9 posts from June 2019

Reparations Claims by the Herero and Nama Against Germany

posted by Mitu Gulati

About two years ago, in 2017, an intriguing lawsuit was filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act in New York. It was filed by members of the Herero and Nama tribes for the genocide of their ancestors that took place in what is now known as Namibia. In March this year, Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who readers of this blog may know from the Puerto Rican financial drama, ruled that the claims against Germany were barred by that nation’s right of sovereign immunity. As an aside, having oversight of the Puerto Rican debt debacle is not Judge Swain’s only connection to sovereign debt lore – she also sits in the judgeship vacated by none other than Judge Thomas Griesa of pari passu infamy. For accounts of the above mentioned class action by the Herero and Nama, see here and here. (Lawsuits on roughly similar grounds had been attempted earlier as well; see here).

This outcome is probably not surprising for anyone who has followed the fate of human rights litigation over the past few years brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act. Basically, under the direction of the Supreme Court, the possibilities for victims of human rights violations that took place overseas to foreigners with no more than minimal connections to the US (in terms of the claims themselves) have been severely curtailed.

My reason for bringing this up is that this is a history that I knew little about until I started coming across references to the genocide in Namibia in accounts of the Congo where, similar horrors were taking place in the 1890s and early 1900s under King Leopold of Belgium (Joseph Blocher and I have been working on the question of contemporary implications for international law of the transfer of control that took place after the genocide in the Congo (here)). Still though, these references didn’t give me anything close to a sense of how horrific things had been there.

That is, until I came across this case and began reading the filings in more detail. And one of the most interesting pieces I’ve found is by German scholar Matthias Goldman that both uses original archival research to describes the events that took place and uses them to question our contemporary understanding of the law of sovereignty. The law of sovereignty, as with all of customary international law, is based on assumptions (often faulty – as Matthias shows in this case) about history. The article, “The Entanglement of Property and Sovereignty in International Law”, is short and eminently readable (here). Matthias, who many slipsters know because of his work on sovereign debt matters, has not only been writing on the topic of the genocide in South Western Africa but has also been involved in the court case (he filed an affidavit in the Herero and Nama lawsuit).

I hope that Judge Swain’s decision is not the end of the road for the claims of reparations by the Herero and Nama. Maybe they will have better fortune with a filing in a German court?

The Mad Mad World of "No Contest" Provisions in Wills

posted by Mitu Gulati

It has been almost twenty-five years since I got hooked on the puzzle of why boilerplate financial contracts, even among the most sophisticated parties, have inefficient terms. Steve Choi and I were taking Marcel Kahan’s Corporate Bond class and we couldn’t understand why the classical model with its highly informed repeat players (with everyone hiring expensive lawyers) wasn’t working to produce the optimal package of contract terms. Marcel presented a very coherent set of explanations for this phenomenon of contract stickiness having to do primarily with network and learning externalities.  And under that model, it was plausible to have equilibria where sophisticated commercial parties and their lawyers could know that they had suboptimal contract terms and yet be somehow unable to change them easily (thereby creating the phenomenon of “sticky” contracts).  Marcel though repeatedly emphasized to us that he had but scratched the surface of a topic worthy of much more investigation (for the classic Kahan & Klausner (1997) paper and its equally wonderful predecessor by Goetz & Scott (1985), see here and here).

Over the past two decades, since the publication of Kahan & Klausner’s sticky boilerplate paper, there have been a number of advances to our thinking about the phenomenon of sticky boilerplate. Most of them, however, have been focused on the worlds of mass market contracts of sophisticated finance or transactions where one of the sides to the transaction is a big repeat player (corporate bonds, sovereign bonds, M&A contracts, insurance). 

A wonderful new boilerplate paper though takes on an altogether unexpected area where I had always thought of the contract-type instruments as being highly tailored: that of Wills. The paper is “Boilerplate No Contest Clauses” posted about a month ago by David Horton (UC Davis) and Reid Weisbord (Rutgers). 

The paper identifies a persistent inefficiency in Wills – an area that I suspect most contract boilerplate scholars are utterly unaware to. That itself is interesting. But this paper goes beyond the traditional boilerplate contract scholarship which, as noted, identified the stickiness problem in mass market contracts.  Wills, as I understand the story that David and Reid tell, tend to always have both an element of tailoring for the individual client and an element of blind unthinking cutting and pasting from prior standard forms. What David and Reid show beautifully in their paper is that the boilerplate portion of the contract (and specifically, the “No Contest” provision) can often undermine the tailored portion that more specifically reflects the intent of the party making the Will.

