375 posts categorized "Bankruptcy Generally"

Update on Catholic Dioceses's Chapter 11 Filings, Fall 2018 Edition

posted by Pamela Foohey

A few weeks ago, Marie Reilly (Penn State Law, University Park) posted to SSRN a new paper, Catholic Dioceses in Bankruptcy, which details the outcomes of the eighteen chapter 11 cases filed by Catholic dioceses and religious institutes since 2004. The paper discusses some of the issues that I have blogged about individually over the past few years -- of note, RFRA and fraudulent conveyances, as well as the long-running Minneapolis and Saint Paul diocese case that ended in a settlement agreement which increased payout to sexual abuse claimants by $50 million from the debtor's original proposed plan. The paper also includes a succinct overview of how canon law, business organizational law, and property law interact in these cases. In short, if you are looking for a primer on broader issues that might emerge in future chapter 11 cases filed by dioceses, or simply interested in how a few area of law converge in these cases, this paper is worth a read.

The last chapter 11 filing that Reilly's paper discusses is that of Crosier Fathers and Brothers in Minnesota in June 2017. Since then, one more archdiocese filed chapter 11 -- San Juan at the end of August 2018. The Archdiocese of Agana (in Guam) also announced that it expects to file by January 2019. Like other dioceses, Agana's stated need to file stems from its struggles with more than 180 sexual abuse claims. But the Archdiocese of San Juan's case presents a couple unique issues.

Continue reading "Update on Catholic Dioceses's Chapter 11 Filings, Fall 2018 Edition" »

Available at finer booksellers everywhere (and Amazon too!)

posted by Stephen Lubben

CoverMy new book is out – the Law of Failure.

The sub-title is "A Tour Through the Wilds of American Business Insolvency Law," which pretty much tells the whole story. I try to cover all business insolvency law – not just the Bankruptcy Code. State laws, and federal laws like Dodd-Frank's OLA are covered too. All in a concise little volume.

In my research I discovered that many states have specialized receivership and other insolvency laws for specific types of businesses. And some states – I'm looking at you New Hampshire – still have corporate "bankruptcy" statutes on the books from the days when there was no federal bankruptcy law, or (as was the case with the early Bankruptcy Act) the law did not extend to all types of businesses. Can any of these laws really work? It is hard to say, since the Supreme Court has not dealt with a bankruptcy preemption issue in a very long time.

I welcome discussion on this question, or the book in general, from Slips readers, either below or via email.

Corporate Bankruptcy as a Public-Private Partnership

posted by Melissa Jacoby

I have just posted on the Social Science Research Network a forthcoming article called Corporate Bankruptcy Hybridity. Although the article has several intersecting objectives, today's post focuses on the first aim: conceptualizing corporate bankruptcy as a public-private partnership.  A public-private partnership, most plainly stated is "a legal hybrid which possesses some characteristics of a purely private corporation and others of a purely government.... however it is structured, it is formed to accomplish a public purpose."* As writings of scholars outside of bankruptcy make clear, the fact that a system relies in part on private actors and private funds does not absolve the system of its obligation to the public's broader constitutional, democratic, and welfare aims. In other words, even if a system is driven by a particular public purpose, other public objectives remain salient.

Reframing the system in this fashion explicitly rejects the common assumption that bankruptcy is best understood as a species of private law, as well as the belief that a workable theory requires that the bankruptcy system have only one public purpose.

In addition to enhancing scholarly debates, considering corporate bankruptcy a public-private partnership has real-world implications - most notably, helping reformers (statutory and otherwise) think creatively about the institutional actors and structures that can respond to identified problems, such as the problems carefully documented in the ABI Commission to Study the Reform of Chapter 11. The range of interventions described and prescribed in administrative law and related privatization scholarship is considerably broader than in reform projects such as the National Bankruptcy Review Commission or the ABI Chapter 11 Commission Report.

Of course, the article elaborates on these points, and I hope to highlight other objectives of Corporate Bankruptcy Hybridity in future posts. But in the meantime, I'd love it if you downloaded and read the article.

* This definition comes from an article published in 1969 by Robert Amdursky.

File This Under Calling BS on Bankruptcy Fearmongering

posted by Jason Kilborn

As anyone familiar with bankruptcy would have predicted, the dire predictions of disaster for municipalities seeking bankruptcy protection have proven to be ... let's just say exaggerated. Bloomberg is out with a notable story this morning on Jefferson County's healthy return to the bond market, carrying an investment-grade rating of AA-  within five years of emerging from municipal bankruptcy. This squares with similar accounts of consumers rehabilitating their credit within two to four years of a chapter 7 liquidation-and-discharge (see, for example, here and here). Let's all file this in our "lying liars and their bankruptcy impact lies" file and be prepared to continue to counter this, among the many, many other, bankruptcy scare myths to be debunked.

Combatting Fear of Abuse--A Sisyphean Task?

posted by Jason Kilborn

Over the past few weeks, at conferences with judges and policymakers in Varna (Bulgaria), Seoul, and Beijing, I've been confronted with a surprising degree of skepticism about personal insolvency systems and fear of opportunistic individuals abusing the ability to evade their debts (especially while hiding assets). I've pointed out the interesting progression identifiable in Europe in recent years of a marked relaxation of such fear of abuse, especially in places like France and most recently Slovakia, which have gone all the way to adopting a very US-like open-access system to immediate discharge. For the real skeptics--and they are numerous in Bulgaria and China, both of whom are considering adopting their first personal insolvency laws--these arguments seem to fall on more or less deaf ears. Detractors put me in a no-win situation by offering one of two rejoinders: (1) the incidence of discovered abuse is low in these systems because debtors are crafty or anti-abuse institutions are weak, or (2) anti-abuse institutions like the means test and restrictive access hurdles are successfully dissuading abusers from seeking access, so we need more--not less--of this kind of effort (which I've criticized as wasteful, unnecessary, and counterproductive). A common third response is the classic "we're different" position--that is, any comparative empirical evidence from elsewhere is irrelevant to the new, entirely unique context of [insert skeptical country's name here].

Continue reading "Combatting Fear of Abuse--A Sisyphean Task?" »

Savings Plans and Chapter 13

posted by Mitu Gulati

David Jones, Chief US Bankruptcy Judge of the Southern District of Texas, has just posted a nifty empirical study of the effects of savings plans on the success of Chapter 13 filings. And, yes, part of the cool study is figuring out how to measure what counts as success in a bankruptcy filing.  The study takes advantage of a natural experiment in the Texas courts and has a bunch of fascinating findings, including about the impact of lawyers and legal culture on the choices that end up being made by the subjects of the bankruptcy proceedings.

Part of the reason I know about this study is that David was doing a graduate degree at Duke (in the judicial masters program) and I got to see the project at its inception stage in the thesis workshop that I run with Jack Knight. All of the credit goes to David though (and his wonderful advisor, John de Figueiredo) -- a fact that will be obvious to my fellow slipsters who know that I don't know squat about Chapter 13. But this is a fun study in terms of the design and findings regardless of whether you love Chapter 13 (okay, I realize that everyone else who reads this blog probably does in fact like or love Chapter 13).  It takes a basic fact about the inevitable fluctuations in expenses that almost everyone has to deal with, and tests what happens when these provision is made for these fluctuations ahead of time (versus when it is not).  Savings plans do indeed seem to make a difference; but a bunch of other factors also appear to matter - some of them quite surprising.  Clearly, as David emphasizes at the end of the paper, there is a lot here that is worthy of further investigation (and maybe legislative change).

