470 posts categorized "Corporate Bankruptcy"

Purdue Pharma Examiner?

posted by Adam Levitin

The US Trustee should move for the appointment of an examiner in Purdue Pharma's bankruptcy. That's what Jonathan Lipson, Stephen Lubben, and I wrote in a letter to the US Trustee for Region 2 this week.

Purdue is a case that seems to cry out for an examiner.  There is unique public interest in the case because it is so central to the story of the opioid crisis—the major domestic public health challenge of the last decade. In particular, there are real questions about exactly what Purdue and its owners knew about the problems with opioids and when.  Was Purdue was deliberately pushing a product it knew to be harmful? Did its owners, the Sackler family, siphon off substantial funds that could go to remediate opioid harms through fraudulent transfers, as alleged? And can Purdue's current management or the Official Creditors Committee be relied upon to get to the bottom of these questions?  

An examiner--particularly one wielding subpoena power and the power to administer oaths--could go a long way to establishing just what went on at Purdue, and that will help set the stage for a resolution that will be more broadly accepted as legitimate because everyone will be operating on a common factual basis from the examiner's findings. Moreover, an examiner's report is in effect a public accounting of what happened at Purdue. Absent such a public accounting, bankruptcy can become a whitewash:  no trial, no public introduction of evidence, no finding of guilty or not guilty, just claims estimation, a plan and a vote, and then some cash being paid out. That's fine for your run-of-the-mill bankruptcy case. There's really no public interest in why Shloyme's 7th Avenue Garmento Emporium ended up in the chapter. But when a case involves a major public health issue like Purdue, it's reasonable to demand more from the bankruptcy system. Purdue (and possibly other constituencies) will surely object to an examiner motion, be it from the Trustee or from other parties in interest, but I have trouble thinking of a case for which an examiner would be more appropriate.  

 

It makes a fine Halloween gift!

posted by Stephen Lubben

image from www.e-elgar.comOn sale now, my latest book:  American Business Bankruptcy, A Primer. Suitable for use as supplemental reading in all sorts of bankruptcy classes, and even some corporate finance classes that cover financial distress (especially those using a certain textbook).

I also think it would be a good read for junior attorneys who (shockingly) neglected to take bankruptcy in law school. And don't forget the international attorneys who want a quick way to learn about American law. It also stabilizes wobbly tables and kills flies.

In short, it makes a great gift for everyone on your shopping list! Buy several copies today. And tomorrow too.

The Clock Is Ticking for the Sacklers

posted by Adam Levitin

It's funny how what goes on in one bankruptcy case can sometimes point to looming issues in another. The PG&E plan exclusivity fight suggests an interesting dynamic looming in Purdue:  Purdue's own plan exclusivity could expire, which would completely upend the dynamic of negotiations with the Sackler family for a plan contribution in exchange for a non-consensual release of creditors' claims against them.  

As I see it, the Sacklers have no more than 18 months (and perhaps as few as 4 months) to cut their deal. If the Sacklers fail to reach a deal before plan exclusivity lapses, a state AG (or anyone else) could easily propose a plan that assigns all of the bankruptcy estate's litigation claims against the Sacklers to a trust for opioid victims or sells off the claims to a litigation vehicle.  The trust (or litigation vehicle) will then go and litigate against the Sacklers, and any recoveries will go to opioid victims. Critically, if this happens, the Sacklers will not be able to get a third-party release from Purdue's creditors.  They can still settle the fraudulent transfer claims of the bankruptcy estate, but they won't be shielded from creditors' direct claims.  

Now, I'm not sure how strong those direct claims really are, and thus how important a third-party release is for the Sacklers. They might decide that the asking price isn't worth paying. And the AGs might prefer to get half a loaf, rather than nothing; if so, they don't want plan exclusivity to lapse either--it's a great threat until it actually has to be played. Again we see the standard bankruptcy dynamic of one party threatening to push the other out the window, and the other party threatening to jump. Mutual defenestration.   

More generally, though, I wonder if Purdue will be able to get a pro forma extension of exclusivity given the enormous conflict of interest of its Sackler-controlled management. This seems like exactly the sort of case where plan exclusivity should not be extended because its main effect is to give the conflicted equity owners time to play for a lower settlement figure for their own liability.  In other words, plan exclusivity is benefitting the Sacklers personally, not necessarily the estate. That's akin to letting out-of-the-money equity sit around in bankruptcy and gamble on resurrection while burning up estate assets on administrative expenses. Yes, it's a mess of a case, but letting Purdue maintain plan exclusivity hardly seems like the right way to deal with that problem. A better outcome might require letting someone else be in the drivers' seat.

[Update: It seems that there actually is someone else in the drivers' seat already. Purdue's board of directors has been transformed over the past year. It now has a majority of independent directors and they seem to have some degree of insulation from the Sacklers, who continue to be the majority shareholders. There's not a lot of visibility on this because it is a private company, but the "informational brief" filed by Purdue explains some of this--the two branches of the Sackler family each appoint up to two Class A or Class B directors, but that there are also four other directors chosen by jointly by Sackler family members. Critically, there is a Special Committee of the board (comprised of a star-studded cast of restructuring professionals). The Special Committee has no Class A or Class B directors on it, and the Special Committee handles all matters relating to the Sacklers. It seems from a Shareholder Agreement (which I do not believe is public) that the Sacklers lack the ability to get rid of the Special Committee or do things like bylaw amendments, etc. to keep control.

That said, what I cannot tell from the public documents is what sort of board vote would be needed to proceed with a bankruptcy plan. Is it a simple majority? Unanimous? Is it even a vote of the full board, or just the Special Committee? The Informational Brief does not indicate whether matters encompassing more than to the Sacklers are solely the purview of the Special Committee. All of which is to say that from the public documents I have seen, I can't tell if the Sacklers have been totally pushed out of any management influence or if it is just that their influence has been substantially diminished. In any event, to the extent there's new management in charge, the case for terminating exclusivity is much weaker. Additionally, the case for a creditors' committee bringing fraudulent transfer actions derivatively looks a lot weaker.]

Speaking of which, why haven't we seen a motion to dismiss for cause filed at this point?  My guess is because it doesn't obviously help any one.  

The Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy

posted by Melissa Jacoby

By filing a bankruptcy petition last week, Purdue Pharma is automatically protected against many types of collection and litigation by operation of federal law. Seeking to turn this already-potent shield into something more formidable, the company has asked a bankruptcy judge to enjoin state and local government actions that might qualify as police and regulatory, and to shield members of the Sackler family and other third parties from both government and private suits. The number of actions affected is long - the first request would affect 435 actions and the second 560 actions (see exhibits A and B to the law suit) - as is the proposed duration, 270 days. Purdue Pharma also has asked the court to impose a "voluntary injunction" on the company regarding its marketing practices and that the court waive the security requirement. The preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for October 11, 2019, in White Plains, New York. The statutory authority for the requests is generic: section 105 of the Bankruptcy Code. The provision does not say they can do this for sure - it only opens the door for parties to ask for all sorts of things.

Although I am a generalist when it comes to federal courts/jurisdiction/civil procedure relative to colleagues like Elizabeth Gibson, Ralph Brubaker, Susan Block-Lieb, and Troy McKenzie, I am also a "senator" at an upcoming mock senate hearing on the equitable powers of the bankruptcy court at the annual meeting of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges.* Thus, I offer miscellaneous observations on the injunction questions below. The devastating subtext, the opioid crisis, already is well known.

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Purdue and the Sacklers and the Limits of Fraudulent Transfer Law

posted by Adam Levitin

One of the major issues in the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy is how much the Sackler family, which (indirectly) controls Purdue will contribute in order to get releases from opioid liability. (Relatedly, are such non-debtor releases allowed outside of the asbestos context, where they are specifically authorized by statute? Second Circuit law says "sometimes.") 

The question I have is why the Sacklers would contribute anything? Do the Sacklers themselves really have any opioid liability?  As far as I'm aware, the only suits filed so far against the Sacklers or their non-Purdue entities are for fraudulent transfers or unjust enrichment.  

The former claim allege that the Sacklers received assets that were transferred from Purdue with actual intent to hinder, delay, or defraud creditors. It is not a "fraud" claim involving a misrepresentation, but a claim based on intentional evasion of creditors. It's sometimes also called fraudulent conveyance or voidable transfer.  (There are also constructive fraudulent transfer allegations, but that's just a bunch of valuation questions.) The later claim is really a Hail Mary sort of claim, but the fraudulent transfer suits have some legs, and given that they are alleging actual fraudulent transfers, the crime/fraud exception to attorney-client privilege shouldn't apply under the Supreme Court's recent Husky Electronics ruling. (Also some states have criminal fraudulent transfer statutes, although none of have used them vis-à-vis the Sacklers...the statutes are pretty weak.  Maybe there's an argument for a federal bankruptcy criminal under 18 USC 152(7) as well, but a lot more facts would need to be known.) Without attorney-client privilege, the actual fraudulent transfer case gets a lot easier. But what it does mean practically?  

It means that the Sacklers will probably keep some, but not all of the funds they received from Purdue during the statute of limitations period (and everything they got outside of the limitations period). The situation underscores two problems with  fraudulent transfer statutes and the need for legislative fixes.

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The Weinstein Company Bankruptcy: What She Said

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Nearly a year has passed since my last Credit Slips post on The Weinstein Company bankruptcy. The case, filed March 2018, remains open. Contract disputes have dominated many if not most bankruptcy court hearings this past year. The issues have been interesting, the amounts at stake substantial, and, in litigated disputes, the buyer of TWC's assets typically has prevailed (some appeals are pending). Other contract disputes have settled, but often with key terms redacted, further complicating efforts to evaluate this bankruptcy on even the most accepted of metrics. In May 2019, parties informed the court they were still negotiating a deal with misconduct survivors, although TWC acknowledged that it had not conducted an investigation that would enable its board to sign off on any such deal, and its existing legal team was neither equipped nor priced to handle that work. That this acknowledgement should be astonishing is the subject for another day. In any event, updates on negotiations have yet to materialize in the form of a court hearing or status conference. In the past few months, the TWC docket has grown mainly with the reliable beat of monthly professional fee applications.

Tomorrow, Sept. 10, 2019, is the official release date of She Said, by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, on their investigation of Harvey Weinstein leading up to their October 2017 reporting. I doubt She Said will contain new information about TWC's bankruptcy per se. In all likelihood, though, She Said will drive home just how much Harvey Weinstein's alleged predatory acts were intertwined with the operation and management of TWC. 

Do Judges Do Contract Interpretation Differently During Crisis Times?

posted by Mitu Gulati

Scholars of constitutional law and judicial behavior have long conjectured that judges behave differently during times of crisis. In particular, the frequently made claim is that judges “rally around the flag”.  The classic example is that of judges being less willing to recognize civil rights during times of war (for discussions of this literature, see here, from Oren Gross and Fionnuala Aolain; and here, for an empirical analysis of the topic from Lee Epstein and co authors).

But what about financial crises?  Are judges affected enough by big financial crises to change their behavior and, for example, rule more leniently for debtors who unexpectedly find themselves being foreclosed on? In a paper from a few years ago, Georg Vanberg and I hypothesized that a concern with needing to help save the US economy from the depression of the 1930s may have been part of the dynamic explaining the Supreme Court’s puzzling decision in the Gold Clause cases (here).

A fascinating new paper from my colleague, Emily Strauss (here), analyzes this question in the context of the 2007-08 financial crisis.  Emily finds that lower courts judges, in a series of mortgage portfolio contracts cases during the crisis and in the half dozen years after, made decisions squarely at odds with the explicit language of the contracts in question.  From a pragmatic perspective, it is arguable that they had to; the contracts were basically unworkable otherwise.  But, as mentioned, this conflicted with the explicit language of the contracts. And judges, especially in New York, like to follow the strict language of the contracts (or so they say).   Then, and I think this is the most interesting bit of the story, Emily finds that, starting in roughly 2015 (and after the crisis looked to have passed), the judges change their tune and go back to their strict reading of the contract language.

Here is Emily’s abstract that explains what happened better than I can:

Why might judges interpret a boilerplate contractual clause to reach a result clearly at odds with its plain language? Though courts don’t acknowledge it, one reason might be economic crisis. Boilerplate provisions are pervasive, and enforcing some clauses as written might cause additional upheaval during a panic. Under such circumstances, particularly where other government interventions to shore up the market are exhausted, one can make a compelling argument that courts should interpret an agreement to help stabilize a situation threatening to spin out of control.  

This Article argues that courts have in fact done this by engaging in “crisis construction.” Crisis construction refers to the act of interpreting contractual language in light of concurrent economic turmoil. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, trustees holding residential mortgage backed securities sued securities sponsors en masse on contracts warranting the quality of the mortgages sold to the trusts. These contracts almost universally contained provisions requiring sponsors to repurchase individual noncompliant loans on an individual basis. Nevertheless, court after court permitted trustees to prove their cases by sampling rather than forcing them to proceed on a loan by loan basis.

