Postpetition Asset Sales in Chapter 13s--Modification, Not Estate Property

posted by Bob Lawless

Debtors selling houses during a chapter 13 continues to cause conceptual problems for the courts. A recent decision, In re Marsh, from Judge Fenimore in Kansas City is an example. (Hat tip to Bill Rochelle for flagging this decision in his DailyWire column from the American Bankruptcy Institute ($). If you are a bankruptcy lawyer and don't get this column in your inbox each morning, you are missing out.) Judge Fennimore's opinion is a good point of departure to discuss why I don't think these conceptual problems are as difficult as lawyers make it out to be.

In the case at hand, the debtors scheduled the value of their home at $140,000. Between the $125,000 mortgage and a $15,000 homestead exemption, there was no value for unsecured creditors. The debtor confirmed a plan that provided for payment of the mortgage through the trustee, known as a "conduit plan." Although the debtor was below-median income and qualified for a three-year plan, the debtor opted to do a five-year plan, presumably to make it easier to cure the mortgage arrearage. The plan specified that unsecured creditors were to receive no distribution.

Forty-three months into the case the debtors filed a motion to sell the home for $210,000, which the court approved and which generated about $78,000 in cash after payment of the mortgage and fees. The debtor filed a "motion to retain" the cash. The chapter 13 trustee resisted, noting the cash would pay unsecured creditors in full.

Continue reading "Postpetition Asset Sales in Chapter 13s--Modification, Not Estate Property" »

Biden DOJ's Excellent Pick to Head USTP

posted by Bob Lawless

The Department of Justice has announced Tara Twomey as the next head of the U.S. Trustee Program (USTP). This is an outstanding selection. I will leave her impressive biographical details to the DOJ press release, which you really should read. We here at Credit Slips would have added that she is a former guest blogger for us (which is probably why we are not allowed to write DOJ press releases).

Having known Director-designate Twomey for quite a few years, I wanted to add a few things that are not in the release. She is universally respected by her colleagues. Twomey is innovative in her approaches to legal questions, both as an advocate and a scholar. She is giving of her time to help better the law and the profession. More than once, she has served as pro bono counsel to help with an amicus brief, including for me. In her current position, she has filed many amicus briefs herself in the courts of appeals and Supreme Court, with one of her most recent efforts being cited favorably in a Tenth Circuit opinion released just this morning.

Many congratulations to Director-designate Twomey. Also, many congratulations to Attorney General Merrick and the Biden Administration on their excellent decision. Along with the work of the USTP during the leadership of the interim director, Ramona Elliott, the profession's confidence in the USTP is being restored. My inbox this morning has been full of nothing but positive comments on the selection.

Impact of the Illinois Predatory Loan Prevention Act

posted by Adam Levitin

In 2021 Illinois passed its Predatory Loan Prevention Act (PLPA), which imposes a 36% military APR (MAPR) cap on all loans made by non-bank or credit union or insurance company lenders. Not surprisingly, the law has not been popular with higher cost lenders who either have to change their offerings, cease doing business in Illinois, or figure out some way to team up with a bank that won't run afoul of the law's anti-evasion provision. 

Recently, opponents of the PLPA have been making some noise, pointing to a study by a trio of economists—J. Brandon Bollen, Gregory Elliehausen, and Thomas Miller—about the impact of the PLPA. (The latter two are familiar scholars whose work consistently takes a dour view of consumer finance regulations: readers might recall my debunking of another recent study by Professor Miller, co-authored with Todd Zywicki, that was fundamentally flawed because of the miscalculation of loan caps in various states.)

Using credit bureau data, the Bollen et al. paper finds that the PLPA resulted in a 30% decrease in the number of unsecured installment loans to Illinois subprime borrowers and a 37% increase in the average installment loan size to Illinois subprime borrowers, which they attribute to the difficulty in making smaller loans profitable at 36% MAPR. Additionally, based on a lender-administered survey of 699 online borrowers (not necessarily of installment loans), the Bolen paper also reports a decline in borrower financial well-being following passage of the PLPA. 

Unfortunately, the Bollen paper suffers from serious data and methodological problems such that it does not tell us anything meaningful about the wisdom of the PLPA. Here's why. 