The abstract for the draft on ssrn (that is forthcoming in the American Bankruptcy Institute's journal) reads:

This paper examines the effects of debtor savings on the viability of chapter 13 bankruptcy plans. The paper further examines the impact of lawyer culture, debtor participation in the bankruptcy process, and judicial activism in the use of the savings program by chapter 13 debtors. Using a data set of randomly selected chapter 13 bankruptcy cases filed in the Southern District of Texas, the analysis demonstrates that while savings has a direct positive impact on the success of chapter 13 plans, the degree of that success is significantly influenced by the views held by debtors' lawyers, chapter 13 trustees, and judges.

 

Tax Reform and Nonprofit Bankruptcy

posted by Pamela Foohey

It's Tax Day! When the new tax bill was debated late last year, a few reports noted an unintended consequence of the bill's expansion of the standard deduction might be decrease people's charitable contributions, in turn harming nonprofits. After the bill passed, I continued to hear comments about the increased standard deductions' potential to cause financial problems for nonprofits, and saw estimates of a loss of $2 billion to the sector. Financial problems, of course, make me think of bankruptcy. And nonprofits make me think about religious organizations, which are the nonprofits I've studied the most in the context of bankruptcy. Tax Day seems like an appropriate day for some thoughts about the tax reform's possible connection to nonprofits' chapter 11 filings, particularly churches' chapter 11 filings.

Continue reading "Tax Reform and Nonprofit Bankruptcy" »

Notes on Complexity: The Weinstein Company Chapter 11 Hearing #1

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Some rarely-heard terms at The Weinstein Company's March 20 chapter 11 first-day hearing: sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape.

A more common utterance among TWC representatives: complex. The industry, the capital structure, the lending arrangements. All complex. Complex complex complex complex complex.

Part of the complexity, TWC said, comes from the fact that some collateral is governed by the Uniform Commercial Code while other collateral (certain intellectual property) is governed by other law. Yes - secured transactions professors keep saying this mixture is difficult to handle especially at the remedial/recovery stage. Another part of the complexity, according to TWC, is that the property interests have been sliced and diced into... hold on, this sounds familiar. 

What if anything is hiding behind this complexity? If TWC and the sale proponents get their way, the mystery likely will be buried.  The company and other proponent of a quick sale (which includes the sale of avoidance actions) says this sale needs to be done ASAP. 

TWC does not look like a melting ice cube now. It melted in the fall of 2017. Claimants need as much, if not more, protection in manufactured ice cube cases as in real ones, especially if the capital structure is so, well, complex. Complexity and speed are not the best of friends. If claimants are going to be denied full process, quick sale proponents need to post an Ice Cube Bond. Otherwise, a sale of TWC should happen through a plan, with all of the constitutional and statutory hurdles that were supposed to be necessary for the extraordinary exercise of federal court power that TWC seeks.

TWC's representatives also emphasized how business judgment should be respected. From the outside, it looks like TWC terminated Harvey Weinstein only when the news media blew their cover on the track record of heinous allegations. Sure, there is a new CRO, but are all who were complicit in the cover up really out of the picture now? 

A lawyer for the motion picture guilds said at the hearing that the guilds have had "difficulty" with the debtor pre-bankruptcy, and that the case calls for "adult supervision."  Another objector (docket #68)  said at the hearing that it heard from third parties that TWC had been "flagrantly" breaching agreements and misdirecting payment - a state of affairs feared to be the tip of the iceberg, but there had not yet been time to do a full investigation. 

A particularly interesting portion of the hearing involved debtor-in-possession financing. Among other reasons, TWC said it preferred to allow an existing lender to offer the DIP financing because that lender understood the complexity of the business and collateral package. Is chapter 11 practice now at a place where a DIP argues with a straight face that, for continuity purposes, it is better off borrowing money at higher interest rates and higher fees, from an existing lender with incentives that unlikely to align with the best interests of the estate overall? That did not go unchallenged, however. In addition to allowing another potential lender to be heard, the court asked a series of reasonable questions that indicated concerns about the cost of the proposed deal for the bankruptcy estate, and then took a brief recess. Then the proposed lender reported to the court the fees would be reduced.  The court approved the financing on an interim basis to avoid irreparable harm but will be looking at this issue fresh when TWC seeks the final order for financing.

The U.S. Trustee is having a creditors committee formation meeting this week. That committee has a lot to investigate.

The TWC enterprise might be complex. But that's not what this case is about.

 

 

 

 

 

Education Department Request for Information on Student Loan Discharge in Bankruptcy

posted by Pamela Foohey

Following up on Alan White's post from this morning about the Education Department's draft notice about debt collection laws applicable to student loan debt collectors that prompted a Twitter moment, some more student loan news from the Education Department. Last week, it posted a less Twitter-popular request for information on evaluating undue hardship claims in adversary proceedings seeking discharge of student loan debt. The summary in the request:

"The U.S. Department of Education (Department) seeks to ensure that the congressional mandate to except student loans from bankruptcy discharge except in cases of undue hardship is appropriately implemented while also ensuring that borrowers for whom repayment of their student loans would be an undue hardship are not inadvertently discouraged from filing an adversary proceeding in their bankruptcy case. Accordingly, the Department is requesting public comment on factors to be considered in evaluating undue hardship claims asserted by student loan borrowers in adversary proceedings filed in bankruptcy cases, the weight to be given to such factors, whether the existence of two tests for evaluation of undue hardship claims results in inequities among borrowers seeking undue hardship discharge, and how all of these, and potentially additional, considerations should weigh into whether an undue hardship claim should be conceded by the loan holder."

Responses must be received by May 22, 2018.

Merit Mgmt. Group LP v. FTI Consulting Inc.

posted by Adam Levitin

The Supreme Court weighed in today on one of the the most important circuit splits in the bankruptcy world, namely the scope of one of the section 546(e) safe harbors from avoidance actions in bankruptcy.  Section 546(e) has two safe harbors, one for "settlement payments" and the other for transfers "made by or to (or for the benefit of) a ... financial institution ... in connection with a securities contract … commodity contract… or forward contract…”. This latter safe harbor had been read (ridiculously) broadly by some of the courts of appeals, as every non-cash transaction has to go through some sort of financial institution.  Specifically, imagine a transaction in which funds are moving from A to D, but go through intermediary financial institutions B and C:  A-->B-->C-->D.  Can D shelter in the fact that the transfer went through financial institutions B and C?  

The Supreme Court unanimously said no, and I think they clearly got the right result, although I fear the methodology the court used may ultimately be unhelpful for those who think that fraudulent transfer law has an important role to play in policing the fairness of financial markets and preventing against excessively risky heads-I-win, tails-you-lose gambles.  

Continue reading "Merit Mgmt. Group LP v. FTI Consulting Inc." »

Catch Veinte Dos

posted by Mitu Gulati

A few days ago, Mark and I put up a post on the possibilities of using Chapter 15 bankruptcy for Venezuela's state-owned company, PDVSA.  In response, we received a number of terrific comments, both via email and in the comments section.

