postings by Pamela Foohey

Is DOJ Supporting the Purdue Pharma Plan? Or Not?

posted by Adam Levitin

The Department of Justice appears to be mumbling out of both sides of its mouth in the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy.  On July 19, DOJ filed a "statement" regarding the release of the Sacklers. Not an "objection," but a statement that sure reads a lot like an objection.  Then today we learn that DOJ did not bother to vote its multi-billion dollar claim. The plan deems a vote not cast to be an acceptance. 

So which one is it?  Is DOJ for the plan or against it?  Or trying to keep its head down and avoid political heat while not really derailing anything?  Whatever position DOJ wants to take, this approach is not exactly a profile in courage.  (And failing to vote is not exactly in keeping with DOJ's brand... And failing to exercise governance rights on a multi-billion dollar asset? Bruh.)

I'll be very curious to see if DOJ actually argues anything at the confirmation hearing or joins in any appeal. The appellate point is key--there's a long-shot chance that the district court or 2nd Circuit might stay the effective date of the plan--but I think the odds of that are close to zero unless DOJ is among the parties making such a motion. If DOJ fails to seek a stay of the plan going into effect, it will be hard to see DOJ's "statement" as anything more than political posturing.

House Judiciary Testimony on Chapter 11 Abuses

posted by Adam Levitin

I'm testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at a hearing entitled "Confronting Abuses of the Chapter 11 System."  My written testimony can be found here. It touches on six topics:

  1. Non-debtor releases
  2. Judge-picking
  3. Lack of appellate review (especially equitable mootness)
  4. Increased use of sub rosa plans
  5. Increasingly brazen fraudulent transfers
  6. Payday before mayday executive bonuses

By the way, since my draft article on Purdue has been public, I've heard from a number of attorneys, including folks I had not previously known, confirming various insights in the paper and wanting to tell me their own stories.  I have really appreciated that and learned a lot from it.  I have not seen this scale of a reaction to a paper previously. So if you've got your own tale of aggressive restructuring transactions being blessed by a hand-picked judge and then evading appellate review, I'm eager to hear them (and won't attribute them to you). 

The Department of Education Can Help With Student Loans in Bankruptcy

posted by Pamela Foohey

With the Second Circuit's decision last week regarding private student loans, student loan discharge in bankruptcy is in the news. As Slipster Adam Levitin blogged, the "big picture" effect of this decision--and the 5th and 10th Circuits--is unclear. They could affect a broad swath of private student loans and they possibly could bring more bankruptcy filings to deal with a portion of people's student loan debt. Regardless, though, federal student loans remain presumptively non-dischargeable.

If the people who file bankruptcy with both private and federal student loans (which, I suspect, likely is many people with student loans), debtors will need to bring undue hardship discharge requests. A possible additional effect of these decisions may be to increase undue hardship requests, provided that debtors and attorneys think they are worth making. Research by Jason Iuliano (Utah Law) suggests that debtors may be more successful in these actions than the general public or even many consumer bankruptcy attorneys presume.

For federal students loans, the Department of Education plays a crucial role in undue hardship discharge requests. I recently published an essay in Minnesota Law Review Headnotes, co-authored with Aaron Ament and Daniel Zibel, who co-founded the National Student Legal Defense Network, regarding how the Ed Department should update its internal guidance for determining whether to contest a borrower’s request for an undue hardship discharge. The Ed Department presently seems to be wasting resources going after debtors with little ability to repay, regardless of whether their student loans are discharged. In the essay, we provide two options for how the Department can update its approach to bankruptcies to ensure that it calibrates its actions to make the promise of a fresh start more real for student borrowers.

Continue reading "The Department of Education Can Help With Student Loans in Bankruptcy" »

The Texas Two-Step: The New Fad in Fraudulent Transfers

posted by Adam Levitin

There's a new fad in fraudulent transfers. It's called the Texas Two-Step. Here's how it goes. A company has a lot of tort liabilities (e.g., asbestos, talc, benzene, Roundup). The company transforms into a Texas corporate entity (the particular type doesn't matter). The new Texas entity then undertakes a "divisive merger" that splits the company into two companies, and it allocates the assets and liabilities as it pleases among the successor entities.

The result is that one successor entity ends up saddled with the tort liabilities (BadCo) and the other with the assets (GoodCo).  The companies then convert to whatever type of entity the want to be going forward for corporate governance (or venue) purposes, and the BadCo files for bankruptcy, while GoodCo keeps chugging away. The tort victims find themselves creditors in the bankruptcy of BadCo and get bupkes, while the bankruptcy plan inevitably includes a release of all claims against GoodCo. Pretty nifty way to hinder, delay, or defraud creditors if it works, right?

Well, that's the question:  does this work?  We've only seen two Texas Two-Steps to date. There have been a few Texas Two-Steps to date (and one might be a Wilmington Waltz). First was BestWall's asbestos bankruptcy. BestWall (formerly part of Georgia Pacific) is a subsidiary of Koch Industries, and its bankruptcy is pending in the Western District of North Carolina. No plan has been confirmed, but the case has been dragging on since 2017 and the asbestos victims have been enjoined from suing any of the non-bankrupt Koch entities. Plan exclusivity has long-lapsed, but the court won't dismiss the case and doesn't seem willing to consider any alternatives. Even if the Two-Step isn't completely successful in the end, it will surely reduce whatever settlement the Koch entities have to pay.

Then there's DBMP (CertainTeed), another asbestos case, again in the Western District of North Carolina. Same story going on there; there's an adversary proceeding pending about the preliminary injunction. Also in WDNC, before the same judge is Aldrich Pump. Same judge as DBMP, and again a preliminary injunction. And then pending in Delaware is Paddock Enterprises, LLC, the rump of Owens-Illinois. The UST filed an examiner motion over the divisive merger transaction. Denied.

In any case, the Two-Step looks promising enough that Johnson & Johnson is supposedly considering using it for its talc liabilities.

Continue reading "The Texas Two-Step: The New Fad in Fraudulent Transfers" »

15 Years of Credit Slips

posted by Bob Lawless

The Debt Hole.White BannerToday marks fifteen years of the Credit Slips blog. We started modestly on this date in 2006 while we were in the throes of doing all the tedious ground work for what would be the 2007 version of the Consumer Bankruptcy Project. After 15 years, I think I can reveal that I had originally proposed--and I am not making this up--a different name for the blog. Proof of the bona fides of that big reveal are to the right, which was the original mockup of the blog banner. Much, much wiser heads prevailed. The blog got a different name, and Credit Slips was launched. Many thanks to all of our bloggers over the years, both regulars and guests, but especially many thanks to our readers who have helped us create this little corner of the Internet that we will keep going as long as you'll have us.

The Emperor's Old Bonds

posted by Mitu Gulati

Andres Paciuc, Mike Chen & Charlie Fendrych, have just published their delightful paper on Chinese Imperial Debt in the Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law. This is a version of a paper that they did for my sovereign debt class with Mark Weidemaier a few years ago. Bravo! The paper is available here.

Here is the abstract:

Recent news articles have suggested that Trump’s trade war may finally provide relief to American holders of defaulted, pre-1950s Chinese bonds. Here, we examine the hurdles set before these bondholders, namely establishing jurisdiction over the People’s Republic of China as a sovereign and the long-lapsed statute of limitations. We also evaluate the Chinese government’s possible recourse.

Our investigation yielded key takeaways. First, to establish jurisdiction in the U.S., the bond must be denominated in U.S. Dollars or state a place of performance within the country. Second, to overcome the long-expired statute of limitations and win an equitable remedy, it must be shown that the PRC violated an absolute priority or pari passu clause and is a “uniquely recalcitrant” debtor. Finally, despite China’s commitment to the odious debt doctrine, the doctrine is unlikely to provide meaningful legal protection in an otherwise successful suit. Overall, it is a difficult suit to bring. However, through our investigations, we have discovered one issue in particular which holds the greatest danger—or perhaps the greatest promise: the Chinese Government 2-Year 6% Treasury Notes of 1919.