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Ditech, Reverse Mortgages, Consumer Concerns, and Section 363(o)

posted by Pamela Foohey

A couple days ago, Judge Garrity Jr. of the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York issued a 132 page opinion denying confirmation of Ditech's proposed plan. Ditech, of course, is an originator and servicer of mortgages, including reverse mortgages. Its plan contemplated sales of both its forward and reverse mortgage businesses--free and clear of customers' claims and defenses. As reported at various times since Ditech filed in February 2019, homeowners have claims that Ditech did not credit mortgage payments properly, levied improper fees, failed to recognize tax payment plans, and wrongly foreclosed on homes.

Beyond its sheer length, the opinion is noteworthy for a couple reasons. First, the sales of mortgage businesses in the context of a plan raised the question of whether § 363(o) applied. Section 363(o) deals with consumer credit transactions subject to the Truth in Lending Act and provides that if any "interest" in such a transaction is purchased through a sale, then the buyer must take all the claims and defenses related to the consumer credit transaction. Ditech, of course, wanted to sell free and clear of those claims, through the plan. In holding that § 363(o) does not apply in the plan context, Judge Garrity Jr. provides a detailed analysis of the section's legislative history. This history includes removal of language about application to reorganization plans by an amendment proposed by Senator Phil Gramm (which was approved), and Senator Gramm's continued opposition to the addition of § 363(o) in its entirety because he claimed it would, among other things, encourage people to make up grievances against mortgage originators and servicers. (As many readers likely know, Senator Gramm spearheaded the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.)

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Private Equity's Abuse of Limited Liability

posted by Adam Levitin

One of the central features of the Stop Wall Street Looting Act that was introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren and a number of co-sponsors is a targeted rollback of limited liability.

This provision, more than any other, has gotten some commentators’ hackles up, even those who are willing to admit that there are real problems in the private equity industry and welcome some of the other reforms in the bill. (See also here and here, for example.)

The idea that limited liability is a sine qua non of the modern economy is practically Gospel to most business commentators.  These commentators assume that without limited liability, no one will ever assume risks, such that any curtailment of limited liability is a death sentence for the private equity industry.

They're wrong. Limited liability is a substantial, regressive cross-subsidy to capital at the expense of tort creditors, tax authorities, and small businesses. Limited liability is a relic of the underdeveloped financial markets of the Gilded Age and operates as an implicit form of leverage provided by law. But it’s hardly either economically efficient or necessary for modern business activity. It's a fairly recent development in the western world, there are numerous exceptions to it, and a number of notable firms have prospered without it (JPMorgan & Co., Lloyds of London, American Express, and many leading law law firms).

In any event the Stop Wall Street Looting Act rolls back limited liability solely for private equity general partners in a surgical manner such that doesn’t affect limited liability more broadly. All the Stop Wall Street Looting Act will do is reveal which private equity firms have real managerial expertise, and are thus able to thrive without limited liability, and those that don’t and require the legal subsidy to be profitable. Far from undermining the private equity industry, it is a restoration of a central tenet of honest American capitalism: reward should be commensurate with risk.

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Alix v. McKinsey Update

posted by Stephen Lubben

Judge Furman has dismissed the federal RICO charges, and the case may be headed to state court. Our chances of actually finding out if McKinsey flouted rule 2014 (and § 327) are looking increasingly dim:

OPINION AND ORDER re: 88 JOINT MOTION to Dismiss by all defendants. filed by McKinsey Holdings, Inc., Kevin Carmody, Alison Proshan, McKinsey Recovery & Transformation Services U.S., LLC, Jon Garcia, Seth Goldstrom, Robert Sternfels, McKinsey & Company Inc. United States, Dominic Barton, McKinsey & Co., Inc. If Alix's allegations in this case are true (as the Court has assumed they are for purposes of this motion), they are certainly troubling. Moreover, Alix and AlixPartners may well have good reason to be upset about Defendants' alleged misconduct and may indeed have genuinely public-spirited reasons for seeking to deter it going forward. But that is not enough to state a claim for relief, much less a claim under the civil RICO statute, which provides a remedy only to those whose injuries directly resulted from a defendant's scheme. Defendants' motion to dismiss is accordingly GRANTED as to Alix's federal claims and those claims the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Causes of Action are dismissed with prejudice. The Court defers ruling on Defendants' motion to dismiss Alix's state-law claims until it confirms, following the parties' supplemental briefing in accordance with the schedule set forth above, that it has diversity jurisdiction over those claims. The Clerk of Court is directed to terminate the Individual Defendants Dominic Barton, Kevin Carmody, Jon Garcia, Seth Goldstrom, Alison Proshan, Robert Sternfels, and Jared D. Yerian as parties and to terminate ECF No. 88. SO ORDERED., (Jon Garcia, Seth Goldstrom, Alison Proshan, Robert Sternfels, Jared D. Yerian, Dominic Barton and Kevin Carmody terminated.) (Signed by Judge Jesse M. Furman on 8/19/19) (yv) (Entered: 08/19/2019)

Elizabeth Warren & the Dow Corning Bankruptcy: Nothing to See

posted by Adam Levitin

The Washington Post has a story about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s involvement in the Dow Corning bankruptcy that implies that Senator Warren was somehow working against the interests of personal injury victims. That’s rubbish, and it’s frankly irresponsible reporting that fundamentally fails to understand the bankruptcy process and leaves out a critical fact.

Bankruptcies are complicated, so let me relate the Dow Corning story and then what we know of Senator Warren’s minimal involvement. Bottom line is that this is a complete nothing burger, much like the previous Washington Post story with the shocking headline (much mocked, and now amended) that then-Professor Warren had billed [a below-market] rate of $675/hr for her legal work

Here's the properly related story in a nutshell: Senator Warren did some minimal work in support of a deal to ensure compensation for tort victims that was supported by the overwhelming majority (94%) of those tort victims and that was approved by a federal court. That’s a good thing that deserves praise, not some implicit shade.  Alas, the Post doesn't bother to mention the tort victim support for the plan. 

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Counting Healthcare Chapter 11 Filings: Are There More Than Expected?

posted by Pamela Foohey

This post is co-authored with my student, Kelsey Brandes, rising 3L, IU Maurer School of Law

Reports of hospitals, physician practices, healthcare systems, and clinics filing for bankruptcy have become seemingly increasingly well publicized in recent years. At the beginning of this year, Pew released a study detailing why rural hospitals are in greater financial jeopardy in non-medicaid expansion states in the wake of the ACA. This may foreshadow more hospital closures and possibly more bankruptcy filings. With this in mind, one of my students at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Kelsey Brandes (with whom I'm co-posting), decided to survey healthcare businesses that had filed chapter 11 between the beginning of 2008 and the end of 2017 with the goal of assessing how many healthcare businesses filed chapter 11 and why they filed, as based on their disclosure statements and other filings.