For those not familiar with these clauses, the following is typical:

If any beneficiary under this Will in any manner, directly or indirectly, contests or attacks this Will or any of its provisions, any share of interest in my estate given to that contesting beneficiary under this Will is revoked . . . . “

Basically, this says: Don’t you dare challenge this Will. If you do, you might lose everything.

Problem is, as David and Reid explain, that there are situations where complications arise with the Will and someone has to go to court to get the complications resolved. That then presents the risk that some dastardly beneficiary will claim that the No Contest clause has been triggered vis-à-vis the innocent beneficiary who is just trying to solve a problem with the Will that the testator didn’t take into account. End result: The intentions of the testator are undermined. Even if the court ultimately tosses the challenges being made on the basis of the No Contest clause, time and money gets wasted.

Why does this clause persist?  The answer given by Reid and David is straightforward: These clauses are cut and paste from prior Wills without thought. They are part of the boilerplate that neither the lawyers nor their clients pay any attention to.  But why not?  The standard explanations from the boilerplate literature such as network/learning externalities, first mover disadvantages, negative signaling, status quo bias, inadequate litigation, etc., do not seem to apply particularly well.  Nor do explanations about big firms who are repeat players exploiting innocent customers who are one shot players.  So, given that the standard explanations do not work, why is the subset of the market for legal services not working?  Are the lawyers not being paid enough to read the boilerplate portions of the Wills and think through the contingencies?  (Best I can tell, the lawyers do actually understand the problem, since there has been lots of litigation over these types of clauses).

Continue reading "The Mad Mad World of "No Contest" Provisions in Wills" »

Lowdermilk on Family Farmers in Financial Trouble - new paper!

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Jamey Mavis Lowdermilk has just posted an article of interest to Credit Slips readers -- lawyers, judges, journalists, policymakers, and more. The article uses a case study of a chapter 12 family farm bankruptcy in North Carolina to ask bigger questions about farming finances and how public policy on farming is set. Extending the early work of now-Representative Katie Porter, Lowdermilk brings her own perspective and expertise to this topic. Before law school, Lowdermilk obtained a masters degree in applied economics and statistics with a specific interest in agriculture as well as rural development, and held a variety of positions related to farms, forestry, and credit. During law school, she started this chapter 12 project in my advanced bankruptcy seminar. After law school, Lowdermilk continued to work on the project and revise the paper for publication as a law review article. Several wonderful bankruptcy judges graciously offered feedback as her first footnote documents. Please check it out!

New Guide to Money Judgment Collection/Defense

posted by Jason Kilborn

EyesonthePrizecoverI excitedly tore into a small box this morning containing the first printing of my new book, Eyes on the Prize: Procedures and Strategies for Collecting Money Judgments and Shielding Assets (Carolina Academic Press 2019). Since the advent of the Bankruptcy Code in 1979, the study of how one collects a money judgment (or arbitral award) in law schools has become as rare as an involuntary bankruptcy petition against an individual debtor. But my students (and local lawyers) clamored for treatment of the topic for years, so I decided to do what I could to revive the subject. I was surprised at the diversity of approaches I found among the states (whose enforcement law applies to federal judgments, too, as described in the book), but I think I fairly survey the key variants by concentrating on a detailed exposition of the laws in New York, California, and Illinois, with a smattering of other salient state laws thrown in here and there (Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, etc.). In the past, I've used my state's statutes and a series of hypothetical practice problems (both of which included in this book) for years in my Civil Procedure classes, and the students have voraciously devoured that material. More detailed comparative knowledge has also sharpened my appreciation for how the battle between judicial lienholders and secured creditors works. I tried to offer soup-to-nuts coverage here, from discovery to asset protection to bankruptcy, so I think a lot of readers will find something useful, especially new practitioners who likely learned none of this in law school. A bit more of a preview than appears in the "Look inside" link on CAP's website is available for free download on SSRN, as well. Check it out--and let me know what you think!