One of the particularly interesting points that was made to us (both in email and in one of the comments), that we had not raised was the following: 

PDVSA is not just a Venezuelan company; it is the Venezuelan company -- the company responsible for generating 95% of the foreign currency earnings of the entire country.  Placing the fate of PDVSA into the hands of a bankruptcy judge poses an existential risk to the economy and to the government as the sole owner of the company unless, of course, the government can control the outcome of the insolvency proceeding.  But insolvency proceedings in which the equity owner of the bankrupt enterprise can control the outcome are not proceedings likely to be recognized or enforced by foreign courts.

Catch Veinte Dos?

The foregoing also brings up a slightly different question that Bob Rasmussen asked when he was visiting us last week, which was whether the bankruptcy proceeding could be conducted in a manner such that the 100% equity holder (who would normally have to turn over control to the debt holders in an insolvency) could retain all or almost all of the equity.  After all, it does seem clear that Venezuela is not going to accept giving up full control of PDVSA.  Bob did have some very interesting thoughts as to how this might be done in a purely domestic context.  The question that remained though was whether something similar could be engineered for the foreign state-owned company context that wasn't going to give up any control of the process.  But more on this later

 

Aurelius Seeks a Do-Over; Puerto Rico and the Appointments Clause Litigation

posted by Melissa Jacoby

The lives of Puerto Rico residents remain profoundly disrupted by the aftermath of Hurricane Maria measured by metrics such as electricity, clean water, and health care access, with death tolls mounting. This week, though, in a federal court hearing on January 10, 2018, Puerto Rico has the extra burden of confronting Hurricane Aurelius.

Continue reading "Aurelius Seeks a Do-Over; Puerto Rico and the Appointments Clause Litigation" »

Tax "Reform"

posted by Stephen Lubben

Key takeaways for Slips readers from a Moody's report, dated today:

The legislation is credit negative to the US sovereign, owing to the reality that the cuts do not pay for themselves, and Moody's estimates the cuts will add $1.5 trillion to the national deficit over ten years. Higher deficits will put further pressure on the federal government's finances, which are already facing prospects of increased costs of entitlements. Unless fiscal policy reverses course, Moody's estimates that the federal government's debt-to-GDP ratio will rise by over 25 percentage points over the next decade, to above 100%. Combined with rising interest rates, debt affordability for the US will weaken significantly.

The net impact to state and local governments is negative. While the new $10,000 limit on state and local tax (SALT) deductions does not directly impact state or local tax receipts, it will blunt the effect of lower federal rates for many taxpayers. Because the state and local provisions raise the effective tax cost for many taxpayers, public resistance to tax increases will likely rise, and that in turn will constrain local governments' future revenue flexibility. In addition, if larger federal deficits caused by the tax cuts result in attempts to cut entitlement spending, states will be pressured to backfill cuts to federal funds from their own budgets.

The SALT change, combined with the higher standard deduction and tighter limit on the mortgage interest deduction, also reduces the tax incentive for home ownership, which is likely to slow home construction and sales, and moderately suppress home values and property tax growth in higher-price markets.

 

Audio Recordings of Bankruptcy Court: News from Delaware

posted by Melissa Jacoby

DelawareSeveral Credit Slips posts from earlier this year (here and here) focused on the virtues of courts releasing digital audio recordings of hearings, and specified the Judicial Conference authority for doing so. Over the summer, I found about three dozen bankruptcy courts for which at least one audio recording had been posted on a court docket in the prior year, albeit with significant variation in frequency of posting. 

It is great to be able to report that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware has joined the group of bankruptcy courts using this technology  (announcement here with the details). Proceedings before Judge Carey are the first to be posted, with other judges' hearings potentially to follow. 

 

 

Puerto Rico, its Control Board and the "Two-Step Plan" Story

posted by Mitu Gulati

It is rare that the ideas in academic articles fundamentally change the world. A package of pieces by Clay Gillette and David Skeel (starting with "Governance Reform and the Judicial Role in Bankruptcy" in 2014, followed by a NY Times Op Ed in 2015,  and concluding with "A Two-Step Plan for Puerto Rico" in 2016) have arguably done just that though. The context, as many slipsters have written about, was the enormous financial crisis that Puerto Rico has been mired in for multiple years now. The three Gillette-Skeel articles were the foundation for the institution of a federal control board to displace the local elected authorities in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and, in their place, run Puerto Rico's debt restructuring.

Oversimplifying, the idea is that there are occasions when an electoral system becomes so dysfunctional in its running of the local government's operation that a more command-based system needs to be put in place temporarily. Clay has an aptly titled piece "Dictatorships for Democracy" that also explicates this idea. In political economy terms, the problem that Clay and David attack in their pieces is the one where the local competition among electoral candidates is, for whatever reason, consistently delivering severely sub-optimal local governance -- a consistently bad electoral equilibrium that eventually produces a severe government bankruptcy. And the way to get out of the bad equilibrium, they argue, is a temporary dictatorship (aka control board) that is not beholden to the kinds of political interests that were causing the dysfunction.

The question of why the local government system in Puerto Rico produced such immense fiscal mismanagement is a complicated one.  I am inclined to put a big portion of the blame for bad governance on the fact that Puerto Rico has not been allowed to meaningfully govern itself in the same fashion as the states for over a century ("foreign in a domestic sense" and all that). That said, it is hard to argue with the observation that, whatever the reason, Puerto Rico seems to be stuck in a bad governance equilibrium that it needs to be pushed out of. And Clay and David have provided one solution that might just work. (My preferred solution would be that Puerto Rico be allowed meaningful governance rights at the federal level, but no one in Washington DC seems to be willing to give them that).

Two things got me thinking about their idea over the past few days, and induced me to write this post.  First, the hearing on the legal challenge to the constitutionality of the control board is coming up soon (based on a challenge from a NY hedge fund).  Second, there was an interesting article Simon Davis-Cohen of The Nation (a lengthy piece about Clay and David and their ideas) that appeared about a week or so ago. Davis-Cohen's article, to my mind, manages to be both admiring of the ideas and goals that Clay and David have and also question the whether they are appropriate in the Puerto Rican context.

Continue reading "Puerto Rico, its Control Board and the "Two-Step Plan" Story" »

Venezuelan Debt: Call a Spade a Spade

posted by Mitu Gulati

Adam Lerrick, of the American Enterprise Institute, has offered an intriguing approach to the Republic of Venezuela/PDVSA debt problem. Call a spade a spade. The distinction in the market between Republic of Venezuela and PDVSA bonds has always been artificial and the market has normally perceived it as such. Only recently have market participants begun trying to figure out which bonds -- PDVSA or Republic of Venezuela -- will be more likely candidates for a debt restructuring and therefore which should trade higher in the market.

PDVSA accounts for 95 percent for the foreign currency earnings of the entire country. Without PDVSA, there is no credit standing behind Republic bonds.  At base, there is only one public sector credit risk in the country and Lerrick invites us to acknowledge this fact.