This survey found that, after combining jointly-administered cases, on average, 38 healthcare organizations filed per year during the study's ten year period, as shown by year on this graph.

Healthcare Post Graph

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Plan Optionality: Extreme Edition (A Pick-Your-Own-Adventure Restructuring with Shopko)

posted by Adam Levitin

I've seen some Chapter 11 plans that include some optionality, such as allowing the debtor, based on subsequent market conditions or litigation outcomes to undertake a transaction or change the way a class is paid.  Such optionality has always troubled me because I don't think a disclosure statement can provide "adequate information" in the face of debtor optionality--a hypothetical investor might understand that the debtor has options A or B, but the uncertainty about which option will be selected makes it hard to make an "informed judgment about the plan":  the investor might like option A, but dislike option B--without knowing the likelihood of A or B, how can the investor make such an informed decision?  To be sure, it is possible to get two disclosure statements approved, one for option A and one for option B, but then creditors would be able to vote separately on each plan, rather than voting on a plan that gives the debtor optionality.  

A disclosure statement I looked at today, however, takes such optionality to an extreme I've never previously seen.  Specifically, Shopko's proposed disclosure statement is for a plan that "contemplates a restructuring of the Debtors through either (a) a sponsor-led Equitization Restructuring or (b) an orderly liquidation under the Asset Sale Restructuring."  As explained:  

The Plan includes a "toggle" feature which will determine whether the Debtors complete the Equitization Restructuring or the Asset Sale Restructuring. The Plan thus provides the Debtors with the necessary latitude to negotiate the precise terms of their ultimate emergence from chapter 11.  

In other words, what is being disclosed is "we might liquidate or we might reorganize, our pick."  The plan has, of course, two separate distributional schemes, depending on which restructuring path is chosen.   I really don't get how such a single disclosure statement for a single plan with optionality can be approved given the huge difference between these two paths.  A creditor can't know what outcome it is voting on and might like one, but not the other.  Maybe others have seen this move before, but I suspect this will be a first for the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Nebraska.  

CDS Strikes Again (Aurelius and Windstream)

posted by Stephen Lubben

Long ago I warned that the growth the of the CDS (credit default swap) market represented a threat to traditional understandings of how workouts and restructurings are supposed to happen. The recent Windstream decision from the SDNY shows that these basic issues are still around, notwithstanding an intervening financial crisis and resulting regulatory reform.

Windstream is a corporate group in the telecommunications sector. In 2013 it issued some senior unsecured notes due in 2023. Under the indenture for those notes, specific legal entities in the Windstream group agreed not to engage in any sale-leaseback transactions, presumably to maintain legal title to the groups’ assets available for the noteholders to collect against.

But the indenture did not prohibit the creation of new affiliated entities, nor did it bind such new entities to the prohibition on sale-leasebacks. Windstream did exactly that – popping up a new holding company to enter into the lease, and dropping down a new REIT subsidiary to be the owner of the leased assets. A clear end-run around the probable “intent” of the parties (whatever that means in the context of a bond indenture), but not against the express terms of the indenture, which legions of New York Court of Appeals decisions suggest is the only place to look for intent when reading an indenture.

Nonetheless, Aurelius Capital Master, Ltd., a fund managed by Aurelius Capital Management, LP and its affiliates, instructed the indenture trustee to bring suit against Windstream for breaching the terms of the indenture. As the holder of more than 25% of the notes, the Aurelius fund was entitled to give the trustee such instructions.

As many Slips readers will already appreciate, Aurelius is well-known in the restructuring community for its fondness for a robust sort of litigation. To put it mildly. And it is alleged that Aurelius has fully hedged its Windstream position with CDS, meaning that it can afford to be quite aggressive, because damage to Windstream will actually increase the value of the CDS position.

I’ll try to condense this as much as possible, but readers can see that we are headed into one of my longest posts in a while …

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Alix-McKinsey Update

posted by Stephen Lubben

Lots of news in the restructuring area this week, and I hope to blog about Puerto Rico and Windstream before the week is out. But first, a quick update about everyone's favorite professional retention litigation.

As predicted, arbitration has proved to be somewhat less than satisfying in this matter. We still don't really know if McKinsey violated the Code/Rules on disclosure, and nobody has really addressed why it took the Wall Street Journal to notice that McKinsey's retention applications were extremely light on disclosures, relative to other bankruptcy professionals.

The U.S. Trustee is crowing about the $15 million dollars that McKinsey has agreed to pay – although at $5 million per chapter 11 case, that won't go very far will it?

And McKinsey's press release shows that it has an altogether different take on the settlement agreement:

Following a successful mediation overseen by Judge Marvin Isgur of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, McKinsey & Company has reached an agreement with the United States Trustee Program regarding McKinsey’s prior disclosures in a set of bankruptcy cases from 2001 to 2018. The settlement does not opine in any way on the adequacy of McKinsey’s prior disclosures and, as Judge Isgur noted, the proposed settlement resolves “good faith disputes concerning the application of Bankruptcy Rule 2014.” McKinsey has agreed to this settlement in order to move forward and focus on serving its clients.

In reaching the agreement, McKinsey did not admit that any of its disclosures were insufficient or noncompliant, and the settlement does not in any way constitute an admission of liability or misconduct by McKinsey or any of its employees, officers, directors or agents.

McKinsey thanks Judge Isgur for his help in putting the historical disagreements regarding disclosures with the Trustee behind us. With Judge Isgur’s guidance, this process has also provided additional clarity for the filing of future disclosures. McKinsey will be filing additional disclosures in the Westmoreland case and looks forward to working with the bankruptcy courts to continue to deliver value to debtors and stakeholders.

Jay Alix, McKinsey Redux

posted by Stephen Lubben

A quick note on this ongoing issue, in which Jay Alix (the individual) claims that McKinsey has gained bankruptcy work and market share by flouting the requirements of the Code. Reports are out this morning that some judges have sent this matter to mediation. I don't get that.

The basic issue is that McKinsey, under the most charitable interpretation, was extremely aggressive in deciding what needed to be disclosed to the bankruptcy court. This is basically a legal or policy question as to how to interpret section 327 et al.  How is that a proper subject for mediation? Can the parties really agree on the scope of disclosure? 