Continue reading "Impact of the Illinois Predatory Loan Prevention Act" »

The Texas Two-Step's Liquidation Problem

posted by Adam Levitin

This post is a joint post by Hon. Judith K. Fitzgerald (ret.)[*] and Adam Levitin

The Texas Two-Step has been the latest fad in mass tort bankruptcies, used, among others, by Johnson & Johnson, Georgia-Pacific, and, in a variation, 3M. The essential elements of the Texas Two-Step are the segregation of the debtor's mass tort liabilities in a non-operating subsidiary, which then enters into a funding agreement with the parent company to cover the mass tort liabilities up to some level. The subsidiary then files for bankruptcy and seeks to have the court stay the mass tort litigation against the non-debtor parent. If this maneuver is successful, the non-debtor parent goes about its normal business,[1] as do all of its creditors ... other than the mass tort victims. Meanwhile, the non-operating debtor subsidiary—whose sole creditors are mass tort victims—just sits in bankruptcy indefinitely.

The basic strategy behind a Texas Two-Step is “delay to discount”: the extended delay of the bankruptcy process pressures tort victims and their counsel to accept discounted settlement offers. The non-debtor parent feels no urgency for the bankruptcy to end because litigation is stayed against it. Moreover, the parent is able to continue its normal operations without being subject to bankruptcy court oversight or even to the regular expenses of defending the mass tort litigation. And because the debtor is a non-operating entity, it is under no pressure to emerge from bankruptcy. The debtor and its parent are both happy to let the bankruptcy drag on as long as necessary. In other words, the Texas Two-Step is an underwater breath-holding contest where the debtor has a snorkel. 

The ultimate end-game in a Texas Two-Step bankruptcy, however, is obtaining releases for the non-debtor parent (and other affiliates), bolstered by a channeling injunction that precludes tort victims from bringing suit against the parent and affiliates after the bankruptcy. There’s a fly in the ointment, however. A channeling injunction under section 524(g) requires that the debtor receive a discharge, and the debtor entity in the traditional Texas Two-Step case is not eligible for a discharge because it is a non-operating corporate entity that will be liquidating.

Continue reading "The Texas Two-Step's Liquidation Problem" »

Sorting Bugs and Features of Mass Tort Bankruptcy

posted by Melissa Jacoby

I have posted a short draft article about mass tort bankruptcy. If you would like to send me comments on the draft, that would be lovely, but please keep two caveats in mind. First, I must submit the revisions by February 9. Second, the article must not exceed 10,000 words. For every addition, some other thing must be subtracted. The required brevity means the article does not and cannot canvas the large volume of scholarship about the topic, let alone the mini-explosion in recent years. 

For the Credit Slips audience I would like to particularly highlight Part I of the article, which contextualizes debates about current mass tort bankruptcy by reviewing two sets of sources from the 1990s and early 2000s. The first is the 1997 final report of the National Bankruptcy Review Commission. The second is scholarship, including two Federal Judicial Center books published in 2000 and 2005, of Professor Elizabeth Gibson, whose expertise lies at the intersection of civil procedure, federal courts, and bankruptcy.  If you are working on or talking a lot about mass bankruptcy but have not reviewed these materials in a while (or ever), then I hope you will be incentivized to check those out for yourselves. 

New Year, New Personal Bankruptcy Law--in Kazakhstan

posted by Jason Kilborn

The list of countries with new personal insolvency laws continues to grow. Bloomberg noted today that the President of Kazakhstan had signed a new law setting out several procedures for relieving the debts of non-entrepreneur individuals (sole proprietors remain relegated to the existing law on rehabilitation and bankruptcy). The text of this 30 December 2022 law is here (in Russian only), and most of its provisions will become effective in 60 days, around March 1, 2023. 

The structure of this law and its four pathways to relief are clearly inspired by the 2015 law of Kazakhstan's northern neighbor. This indicates a continuing trend, as new personal insolvency laws are generally based on a model from the law of a country the adopting country respects, and the model in this case is a fairly good one (the parent law is described here and here). The Kazakh law differs in some respects from this predecessor model, but the basic system is the same: (1) a no-asset procedure ("out-of-court bankruptcy") providing a simple discharge to debtors with debt below about $11,000 (i.e., 1600 "monthly calculation units," which for 2022 was KZ₸3063, just over US$7, so 1600 x $7 = $11,200), (2) a 5-year payment-plan procedure ("restoration of solvency") for debtors with regular income who choose to propose a 5-year plan for court (not creditor) approval, (3) a traditional liquidation-and-discharge procedure ("judicial bankruptcy") unfolding over six months and leaving the debtor with exempt property, including a sole residence, and (4) a settlement option ("amicable agreement") for debtors who manage to convince their creditors to agree to a private compromise (read: never!).

