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Alabama Supreme Court and Section 366

posted by Adam Levitin

By sheer coincidence, the first problem I taught in my financial restructuring class today was about a bankrupt fertility clinic that is behind on its electric bill and is having trouble coming up with the funds to provide adequate assurances to the power company that it will pay its future bills: if the electricity is cut off, all the frozen zygotes and embryos will thaw and become unviable. 

I found myself wondering how this would play out in Alabama now. Suppose the debtor could not provide adequate assurances. Would the DIP/trustee or utility face some sort of liability for wrongful death if what one of my students termed "the biological material" melted?  I assume the Barton doctrine would provide some level of protection to the DIP or trustee. (I also assume the bankruptcy judge would have broad immunity for his or her official acts.) I'm not sure if the power company could even have liability, but given the potential scale of liability, it's probably not worthwhile cutting off the power, even if the risk of liability is very small.

I know that similar sorts of issues can emerge in hospital or nursing home bankruptcies, where there are patients who have to be transferred to other facilities in the event that the debtor is liquidating, but that's addressed by 11 USC 704(a)(12). Maybe an embryo that is frozen at a fertility clinic is now a "patient" at a "health care facility." Otherwise, I'm not sure what would create a duty for the trustee/DIP to preserve the embryos. 

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