Second Circuit Holds Many Private Student Loans Are Dischargeable in Bankruptcy

posted by Adam Levitin

The 2d Circuit this week joined the 5th and 10th Circuits in holding that the discharge exception in 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8)(A)(ii) for "an obligation to repay funds received as an educational benefit, scholarship, or stipend" doesn’t cover private student loans, only things like conditional grants (e.g., a ROTC grant that has to be repaid if the student doesn't enlist). It's another important student loan decision. At this point ever circuit to weigh in on the issue has said that private student loans aren't covered under 523(a)(8)(A)(ii).  Instead, a private student loan, if it's going to be non-dischargeable, would have to fit under 523(a)(8)(B), but that provision doesn't cover all private student loans. It only covers "qualified educational loans," which are loans solely for qualified higher education expenses (itself a defined term).

In this case, the debtor alleged that the loan was not made solely to cover his cost of attending college, and the loan was disbursed to him directly. The creditor, Navient, did not claim that the loan qualified as a "qualified educational loan," and instead relied on the 523(a)(8)(A)(ii) exception.The Second Circuit wasn't having any of it.

So what does this mean big picture?

Continue reading "Second Circuit Holds Many Private Student Loans Are Dischargeable in Bankruptcy" »

Sacklers Withdraw Their Threatened Sanctions Motion

posted by Adam Levitin

The Sacklers decided not to proceed with their threatened sanctions motion. Their counsel wrote to the case distribution list:

After having heard from several parties that the motion served yesterday may be counterproductive to the deal, we are withdrawing the email we sent yesterday serving the Rule 9011 motion.  It was not our intention to do anything counterproductive to concluding the deal, and we take seriously the views that have been expressed to us.  The motion has not been and will not be filed. 

Not every day you see a party put out a 201 page sanctions motion and then to yank it back the next day. 🤦🏻‍♂️🤦🏻‍♂️🤦🏻‍♂️  Wonder what the billing was for this episode?

Why Aren't All Judicial Recusal Lists Public?

posted by Adam Levitin

Judges sometimes have to recuse themselves from hearing cases because of financial or personal interests. Some of those conflicts can be spotted in advance, and judges will have standing recusal lists filed with the clerk of the court to keep those cases from being assigned to them in the first place. Of course, these recusals can be weaponized:  if there are two judges in a district, and I know that the son of one is a partner at local law firm, I can hire that firm as my co-counsel and ensure that the case will go before the other judge.

I got interested in this issue precisely because it enables judge-picking in two-judge divisions or districts. Some courts have their recusal lists up on the court's website. Others do not publish it. I was surprised today to be rebuffed when I asked the clerk's office for the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas about getting the recusal list for the two judges who presided last year over half of the large, public company bankruptcies in the entire nation.

I wasn't given an explanation of why it isn't publicly available. As far as I can see, it should be. Parties should have a right to know why their case got assigned to a particular judge, not least because if the case assignment was the result of another party deliberately conflicting out a judge that might be grounds for seeking some sort of relief.  Perhaps there's some sort of privacy concern I don't see, but it strikes me that as a matter of course, all judicial recusal lists should be public and published. 

But this also brings up another matter, which is the variation in practice among courts on a range of issues. It's beyond me why there isn't much greater uniformity in administrative practices among clerks' offices. As I've been crawling through courts' websites, I've been struck by the lack of uniformity on all sorts of things (e.g., some courts' ECF systems include time stamps, and others don't). The decentralized nature of the court administration doesn't strike me as optimal or even the result of a lot of thinking, but more the outgrowth of traditional local fiefdoms. It doesn't make a lot of sense in an internet-driven age with national practices. 

The Sacklers Try to Strong Arm the Non-Consenting States with a Threat of Sanctions

posted by Adam Levitin

Every time I think the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy couldn't get crazier, it does. The latest development is that some of the Sacklers (the Raymond branch) are seeking sanctions against five of the holdout non-consenting states for allegedly false statements in the states' proofs of claim. It's a blatant litigation tactic. The clear motivation for this motion is to bully the non-consenting states into dropping their opposition to the plan (and the release of the Sacklers) in exchange for the Sacklers dropping the sanctions motion. It’s absolutely outrageous.

Continue reading "The Sacklers Try to Strong Arm the Non-Consenting States with a Threat of Sanctions" »

Cheeky Cruise Company Lawyering

posted by Mitu Gulati

This past week’s episode of Andrew Jennings’ Business Scholarship Podcast tells a wonderful story of sneaky cruise ship lawyering. Andrew’s guest was John Coyle, contracts/choice-of-law guru. The discussion focused on the 11th Circuit’s recent decision in Myhra v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., and John’s new article about that case, “Cruise Contracts, Public Policy, and Foreign Forum Selection Clauses”  

The backdrop to this story is US federal law that constrains cruise companies from contracting to limit liability in the small print of their contracts with customers; contract provisions that few read and fewer still pay attention to.  John explains:

46 U.S.C. § 30509 . . . prohibits cruise companies from writing provisions into their passenger contracts that limit the company’s liability for personal injury or death incurred on cruises that stop at a U.S. port.  The policy goal underlying this statute is simple.  A cruise contract is the prototypical contract of adhesion.  Absent the constraints imposed by the statute, a cruise company could write language into its passenger contracts that would absolve the company from liability for passenger injuries even when the company was at fault.  The statute clearly states that such provisions are void as against U.S. public policy and directs courts not to give them any effect.

That strikes me as a pretty clear dictate to the courts.  And if I were a cruise company contract lawyer, I’d be worried about trying to draft around such a clear dictate.  (Wouldn’t courts, customers, and just about everyone else look with disfavor upon such sneakiness?). Cruise company lawyers though, at least in the 11th Circuit (which is the key circuit for such matters, since it covers Florida) have figured out a back door way around the explicit prohibition by using a combination of forum selection and governing law clauses.  This enables them to limit liability to foreign customers, even though they are taking the same cruise as their US counterparts.  John’s article explains:

Notwithstanding this clear statement of U.S. policy, cruise companies have worked diligently to develop a workaround to Section 30509 for passengers who reside outside the United States. First, the companies write choice-of-law clauses into their passenger contracts selecting the law of the passenger’s home country.  In many cases, the enforcement of such clauses will result in the application of the Athens Convention, a multilateral treaty which caps the liability of cruise ship companies.  When the Athens Convention applies, an injured cruise ship passenger generally cannot recover more than $66,000 in a tort suit against the cruise ship company.  In this way, the cruise company seeks to accomplish indirectly through a choice-of-law clause what it could not achieve directly via a contract provision limiting their liability.

I’m astonished.  Surely a US federal court would not permit such a sneaky workaround.  And John’s article explains, after canvasing a large set of cases across a range of subject areas, that that is the case. Except, maybe, if you are a cruise company litigating in the 11th Circuit against a foreign customer.

Continue reading "Cheeky Cruise Company Lawyering" »

(Why) Are ESG Sovereign Bonds (Such) Scams?

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Mark Weidemaier and Mitu Gulati

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing is all the rage, with heaps of money pouring into sovereign and corporate bonds intended to finance efforts to meet climate-related goals and other worthwhile objectives. We have been skeptical of these commitments for some time, mostly because we aren’t persuaded investors care about much other than yield. And in fact, yields on ESG bonds seem to be a bit—but only a bit!—lower than yields on non-ESG bonds (the so-called “greenium”). As Matt Levine pointed out a couple of days ago, it’s not obvious how socially responsible investing will affect investors’ returns. But we are a little bit suspicious of the market for sovereign ESG bonds.