He proposes that the Republic assume the indebtedness of PDVSA and proceed to restructure that debt as part of a generalized Republic debt workout. As part of this process -- and to discourage potential holdouts from the Republic's offer to exchange PDVSA bonds and promissory notes -- he suggests that the Government take back PDVSA's concession to lift and sell Venezuelan oil. This risk has always been prominently disclosed in the PDVSA offering documents and should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Lerrick's proposal adds to the growing list of suggestions for how a future Venezuelan debt restructuring (and there almost certainly will be such a debt restructuring) may be accomplished without holdout creditors devouring the process. No one wants to repeat the experience of Argentina.

Recently, in the context of trying to work out the knotty problem of how to restructure Venezuela’s promissory notes, Lee Buchheit and I made a similar suggestion along these lines. (our friends, Bob Lawless and Bob Scott, two gurus of this world of secured financing and contracts, were invaluable in helping us figure this structure out -- all blame for errors is ours, of course).

The structure we suggest differs from the Lerrick proposal mainly on the question of what should happen to the PDVSA oil assets, including receivables for the sale of oil.  We suggest that PDVSA pledge those assets to the Republic in consideration for the Republic's assumption of PDVSA bond/promissory note liabilities (as opposed to transferring title to the assets back to the Republic).  Such a pledge is expressly permitted by the terms of the PDVSA bonds and promissory notes and should operate to shield the assets from attachment by holdout creditors.

Rights of Secured Creditors in Chapter 11: New Paper

posted by Melissa Jacoby

ABITed Janger and I have posted a paper of interest to Credit Slips readers called Tracing Equity. We still have time to integrate feedback, so please download it and let us know what you think.

As the image accompanying this post suggests, the project was inspired in part by recommendations of the American Bankruptcy Institute's Chapter 11 Commission. Discussion of those proposals starts on page 51 of the PDF.

One of the main insights of Tracing Equity is that both Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code and the Bankruptcy Code distinguish between (1) lien-based priority over specific assets and their identifiable proceeds, and (2) unsecured claims against the residual value of the firm. By our reasoning, even attempts to obtain blanket security interests do not give secured lenders an entitlement to the going-concern and other bankruptcy-created value of a company in chapter 11. We explain why our read of the law is normatively preferable and, indeed, is baked into corporate and commercial law more generally--part of a large family of rules that guard against undercapitalization and judgment proofing.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

 

 

Greatest Bankruptcy Case Name Ever?

posted by Adam Levitin

This morning I saw a docket for a bankruptcy case captioned In re Kabbalah Taxi, Inc.  Look for the cab with the little red thread around its mirror. If you meditate properly on the Tetragrammaton you will be teleported to your destination, although there are special fees for bridges and tunnels. I suppose the company competes with the Magic School Bus and the Chariot of Fire. Or it might just be a yeshivah bukher with a side job.

Any other great case names out there? Comments are open. 

WARN Act Claims after Spokeo v. Robins

posted by Adam Levitin

I'm musing out loud here, but does the Supreme Court's holding in Spokeo v. Robins—that a suit claiming statutory damages without alleging actual damages lacks Article III standing—impact WARN Act claims in bankruptcy? The WARN Act is a labor law that requires advance notice of certain plant closings--basically advance notice of mass layoffs. Failure to provide such notice results in statutory damages, even though there might not be any actual damages. For example, imagine that a debtor provided notice of a plant closing but not sufficiently in advance--it was one day too late. Where's the harm?  I think under Spokeo there wouldn't Article III standing for a suit seeking damages. If so, that's a nice boon to unsecured creditors because WARN Act claims are going to be priority claims that get paid ahead of them. Going foward, I would think that Official Committees of Unsecured Creditors should be challenging WARN Act claims. Thoughts?    

Old-Fashioned Insolvency Policy in India

posted by Jason Kilborn

It seems to me a sign of serious regulatory dysfunction when a government expressly uses bankruptcy law as a means of collection, rather than rescue or at least collective redress, with an aim to treating economic stagnation. I've seen several stories recently like this one, touting the new Indian insolvency law and government regulators' strategy of putting pressure on banks to use involuntary insolvency (creditors' petitions) to clean up the NPL problems of a series of major industrial firms. The notion that insolvency law is about collecting NPLs seems at best anachronistic, and likely at least a sign of major dysfunction in other law or policy.

The right way for one lender (including the government tax collector) to collect one defaulted loan is to engage an ordinary collections process (judgment enforcement)--which itself might well result in the sale of the company, as envisioned in the story linked above. Creditor-initiated bankruptcy/insolvency proceedings should be the nuclear option, engaged only when creditors are worried that the debtor's assets will be dissipated by other enforcing creditors before the later-in-time ones can reach the ordinary enforcement stage. Such cases should be rare. The primary users of modern insolvency law should be debtors responding to positive incentives to seek an orderly opportunity for a global renegotiation of their debts, or an orderly way for the governors of those companies to liquidate and redeploy the assets of their companies more effectively--avoiding in the process a protracted battle about their own liabilities as personal guarantors and/or as directors liable for "insolvent trading." 

The subtext of the stories I've seen about the new Indian insolvency law seem to be (1) it does not provide an adequate incentive for debtor-companies to seek either rehabilitation or orderly liquidation when they realize they're in obvious financial distress, (2) the ordinary collections apparatus in India must be totally dysfunctional if banks have no incentive to engage it to deal with their NPLs, (3) the new insolvency law also provides an inadequate incentive for creditors to engage it to seek collective redress, since the government has to put pressure on banks to do so, and (4) all of the work on proper, modern insolvency policy in recent years by UNCITRAL, the IMF and World Bank, and many, many others has been lost on Indian regulators. Especially in developing nations like India and South Africa, the battle over the appropriate, modern role of insolvency law as debtor-initiated rescue or exit, as opposed to old-fashioned creditor-initiated collections, continues to rage.

 

How to Get Involved with the ABI Consumer Commission

posted by Bob Lawless

As Jason Kilborn noted last month, the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI) has formed a Commission on Consumer Bankruptcy. More information about the Commission is available on its web site including the unfortunate news that it got saddled with me as the reporter. We very much invite input and suggestions about the Commission's work. Right now is an especially good time to get involved as the Commission sets its agenda.

The ABI has charged the Commission with "researching and recommending improvements to the consumer bankruptcy system that can be implemented within its existing structure. These changes might include amendments to the Bankruptcy Code, changes to the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, administrative rules or actions, recommendations on proper interpretations of existing law and other best practices that judges, trustees and lawyers can implement."

Continue reading "How to Get Involved with the ABI Consumer Commission" »

$45 Million for Stay Violations

posted by Alan White

How much in punitive damages is enough to punish unlawful conduct and deter its repetition? $45 million was one bankruptcy court's opinion, in the case of a wrongful home foreclosure and eviction in knowing violation of the automatic stay.

The court described the plaintiff-debtors’ treatment by defendant Bank of America as Kafkaesque, and found their deeply emotional testimony (one of them attempted suicide during the ordeal) completely credible, awarding more than $1 million in actual damages for the loss of housing and emotional distress. The court also noted that Bank of America had repeatedly settled cases with federal and state regulators for hundreds of millions, and even billions, of dollars, in recognition of serious and repeated compliance failures, including some related directly to servicing home mortgages.  

