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Non-Debtor Releases

posted by Adam Levitin

I have an op-ed in Bloomberg Law about the abuse of non-debtor releases. Many chapter 11 attorneys argue that non-debtor releases are an essential all-purpose deal lubricant and that the excesses of a few cases—Purdue Pharma, Boy Scouts—shouldn't result in throwing out the baby with the bath water. I disagree. There's no question that non-debtor releases can grease a deal (and let's put aside the questionable practice of attorneys negotiating plans that give them releases as well). But so what? There's also a little thing called due process. It's only within the tunnel vision of chapter 11 that reorganization trumps all. Hopefully the Nondebtor Release Prohibition Act, which passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last month will become law and clarify the matter. 

Indeed, are non-debtor releases actually so important for practice? Chapter 11 lived with them for years before Mansville and even after Mansville it was years before they started being used in non-asbestos cases. Indeed, can anyone actually point to a case where a debtor would have had to liquidate and jobs would have been lost but for non-debtor releases? Perhaps there is such a case, but if so, it's the exception.

Take Purdue Pharma. What would have been the alternative to boughten releases for the Sacklers?  Perhaps a liquidating plan, but I'm not sure that it would have resulted in any job loss, just a going-concern sale. And the estate could have sold its own litigation claims against the Sacklers or put them into a litigation trust. To be sure, one might argue that the boughten releases for the Sacklers are a better deal economically for the estate, and that's the proper measure when considering a settlement of estate claims, but I do not see how the estate—or any bankruptcy judge—can constitutionally impose a settlement of creditors' direct claims against non-debtors. It doesn't comport with due process and it's pretty clearly an uncompensated taking.

I'm sure some readers will disagree, and comments are welcome. Further affiant sayeth not. 

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