In part, we’re suspicious for the usual reasons. The basic transaction structure is that the bond issuer says it will use the proceeds for some beneficial environmental or social purpose. But the commitments are often defined so vaguely that it is hard to verify compliance. This is a pretty standard complaint, and a lot of smart people are thinking about how to define “green” investments and develop verification tools. But we’re suspicious for a more fundamental reason: The contracts are absolute b.s. Many issuers don’t commit to anything at all, or so the documentation suggests.

Continue reading "(Why) Are ESG Sovereign Bonds (Such) Scams?" »

Available now, wherever books are sold.

posted by Stephen Lubben

I'm pleased to announce the publication of the second edition of American Business Bankruptcy. Now featuring coverage of the Small Business Reorganization Act (subchapter V) and a nifty endorsement from a fellow Slipster.

Let Consumers Control Their Financial Data

posted by Adam Levitin

I have an op-ed out in The Hill about who should control consumer financial data. Consumer financial data is basically the most valuable type of consumer data you can find because it is so easy to monetize. Not surprisingly, banks have been very reluctant to let consumers share their data with nonbanks (or other banks). Fortunately, there's a tool for addressing this issue. Section 1033 of the Dodd-Frank Act gives consumers a right to control their financial data. What's still needed, however, is a CFPB rulemaking implementing section 1033. The shape of a future 1033 rule will be key for setting forth the parameters for competition in consumer financial services for the next generation. There are certainly security and privacy issues that need to be addressed, but it should be no surprise that I am strongly in favor of broad data portability.

Purdue Retaliates Against the Parent of an Opioid Victim Who Dares to Speak Out

posted by Adam Levitin

Another recent Purdue docket item caught my notice. It is an order approving a settlement between Peter Jackson, the parent of a teenage opioid overdose victim, and Purdue and the Personal Injury Ad Hoc Committee regarding discovery requests that Purdue and the PI Ad Hoc Committee served on Mr. Jackson. It's a minor episode in the overall bankruptcy, but shows just how nasty Purdue is willing to get to push through its plan.

Continue reading "Purdue Retaliates Against the Parent of an Opioid Victim Who Dares to Speak Out" »

Getting Ahead of Consumer Loan Defaults Post-Pandemic

posted by Pamela Foohey

On this Tuesday, the Supreme Court refused to lift a ban on evictions for tenants that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently extended through the end of July. The eviction moratoria is one of a handful of debt pauses put in place by the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic that are set to expire soon. The student loan moratorium ends on September 30. The mortgage foreclosure moratorium ends on July 31. In anticipation of the end of the foreclosure moratorium, this week, the CFPB finalized new rules that put into place protections for borrowers that servicers must use before they foreclose.

Student loans and mortgages are most people's two largest debts. But they are not the only large loans that people are in danger of getting behind on post-pandemic. Indeed, when student loan and mortgage debts become due, people may prioritize paying them ahead of car loans, credit cards, and similar. In a new op-ed in The Hill, Christopher Odinet, Slipster Dalié Jiménez, and I set forth how the CFPB can use its legal authority to steer a range of loan servicers to offering people affordable modifications. As a preview, we suggest that the CFPB should issue a compliance and enforcement bulletin directing loan servicers to make a reasonable determination that a borrower has the ability to make all required, scheduled payments in connection with any modification.

The piece is a short version of our new draft paper, Steering Loan Modifications Post-Pandemic, which we wrote as part of the upcoming "Crisis in Contracts" symposium hosted by Duke Law's Law & Contemporary Problems journal. The paper contains more about what federal agencies already are doing to get ahead of mortgage modification requests, about why similar is needed for the range of consumer loans, and about the reasoning behind our suggestion that the CFPB use its prevent what we term modification failures.

District Judge to Purdue: "You Don't Get to Choose Your Judge"

posted by Adam Levitin

"[Y]ou don't get to choose your judge." That's what US District Judge Colleen McMahon wrote to Purdue Pharma, in response to an ex parte letter Purdue had written to her addressing a possible motion to withdraw the reference to the bankruptcy court for a third-party release and injunction. 

The irony here is incredible. I suspect that Judge McMahon does not realize that judge picking is precisely what Purdue Pharma did to land its case before Judge Drain, rather than going on the wheel in Bowling Green and risking landing a judge who does not believe that there is authority to enter third-party releases.

The problem with judge picking is that it creates an appearance of impropriety. And judge picking is the original sin in Purdue's bankruptcy. It has tainted everything in the case. It will mean that however much money the Sacklers pay, there will always be the suspicion that they would have had to pay a lot more had the case been randomly assigned to another judge, who might not have stayed litigation against them for nearly two years.

Continue reading "District Judge to Purdue: "You Don't Get to Choose Your Judge"" »

Collins v. Yellen: the Most Important (and Overlooked) Implication

posted by Adam Levitin

The Supreme Court's decision in Collins v. Yellen has garnered a fair amount of attention because it resulted in a change in the leadership at the Federal Housing Finance Agency and largely dashed the hopes of Fannie and Freddie preferred shareholders in terms of seeing a recovery of diverted dividends. But the commentary has missed the really critical implication of the decision:  the Biden administration can undertake a wholesale reform of Fannie and Freddie by itself without Congress.

Continue reading "Collins v. Yellen: the Most Important (and Overlooked) Implication" »

What's Up With Oral Opinions in Bankruptcy?

posted by Adam Levitin

I've been reading a lot of bankruptcy court transcripts this past year, and I've noticed how frequently judges issue rulings orally from the bench. Sometimes these rulings are clearly drafted out, complete with pincites, etc. Yet these decision are never published. The only way to find them is to dig through the transcripts, which are usually not available on the free public dockets, but only in PACER. 

I've got a trio of concerns about this practice as well as some general questions about why this practice exists that I'm hoping our readership (particularly judges) can answer. 

Continue reading "What's Up With Oral Opinions in Bankruptcy?" »

Venue Reform: Once More Unto the Breach

posted by Adam Levitin

Chapter 11 venue reform is back and not a moment too soon. The perennial problem of forum shopping has devolved into naked judge picking with what appears to be competition among a handful of judges to land large chapter 11 case. The results are incredible: last year 57% of the large public company bankruptcies ended up before just three judges, and 39% ended up before a single judge. When judges compete for cases, the entire system is degraded. Judges who want to attract or retain the flow of big cases cannot rule against debtors (or their private equity sponsors) on any key issues. If they do, they are branded as "unpredictable" and the business flows elsewhere. The result is that we are seeing a weaponization of bankruptcy and procedural rights, particularly for nonconsensual or legacy creditors being trampled.  

Recognizing this problem, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Ken Buck (R-CO) introduced the bipartisan Bankruptcy Venue Reform Act of 2021, H.R. 41931. The bill would require debtors to file where their principal place of business or principal assets are located—in other words in a location with a real world connection with the debtor's business. 

Continue reading "Venue Reform: Once More Unto the Breach" »

Antique Chinese Debt - The Latest

posted by Mitu Gulati

Mark Weidemaier and I have talked about antique Chinese (mostly Imperial) debt often on this site.  And we've also discussed these debts on our podcast with sovereign debt gurus Tracy Alloway and Lee Buchheit (here).  Yes, we are a bit obsessed. Part of our fascination with this topic is that the Chinese government asserted a defense of odiousness to paying these debts.  The lenders (backed by western powers, seeking influence in China) and the Imperial borrowers (seeking to sell access to their country in exchange for self preservation) had, in essence, sold out the people of China.  End result: Revolution and refusal of successor communist governments to pay these debts, no matter what - even today, when China is a financial behemoth.  

Below is the abstract for a wonderful new paper, "Confirming the Obvious: Why Antique Chinese Bonds Should Remain Antique" in the U Penn Asian L. Rev. by two of our former Duke students, Alex Xiao and Brenda Luo.  Bravo! We are so proud.