The fascinating 107-page opinion grapples at length with the dilemma of awarding enough punitive damages to effectively deter the defendant while avoiding an unseemly windfall to the plaintiffs. The solution: the decision awards $40 of the $45 million punitive award to consumer advocacy organizations and the five public California law schools. Citing an Ohio case, state statutes and several law review articles, the court proposes this split award technique as an appropriate step forward in the federal common law of §362(k) punitive damages. An interesting appeal is sure to follow.

Bankruptcy Fees in the Trump Budget

posted by Bob Lawless

Thanks a tweet to the sharp-eyed Drew Dawson at the University of Miami, I saw this article in Politico that among the surprises in Trump's budget is an increase in bankruptcy filing fees (see item 5). Well, this seemed important to those of us in the bankruptcy world so I thought I would check it out. It proved surprisingly more difficult in this day and age than one would think to get a PDF copy of the Trump budget outline, but I finally found one. I am not sure the characterization of an increase in "bankruptcy filing fees" is entirely accurate.

Trump Budget Screen Grab

Above is a screenshot from p. 30 of the document (clicking on it should bring up a full-sized image in a popup window). Keep in mind this is an outline of the underlying budget document. What appears to be proposed in an increase in the quarterly U.S. Trustee fee for chapter 11 filers and not a general increase in all bankruptcy filing fees or even the chapter 11 filing fee. Of course, the paragraph does characterize it as an increase in bankruptcy filing fees so maybe there is such a broad increase in the budget itself.

Does anybody know for certain?

Arbitrating the Discharge

posted by Bob Lawless

The Second Circuit currently has a pending case (Anderson v. Credit One Bank, No. 16-2496) that raises the question of whether an alleged violation of the bankruptcy discharge injunction is subject to a predispute arbitration agreement. Professors Ralph Brubaker and Bruce Markell have joined me on an amicus brief explaining why the answer has to be "no." You can download the brief from SSRN. (UPDATE 3/3: The link was broken but should be fixed now.)

Bankruptcy specialists know the "discharge" means the forgiveness of prebankruptcy debts. The "discharge injunction" comes from section 524 of the Bankruptcy Code, which states that the entry of a discharge shall operate as an injunction against attempts to collect prebankruptcy debts. Indeed, one of the things the brief tries to make clear is that the "discharge" and "discharge injunction" are different concepts. Historically, filing bankruptcy gave rise to a discharge, but there was no enforcement of that discharge in the federal court that issued it. Rather, the debtor could plead the discharge as an affirmative defense in a state-court collection action.

Continue reading "Arbitrating the Discharge" »

Swindlers and Crooks Doing Backflips: New Balleisen Book on Fraud

posted by Melissa Jacoby

BalleisenBookNot a moment too soon, Princeton University Press has just released Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff by historian & Duke University Vice Provost Ed Balleisen. (Some readers might be familiar with his earlier book on bankruptcy in Antibellum America).

As I learned when reviewing an earlier draft, Fraud is meticulously researched and completely fascinating, with plenty of careful attention to law and regulatory structures. The book's other virtues are well encapsulated by Kirkus:

"Balleisen casts a gimlet eye on the passing parade of hucksters and charlatans, peppering a narrative long on theory with juicy asides that build toward a comprehensive catalog of ‘Old Swindles in New Jargon’. . . . Ranging among the disciplines of history, economics, and psychology, Balleisen constructs a sturdy narrative of the many ways in which we have fallen prey to the swindler, and continue to do so, as well as of how American society and its institutions have tried to build protections against the con. But these protections eventually run up against accusations of violating ‘longstanding principles of due process,’ since the bigger the con, the more lawyers arrayed behind it."--Kirkus

Although it starts in the 19th Century, the book's breadth includes our recent "deregulatory" decades and the impact of that approach on fraud containment.  A book for our life and times for sure.

 

In re Trump Entertainment Resorts, Inc. in Retrospect

posted by Adam Levitin

Today in bankruptcy I taught In re Trump Entertainment ResortsInc. (Bankr. D. Del. Feb. 20, 2015).  The case isn't in my casebook (although some might notice that I presciently included in the problem sets a recurring character named Ronald Grump, a real estate developer with frequent bankruptcy dealings), but I added it to my syllabus this fall because of the election connection.  It was only today, however, that I realized what a hugely important decision it was in retrospect.  

The case involved an attempt by Donald and Ivanka Trump to terminate the debtor's license to use their trademark name, which had been pledged by the debtor as collateral for a loan, despite being nonassignable by its terms.  The Trumps sued in state court to terminated the trademark based on an alleged breach of the license agreement, but the debtor's bankruptcy filing stayed the suit. The Trumps moved to lift the stay.  The bankruptcy court said that the trademark license was an executory contract, and under the hypothetical test for assumption, said that the debtor could not assume the license, and therefore lifted the stay to allow the state court termination litigation to proceed (which I assume resulted in termination).  

Here's the thing.  Imagine if this case had come out differently.  What if the bankruptcy estate could have assumed and assigned the Trump trademark?  And what if it were happening during the election season or now?  One can only imagine the bidding war that might have developed.  

Join us for the "The NCBJ at 90"

posted by Melissa Jacoby

ABLJInfoWill you be in San Francisco for the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges annual meeting and related events? Please mark your calendars now for Thursday October 27, 3:oo pm Pacific Time: a special educational session honoring the 90th anniversary of the NCBJ.* We (Profs. Gebbia, Simkovic, Pottow, and me, with great guidance and input from Judge Colleen Brown and Judge Mel Hoffman) will be discussing original historical research on bankruptcy courts and bankruptcy law conducted for this occasion. Early abstracts can be found on the NCBJ blog. In the meantime, Prof. Gebbia has been posting quizzes; I suspect some Credit Slips readers would ace these tests, but you won't know until you try!

So please do join us on October 27 to be part of this commemoration and conversation.

* The mission of the NCBJ, according to its website, is:

The National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges is an association of the Bankruptcy Judges of the United States which has several purposes: to provide continuing legal education to judges, lawyers and other involved professionals, to promote cooperation among the Bankruptcy Judges, to secure a greater degree of quality and uniformity in the administration of the Bankruptcy system and to improve the practice of law in the Bankruptcy Courts of the United States.

 

Police Misconduct in Bankrupt Cities

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Bankruptcy filings by major cities have reinvigorated attention to municipal bankruptcy. As chapter 9 and its application have become more like chapter 11, a wide range of creditors are being swept into the process. As written before, city cases now have classes of general unsecured creditors. Those classes also have been including plaintiffs in civil rights lawsuits alleging unconstitutional police conduct. The proposed payouts vary.  San Bernardino's bankruptcy plan, which seeks to release the liability of non-debtor officers as well as the debtor, has been proposing a 1% payout. The confirmation hearing is currently set for October 2016.  Some cities with systemic police practice problems - Ferguson, Chicago - also are known to have pervasive financial difficulties. I am not suggesting or predicting they will end up in bankruptcy, but it is another reminder that civil rights advocates need to be up to speed on the impact of chapter 9, if only to be able to bargain in its shadow as other types of creditors do.