While the requirements for accessing the no-asset out-of-court bankruptcy procedure seem wildly unrealistic and uniquely austere (no property of any kind!?), the new Kazakh system is fairly well structured. Judging by the northern neighbor's recent experience with its very similar set of procedures, it seems most likely the payment-plan procedure will be selected by very few debtors, and the courts will reject the unviable plans of the few debtors who try to pursue this route. Judicial bankruptcy will become the main pathway to relief, which seems to be within reach for ordinary Kazakh citizens. Eventually, the extremely restrictive access requirements for out-of-court no-asset bankruptcy seem likely to be relaxed--either in practice or in a first round of law reform--and that procedure will become the workhorse for the personal bankruptcy system.

Yet another laboratory to observe the effects of the messy compromises that create personal insolvency procedures--and thank goodness, yet another large population of debtors who finally have access to legal relief from debts that would otherwise hound them and their families forever, with no hope of recovery. The new year brings new hope for such families in Kazakhstan!

The Financial Inclusion Trilemma

posted by Adam Levitin

I have a new draft article up on SSRN. It's called The Financial Inclusion Trilemma. The abstract is below. 

The challenge of financial inclusion is among the most intractable policy problems in banking. Despite being the world’s wealthiest economy, many Americans are shut out of the financial system. Five percent of households lack a bank account, and an additional thirteen percent rely on expensive or predatory fringe financial services, such as check cashers or payday lenders.

Financial inclusion presents a policy trilemma. It is possible to simultaneously achieve only two of three goals: widespread availability of services to low-income consumers; fair terms of service; and profitability of service. It is possible to provide fair and profitable services, but only to a small, cherry-picked population of low-income consumers. Conversely, it is possible to provide profitable service to a large population, but only on exploitative terms. Or it is possible to provide fair services to a large population, but not at a profit.

The financial inclusion trilemma is not a market failure. Rather it is the result of the market working. The market result, however, does not accord with policy preferences. Rather than addressing that tension, American financial inclusion policy still leads with market-based solutions and soft government nudges and the vain hope that technology will somehow transform the fundamental economics of financial services for small balance deposit accounts and small dollar loans.

This Article argues that it is time to recognize the policy failure in financial inclusion and give more serious consideration to a menu of stronger regulatory interventions: hard service mandates that impose cross-subsidization among consumers; taxpayer subsidies; and public provision of financial services. In particular, this Article argues for following the approach taken in Canada, the EU, and the UK, namely the adoption of a mandate for the provision of free or low-cost basic banking services to all qualified applicants, as the simplest solution to the problem of the unbanked. Addressing small-dollar credit, however, remains an intractable problem, largely beyond the scope of financial regulation.

Karens for Hire

posted by Adam Levitin

The Washington Post has an article about a new business, "Karens for Hire," that is basically a way to hire a customer service advocate. Having spent way too much time with customer service of late, the article really hit a nerve. It gets at the central problem of consumer law, namely that the dollar amounts at issue in almost every dispute are way too small to litigate. Instead, consumers have to work through customer service and hope that they receive some sort of resolution, but that's a process that imposes substantial transaction costs (wait times, e.g.) and in which the consumer has no guaranty of a positive resolution, even if the consumer is in the right. 

There's some level of reputational discipline on companies with bad customers service, but it's pretty weak and indirect: when was the last time you investigated a company's customer service reputation before making a purchase? 

There are a few attempts to regulate customer service of which I am aware—TILA/EFTA error resolution procedures and RESPA loss mitigation procedures—but there's no general system of public regulation. Figuring out exactly what, if anything, would work as a more general solution to ensuring fair and efficient resolution of customer service calls remains one of consumer law's great challenges. 

Alex Jones's Bankruptcy

posted by Adam Levitin

Alex Jones filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy himself today. So what is Mr. Jones hoping to accomplish with the bankruptcy filing? I see three possible goals, but I'm skeptical that he'll achieve more than one of them.