As the Sino-U.S. relationship goes on a downward spiral, points of conflict have sparked at places one might not expect: antique sovereign bonds. In recent years, the idea of making China pay for the sovereign bonds issued by its predecessor regimes a century ago have received increasing attention in the U.S. This note takes this seeming strange idea seriously and maps out the possible legal issues surrounding a revival of these century-old bonds. Although two particular bonds show some potential for revival—the Hukuang Railways 5% Sinking Fund Gold Bonds of 1911 and the Pacific Development Loan of 1937—the private bondholders would unlikely be able to toll the statute of limitations on the repayment claims based on these bonds. Even in the unlikely scenario that they succeed, the Chinese government would have an arsenal of contract law arguments against the enforcement of these bonds, most notably defenses based on duress, impracticality, and public policy. By going into the details of the legal arguments and history behind these bonds, we seek to confirm the obvious, that is, the idea of making China pay for these bonds is as far-fetched as it sounds and would not be taken seriously by courts.

Collins v. Yellen

posted by Adam Levitin
The Supreme Court ruled today in Collins v. Yellen, a case brought by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac preferred shareholders that challenged both the constitutionality of the FHFA Director's appointment and the 2012 amendment to Treasury's stock purchase agreement with Fannie and Freddie that provided for all of Fannie and Freddie's profits to be swept into Treasury. The preferred shareholders are miffed because they believe that those dividends should be paid to them first, never minding the fact that but for the Treasury stock purchase, Fannie and Freddie would have been liquidated in receivership, resulting in the preferreds being wiped out. 
 
SCOTUS, following its ruling in Seila Law v. CFPB, held that the FHFA Director must be removable at will by the President. In light of this finding of unconstitutionality in the appointment of the FHFA Director, the Court remanded for consideration of damages from past profit sweeps. Future profit sweeps are permitted, however, as the Director is now clearly removable at will by the President.
 
While some media is pitching the outcome as a mixed ruling, it really isn't for the preferred shareholders. The preferreds took it on the nose here, and the market gets it: Fannie Mae preferred shares tumbled in value by 62% after the decision.
 

Continue reading "Collins v. Yellen" »

Fake Lender Rule Repeal

posted by Adam Levitin

The House is schedule to take up a vote on repealing the OCC's "Fake Lender Rule," that would deem a loan to be made by a bank for usury purposes as long as the bank is a lender of record on the loan. Under the rule, issued in the waning days of the Trump administration, the bank is deemed to be the lender if its name is on the loan documentation, irrespective any other facts. Thus, under the rule, it does not matter if the bank was precommitted to selling the loan to a nonbank, which undertook the design, marketing, and underwriting of the loan. The bank's involvement can be a complete sham, and yet under the OCC's rule, it loan would be exempt from state usury laws because of the bank's notional involvement. The Fake Lender Rule green lights rent-a-bank schemes, which have proliferated as the transactional structure of choice for predatory consumer and small business lenders. 

Fortunately, the Fake Lender Rule can still be overturned under the Congressional Review Act, which allows certain recently made rules to be overturned through a filibuster-free joint resolution of Congress. Such a joint resolution passed the Senate 52-47 last month. Now the House is poised for its own vote. While the Senate vote was largely on partisan lines, some Republicans did join with Democrats to vote for the repeal. The dynamics in the House are somewhat different, as certain Democratic members have been opposed to the bill, but the fact that a vote is scheduled suggests that there should be the votes for repeal. 

The repeal of the Fake Lender has been endorsed by a group of 168 scholars from across the country, including yours truly and many Slipsters. You can read our letter urging the repeal here

Book Rec: Range (or Yet Another Paean to Learning from Failure)

posted by Jason Kilborn

With summer upon us, I thought others might be searching for good new reading, as I was when I took up a smart friend's longtime recommendation to read Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. So much good stuff in here. Perhaps contrary to the topic of the book, my brain is constantly in "insolvency policy" mode, so I was particularly interested in the many passages about famous people's meandering struggles to find their passion that catapulted them to success.

Among my favorites was a description of Nike co-founder Phil Knight's entrepreneurship philosophy: [155] "his main goal for his nascent shoe company was to fail fast enough that he could apply what he was learning to his next venture. He made one short-term pivot after another, applying the lessons as he went." This is exactly the advice offered to country after country hoping to develop more effective SME-friendly bankruptcy regimes ... as they unfortunately continue to stick to Old English draconian policies of imposing various restrictions and disabilities on post-bankruptcy entrepreneurs. Range offers yet another extended analysis of why this mindset is so persistent and so counterproductive. We need to let people fail, learn from whatever caused that failure (either mistakes or general economic volatility ... or COVID) and get back on their feet quickly to move on to other ventures.

Continue reading "Book Rec: Range (or Yet Another Paean to Learning from Failure)" »

Bankruptcy Filing Rates Not Rising, May Go Lower

posted by Bob Lawless

UntitledThe latest data from Epiq Systems shows that year-over-year bankruptcy filings dropped again in May after an increase in April. The April and May figures are particularly important because they give us two months of year-over-year comparisons with post-Covid data.

In April, there was an average of 1,860 filings per day which was an increase of 6.4% from the previous April. That uptick made me wonder whether we were beginning to see the long-predicted increase in bankruptcy filings because of the pandemic. That speculation proved premature because the May figure was 1,738 filings per day, which was not only a decrease from April but a year-over-year decline of 13.1%.

Whether the April increase or the May decrease ends up being the one-month blip is something we will learn over the next few months. It is that kind of insight you are looking for when you come to this blog--the future will reveal the future. It is much easier, however, to come up with a story that April was the anomaly than vice versa.

Bankruptcy filings are seasonal, spiking in the early spring. Ronald Mann and Katie Porter persuasively documented the reason for that is tax refunds going to pay the cost of the bankruptcy filing. Usually the effect runs from February to April with a peak in March. This year, the IRS tax filing statistics show that refunds ended up being higher overall than last year but started more slowly. There was also a third round of stimulus payments in March that capped out at lower-income levels and at levels that are more typical for bankruptcy filers. For these reasons, what we saw in April might have just been the usual annual seasonality in the filing rate, just pushed back a bit by later-filing tax filers and the stimulus money.

Continue reading "Bankruptcy Filing Rates Not Rising, May Go Lower" »

Elliott, Apollo, Caesar's Palace and a Bunch of Bankruptcy Law Professors

posted by Mitu Gulati

One of the most dramatic stories in corporate finance and bankruptcy over the past decade has been the Caesar's Palace battle between a bunch of hard nosed distressed debt hedge funds and big bad private equity shops.  A bunch of masters of the universe types fighting it out to the death. (For my part: I'm interested in this because some of the big players from the Argentine pari passu battle are involved and there was a battle over the aggressive use of Exit Consents).

Turns out that this Caesar's story is going to be front and center at an upcoming bankruptcy conference that three good friends, Bob Rasmussen, Mike Simkovic and Samir Parikh are running, where one of the authors of "The Caesar's Palace Coup", the FT's Sujeet Indap, is going to be on a panel with the heavy hitters, Ken Liang, Bruce Bennett and Richard Davis. I always find it fascinating to hear how financial journalists and law professors, both of whom have dug deep into a set of events, tell the same story. 

The formal announcement, courtesy of Samir Parikh, is here:

Continue reading "Elliott, Apollo, Caesar's Palace and a Bunch of Bankruptcy Law Professors" »

Judge Shopping in Bankruptcy

posted by Adam Levitin

Several months ago, I did a long post about how Purdue Pharma's bankruptcy was the poster child for dysfunction in chapter 11.The gist of the argument is that the procedural checks and balances that make chapter 11 bankruptcy a fair and credible system have broken down because of a confluence of three trends:

  1. increasingly aggressive and coercive restructuring techniques;
  2. the lack of appellate review for many key issues; and
  3. the rise of “judge-shopping” facilitated by bankruptcy courts’ local rules.

I've written it up into a full length paper, forthcoming in the Texas Law Review and available here.