PROMESA heads to the U.S. Supreme Court?

posted by Melissa Jacoby

In February 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for First Circuit held that the selection process of the Oversight Board in PROMESA, the rather bipartisan Puerto Rico debt restructuring law (and more), is unconstitutional. The reason: its members were not selected with advice and consent of the Senate, in violation of the Appointments Clause. In other words, it held that the Appointments Clause applies even when Congress created the positions through plenary power over territories, and that Oversight Board members constitute "Officers of the United States." The First Circuit also used the de facto officer doctrine to avoid a complete do-over; it did not dismiss the Title III petition of Puerto Rico (parallel to the filing of a bankruptcy petition), it did not invalidate the already-taken acts of the Board, and the Board could continue to act, at least until the court's stay runs out (originally 90 days, then extended to July 15). 

Given that last remedial twist, even the prevailing parties found reasons to dislike the First Circuit's ruling. Like the Jevic case, the PROMESA dispute invites unlikely bedfellows. Joining Aurelius Capital Management in challenging the First Circuit's ruling on the remedy is the labor union UTIER. They likely have little in common other than wanting a new Oversight Board, or, even better, no Oversight Board. A full bouquet of certiorari petitions followed, including one by the United States/Solicitor General predicting dire consequences if the Appointment Clause ruling stands. On June 20, 2019, the Supreme Court consolidated and granted certiorari on the various petitions. Argument is to take place in October.

Continue reading "PROMESA heads to the U.S. Supreme Court? " »

Seventh Circuit Smackdown of City of Chicago

posted by Jason Kilborn

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals this week released its opinion in In re Fulton, the highly anticipated consolidated appeal of four Chapter 13 cases involving debtors whose cars had been impounded. The City of Chicago had refused to release them to the debtors (exercising the rights of trustee under section 1303) after the petition filings, as clearly required by section 542 and Seventh Circuit precedent, Thompson v. GMAC, 566 F3d 699 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court rejected the City's arguments in favor of repealing Thompson or recognizing a stay/turnover exception for the City to maintain its possessory lien on impounded cars by keeping, well, possession.

The Court reached the right result here, in my view, and two things really jumped out at me. First, the Court explains several times that the case should be governed by "the purpose of bankruptcy - 'to allow the debtor to regain his financial foothold and repay his creditors.'" The Court's emphasis on the debtor-salutary purpose of bankruptcy is refreshing, even in cases where the repaying-creditors purpose is likely to be largely defeated.

More striking were the first lines of the portion of the opinion recounting the facts of Fulton's case. She used the car "to commute to work, transport  her young daughter to day care, and care for her elderly parents on weekends." You can already anticipate where the Court is heading in the case, but then it gets better: "On December 24, 2017, three weeks after she purchased a 2015 Kia Soul, the City towed and impounded the vehicle for a prior citation of driving on a suspended license." Really??!! The City towed and impounded her new car on Christmas Eve!!?? It probably still had a temporary plate indicating it was new. And it got towed for what? A prior citation having nothing to do with the car at all. Note to self, City of Chicago: When the Court opens the fact section with a smackdown recounting @$$hole behavior like this, you can just skip to the end. You lose. Three cheers for the Seventh Circuit again!

The Meaning of "Abusive" in the UDAAP Triad

posted by Adam Levitin

On June 25, the CFPB will be holding a symposium on the meaning of "abusive" in the Consumer Financial Protection Act.  "Abusive" is an expansion of the traditional FTC Act couplet of "unfair or deceptive" acts and practices (UDAP) to a triad of "unfair, deceptive, or abusive" acts and practices (UDAAP). Although the Bureau has operated for the past eight years without defining the term "abusive", it has indicated in its long-term rulemaking agenda that it intends to undertake a rulemaking to define "abusive"—presumably in response to US Chamber of Commerce complaints about legal uncertainty chilling business.

The symposium will have two panels, one of academics, one of practitioners.  Credit Slips will be well represented on the first panel by me and our former guest blogger, Patricia McCoy.  We'll be joined by Howard Beales of GW University's Business School, and the inimitable Todd Zywicki of Scalia Law School.    

My (lengthy) written submission (a/k/a everything you wanted to know about "abusive" but were afraid to ask) is here.  Bottom line, there's no reason for the Bureau to undertake a definitional rulemaking, its legal authority to do so is suspect, it cannot bind state AG's to any definition... but if it does do so, there's no scienter requirement, no cost-benefit analysis required, and "taking unreasonable advantage" sounds in unjust enrichment.   