I have just posted a paper on this topic (revised and updated from a version posted earlier this summer). It walks through the issues and gives three brief case studies. Feedback from the Credit Slips readership would be very welcome, and/but please also pass along the link to civil rights lawyers who do § 1983 litigation. Here is the brief abstract:

When a financially distressed city files for bankruptcy, recovery for civil rights violations is at risk. This article examines the impact of bankruptcy on civil rights claims, with an emphasis on allegations of police misconduct resulting in lawsuits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We walk through how a bankruptcy filing affects civil rights plaintiffs, starting with the immediate injunction against litigation and debt collection activity, and ending with the legal release of debt and a restructuring plan. Using primary source materials, we offer three brief case studies: Detroit, Vallejo, and San Bernardino. We conclude with suggestions on where to go from here in research and advocacy.

Can a Nonprofit Startup Fix the Pro Se Problem in Bankruptcy?

posted by Dalié Jiménez

For the past four years, Jim Greiner, Lois Lupica, and I have been working on the Financial Distress Research Project (FDRP)*, a large randomized control trial trying to find out what works to help individuals in financial distress. As part of the project, a large number (70+ at last count) of student volunteers have created self-help materials aimed at these individuals, using the latest learnings in adult education, psychology, public health, and more. Part of our work has focused on creating a set of materials to help pro se filers through a no asset Chapter 7 bankruptcy (I blogged about the student loan AP materials here).

Continue reading "Can a Nonprofit Startup Fix the Pro Se Problem in Bankruptcy?" »

Thoughts on the GM Ignition Switch Opinion

posted by Adam Levitin

The Second Circuit handed down its much-anticipated decision on the GM successor liability claims. Bottom line is that most, if not all, of the various claims against New GM are not barred by the Sale Order because of lack of procedural Due Process.  That said, there's a lot more in the ruling.  My thoughts below the break: 

Continue reading "Thoughts on the GM Ignition Switch Opinion" »

The Bad CHOICE Act

posted by Adam Levitin

I'm testifying before House Financial Services tomorrow regarding the "CHOICE Act," the Republican Dodd-Frank alternative.  My testimony is here.  It's lengthy, but it doesn't even cover everything in the CHOICE Act--there are just too many bad provisions, starting with the idea of letting megabanks out of Dodd-Frank's heightened prudential standards in exchange for more capital, then moving on to a total gutting of consumer financial protection, and ending with a very poorly conceived good bank/bad bank resolution system executed through a new bankruptcy subchapter.  The only good thing about the Bad CHOICE Act is that it has little chance of becoming law any time soon. 

Essential Resources on Burdens of Proof in Bankruptcy Litigation: Property Exemptions and Beyond

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Shutterstock_380908687Deliberations of the Advisory Committee on Bankruptcy Rules have generated great materials relevant to burdens of proof in bankruptcy litigation that judges and lawyers should read and keep on their shelves, whether physical or virtual. Judge Christopher Klein's Suggestion 15-BK-E, submitted in July of 2015, posited that Rule 4003(c) (which gives the objecting party the burden of proof in property exemption disputes) exceeds the authority of the Rules Enabling Act "with respect to claims of exemption that are made under state law that does not allocate the burden of proof to the objector." The document includes a detailed court decision, In re Tallerico, setting forth the reasoning. In a memorandum starting on page 67 of the agenda book downloadable here,  Assistant Reporter/Professor/prior Credit Slips guest Michelle Harner takes a deep dive into the intersection of burdens of proof and the Rules Enabling Act. The Harner memo considers two key Supreme Court decisions that present different standards. The first is Raleigh v. Illinois Dept. of Revenue, 530 U.S. 15 (2000), which played a central role in Judge Klein's submission and court decision. The second is Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460 (1965). Harner concludes that Hanna is more on point in the event of a conflict between a federal bankruptcy rule and state law. And, as Harner explains, the Supreme Court in Hanna "rejected the argument that a rule is either substantive or procedural for all purposes" (p78), walks through the questions to be considered, and seeks to apply them to the exemption issue at hand. It looks like the Bankruptcy Rules Committee will not be proposing changes to Rule 4003(c) at this time, but this memo should live on, alongside the case law, as an essential resource for judges and lawyers who encounter disputes over the propriety of burdens of proof in federal rules. 

Bookshelf image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

 

Puerto Rico Restructuring Options That Don't Rely on Congress

posted by Mark Weidemaier

The revised draft PROMESA bill (available here) is now under debate in Congress. The bill appears to respond to some early criticisms, although its length and complexity obscures answers to some important questions. Under the circumstances, it seems sensible for the Commonwealth to consider all of its options, including those that do not require Congressional action. These include, as Mitu Gulati and I write in the Financial Times (here, subscription required), changing Puerto Rico's own law in ways that might facilitate a restructuring. 

We asked law students in a class we taught jointly at the University of North Carolina and Duke to consider ways the Commonwealth could restructure without Congressional authorization. Working in groups, they came up with some answers that are both creative and plausible. That doesn't necessarily mean easy or agreeable from the perspective of Commonwealth politicians. Some proposals envision amending Puerto Rico's constitution, while others rely on provisions of Puerto Rico law that authorize collectively binding debt modifications but that haven't been previously applied in this context. The important point, however, is that Puerto Rico may have a wider range of options than many think. The attractiveness of these options is relative. If Congress cannot provide an effective restructuring mechanism that respects the Commonwealth's right to democratic governance, other lawful options will begin to seem more attractive. Two of the student groups have made their work available on-line; their short papers can be found at the links above.

Puerto Rico: Debt Restructuring and Takings Law

posted by Melissa Jacoby

ConstitutionPer the last words of my PROMESA post, click here for an interview with Professor Charles Tabb, who discusses the (limited) impact of the Takings Clause on debt restructuring and moratorium legislation. 

Constitution image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Puerto Rico Symposium: Of Wills and Ways

posted by Melissa Jacoby

JigsawDebt relief without Congress? No one promised it would be pretty.  

Our brainstorm (remember the ground rules) has included Levitin's MacGyver-inspired local currency, eminent domain, and liberally-interpreted exchange stabilization, Weidemaier's use of COFINA doubts to wedge open the door for a Executive Branch/Puerto Rico partnership, and, thanks to economist Arturo Estrella, a long menu of options with examples, summarized succinctly as "where there is a will, there is a way" (p. 1) (english report at bottom of this page). Could the federal government underwrite new bonds in an exchange offer, asks Pottow? Be the mediator with a big stick, asks Lubben?  Might a holdout creditor be liable to shareholders if it rebuffed a reasonable deal, asks Jiménez? (scroll to the comments). Marc Joffe notes the potential analogy of the City of Hercules tender offer (as well as the fact that Levitin's local currency suggestion has a history from the Depression). 

Lawless reminds us of the risks associated with discriminatory treatment of Puerto Rico's debt and access to legal tools. Of course, there is a long history here. Maria de los Angeles Trigo points to UT professor Bartholomew Sparrow's study of the Insular cases. And while most expect debt relief will be conditioned on some sort of fiscal oversight, it needs to be designed in a way to avoid the foibles of the past.

Returning to Lubben's mediation theme, let's push the brainstorming a step farther: could Treasury appoint a federal judge, such as Chief District Judge Gerald Rosen (E.D. Mich.), to oversee the mediation, and demand that all creditors participate in good faith until released? Even in the absence of legal authority for this move, would creditors formally object or fail to show up? 

Thanks to participants and readers for active involvement so far, and please keep your thoughts and reactions coming this way.  