While writing the paper I was surprised to learn just how bad and concentrated the judge shopping has become in chapter 11. There are 375 bankruptcy judges nationwide. Yet last year, 39% of large public company bankruptcy filings ended up before a single judge, Judge David R. Jones in Houston. A full 57% of the large public company bankruptcy cases filed in 2020 ended up before either Jones or two other judges, Marvin Isgur in Houston and Robert D. Drain in White Plains. 

I discuss the implications of the supercharged judge shopping in the paper, but let me say here what no no practicing attorney (or US trustee) is able to say, because I don't have to worry about appearing before these judges in the future: these judges should be recusing themselves from hearing any case that bears indicia of being shopped into their courtroom, if only to avoid an appearance of impropriety. 

The $900 Million Back Office Error

posted by Mitu Gulati

I love this story -- a bank erroneously sends money to a bunch of lenders who are angry with the bank and the debtor for other reasons. The bank discovers the computer error and asks for its money back. The angry lenders refuse to give back what was clearly an erroneous deposit. There is litigation. And the court says to the lenders who received the erroneous deposit: You can keep the money.  

I remember telling my students in Contracts about it when the news was first reported, and the matter had not been to court yet. I told them that this was an easy case and that the lenders would have to give the money back.  If memory serves, I told them something along the lines of: "If a bank erroneously deposits money in your account, you don't get to keep it. You have to give back what is not yours. Finders are not automatically keepers." I was wrong, to put it mildly.

Elisabeth de Fontenay has a delightful piece on this that is coming out soon in the Capital Markets Law Journal (here). Among other things, Elisabeth asks the deeper question of why it is that lenders and borrowers these days seem to be asserting what look to be highly opportunistic claims on a much more frequent basis than in the past. It used to be -- or so the veteran lawyers in this business tell me --  that reputation and norms constrained these repeat players from misbehaving. Not these days.

Of course, there is more to the story, like why the judge (Jesse Furman) ruled the way he did. Turns out that there was a wormy precedent directing him and he was not willing to turn the usual judicial cartwheels to produce the "fair" outcome. Or maybe, in terms of weighing bad behavior on the two sides, he found shenanigans on both sides and decided to just follow precedent? Or maybe Judge Furman hates the big banks? I'm kidding (I think very highly of Judge Furman), but he has decided a number of big commercial cases recently that have caused drama (e.g., here (Windstream) and here (Cash America)).

The abstract for Elisabeth's paper is here:

The Citibank case dealt with a $900 million payment sent in error to the lenders of Revlon, Inc., in the midst of a fraught dispute over the loan restructuring. Surprising most market participants, the court ruled that the lenders who refused to return the funds to the administrative agent were entitled to keep the money. The case (currently on appeal) attracted commentary primarily due to the sheer size of the payment error, and the corresponding risks posed by “back-office” functions at financial institutions. But Citibank also highlights the widening gap in leveraged finance between the wishes and expectations of market participants and the actual outcomes they achieve under either (1) common-law default rules or (2) heavily negotiated contracts. In particular, the case raises questions such as (1) whether New York law remains an appropriate default choice for financing transactions; (2) whether the common-law of contracts does or should continue to have relevance for financing transactions among sophisticated parties; and (3) whether parties truly can contract for their desired outcomes when opportunistic behavior is prevalent in the market.

For more, Matt Levine of Bloomberg has a hilarious piece, here. It talks about the back office disaster in India and how this goof actually happened (as an aside, the firm involved on the Indian side is a highly respected one -- this was no fly by night operation).  Matt also talks about the wonderfully named Banque Worms case.  One could not make this stuff up even if one wanted to.

I'm hoping that my favorite business law podcaster, Andrew Jennings (here), will do an episode on this soon.

Professionals Fees and Purdue Pharma LP

posted by Stephen Lubben

Featuring two Slipsters – here.

NRA Bankruptcy Petition Dismissed

posted by Adam Levitin

The NRA's bankruptcy petition was dismissed as filed in bad faith. I'm predicting that the court's opinion will be in the next edition of every bankruptcy textbook as the case really is a textbook example of bad faith.  The court found that there was substantial evidence in the record that the NRA filed for bankruptcy for the purpose of gaining an advantage in its litigation with the NY Attorney General, namely depriving the NY Attorney General of the remedy of dissolution, rather than for any other purpose.  

So what does this mean?

Continue reading "NRA Bankruptcy Petition Dismissed" »

Are Mortgage Servicers Ready for the Loan Mod Rush?

posted by Chris Odinet

On May 4, the CFPB issued a report sharing information the agency had gathered about mortgage forbearances and delinquencies. One notable takeaway is that Black and Brown homeowners, as well as low-income homeowners, are very prevalent among those in forbearance. A large portion of those in forbearance also have loan to value ratios north of 60%. All of this suggests that many who face chronic financial struggles and are most at risk of losing their homes, are also those currently benefiting from the forbearance programs.

This makes me immediately think: what happens when the forbearance periods are over? (which most believe will happen between September and November of this year) Specifically: what will their loan modifications look like?

Continue reading "Are Mortgage Servicers Ready for the Loan Mod Rush?" »

CDC Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium Held Illegal

posted by Adam Levitin

Today Judge Dabney Friedrich (a Trump appointee) ruled that the CDC's eviction and foreclosure moratorium exceeded the agency's statutory authority. This ruling has me wroth. It exemplifies the heartless disingenuousness of that masquerades as "textualism." Judge Friedrich treats the moratorium—an extraordinary response to extraordinary circumstances—as if it were a garden variety statutory interpretation exercise along the lines of "no vehicles in the park". Judge Friedrich looks at the statutory text and decides that it is "unambiguous," although the substance of her own analysis shows that it is anything but. And voila, that produces the result that the landlords and mortgagees get to create a public health risk by evicting tenants and mortgagors from their dwellings.

Continue reading "CDC Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium Held Illegal" »

Rent-to-Own Dogs

posted by Adam Levitin

Just when you thought you had seen everything.... Rent-to-Own Dogs!  Apparently, it is illegal to do lease out a dog in Massachusetts.  It does seem perfectly fine, as far as I can tell, to sell a dog on installment credit in Massachusetts and to take a lien on Fido.  In other words, the rent-to-own outfit got dinged for not structuring its product as a plain old sale.  

The Failure of the United States Trustee Program in Chapter 11

posted by Adam Levitin

The United States Trustee settled with three large law firms that failed to disclose the nature of their relationship with the Sackler Family Purdue when they were engaged by Purdue in its bankruptcy. The result is that these firms will return $1 million in fees.  This action has produced headlines like "Bankruptcy Watchdog Bares Teeth at BigLaw in Purdue Ch. 11," but I have a completely different take on the story. I see this settlement as an indictment of the US Trustee Program as a complete failure in chapter 11. 

In Purdue, the UST is focused on a measly million of fees, and is AWOL on the issues that affect billions in creditor recoveries. And the story is hardly limited to Purdue.

Continue reading "The Failure of the United States Trustee Program in Chapter 11" »

FDIC Valid-When-Made Rule Amicus Brief

posted by Adam Levitin

I filed an amicus brief today in support of the challenge of eight state attorneys general to the FDIC's Valid-When-Made Rule. I've blogged about the issue before (here, here, here, here, here and here). The FDIC's Valid-When-Made Rule and its statutory framework is a bit different than the OCC's parallel rule (which also got some amicus love from me), so the arguments here are a bit different.

Continue reading "FDIC Valid-When-Made Rule Amicus Brief" »

A Campaign to Opt-Out

posted by Chris Odinet

Following-up on my prior post, let’s talk more about what’s at stake in this little legislative kerfuffle in the Hawkeye state, as well as how consumer advocates should seize on this moment in a different way.  

First, repealing this 521 provision in Iowa law is really all about whether states should have, to a large degree, the ability to control the interest rates charged on products and services that are offered to consumers by nonbank firms. 