I know mediation is all the rage these days in large chapter 11 cases, but there are some issues that simply need to be addressed by the court.

Is SB 901 Constitutional?

posted by Adam Levitin

PG&E filed a notice that it was preparing to file for bankruptcy in around 15 days.  Companies don't usually make this sort of announcement willingly; it's an invitation to a creditor run.  PG&E filed the notice because it's required to under a recently enacted California law, SB 901.  SB 901 requires public utilities to file notice of changes of control at least 15 days in advance, and "change of control" is defined to include filing a bankruptcy petition.  That strikes me as really problematic--it is a state law conditioning and interfering with the exercise of a federal right.  (Imagine how this would work with a financial institution bankruptcy process...)  I can't believe that the law would hold up if challenged.  Yet PG&E filed the notice.  Maybe there's just not a meaningful run possibility for a power utility.

Credit Bidding and Sears

posted by Adam Levitin

The Sears' auction is a really valuable teaching moment, I think (and perfectly timed for the start of the semester)—does Sears have going concern value that merits a sale of substantially all assets as a going concern, or is an immediate liquidation the value maximizing move?  

I don't have an opinion on that issue, but something strikes me as rather strange about ESL's bid for a sale of substantially all assets.  Very little of the now $5B in consideration offered is cash, less than 20%.  Instead, a large chunk is in the form of debt assumption and another large chunk is in the form of a credit bid.  It's the credit bid that looks odd to me.  ESL seems to be trying to credit bid three different loan facilities, including a second lien facility.  Here's the thing--ESL should only be able to credit bid against its collateral and then only in the amount of its collateral. I don't know what exactly is covered by the liens on each of the facilities, but I suspect that the assets being sold include things that are not covered by the liens. That would seem to create a Free-Lance Star problem for ESL.  And then there's the problem of the valuation.  In order to know what ESL can credit bid, we need to know to what extent it is secured.  To wit, consider a second lien facility.  If the collateral is worth $100 and the first lien debt is for $80 and the second lien debt for $30, the second lien debt shouldn't be able to credit bid $30 because it would only recover $20 from the sale in foreclosure.  The second lien's credit bid should be capped at $20.

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Maybe it's not a new problem after all

posted by Stephen Lubben

Consider:

Seldom are business bankruptcy cases initiated under Chapters I to VII, inclusive, as well as under Chapters X and XI, where all or substantially all of the assets have not been pledged as collateral for the payment of debts. This pledging of assets tends to create serious questions in connection with the administration of the estates. In cases where the debtor is engaged in business, the receiver or trustee is quite often without free assets with which to carry on operations. There is no money in hand and no means of raising funds necessary to take care of fixed and direct charges essential for the maintenance of the business, without impinging upon the rights of the secured creditors. Debtors who might otherwise be reorganized in the public interest are unable to continue in business long enough to develop alternate means of financing and negotiate accommodations with their creditors.

Charles Seligson, Major Problems for Consideration by the Commission on the Bankruptcy Laws of the United States, 45 Am. Bankr. L.J. 73, 87-88 (1971).

Procedural Justice and Corporate Reorganization

posted by Pamela Foohey

I just posted to the Social Science Research Network my response -- Jevic's Promise: Procedural Justice in Chapter 11 -- to Jonathan Lipson's recent article about Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp. and structured dismissals. In his article, The Secret Life of Priority: Corporate Reorganization After Jevic, Lipson frames Jevic as about process, as compared to its usual frame as about priority. Drawing from this frame, my response focuses on Jevic's implications for procedural justice and corporate reorganization.

The process values that Lipson identifies--particularly participation and procedural integrity--align with research about what people want from the justice system's procedures. This procedural justice research also teaches that the process of adjudication is as important as the final outcome. Combining Lipson's arguments with procedural justice research, I argue that corporate reorganization's process has been co-opted in the name of value preservation. I also rely on Slipster Melissa Jacoby's recent work conceptualizing corporate bankruptcy as a public-private partnership, which she's blogged about here and here, in arguing that Jevic's emphasis on process should embolden bankruptcy courts to more rigorously assess chapter 11's procedures. In the response, I provide two examples.

Continue reading "Procedural Justice and Corporate Reorganization" »

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" »

Lead into Gold? Sears' Possible Post-Petition Sale of Intracompany Debt

posted by Adam Levitin

Sears is supposedly considering trying to raise liquidity through the post-petition sale of intracompany debt. The details of the debt and the proposed transaction aren't clear, but as a general matter, the post-petition sale of intracompany debt (or Treasury stock) seems problematic to me as with any lead into gold transaction.  Here's the issue:  if the debt is sold, is it still intracompany debt or does it become general unsecured debt? 

The viability of Sears' strategy depends on the answer to this question.  If it is still intracompany debt post-sale, it's not going to sell for very much; if it is general unsecured debt, it's much more valuable.  (This is putting aside the weird arbitrage with the CDS settlement auction market that gets warped by the CDS volume exceeding the reference debt volume.) 

In most bankruptcies, intracompany obligations between affiliated debtors are either subordinated or cancelled outright.  Nothing in the Bankruptcy Code compels this, but it's pretty standard. It tends to follow from a separate classification of intracompany obligations (again, not compelled by the Code) and from the difficulty in determining net intracompany obligations--deemed consolidation for voting and distribution is standard operating procedure in large bankruptcies. If the leaden intracompany claims can be transformed into golden general unsecured claims, it's a huge siphoning of value away from other general unsecured creditors.  General unsecured creditors are paid pro rata on their claims, so an increase in the size of the general unsecured claim pool dilutes recoveries on the debt.  

So would a sale of intracompany obligations transform them into arms' length obligations?

Continue reading "Lead into Gold? Sears' Possible Post-Petition Sale of Intracompany Debt" »

CLO Yawn

posted by Adam Levitin

There's a big story in the NY Times about how the financial structures being used to finance many corporate loans—so-called Collateralized Loan Obligations or CLOs—look very similar to those used to finance mortgages during the housing bubble.  Yup.  That's true. CLOs are a securitization structure, like MBS.  (If you want to know more gory details, see here.)  But that's really where the similarities end.  While the financing transactions are similar, the asset class being securitized is fundamentally different in terms of the risk it presents, and that's what matters.  The financing channel might be more vulnerable to underpricing than other financing channels because of opacity and complexity, but is the underlying asset class that matters in terms of societal impact.  This is for (at least) four reasons. 

