6 posts from January 2023

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!

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