Many readers of this blog may already know this history backwards and forwards – but for those who don’t, here’s the backstory. In Marquette Nat’l Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Serv. Corp., the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the National Bank Act as giving nationally-chartered banks the ability to charge the highest interest rate allowed in the state where the bank is located to borrowers located not only in that state, but also to borrowers located in any other state.  This means, for instance, that a national bank located in Iowa can not only charge the highest interest rate allowable in Iowa to anyone located in Iowa, but it can also charge that same rate to a borrower located in Oklahoma, Louisiana, or any other state.  Even if Louisiana, Oklahoma, or another state’s laws prohibit interest at such a rate, the loan is nevertheless free from being usurious. This concept is known as “interest rate exportation.”  

After the 1978 decision in Marquette, there was a concern about the ability of state-chartered banks to compete with national banks. So, state legislatures started enacting “parity laws” that allowed their state banks to charge the maximum rates of interest allowable by any national bank “doing business” in that particular state. These parity laws were often even broader, granting to state chartered banks all of the incidental powers granted to national banks. In sum, the goal of these parity laws was to put state banks on equal footing with national banks, particularly when it came to usury.  Good so far?

Ok here comes the part dealing with this shady Iowa house bill…

In a final effort to give state-chartered banks a competitive edge, in 1980 Congress passed the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act (DIDMCA).  A portion of DIDMCA, specifically section 521 (see where this is going...) granted interest rate exportation to any state-chartered bank that was federally insured (in other words, to all FDIC-insured state-chartered banks). 12 U.S.C. 1831d. This allowed a state-chartered bank to charge out-of-state borrowers the same interest rate allowable for in-state borrowers.  Thus, a state-chartered bank located in Iowa could charge an Oklahoma borrower the Iowa-allowable interest rate, even if that rate was higher than what would otherwise be legal under Oklahoma law. 

But here’s the catch. In Section 525 of DIDMCA, Congress gave states the ability to opt-out of section 521 by enacting legislation stating the state did not want section 521 to apply. Only two jurisdictions opted out: Puerto Rico and…you guessed it…Iowa. In 1980, right after DIDMCA was passed, Iowa opted out per 1980 Iowa Acts, ch. 1156, sec. 32. To add one more bit of background, Iowa also did not enact any parity laws. In fact, a former general counsel to the Iowa Division of Banking stated in a 2002 interview that enacting such a law that delegated control over Iowa state banks to the feds would be seen as “a slap in the face” to the Iowa legislature. 

So, there you have it. This little provision in an otherwise unrelated tax bill is to OPT INTO section 521 and thereby reverse the decision Iowa’s legislature made in 1980.

Now you may say to yourself, why is this so bad? The bad part requires you know something about the rent-a-bank partnership model between certain state-chartered banks and a number of online “fintech” lenders. Since the 2008 financial crisis, a growing number of nonbank fintech firms that make loans over the internet have partnered with a handful of state-chartered banks (mostly chartered in Utah, Kentucky, and New Jersey) in order to make and market unsecured installment consumer loans. By and large the way the business model works is that although the loan application is submitted through the nonbank’s website or smartphone app, it is the partner bank that actually advances the funds. The marketing and underwriting process are both performed by the nonbank. Then, very shortly after, the bank sells the loan along with others (or some interest in those loans) to the nonbank fintech company or an affiliate. The fintech or another firm then sells the interest to a pre-arranged wholesale buyer or sponsors a securitization of a large pool of loans for sale as securities in the capital markets. 

The bank’s role is merely passing, and it typically retains no material economic interest in the loans. However, so the argument goes, because the loan is originated by an insured state-chartered bank, it can export the interest rate of its home state to borrowers located in ANY state (with state usury laws preempted by DIDMCA section 521). And sometimes these loans can be quite expensive (rates of 160% APR or more e.g., CashNet USA, Speedy Cash, Rapid Cash, Check n' Go, Check Into Cash). You can get more info on these partnerships and check out some nifty maps provided by the folks at the National Consumer Law Center here. 

So, here’s how I think consumer advocates can turn the tables. There are a number of states that have aggressively gone after these rent-a-bank schemes (adding a lawsuit by AG of DC to the mix here) and a group of state AGs are currently suing the OCC on account of its true lender rule. In other words, a number of states do not want this kind of high cost, fintech-bank lending happening in their jurisdiction. 

Here’s my suggestion to those states: why not just pass your own opt out of DIDMCA Section 521? 

As mentioned above, many of these online lenders in high-cost rent-a-bank schemes favor partnering with FDIC-insured, state-chartered banks rather than national banks. Opting out of DIDMCA would deprive these schemes of their regulatory arbitrage. Without the ability to import the interest rate law of another state into a given jurisdiction, it would force these online firms to apply for a lending license and otherwise abide by the jurisdiction’s usury limit. DIDMCA allowed states to opt out of Section 521, and the statute didn’t give a deadline to do it. So, here’s a call to states like Colorado and others who are going after these usury and regulatory evasive business models…take away the linchpin of the business model. Opt-out of section 521!

And as for those of us back here in the Hawkeye state, here’s to hoping that the Iowa legislature doesn’t (pardon the Peloton pun) get so easily taken for a ride.

Of Usury, Preemption, and Fancy Stationary Bikes

posted by Chris Odinet

Greetings, Slipsters! I’m thrilled to be here guest blogging, and I thank the editors for having me. So with that, let me get started…

Usury, preemption, and pandemic fitness are all colliding here in Iowa. 

About two weeks ago, I was alerted to a single strike-through amendment buried in a tax bill currently being considered by the Iowa legislature. This simple little change that eliminates three numbers (“521”) would likely go unnoticed by most lawmakers (or, more realistically—all lawmakers). However, this little change could have a profound impact on Iowa’s ability to prevent high cost, predatory lending from spilling into its borders through website portals and smart phone apps. And, if you stay with me for this bit of guest blogging, you’ll never believe what’s supposedly (so I’m told) behind it all! 

The bill is HSB 272. Most of the bill contains routine tax code clean-ups and modifications. Indeed, the bill itself is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Revenue. But, take a look at the relevant part of Section 5:

1980 Iowa Acts, chapter 1156, section 32, is amended to read as follows: SEC. 32.  The general assembly of the state of Iowa hereby declares and states . . . that it does not want any of the provisions of any of the amendments contained in Public Law No. 96-221 (94 stat. 132), sections 521, 522 and 523 to apply with respect to loans made in this state . . .

If you clicked on the link above and read the entirely of Section 5, you’d probably have to go through the text quite a few times before you’d see what’s being stricken out. The singular change is just the reference to section 521 of Public Law No. 96-221 (94 stat. 132). Otherwise, everything else in this existing statute stays the same. 

So what’s this about? 

The only clue as to what this stricken language actually deals with is the reference to “loans made in this state.” In truth, this single little strikethrough will allow FDIC-insured state-chartered banks located in other states to make loans under the usury laws of their home states to the residents of Iowa. This kind of lending usually comes in the way of partnerships between a handful of state-chartered banks and so-called “fintech” nonbank lenders making triple digit loans, hardly any different from payday financing. This partnership lending practice has also been the subject of recent lawsuits, including a summer 2020 settlement by the Colorado AG. If you’re interested in a deep dive on the rent-a-bank model and the unique legal and policy problems it creates, check out forthcoming articles here (by Adam Levitin) and here (by me!).

The icing on the cake, however, is that the rationale (again, as I’ve been told) advanced by proponents of the bill is that without this amendment, Iowans will not be able to finance the purchase of Pelotons. That’s right. Pelotons!