Continue reading "CLO Yawn" »

No comment

posted by Stephen Lubben

In this morning's email:

Moody's Investors Service downgraded its Probability of Default Rating (PDR) for American Tire Distributors, Inc. ... following the company's announcement that it had initiated Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings...

What Skews the Public-Private Balance in Corporate Bankruptcy Cases?

posted by Melissa Jacoby

In a prior Credit Slips post, I shared a paper, Corporate Bankruptcy Hybridity, positing that bankruptcy should be conceptualized as a public-private partnership. The second section of Corporate Bankruptcy Hybridity identifies factors that have skewed the Bankruptcy Code's ideal balance between public and private interests and values. Preemptively I'll note it is not new to observe the increased privatization of bankruptcy and the qualitatively different nature of the oversight and ethics (see, e.g., Mechele Dickerson). More novel, I hope, is the articulation of a broader set of factors contributing to the skew. The list is illustrative, not exhaustive.

Continue reading "What Skews the Public-Private Balance in Corporate Bankruptcy Cases?" »

In the Zone: The Weinstein Co. Chapter 11 Hearings #9-13

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Since my last Credit Slips post about The Weinstein Co. chapter 11, there have been five public hearings/status conferences (some of which were telephonic). Disparate observations from those hearings below.

Continue reading "In the Zone: The Weinstein Co. Chapter 11 Hearings #9-13" »

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.

MoviePass Bankruptcy Watch

posted by Adam Levitin

The financial travails of MoviePass and its parent company Helios & Matheson caught my eye today. I almost never go to see movies in theaters, so MoviePass was an unfamiliar business to me, but the basic idea is that the consumer pays an upfront subscription fee and then MoviePass provides an unlimited number of tickets for the consumer (although one per show, and more recently with various additional restrictions):  basically an all-you-can-eat buffet model applied to movies.  The buffet model requires the Jack Sprats of the world to subsidize their wives:  those who go to the counter once and get low-cost foods are subsidizing those who make multiple trips for the foie gras, etc.  The buffet model can work for a few reasons. First, there is a limit to how much anyone (except Joey Chestnut) can eat.  Second, people often go to restaurants in groups, which means that there will be some Jack Sprat wives in the mix.  Third, there are sales of other items (drinks, liquor) that can offset the buffet to the extent it's a loss leader.  And fourth, the buffet can be priced high enough that it won't lose too much money.

MoviePass doesn't seem to have many of these factors working in its favor.  People can watch a lot more movies in a month than they can make trips to a buffet table in an evening. There's going to be an adverse selection of heavy users among subscribers, and they don't bring along Jack Sprat wives--the extra business of friends who come to the theater doesn't go to MoviePass, but to the theaters.  And MoviePass doesn't have much in the way of other sale items to offset losses on tickets.  OK, so we've got a really bad business model that will only work if lots of people sign up, but don't actually go to the movies.  This strikes me as different from other subscription models, like gyms.  People are likely to overestimate their likelihood of going to the gym. My guess is that they are much less likely to overestimate how often they'll go to the movies. 

Well, this is all very interesting, but what does it have to do with Credit Slips?  Three things, I think, one dealing with payment systems and secured lending, and the other two dealing with bankruptcy, which seems to be where this is all headed (assuming that MoviePass is not run out of a bankruptcy remote entity). 

Continue reading "MoviePass Bankruptcy Watch" »

Jay Alix v. McKinsey Update

posted by Stephen Lubben

As my summer of poutine, donairs, and nippy waters winds down, a quick post to note that the long-expected motion to dismiss has been filed in the battle between the chapter 11 financial advisors. A McKinsey spokesperson also provided the following statement, which gives some insight into how they intend to respond to this case:

“Jay Alix has waged a years-long crusade against McKinsey & Company to stifle competition in the bankruptcy advisory market. His attempt to bootstrap a disclosure dispute into a RICO action is devoid of any legal basis and obviously intended to do nothing but inflict reputational damage. Courts have previously upheld the appropriateness of McKinsey’s disclosures. This lawsuit is just one more part of Mr. Alix’s anticompetitive campaign to push out of the market a competitor whose deep expertise and unmatched scale deliver superior bankruptcy outcomes.”

Silver Linings Playbook: The Weinstein Co. Chapter 11 Hearings #7 & #8

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Sale closedSince I last wrote on Credit Slips about The Weinstein Co. chapter 11, the sale of the company to Lantern Capital has  closed. Shortly after it closed, it was announced that Harvey Weinstein's brother Bob Weinstein was resigning from the TWC board of directors, along with several others. (If you read the investigative news reporting on TWC last fall through winter, you may be wondering why there hadn't been earlier board turnover. I have no good answer). Also of potential interest is that, after the closing of the sale, Lantern was immediately sued in California state court by another investment firm for breaching written and oral agreements connected with due diligence that allegedly gave Lantern a bidding advantage in buying TWC. 

The seventh public court hearing, on July 11, 2018, paved the way for the sale to close. It was then and there that Judge Sontchi, filling in for Judge Walrath, approved an amendment to the sale agreement reducing the sale price. The judge telegraphed early in hearing #7 that he viewed other pending objections (dealing with executory contracts and default cure amounts, which still remain pending) as collateral attacks on the prior sale order. The objection that would have prompted a bona fide evidentiary hearing, from the creditors' committee, had been settled.  Although hearing #8 on July 18 was extremely brief, it is clear there's much left to be worked out behind the scenes in this case - most notably, how to allocate the money.

Hurry Up and Wait: The Weinstein Co. Chapter 11 Hearing #6

posted by Melissa Jacoby

All Credit Slips readers are old enough to remember when a quick going-concern sale of The Weinstein Company was said to be imperative. So much so that even the seemingly skeptical creditors' committee ultimately went along, thus making the request to sell the company to Lantern Capital uncontested.

On June 22, at its 6th hearing, and about 6 weeks after the court's sale approval, TWC essentially acknowledged it cannot close the sale to its stalking horse bidder on the terms requested and approved by the court, and certainly not by the end of June as represented at hearing #5. TWC therefore will be seeking court approval for Lantern to acquire the company for less money than the agreement and court order specified. By the creditors' committee's calculation, TWC is seeking a 11% reduction in the cash price, but that estimate is one of several points of contention between it and TWC. Given the dates and deadlines in various financing orders and deals, TWC said the issue absolutely positively must be resolved in early July - while the presiding judge is out of the country. The parties did not embrace the presiding judge's suggestion of a popular federal court tool: mediation by a fellow sitting judge. So a key outcome of the June 22 hearing is that a different Delaware bankruptcy judge will preside over a July 11 hearing on changing the TWC/Lantern deal. That judge already has held a quickly-scheduled telephonic status conference today, June 25 (see dockets ##1106, 1107).