Puzzle photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Puerto Rico And (Very) Soft Executive Power

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Melissa's post asked what the executive branch could do to facilitate restructuring of Puerto Rico's debt. I'll get to that, but I first want to talk about Puerto Rico itself. At first glance, the Commonwealth seems to be in a uniquely terrible position. It has the disadvantages of a sovereign (e.g., no bankruptcy) but lacks the advantages (e.g., legal and/or practical immunity from legal enforcement). In fact, it lacks only most of the advantages. One advantage of sovereignty it does enjoy--and that many "true" sovereign borrowers are obliged to forego when they borrow--is that much of its debt is governed by its own law. That law can be changed (subject to constraints in the U.S. constitution) or interpreted in ways that give the Commonwealth needed restructuring flexibility. 

Continue reading "Puerto Rico And (Very) Soft Executive Power" »

Credit Slips Presents: A Virtual Symposium on Puerto Rico

posted by Melissa Jacoby

TablePuerto Rico debt restructuring legislation is flying fast and furious around Congress. But the air contains more than a whiff of defeatism regarding the prospects of passage. Bills vary greatly in substance and scope, and yet apparently the response of powerful creditors is consistent: they want to retain the right to be holdouts and are making that position perfectly clear to our elected representatives.

Credit Slips contributors are no strangers to anti-restructuring advocacy, whether framed as moral hazard or otherwise. To that end, we embark on a virtual symposium inspired by the following question: What could the Executive Branch do to facilitate the restructuring of government debt in Puerto Rico absent Congressional action? 

On tap to brainstorm around this theme in the next two weeks are (in alphabetical order): Anna Gelpern, Melissa Jacoby, Bob Lawless, Adam Levitin, Stephen Lubben, Katherine Porter, John Pottow, Mark Weidemaier, and Jay Westbrook.

Continue reading "Credit Slips Presents: A Virtual Symposium on Puerto Rico" »

Initial Attorney Reactions to the New Bankruptcy Forms

posted by Pamela Foohey

Help ImageYesterday I spoke at the Oklahoma Bar Association's annual advanced bankruptcy seminar. My talk focused on my research into chapter 11 cases filed by churches, a few of which are from Oklahoma. But the seminar's timing aligned perfectly with the roll out of the new bankruptcy forms. And unsurprisingly the first hour of the seminar was devoted to introducing and discussing the forms. A debtor attorney who handles chapter 7, 11, 12, and 13 cases -- Brian Huckabee -- parsed through some of the forms and added some initial comments. My take-away is that debtor attorneys' chief concern is that the readability and understandability of the forms will make it easier for debtors to file pro se, taking work away from attorneys ("this is self-service!"), a concern which was raised during the public-comment period. A related concern was voiced by a chapter 7 trustee: that chapter 7 (and 13) trustees will end up spending more time working through each case.

Three items during the discussion stood out to me. The first two relate to the "self-service" nature of the forms, particularly the new forms' instructions and white space. The last item goes to an attachment to the proof of claim form, Form 410A -- Mortgage Proof of Claim Attachment. 

Continue reading "Initial Attorney Reactions to the New Bankruptcy Forms" »

Longest Running Catholic Archdiocese Chapter 11 Case Finally Ends

posted by Pamela Foohey

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee filed its chapter 11 petition on January 4, 2011. Yesterday, four years and ten months later, Bankruptcy Judge Susan Kelley confirmed the dioceses' reorganization plan. During those four plus years, the most contentious issue regarded a $55 million trust fund established rather suspiciously prior to filing to care for a cemetery. The parties were sent to mediation repeatedly, but the cemetery issue seemed to remain the hold up -- until the 7th Circuit ruled that the cemetery trust fund was not shielded from the Code's avoidance provisions by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. After the 7th Circuit's ruling, the archdiocese revised its plan to distribute $21 million in total to sex abuse claimants. $16 million is coming from that cemetery trust fund. 

In comparison, the archdiocese's initial plan proposed to distribute $4 million in total to these claimants. The $21 million primarily will be split among 355 people. Though it is difficult to compare settlement amounts across diocese chapter 11 cases because of unknowns about abuse severity, state laws that apply to the underlying claims, and available insurance monies and other assets, the $21 million still makes Milwaukee's settlement one of the smallest based on the number of people to receive compensation.

Continue reading "Longest Running Catholic Archdiocese Chapter 11 Case Finally Ends" »

Who "Presides" over Chapter 13 Plan Confirmation Hearings?

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Shutterstock_329900393Temple Law Review will soon publish a volume honoring Bill Whitford, based on a conference from last fall. That event was particularly special for an additional reason: it turned out to be the last opportunity, for many of us, to spend time with another inspiring leader in our field, Jean Braucher

My own short contribution, on judicial oversight in chapter 13 bankruptcies, has just been posted here. We will share the word when the entire volume is available - including, I believe, a piece from Jean.

Gavel image courtesy of Shutterstock

Unhappy Birthday, BAPCPA

posted by Adam Levitin

BAPCPA's been in effect for 10 years now. I still remember the day before it went into effect, seeing round the block lines at the Wilmington courthouse as consumers rushed to file. 

There's lots to say about BAPCPA, for both consumers and businesses, but it boils down to this: it's not a fine wine and hasn't improved with age. The vinegar only gets more sour. 

How Do You C It?

posted by Bob Lawless

One of the great challenges to the bankruptcy system if not to the American way of life is those who insist on capitalizing the  letter when discussing chapters of the Bankruptcy Code. If it is "section 1129," as the Bluebook dictates, then it is "chapter 11." Both are merely designations for a portion of a statute.  The defense that is given to me is that the capitalized just looks better. Are we supposed to capitalize words now merely because the mood strikes us? Are there no rules left? The horror. The horror.

When confronted with the RaNdOm CaPiTaLiZeR CrOwd, weak-willed persons such as myself cave in a spirit of compromise and also because I am a heckuva guy. Someone stronger must oppose this tyranny.

Donald Trump Speaks the Truth

posted by Adam Levitin

I never thought I'd write this, but Donald Trump speaks the truth, at least as far as bankruptcy is concerned. 

There's plenty to criticize regarding Donald Trump, but I really wish the media would back off the bankruptcy angle of his career, or at least be smarter about it.  

Continue reading "Donald Trump Speaks the Truth" »

Picking a Judge to Preside over a Municipal Bankruptcy

posted by Melissa Jacoby

GavelLast week I introduced to Credit Slips readers my draft article on federal court oversight of Detroit's bankruptcy. An easily overlooked element of what I called The Detroit Blueprint is non-random judge selection, required by Congress for municipal bankruptcy cases.

Departing from the random assignment norm in the federal judiciary, section 921(b) of the Bankruptcy Code requires the chief judge of the applicable circuit court of appeals to select the judge who will preside over a municipal bankruptcy. In 1997, the National Bankruptcy Review Commission unanimously recommended eliminating section 921(b).  That Commission's Final Report observed that the fear prompting the provision - random draw of a judge unable to handle the case - was no longer salient. Congress did not take up this recommendation. What difference did section 921(b) make in Detroit?