Here’s the connection: Peloton currently partners with Affirm, a fintech online lender, in order to help consumers finance the purchase of these roughly $3,000 stationary bikes (bike + membership). Interestingly, both firms generally promote 0% down, 0% APR, 0% hidden fees in their financing package. Of course, if you scroll down to the bottom of the promotional website and read the tiny 10.5 point, gray font print, you’ll notice: 

Your rate will be 0–30% APR based on credit, and is subject to an eligibility check. Options depend on your purchase amount, and a down payment may be required. Affirm savings accounts are held with Cross River Bank, Member FDIC. Savings account is limited to six ACH withdrawals per month. Affirm Plus financing is provided by Celtic Bank, Member FDIC. Affirm, Inc., NMLS ID 1883087. Affirm Loan Services, LLC, NMLS ID 1479506. California residents: Affirm Loan Services, LLC is licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation. Loans are made or arranged pursuant to California Financing Law license 60DBO-111681 (emphasis added).

As you can see, Affirm also plays the rent-a-bank game by partnering with FDIC-insured Utah state bank, Celtic Bank. While 30% APR may not seem like the most expensive loan term in the world, it opens the door to much higher cost lending by firms like Elevate Credit, Opportunity Financial, and more--all of whom use the rent-a-bank model. 

This is about much more than Pelotons…stay tuned for more (including how I think consumer advocates can turn the tables on this strategy!).

UPDATE: It appears that HSB 272 isn't going anywhere: no legislative movement since a canceled House subcommittee hearing on April 6. Meanwhile, a duplicate tax bill has been filed in the Senate, but it does not contain the DIDMCA opt-out (SSB 1268).

Abolish the OCC?

posted by Adam Levitin

I've been saying for quite a while that the OCC is a "problem agency" that is seriously in need of reform. An article in Politico today underscores the problem. The OCC—under a civil servant acting Comptroller—has begun an active lobbying campaign to protect its so-called "True Lender" Rule. Not only is this highly irregular, but it also suggests that the OCC just doesn't "get it." As I explain below, this isn't a one off flub by the agency, but it is part of the agency's DNA, and isn't likely to be changed simply by putting in a good Comptroller. Fixing the OCC may require something more than a personnel change at the top. 

Continue reading "Abolish the OCC? " »

Evictions in Violation of CDC Moratorium May Violate Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

posted by Adam Levitin

The CFPB today released an important interim final rule that puts some real teeth behind the CDC's COVID eviction moratorium. Some jurisdictions (badly in need of a refresher on the Supremacy Clause) seem to be taking the CDC moratorium as merely advisory, rather than as binding law. The CDC moratorium applies only to "landlords" and "owners" of residential property.  It has criminal and civil penalties, but no private right of action, and I am unaware of the CDC having brought any enforcement actions under the moratorium. 

The CFPB's rule broadens the scope of the prohibition. Instead of covering "landlords" and "owners," the CFPB rule covers "debt collector" as defined under the FDCPA. That's a term that can include attorneys. The CFPB rule requires debt collectors to inform tenants of their rights under the CDC moratorium upon filing an eviction notice or eviction action. The rule also prohibits falsely representing that the tenant is ineligible for relief under the moratorium. 

Here's why the CFPB rule matters. First, it brings a bunch of additional parties into the scope of the prohibition. Unless the landlord is a DIY type, there's likely to be an attorney involved, and the CFPB rule regulates the behavior of those attorneys. And second, there's a private right of action under the FDCPA with actual damages, statutory damages, and attorneys' fees. What's more, one can bring a class action under the FDCPA, which starts to change the economic calculus of litigation. How many attorneys are going to want to assume this risk to further a foreclosure for a client? I suspect that an informed attorney will be much more inclined to counsel the client to follow the CDC moratorium.

That said, will eviction attorneys be properly informed of the risks they run? And will they gamble that there won't be CFPB or private enforcement? I suspect it will only take a couple of enforcement actions before word gets around that there are real risks with non-compliance. 

Bankruptcy on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

posted by Pamela Foohey

Bankruptcy LWT - 1The consumer bankruptcy system has made it to late-night television! The main segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver this week focused on bankruptcy. As described: "John Oliver details why people file for bankruptcy, how needlessly difficult the process can be, and the ways we can better serve people struggling with debt." Twenty minutes about consumer bankruptcy!

Per usual, it's a well-researched, understandable, and fast-moving segment, with dashes of dark humor. My favorite references Julianne Moore's character in Magnolia. To the well-research part: It is supported by a host of papers about consumer bankruptcy, including the work of several current and former Slipsters. Among them is Portraits of Bankruptcy Filers (forthcoming Georgia Law Review), the most recent article based on Consumer Bankruptcy Project (CBP) data, co-authored with Slipster Bob Lawless and former Slipster Debb Thorne. In Portraits, we rely on data from 2013 to 2019 to describe who is using the bankruptcy system, providing the first comprehensive overview of bankruptcy filers in thirty years.   

Also referenced are Life in the Sweatbox, former Slipster Angela Littwin's The Do-It Yourself Mirage: Complexity in the Bankruptcy SystemSlipster Bob Lawless, Jean Braucher, and Dov Cohen's Race, Attorney Influence, and Bankruptcy Chapter Choice, and the ABI Commission on Consumer Bankruptcy's report. The segment closes by highlighting the Consumer Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2020 (and includes a bonus at the end, which you'll have to watch to find out what that's about).

Welcome to Chris Odinet

posted by Bob Lawless

On behalf of the other Credit Slips bloggers and myself, I would like to welcome Professor Chris Odinet as a guest blogger. Chris is a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law and is part of a new generation of scholars in the consumer finance space that our readers should know about. He already has an impressive list of scholarly publications and part of important conversations in consumer finance, especially fintech. Welcome, Chris, to Credit Slips.

Bankruptcy Filings Are Still Super Low--Don't Believe the Headlines

posted by Bob Lawless

Headlines recently appeared in the usual places about a big March jump in bankruptcy filings. It is true that March 2021 total bankruptcy filings were 43,425 (according to the Epiq Systems data) and that was a 39.1% increase from February 2021. That looks like a big jump. Of course, March is a longer month, and in fact this March had four more business days than February--almost an entire extra work week. Calculating the filing rate per business day, the March 2021 filing rate was a 14.9% increase from February 2021.

That still feels notable, but let's be careful--very careful. Bankruptcy filings are at historically low levels. When any data series hits a trough and starts creeping back to an old base rate, the increases will feel really big although we are really only getting back to what we had experienced previously. The February filing rate was 1.13 filings per 1,000 persons, the lowest since January 2006 when bankruptcy filings fell to almost nothing after the surge to beat the effective date of the 2005 bankruptcy amendments. (To give you a sense of the surge, the October 2005 rate was 25.53 filings per 1,000 persons.)

Continue reading "Bankruptcy Filings Are Still Super Low--Don't Believe the Headlines" »

Human Rights Watch on Imprisonment for Debt

posted by Jason Kilborn

What happens in countries where no consumer bankruptcy regime exists as a safety valve to assuage the worst consequences of unpayable debt? A report this week from Human Rights Watch ("We Lost Everything": Debt Imprisonment in Jordan) offers one heart-wrenching answer. The following excerpt captures the essence:

Jordan is one of the few countries in the world that still allows debt imprisonment. Failure to repay even small debts is a crime that carries a penalty of up to 90 days in prison per debt, and up to one year for a bounced check; courts routinely sentence people without even holding a hearing. The law does not make an exception for lack of income, or other factors that impede borrowers’ ability to repay, and the debt remains even after serving the sentence. Over a quarter-million Jordanians face complaints of debt delinquency and around 2,630 people, about 16 percent of Jordan’s prison population, were locked up for nonpayment of loans and bounced checks in 2019.

The response from the Jordanian Ministry of Justice is well worth reading, and it concludes by offering some hope: "A committee is reviewing the Execution Law in such a way to ensure justice and account for the interests of both parties (borrower and creditor)." Let us hope that this review concludes as it has in many, many countries around the world in recent years--with a proposal for the adoption of a personal bankruptcy law, following the guidance of the World Bank and other international organizations.

Greensill "Secured" Lending

posted by Stephen Lubben

Slips readers will be interested in Matt Levine's column today, which takes a deep dive into the recently failed Greensill's lending against “prospective receivables,” which is kind of like lending against my prospective estate in Scotland. Both look a lot like unsecured lending.