As an outside observer not privy to the negotiations, I have no idea whether this deal will close. Perhaps due to lack of imagination, I have never understood how a potential purchaser could be deemed the highest and best bid for a company without a basic understanding what contracts and licenses were included. Meanwhile, especially if it was true that some competing bidders could not meet the deadline due to inability to get information from TWC in a timely fashion, significantly changing the deal without resuming some competitive process seems troubling.

No one at the June 22 hearing disputed that general unsecured creditors would be directly affected by TWC's request to change the terms of the sale. But the judge implied some skepticism by asking whether, say, "very secured" creditors have reason to care. The answer depends, it seems to me, on how  "very secured" is determined, due to allocation issues among entities in the TWC corporate family. If there was ever a case to highlight why one should resist the assertion of a single waterfall, it is this one.

 

 

The Weinstein Co. Chapter 11 Hearing #5

posted by Melissa Jacoby

The fifth hearing in The Weinstein Co. chapter 11 occurred on June 5, 2018. The hearing included discussion about when the sale to Lantern Capital, approved by the court in early May, will actually close. Among other regulatory and transactional hurdles, TWC's lawyers mentioned that it still is not resolved which contracts will be included in the sale, but they hoped the sale would close within the month.

As for matters that resulted in a ruling, I'll briefly mention two.

  1. Sustaining a United States Trustee objection, the court denied the motion for Harvey Weinstein's October 15, 2015 employment contract to be filed under seal, as the standards of 11 U.S.C. § 107 were not satisfied. That contract is now available on the bankruptcy court docket. The document was filed by the Geiss plaintiffs (stemming from alleged sexual misconduct, discussed below) but TWC was the party advocating for sealing.
  2. The court approved the Geiss parties' motion to lift the automatic stay to permit the Geiss action to go forward against TWC, alongside other defendants, in the Southern District of New York, allowing liquidation of those claims. The SDNY district judge presiding over the Geiss action directed the plaintiffs to file the lift-stay motion; hearing transcripts illustrate his aim to minimize duplication of efforts. Part of TWC's argument against lifting the stay was the classic matter of distraction. Applying the relevant case law to the facts, the court observed that while closing the sale was a complicated matter, TWC was neither reorganizing in a traditional sense or seeking to stabilize its operations at this time. And, as in other cases, the distraction argument may be weakened when separate lawyers are handling the non-bankruptcy litigation. Seyfarth Shaw was representing TWC in the Geiss litigation, at least prior to the bankruptcy (leading the firm to successfully seek payment of its prepetition claim out of an insurance policy, over the creditor committee's objection - seek dkt #1000).

Speaking of professionals, initial interim fee applications for TWC's professionals for March 19-April 30, 2018 were not on the June 5 agenda, but are on the court docket. TWC has NY counsel and local counsel. Just to give you a sense, Cravath's fee application includes over 3,200 hours billed by 27 attorneys (dkt #929). Richards, Layton & Finger's fee application includes over 1,200 hours billed by 16 attorneys (dkt #932). Plus paraprofessionals at these two firms. Billing separately, of course, are FTI Consulting (dkt #870) and Moelis, the investment banker (dkt #946).

The next hearing in TWC's bankruptcy is scheduled for June 22, 2018. The SDNY Geiss action, in the motion to dismiss phase, is also very much worth watching.

Hearing #4 was held in The Weinstein Co. bankruptcy and you won't believe what happened next

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Actually, if you are in and of the corporate restructuring world, you will believe what happened next. Major objections were were resolved by the parties, and the court approved the sale of The Weinstein Co. to Lantern Capital.

Resolving objections without litigation is perceived positively in bankruptcy-land, not to mention in federal courts more generally. Some cash proceeds of the sale will be held back for the next phases of the case, and that is an important development. What, then, makes the situation seem less than satisfying, at least to this outside observer?

Continue reading "Hearing #4 was held in The Weinstein Co. bankruptcy and you won't believe what happened next" »

Thoughts: initial thoughts on the Alix-McKinsey lawsuit

posted by Stephen Lubben

The compliant alleges some damming stuff. McKinsey brushes it all off as an anti-competitive ploy. It seems to me that the biggest risk to McKinsey is that the failure to disclose can itself be the basis for an order to disgorge fees.

McKinsey 2Even if McKinsey might have been retained in these cases if it had made disclosure up front – I don't necessarily agree with the Alix complaint that the alleged connections would have been, in all cases, fatal to their retention – failure to disclose is itself a serious problem. Bankruptcy professionals always have to disclose more than what is required by section 327's adverse interest/disinterested standard, because ultimately what counts as a problem for section 327 purposes is a question for the court, not the professional, to decide.

And I wonder why the courts approved McKinsey's retention applications in the first place. And where was the US Trustee? It is alleged that many of their retention applications stated that McKinsey had no relevant conflicts to disclose.  As in none. For a company of the size and importance of McKinsey, that frankly is not plausible. 

The allegations in paragraphs 120 to 122, which I have cut out in the image, are deeply troubling. In short, Jay Alix alleges that McKinsey recommended law firms to clients, and the law firms in turn recommended McKinsey for retention in the case. Not only might this be illegal, as Alix says, but this sort of relationship would have to be disclosed in the McKinsey (and law firms) retention applications even if not illegal.

Battle of Giants

posted by Stephen Lubben

I have been studying chapter 11 professionals since before the turn of the century, but today we have a first. Jay Alix, as assignee of AlixPartners LLP, has filed a 150 page complaint against McKinsey & Co., Inc. and others, alleging RICO violations in connection with McKinsey's alleged violations of section 327 and rule 2014.  This apparently comes out of the Wall Street Journal's report last week that McKinsey was suspiciously light and vague in its disclosures in bankruptcy court, as compared with other, similar professionals.

The alleged conspiracy goes back to cases during my time in practice – that is, long, long ago. It will be interesting to watch this develop.

Loans and Liens: The Weinstein Company Chapter 11 Hearing #3

posted by Melissa Jacoby

CollateralThe third hearing in the The Weinstein Company chapter 11 took place on April 19, 2018 (prior 2 hearings here and here). The hearing focused on final court approval of a $25 million loan to fund the debtor during its chapter 11 (or, really, until a standalone 363 sale) ("DIP loan"). Apparently a competing offer for the DIP loan discussed at Hearing #1 never fully materialized. Prior to the chapter 11 petition, TWC had no single lender/syndicate claiming a so-called blanket lien on substantially all assets (the lender leading the now-approved DIP loan had a prepetition security interest in movie distribution rights held by TWC Domestic, and lenders with prepetition security interests in other assets also are participating in the DIP loan). As indicated in the visual accompanying this post, the DIP financing order states that TWC seeks to grant its DIP lenders a security interest in nearly all property. There are some important exclusions from the collateral package, however, including "claims arising out of or related to sexual misconduct or harassment or employment practices." 