Reverse Mortgage Meltdown ... and Gov't Complicity?

posted by Jason Kilborn

USA Today just came out with an interesting expose about reverse mortgages and their negative impact, especially in low-income, African American, urban neighborhoods (highlighting a few in my backyard here in Chicago). I have long been interested in reverse mortgages, touted in TV ads by seemingly trustworthy spokespeople like Henry Winkler and Alex Trebek as sources of risk-free cash for folks enjoying their golden years, and I am always on the lookout for explanations of the pitfalls. Most of these breathless critiques strike me as overkill, but the USA Today story reveals fairly compelling real stories of a few of the ways in which a combination of financial illiteracy and sharp marketing tactics can lead to bad outcomes ranging from rude awakening (heirs having to buy back their childhood homes) to tragedy (simple missed paperwork deadlines leading to foreclosure and an abusive accumulation of default and attorney fee charges).

One line really jumped out at me. In defense of their seemingly hard-hearted and Emersonian-foolish-consistencies-being-the-hobgoblins-of-little-minds conduct, an industry spokesperson deflects, "lenders would prefer to extend the deadlines for older borrowers but fear violating HUD guidelines." Another bank official chimes in, “No matter how heinous or heartbreaking the case, it’s not our call. There’s no wiggle room,” adding that the stress of being unable to behave in a commercially and morally reasonable manner “takes a toll on employees.” [Yes, the unquoted characterization of the rigid lender behavior is mine, not the bank official's].

"Really??!!," I wondered. I wouldn't put any outrage past the Trump administration these days, but forcing banks to foreclose because an elderly surviving spouse overlooked a single piece of paperwork and is prepared to fix the problem a few days past the deadline strikes me as ... hard to believe. Is the government complicit in these reverse mortgage tragedies because it forces lenders to observe rules and deadlines rigidly? If so, how sad and frustrating, and yet another sign of the failures of our modern political stalemate between rational compromise and hysteria, where the latter seems to be winning on all sides.

The New Bond Thing: Sub Sovereign Masala Bonds?

posted by Mitu Gulati

Bored on my flight into Kerala, India’s southern most state, a few weeks ago, I picked up a newspaper lying on the empty seat next to me.  Most of the news was either about the Indian elections and how the nationalist BJP party had swept to power or about or India’s prospects in the cricket World Cup.  What caught my eye though was a little piece in the back section with a photo of luminaries from Kerala’s Marxist party at the London stock exchange. Kerala, for those who don’t know, has a long tradition of cycling between electing the supposedly anti-market Marxists and their pro-market Congress opponents. But here, I was seeing the Kerala Marxist party leaders at the London Stock Exchange.  My first thought was: This is a gag. Turned out not to be though.  The occasion was a five-year rupee denominated bond issued by Kerala, with a Canadian pension fund as its anchor investor (For more, see here).

The celebration at the London exchange was for Kerala having issued the first ever sub sovereign “masala” bond issue on the LSE.  Masala bonds are rupee-denominated bonds issued overseas (like Dim Sum, Samurai and Yankee bonds) and there are almost fifty of these masalas out there.  This though was the first one ever issued by an Indian state on the international market. I was intrigued for multiple reasons.

First, this was the first international sovereign bond of any variety from post-independence India that I had ever seen.  India has long had an enormous capacity to borrow on the international markets.  But its sovereign entities, state and federal, have staunchly refused tap this capacity until now.   

Second, I’ve long been fascinated by the question of why some countries borrow internationally at both the national and state (or sub sovereign) level (e.g., Spain), and others do their international borrowing only at the national level and effectively constrain the states to borrow from domestic markets (e.g., U.S.).  Here, we appear to have a new third category:  tapping the international market at the state level and not doing so at the national level. 

Third, I had had the vague impression that the Indian constitution barred the states from tapping the overseas markets (the language of the constitution, best I can tell, is not crystal clear on the matter).  And yet here it was: a bond issued by a wholly owned corporation of the state of Kerala (the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board or KIIFB), fully backed by a state guarantee with a rating from Fitch of BB.

Continue reading "The New Bond Thing: Sub Sovereign Masala Bonds?" »

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