Continue reading "Picking a Judge to Preside over a Municipal Bankruptcy" »

Chapter 9 and Federal Courts: The Detroit Blueprint

posted by Melissa Jacoby

BlueprintAmong its other effects, the Puerto Rico debt crisis has dramatically increased the number of public figures and politicians whose verbal repertoire includes the term "chapter 9." Bondholders' resistance to chapter 9 access for Puerto Rico municipalities is fueled in part by an earlier public debt crisis: Detroit. As suggested in my Credit Slips posts, Detroit made some new law but its major lasting legacy is procedural. I just posted a draft article, based on original empirical research, documenting that procedural blueprint, Federalism Form and Function in the Detroit Bankruptcy. It shows the paths by which the federal court became a major institutional actor throughout Detroit's restructuring.

After reading scholarship and case law on chapter 9, one might envision that, because of the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and federalism principles, presiding judges are essentially locked in a closet for much of the duration, released only when the parties affirmatively seek an adjudicator. That's never entirely accurate, but to say it is inaccurate regarding Detroit is the understatement of the year.

Although The Detroit Blueprint will have broader ripple effects, I am dubious that its most significant elements could or would be implemented in, say, a PREPA bankruptcy. Detroit should not be an impediment to changing the Bankruptcy Code to cure the wrongful omission of Puerto Rico municipalities. More on that, and additional perspectives from the article, in future posts.  
 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Dodd-Frank's Constitutionality

posted by Adam Levitin

I'm testifying tomorrow before Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on The Constitution (yes, that's the official capitalization), about the constitutionality of the Dodd-Frank Act.  

Short version: nothing to see here folks.

Slightly longer version: really nothing to see here.

Even longer version:  the plaintiffs in State National Bank of Big Spring v. Lew have a totally non-Originalist interpretation of the Bankruptcy Clause, namely that "uniform laws" apparently requires equal treatment of all similar creditors, so title II Orderly Liquidation Authority is unconstitutional.  Yes, that's the sound of me shaking my head.

My written testimony is available  here.  

Attorney Market for Discharging Student Loans

posted by Dalié Jiménez

BeatSLs

On Friday, Tara Siegel Bernard reported in the New York Times that some bankruptcy judges think that the onerous Brunner standard for discharging student loans should change. Commenting on the article, reader "alma" writes:

As someone who recently filed for bankruptcy and has more than $100,000 in student loan debt, I can tell you why I did not try to get relief from student loans: I did not know it was an option. My lawyer simply told me that it was not possible to have student loans discharged. This article is the first I have even heard there was any method to do so ....

From the rest of the comments, this poster is not alone. Some of this may be explained by clients misunderstanding what's said (where the attorney means they don't think that this particular client will succeed in obtaining a discharge). But especially pre-2005 when the law was murkier, I do wonder about the level of advice given to filers.

Attempting to discharge student loans costs extra money, something bankruptcy clients are unlikely to have. Given the low numbers of attempts, it's unlikely any given bankruptcy attorney has any experience filing such a case. Doing it is no simple matter either; it's literally a federal case. I've only found one book out there detailing how to file an adversary proceeding to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. 

My own limited experience is that this is (unsurprisingly) quite hard. As part of a larger study, Jim GreinerLois Lupica, a couple of dozen students, and I have been working to create a DIY guide to a no-asset Chapter 7 bankruptcy guide, complete with a module on representing yourself through an adversary proceeding to discharge student loans. We just posted a paper on the philosophy behind our materials (and why we include cartoons like the one above). If we succeed, we hope that the materials we create will be useful to attorneys as well as pro se individuals. But there has to be a market before attorneys will use them.

What say you, Credit Slips readers, are bankruptcy attorneys offering student loan discharge services? Do clients want them? Can they afford them?

The cartoon credit goes to Hallie Pope. Hallie is the creator of "Blob" and other cartoons featured in the self-help materials in the Financial Distress Research Study.

Puerto Rico Preemption Redux: Back to You, Congress

posted by Melissa Jacoby

1stCircuitCoverOn February 6, 2015, a district court held Puerto Rico's Recovery Act to be expressly preempted by section 903 of the Bankruptcy Code.

On July 6, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the finding: The Recovery Act is preempted, on both express preemption and conflict preemption grounds. 

Judge Torruella wrote a separate concurrence starting on page 50 of the decision. One of his points bearing special mention here is that he finds unconstitutional the 1984 Bankruptcy Code amendment that stripped Puerto Rico's right to authorize chapter 9 for its municipalities, due to the lack of a rational basis. Had he secured another vote for that view...

Credit Slips contributors surely will weigh in more, in this space or elsewhere, on the decision and  next steps. For now, Congress needs to move on H.R. 870, which now has support in the Senate. H.R. 870 simply reinstates Puerto Rico's ability to authorize its municipalities to use chapter 9, akin to states. Others advocate for bankruptcy relief for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico itself; that proposal is separate from, and considerably more controversial than, H.R. 870.

 

That New Song About Bills

posted by Pamela Foohey

You may have heard it. It was on the radio the last three mornings as I drove to work. It goes, "I got bills I gotta pay, so I'm gonn' work work work every day." It made me think about bankruptcy (naturally). And it is really catchy. The song's simply titled, "Bills," and is LunchMoney Lewis's debut single. The lyrics reference empty fridges, cars not starting, shoes without "soul," praying that cards won't be declined, and, of course, piles of bills. The music video features an adorable girl and her lemonade stand, complete with a credit card reader made out of cardboard.

When asked about the song, Lewis said: "I feel like people relate to 'Bills' no matter where you’re from. Whether you’re very middle class or you’re lower class or you’re in the projects or you’re upper middle class. We all get bills. . . . That’s why I wanted to turn it into something positive, like when you hear 'Bills' it kind of makes you feel happy, you know?" (full interview). The song made me smile, and apparently is rapidly climbing the pop charts.    

Check out the official video for some Friday fun.

Stale Debts in Bankruptcy

posted by Dalié Jiménez

Should liability under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) lie against a creditor who submits a proof of claim past the statute of limitations in a consumer bankruptcy case?

That is the question the Supreme Court declined to review recently in LVNV Funding, LLC v. Crawford. In Crawford, the Eleventh Circuit applied the "least sophisticated consumer" standard to find liability for the debt buyer when it submitted a proof of claim in 2008 for a debt that was out of statute as of 2004. Other courts have held differently. In fact, just last month, district courts in Indiana and Pennsylvania dismissed FDCPA suits against debt buyers under essentially the same facts as Crawford. Other courts, including the Second Circuit, have seemingly held that FDCPA liability can never lie in a bankruptcy case.

Putting the merits of applying the FDCPA in a bankruptcy case aside, it seems to me that in this specific instance potential liability under the Act could serve very useful functions: namely efficiency and cost savings.

Continue reading "Stale Debts in Bankruptcy" »

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  • As a public service, the University of Illinois College of Law operates Bankr-L, an e-mail list on which bankruptcy professionals can exchange information. Bankr-L is administered by one of the Credit Slips bloggers, Professor Robert M. Lawless of the University of Illinois. Although Bankr-L is a free service, membership is limited only to persons with a professional connection to the bankruptcy field (e.g., lawyer, accountant, academic, judge). To request a subscription on Bankr-L, click here to visit the page for the list and then click on the link for "Subscribe." After completing the information there, please also send an e-mail to Professor Lawless (rlawless@illinois.edu) with a short description of your professional connection to bankruptcy. A link to a URL with a professional bio or other identifying information would be great.

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