vineyards, Inc., filed for Chapter 11 in December of 2008.  Oasis Vineyards has three shareholders:  Mr. Salahi (5%), his mother (40%, also president of Oasis Vineyards), and his father (55%).  The petition schedules assets of $333K and liabilities of $1.9M.  Tariq Salahi, a Salahi Family limited partnership, Oasis Enterprises, Inc., and Salahi's parents are listed as codebtors (cosignors or guarantors) of various obligations.

In April 2009, the US Trustee filed a motion to convert the case to Chapter 7 liquidation or have it dismissed because the debtor failed to file its monthly operating reports and had not filed a plan of reorganization.  (This is pretty standard; it appears that several monthly operating reports were subsequently filed simultaneously.)  The court has postponed ruling on the motion to convert or dismiss because of the death of the debtor's counsel.

Second, Oasis Enterprises, Inc., a/k/a Oasis Winery, of which Tariq Salahi is the president and sole shareholder, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February 2009.  That case is still pending.  The scheduled assets are $339K and liabilities oare $982K. The petition states that Oasis Enterprise's income fell from $1.7M in 2007 to a mere $35,000 in 2008.  Ouch.  In 2008, a bank repossessed a $150K Aston-Martin car (resulting in a $85K deficiency) and a $90K Carver 350 Mariner Boat from Oasis Enterprises (resulting in a $56K deficiency judgment).

Continue reading "White House Dinner Crashers' Bankruptcy" »

Repealing Marquette

posted by Bob Lawless

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has introduced, with Senator Dick Durbin, the Empowering States' Right to Protect Consumers Act of 2009 (S. 255). The statute would repeal the thirty-one year old Marquette decision, which was the United States Supreme Court ruling that held federal law preempted state law regulating interest rates. A later decision in 1996 (Smiley v. Citibank) expanded the scope of federal preemption, holding states also lacked the power to regulate the fees charged on credit cards, and the bill would repeal Smiley as well.

Marquette
effectively deregulated most consumer interest rates and led to the expansion of consumer borrowing for the past thirty years. After the Smiley decision, bank fees started to climb. Much of the "gotcha" marketing mentality from the credit card industry can be attributed to the freedom Smiley gave banks to exploit credit card fees as a revenue stream.

Some persons think interest rate and fee caps are bad idea. Fair enough. The Whitehouse bill, however, is not an interest rate cap. It merely returns the power to the states to regulate consumer lending to their citizens and harnesses the states as "laboratories of democracy" (as the saying goes). Let the states experiment with interest rate and fee caps, and we will find the right balance between exploitative market practices and overly restrictive government regulation.

Open Access Factories

posted by Bob Lawless

This semester, I have been teaching a seminar simply called "Bailouts." This week, we have been talking about the automobile industry. One of my students, Aaron Moshiashwili, put forth an interesting idea in his written work for the week. In the seminar, I have stressed that the idea is not to save a particular company but the productive assets that company represents--a point that generalizes to many other contexts in corporate law. In other words, we shouldn't care about the logo that is on the door, but we should care about what goes on inside the building. Regardless of whether they make it or not, the automobile companies are going to create a lot of excess capacity in physical plant and human capital.

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Reorganization Is the Worst Option . . . Except For All Others

posted by Jason Kilborn

The tried and true criticisms of bankruptcy procedures that salvage jobs while forcing creditors to internalize losses are making the rounds again. People just don't understand. In England, in particular, the financial press is all over "pre-packs" that allegedly allow "debt dodgers to revel in return of the phoenix" as companies are sold in fast-track reorganization procedures. The problem with breathless criticisms of these procedures--now attracting legislative attention in Britain--is that they seem to be based on the false premise that the alternative would be superior. Ironically, Churchill's tongue-in-cheek appraisal of Democracy applies in like manner to the pre-pack procedure in particular, and reorganization generally.