First, by filing for bankruptcy, Jones buys himself a bit of time and breathing space. The automatic stay stops all litigation and collection activity against him. It's not indefinite, but it takes the heat off for a bit. That might help him avoid any collection activities by the Sandy Hook victims' families while his motions for a new trial and remittur are pending.  (As far as I can tell, the Connecticut 20-day post-judgment window for appeal has run, but I guess these are not "appeals" since they are motions to the same court?)

Second, the bankruptcy filing moves the action from Connecticut to a Texas bankruptcy court. Jones might be hoping he finds the bankruptcy court more favorably inclined. I'm skeptical. If his behavior in the bankruptcy court matches how he's behaved in other courtrooms, he's not going to find the judge very sympathetic.

Third, Jones will be looking to get a discharge of his debts—including the Sandy Hook defamation judgment. If a debt is discharged, it cannot be collected after the bankruptcy; the creditor gets only what it is able to collect as part of the bankruptcy process. That would mean that Jones's future income would be free from the creditor's claim; only his present, non-exempt assets would be available for repaying creditors. While those present assets include (I presume) all of the IP of the Jones empire (by virtue of his ownership of the companies that hold them), Jones might have concluded that salvaging his current assets are a lost cause and that he'd do best to focus on freeing up his future income. 

The hitch here is that there is an exception to the bankruptcy discharge for "willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another or the property of another." If the behavior that produced the Sandy Hook judgment was "willful and malicious," then Jones will not be able to protect his future income through bankruptcy.  While the Sandy Hook judgment was for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and unfair trade practices—things that sound willful and malicious—it was a default judgment, meaning that there was never any actual hearing of the merits of the case; Jones just didn't respond to the suit. If there is a discharge objection raised (as there surely will be), then Jones will have a chance to litigate not the actual judgment, but the "willful and malicious" issue, but that effectively means he has an opportunity to litigate the case he previously forfeited. I'm skeptical that he'll prevail (he certainly loses on willful, but maybe he's got a shot at malicious?), but he at least gets another roll of the dice.

Now this extra dice roll isn't risk free. By filing for bankruptcy, Jones will have to come clean about all of his current assets. If he fails to do so, he risks federal prosecution for bankruptcy crimes.  Additionally, while Jones has filed for Chapter 11, where the default setting is that the debtor retains control of his assets as a debtor in possession, there is the possibility of the appointment of a trustee to take over his assets. There will surely be a motion made for the appointment of a trustee given allegations of Jones hiding assets. Jones will get to fight the motion, but I think a trustee being appointed is a real likelihood. If a trustee is appointed, the trustee will act to avoid various pre-bankruptcy transfers made by Jones in an attempt to shield his assets (and if there is no trustee appointed, then a creditors' committee will seek authorization to do so). Either way, I cannot imagine that Jones will be able to retain effective control of the case for very long. 

Bankruptcy offers Jones a glimmer of hope--maybe he can get a discharge for the Sandy Hook verdict, if the court finds his behavior wasn't willful and malicious--but if I were a betting man, I wouldn't put my money on Jones. Yet as long as he comes clean to the bankruptcy court about his assets, etc., there's little downside to him for trying this last Hail Mary move to stave off the Sandy Hook creditors.

New Resource on Uniform Commercial Code Reform for Digital Assets including Crytocurrency

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Earlier this fall I linked to a variety of resources, including webinars, on amendments to the Uniform Commercial Code to account for various types of digital assets. The scope includes but is not limited to commercial transactions involving cryptocurrency.

To add to these resources, a version of the amendments that includes official comments is now available.  

Because there will not be a uniform effective date, and some states have gotten an early start by implementing prior drafts of the amendments (see prior post), these could swiftly become relevant to transactions and disputes, including those that land in bankruptcy court. 

DOJ and DOE New Guidelines for Supporting Student Loan Discharge in Bankruptcy = More Student Loan Discharges?

posted by Pamela Foohey

The Department of Justice, in coordination with the Department of Education, has announced a new process for its handling of bankruptcy cases in which debtors seek an undue hardship student loan discharge. This new guidance has been a long time coming. In 2016, the DOE issued a request for information regarding evaluating undue hardship claims. Slipster Dalié Jiménez and I (along with co-authors) submitted a response that urged the DOE to establish clear, easy-to-verify circumstances under which it would support (or not object to) debtors' requests for student loan discharges. Subsequently we published articles expanding on and updating our proposals, always focusing on how the DOE could craft guidelines that would provide specific, objective criteria for when the DOE would not object to a requested discharge, thereby removing the guess work from discharge requests, and hopefully encouraging the filing of more student loan discharge adversary proceedings.