Book Recommendation: Caesars Palace Coup

posted by Jason Kilborn

A fun new book applies a revealing Law & Order analysis to the multi-billion-dollar, knock-down-drag-out reorganization of Caesar's Palace. In The Caesars Palace Coup, Financial Times editor, Sujeet Indap, and Fitch news team leader, Max Frumes, open with a detailed examination of the personalities and transactions that preceded the Caesars bankruptcy case, leading to the second (and, for me, more interesting) part of the book, tracking step-by-step the harrowing negotiations, court proceedings, and examiner report that led to the ultimate reorganization.

There is so much to like in this book. Its primary strength is its Law & Order backstory, peeling back the onion of every major player, revealing how they got to where they were in their careers in big business management, high finance, or law, and revealing their thoughts and motivations as the deals and legal maneuvers played out. Four years of painstaking personal interviews have paid off handsomely in this fascinating account of the inner workings of big money and big law reorganization practice. On a personal note, I was treated to a bit of nostalgia, as the book opens with and later features Jim Millstein, an absolute gem of a person who taught me about EBITDA when my path fortunately crossed with his at Cleary Gottlieb in New York City in the late 1990s. It also features the Chicago bankruptcy court in my backyard, which seldom hosts such mega cases as Caesars', and the story in the second half of this book reveals part of the reason why. Cameo appearances include some of my favorite academics, such as Nancy Rapoport, as fee examiner, and Slipster, Adam Levitin, as defender of the Trust Indenture Act. On that latter point, the book alludes to (but does not particularly carefully explain) the key role of the Marblegate rulings on the TIA, which is described in a bit more depth in a vintage Credit Slips post. Again, the book's most valuable contribution is a behind-the-scenes look at the motivations and machinations behind a salient instance of collateral stripping, adding to the literature on this (disturbing) trend.

For would-be, currently-are, or has-been (like me) business managers, investment bankers, hedge fund managers, and reorganization lawyers, this book is a fascinating under-the-hood analysis of every stage of a financial business restructuring (not much about the operational side). For anyone interested in the thoughts and motivations of the Masters of the Universe who control so much of our world and its most famous companies, this book offers a brutally honest peek at how the sausage is made. It's not always pretty, but it is both entertaining and enlightening.

Not Cool, Bank of America

posted by Adam Levitin

I used my phone to remotely deposit a check today at Bank of America. Before I was able to proceed with the transaction, however, Bank of America required me to agree to new terms and conditions for mobile deposits. The terms and conditions were presented to me on my smartphone (roughly a 4''x 2'' screen). I could have pressed "accept" before I scrolled through any of the terms, but I actually went and scrolled through.  It took several scrolls before I got to the end—these were not a short list of terms and conditions, and there was no indication of what had changed. I have no idea there was only a minor amendment or something substantial. More disturbingly, I was given no option of printing or emailing myself the new terms and conditions to which I agreed; I have no idea where (if anywhere) I can access those terms that I have supposedly "agreed" to.  

Continue reading "Not Cool, Bank of America" »

The Haitian Independence Debt

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Mark Weidemaier and Mitu Gulati

The Haitian Independence Debt of 1825 is perhaps the most odious in the history of sovereign debt. France agreed to grant recognition to the Haitian state in exchange for a massive indemnity payment, ostensibly intended to compensate French plantation owners for losses suffered during Haitian revolution. With French gunboats lurking in port and offshore, the French imposed a massive and unpayable debt burden equal to roughly 5 times the annual French budget.

Surprisingly, the literature on odious debt pays fairly little attention to this episode. Perhaps this because the doctrine of odious debt was developed with a view towards borrowing by a despot who is subsequently overthrown. Must the populace repay money borrowed to oppress it? Thus, when Haiti does show up in the odious debt literature, the question typically involves debts incurred by the despotic Duvalier regimes. The Independence Debt, by contrast was incurred in the context of a colony escaping the control of an imperial power, and the modern odious debt literature generally ignores this context. We discuss this in a recent Clauses and Controversies podcast with the wonderful Gregoire Mallard, that should be out soon.

This semester, we asked students in our international debt class what they would say if either the French or the Haitian governments came to them today, asking for advice on whether Haiti had a viable legal claim arising from these 1825 events.

Continue reading "The Haitian Independence Debt" »

A Heroes Jubilee

posted by Alan White

Millions of heroes of the pandemic--health care workers, law enforcement and first responders, National Guard troops, public school teachers, and social workers--are suffering needless financial hardship because of student loans. Years ago Congress passed, and president Bush signed into law the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. After repaying student loans for ten years while working in public service, these workers are entitled to have their remaining debt canceled by the Education Secretary.  In a continual insult to these heroes, the Education Department and its contractor continue to reject 98% of PSLF applications, for absurd bureaucratic reasons I have elaborated on elsewhere.

Another act of Congress, the HEROES Act of 2003 gives Education Secretary Cardona clear legal authority to fix this failure and cancel hundreds of thousands of student loans now. The HEROES Act allows the Education Secretary to waive any regulation or even statute as necessary to ensure that no individual or class of people experiencing hardship because of a national emergency suffers financial harm because of the emergency. With a few simple waivers of unnecessary rules, the Education Department could implement PSLF loan cancellations for hundreds of thousands or even millions under existing legal authority.

A broad, one-time effort to extend PSLF relief to all those eligible could happen in a few simple steps. First, the federal loan servicing contractors could identify ALL borrowers who entered repayment more than ten years ago and who are not currently in default, and send every one of them an invitation to fill out a simple form asking if they have been working in public service. Second, the existing maze of paperwork created by the Department’s rules could be waived in favor of a simple one-page form. The PSLF applicant need only certify under penalty of law that they worked full–time for at least ten years and still work in a qualifying job. The form’s checklist of jobs should include the words of the statute: 

a full-time job in emergency management, government, ... military service, public safety, law enforcement, public health (including nurses, nurse practitioners, nurses in a clinical setting, and full-time professionals engaged in health care practitioner occupations and health care support occupations...), public education, social work in a public child or family service agency, public interest law services (including prosecution or public defense or legal advocacy on behalf of low-income communities at a nonprofit organization), early childhood education (including licensed or regulated childcare, Head Start, and State funded prekindergarten), public service for individuals with disabilities, public service for the elderly, public library sciences, school-based library sciences and other school-based services, or [a job] at a [501(c)(3) tax exempt organization].

Any borrower signing and returning the form should immediately have all federal student loans cancelled. The Department should provide adequate funding to its contractors to fully administer this PSLF jubilee.

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Addressing Credit Invisibility Through Federal Contracting Power

posted by Adam Levitin

The Biden administration could substantially reduce the number of "credit invisible" and "thin file" consumers without legislation, simply through a determined use of federal contract regarding multi-family mortgages and wireless spectrum licenses. By requiring credit reporting as a condition of federal purchase of multi-family mortgages or sale of wireless spectrum, the Biden administration could ensuring credit reporting for a lot of renters and all cellphone contracts, which would help millions of Americans start to come into the credit system and escape the Catch-22 of credit invisibility. This would be a major step toward achieving economic equity in the United States. 

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Consumers and Price Volatility: Texas Electricity Prices

posted by Adam Levitin

Some Texas consumers who didn't lose power are now finding themselves socked with massive electric bills, as high as $17,000. The reason? They were paying variable kW/h pricing for their electricity at wholesale rates, without any sort of price collar. The Washington Post explains

The state’s unregulated market allows customers to pick their utility providers, with some offering plans that let users pay wholesale prices for power. Variable plans can be attractive to customers in better weather, when the bill may be lower than fixed-rate ones. Customers can shift their usage to the cheapest periods, such as nights. But when the wholesale price increases, the variable plan becomes the worst option.

This story jumped out at me for two reasons.

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