I know I'm preaching to the choir in making this observation on CreditSlips, but I just don't understand how sophisticated financial reporters can miss the point so badly. The challenge repeated in the linked stories above is that the procedure for allowing troubled companies to be sold (often to private equity, often to investors already associated with the business) somehow allows the management of these businesses to evade personal responsibility and improperly externalize losses onto small businesses, in particular (the darling of all conservative, anti-bankruptcy rhetoricians). The "moral turpitude" bent of these criticisms is explicit, but morality must be based at least in part on reality, it seems to me. These stories seem to miss that (1) the sale proceeds must be distributed to creditors, unless I'm totally missing something with respect to U.K. and other pre-packaged reorg procedures, (2) since the middle of the 1800s, general corporation law has shielded management and shareholders from personal liability to creditors, bankruptcy or not, and (3) the result for small business creditors would be in probably every case worse without a pre-pack, since secured creditors and other large, institutional investors would eat up most of the value of the business in a bankruptcy distribution, especially since a piecemeal liquidation bankruptcy would tear apart the going concern value of the business--and European law often requires management to seek this liquidation bankruptcy as soon as it becomes clear that the company is insolvent! What is a "moral" manager supposed to do? Creditors are getting the value of the business (defined by a market sale mechanism, the result of new money, be it from old management or not), which is rather clearly enhanced by an honestly conducted pre-pack. If the challenge were that pre-packs were being administered improperly (by public authorities), that would be one thing, but the challenge seems to be, instead, that pre-packs are being used improperly, which totally misses the mark, it seems to me.

These commentators are not comparing apples to oranges, they're comparing apples to unicorns! Yes, the result for small business creditors in these cases may well be sour apples, but the alternative is not a magical ride on a unicorn--it's no apples at all.

Personal Bankruptcy Law and Entrepreneurship

posted by John Armour

An issue that's been at the forefront of recent personal (i.e. non-corporate) bankruptcy reforms in Europe has been the notion that an unforgiving bankruptcy regime may act as a deterrent to starting a business. There's a strong perception in European policy circles that US bankruptcy law is more forgiving of overindebtedness, and that this in turn is linked to a more entrepreneurial business culture. Thinking of this sort (see, e.g., the Insolvency Service' Consultation Paper) underpinned the UK's recent relaxation of its personal bankruptcy laws (effective 1 April 2004), to permit individual bankrupts to obtain a discharge from prebankrupty indebtedness after only one year, as opposed to the three years it previously took. Similar policy initiatives, encouraged by the European Commission, have also been taking place in other European countries. There's a certain irony, however, that at the very time this has been going on in Europe, in the US-- the country offering the inspiration for reform-- access to a fresh start for individual debtors has been made more difficult. One of the important questions this raises is whether there really is a link between bankruptcy law and entrepreneurship.

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Entrepreneurs Among the Bankrupt?

posted by Bob Lawless

I spent the past few days at the Law & Entrepreneurship Retreat that Gordon Smith put together at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Gordon also blogged about the retreat on The Conglomerate blog, complete with pictures. It was a great event, and I learned a lot. The other attendees were very gracious in putting up with my skepticism about entrepreneurial studies. The day's exchanges helped me think a lot about the topic and left me with the following.

One concept of entrepreneurial studies might be that it defines a group of scholars with cross-disciplinary interests in what might loosely be called "emerging businesses." Under this concept, entrepreneurial studies is a label that helps a set of scholars identify papers, conferences, and other opportunities for scholarly exchange. Thus, entrepreneurial studies can be seen as a flag around which a group of scholars have rallied. This loose social organization facilitates the accumulation of knowledge because these scholars otherwise would have stayed within their own intellectual silos, and the information that each knew would not have been shared with the larger scholarly community. That is a useful role for entrepreneurial studies.

There is a stronger claim, however, about entrepreneurial studies on which I remain a strong skeptic. That claim is that there exists a phenomenon called the "entrepreneur" and that we would agree on who is an entrepreneur such that the phenomenon can be the subject of scholarly study. My skepticism is not people do not start business, for they obviously do. Are all business startups entrepreneurial? If so, then is entrepreneurial studies just the study of business startups? Could I continue with more rhetorical questions to illustrate the point? I am not the first person to think about these questions, and my comments here probably will show my lack of knowledge about the literature. But I think my interest in bankruptcy gives me a slightly different way to get a handle on the question.

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The American Law & Economics Association Annual Meeting

posted by Angie Littwin

This weekend was the annual meeting of the American Law & Economics Association (ALEA).  It was a two-day conference at Harvard Law School, with five concurrent panels of three presenters for each time slot.  Although the topics ranged from plea bargains to family law to referees in the NBA, there was almost always a bankruptcy or contracts panel taking place.  (I knew I was on the right track because the sessions I wanted to see were all in the same room.  I got to know Pound 102 quite well.)

I saw too many presentations to recount all of them, so I’ll summarize briefly three papers I think will be of particular interest to Credit Slips readers. 

Continue reading "The American Law & Economics Association Annual Meeting" »

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