The new guidelines will go a long way in helping people obtain student loan discharges. They incorporate key aspects of what consumer advocates and academics have highlighted as important to promote discharges for people who will benefit from student debt relief. I predict that, over time, more consumer debtors will request and receive undue hardship discharges.

In short, the new process requires the debtor to submit an attestation form with information that will allow the DOJ and DOE to assess the three prongs of the Brunner test. At first glance, this may seem like a rehashing of the Brunner standard, thus providing the DOJ and DOE with significant wiggle-room to decide whether to support discharge. But upon digging into the requirements to meet each prong, it becomes more clear that the DOJ and DOE, overall, has adopted clear, objective criteria for its decision-making. This should provide debtors and attorneys with confidence in how the DOJ and DOE will respond to student loan discharge requests. Details about how the DOJ and DOE will handle assessing each of the prongs, plus some ruminations on how this guidance may play out, after the break.

Continue reading "DOJ and DOE New Guidelines for Supporting Student Loan Discharge in Bankruptcy = More Student Loan Discharges?" »

Credit Slips Now on Mastodon

posted by Pamela Foohey

Nine years ago, Credit Slips announced its new Twitter feed. Credit Slips is now also on Mastondon, at @creditslips.mastodon.lawprofs.org. We'll put links to our posts on Mastodon as they are published, as well as boost Credit Slips authors. For now, we'll also continue adding posts to our Twitter feed. Come find us on Mastodon! 

Binance's Custodial Arrangements: Whose Keys? Whose Coins?

posted by Adam Levitin

For months, cryptocurrency FTX (and its majority owner, Sam Bankman-Fried) have been the lender of last resort in crypto markets and pretty much the only distressed acquirer around. Now we learn that FTX has itself failed and is getting scooped up in a distressed acquisition by Binance. Does this remind anyone of Bank of America's purchase of Merrill Lynch and Countrywide in 2008? We'll see if the transaction closes, but at the very least it poses the question of whether Binance stands on any stronger ground than FTX? Binance's revenue has been way down this year, but who really knows its financial condition? It's not a public company, so there's limited visibility into its financial condition.

Here's what I do know about Binance, however, and it gives me real pause: Binance.us's Terms of Use disclose absolutely nothing about its custodial arrangement for crypto holdings. From the documents on Binance.us's website, it is impossible to determine the legal relationship between Binance.us and its customers and hence the type of counterparty risk they have from dealing with the exchange. That's scary.

Continue reading "Binance's Custodial Arrangements: Whose Keys? Whose Coins? " »

The Texas Two-Step as Fraudulent Transfer

posted by Adam Levitin

Judge Judith Fitzgerald (ret.) and I have a post about the Texas Two-Step bankruptcy process up at the Harvard Bankruptcy Law Blog, which has been running a series on the phenomenon.  And the Slips' own John A.E. Pottow has a capstone post on the same topic.    

The tl;dr read version of my post with Judge Fitzgerald is that the real fraudulent transfer vulnerability of the Texas Two-Step is the incurrence of an obligation by the BadCo in the divisive merger, not the transfer of assets to the GoodCo. Focusing on the the incurrence of an obligation not only avoids the problem of the Texas divisive merger statute deeming the merger not to be a transfer of assets (as there is a separate provision in the statute about liabilities that doesn't parallel the asset provision), but it also avoids the problem that there is no longer a transferor entity in existence.  If we're right (and we are), then it means that the liabilities follow normal state law successor liability principles, which should put the liability on GoodCo, which is continuing OldCo's enterprise.

Contributors

Current Guests

Kindle and ePub Versions of Bankruptcy Code

  • Free Kindle and ePub versions of the Bankruptcy Code are available through Credit Slips. For details and links, visit the original blog post announcing the availability of these files.

Follow Us On Twitter

Honors

  •    

Categories

Bankr-L

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

OTHER STUFF

Powered by TypePad