Page 42 of the DIP financing order gives the unsecured creditors committee only until April 27 to investigate validity, perfection, and enforceability of various prepetition liens, although that date can be extended "for cause." As is typical in such agreements these days, TWC stipulated that it will not challenge prepetition loans made by the postpetition lenders. The order and agreement also require immediate payout of the DIP loan from sale proceeds (pp 55 & 138 of docket #267). If I'm reading the DIP lending agreement correctly, it also gives certain prepetition lenders the right to be paid immediately out of sale proceeds (p138 of docket #267). For reasons Credit Slips readers have heard many times before, I don't understand why paying prepetition debts at that juncture is in the best interest of the bankruptcy estate.

Meanwhile, Peg Brickley and Jonathan Randles of The Wall Street Journal have reported three TWC executives "took home more than $12 million in pay, loans, reimbursements" in the year before the bankruptcy, including after sexual misconduct allegations became public. This reporting comes from the schedules and statements of financial affairs filed just a few days ago.

Other updates:

Continue reading "Loans and Liens: The Weinstein Company Chapter 11 Hearing #3" »

"Drinking water from a fire hose:" The Weinstein Company Chapter 11 Hearing #2

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Sale AdNestled in a review of an album by Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls (a/k/a Harry Shearer), the April 10 edition of Variety magazine published a notice of sale of The Weinstein Company. The notice includes a bid deadline of April 30, a sale hearing on May 8, and the soothing assurance to bidders that a buyer would incur "NO SUCCESSOR LIABILITY" (bolded and all-caps) for the heinous acts TWC apparently tolerated and facilitated over many years. The notice anticipates that a buyer might agree to remain liable for some TWC obligations, however, perhaps contemplating valuable licensing contracts.

The Variety notice is a consequence of the second TWC hearing on April 6 (for the first hearing, see here). By the end, objections to the bidding procedures order had been resolved, resulting in docket #190, the order approving the procedures, including a $9.3 million breakup fee and escalating expense reimbursement for the stalking horse bidder if the sale is delayed. The number of times sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape were mentioned at the hearing: zero.

Counsel to the newly-appointed five-member creditors' committee told the court that getting up to speed in this case (no pun intended) was "drinking water from a fire hose." And a battle is brewing over whether bids should be allocated among the various asset categories (again, given the stated complexity) - something the stalking horse bidder seems to resist. Meanwhile, at least one counterparty to a licensing agreement asserts that its contract was rescinded prior to the filing. Assuming it loses that fight, the party worries it will have insufficient time to consider whether the asset buyer is providing adequate assurance of future performance.

This case invites the caustic lament, "if only the Bankruptcy Code drafters had established a fair and transparent process to deal with all of these issues!" When Harry Shearer decides to send his imaginary-band bassist into a quiet retirement, maybe he will make a film about chapter 11. After all, fairness rocks.

 

Was Charleston Gazette-Mail a good case for an Ice Cube Bond?

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Based only this news report, the answer appears to be yes - an Ice Cube Bond would have honored the claimants' need for speed without allowing them to shift all the risk to the bankruptcy estate. The news article indicates that sale proponents referred to the holdback request as a "Hail Mary." In the foundational Lionel case, the dissenting Second Circuit judge used that characterization for a request to reverse the sale order, not to hold back proceeds. An Ice Cube Bond arguably reduces the possibility of Hail Mary arguments because it allows analysis of entitlements to be determined at a less pressured pace.

 

H/T Ted Janger

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act

posted by Stephen Lubben

Or EGRRCPA, for short. That is the official name of S. 2155, a bill which seems to be tearing Senate Democrats apart. Republicans are uniformly in favor of the bill, which Bloomberg describes as "another faulty bank-reform bill." Some Democrats see it as needed regulatory relief for small banks, while others, including the one who used to blog here, see S. 2155 as a rollback of keys parts of Dodd-Frank for big banks that remain too big to fail.

It is both. Indeed, if the bill were stripped of its title IV, I think most people could live with it. But title IV is a doozy.  

Most notably, it raises the threshold for additional regulation under Dodd-Frank from $50 billion in assets to $250 billion. Banks with more than $50 billion in assets are not community banks.

The banks in the zone of deregulation include State Street, SunTrust, Fifth Third, Citizens, and other banks of this ilk. In short, with the possible exception of State Street, this is not a deregulatory gift to "Wall Street," but rather to the next rung of banks, all of which experienced extreme troubles in 2008-2009, and all of which participated in TARP.

My prime concern – given my area of study – is that these banks will no longer be required to prepare "living wills." That is, they will not have to work with regulators on resolution plans.

How then do we expect to use Dodd-Frank's orderly liquidation authority if they fail? It would be impossible without advanced planning. Same for the misguided attempts at "chapter 14." I have real doubts about the wisdom of "bankruptcy for banks," but if it is ever to work, it will require lots of advanced planning (and luck).

And we can't use the normal FDIC approach of finding another, bigger bank to take them over, because that would simply create another colossus, like Wells Fargo. Certainly we don't want that.

Maybe a bailout then? Is that the "new" plan?

Chapter 11 Locale

posted by Stephen Lubben

For nearly two decades, the fact that many really large chapter 11 cases file in two districts has been a point of controversy.  On the one hand, the present system makes some sense from the perspective of debtor’s attorneys, and many DIP lenders, who value the experience and wisdom of the judges in these jurisdictions and the predictability that filing therein brings.  On the other hand, for those not at the core of the present system, it reeks of an inside game that is opaque to those on the outside.  And it is not clear the judges outside the two districts could not handle a big case; indeed, most could.

Where big chapter 11 cases should file is an issue again, at least among bankruptcy folks, given the possibility that the pending Cornyn-Warren venue bill might pass as part of some bigger piece of legislation, perhaps the pending S. 2155 (whose Title IV is so misguided it certainly warrants a separate post).

I have long been frustrated by the discussion of chapter 11 venue.  On the one hand, the present system has developed largely by accident, with little thought for the broader policy implications.  On the other, there is certainly some merit in concentrating economically important cases before judges who are well-versed in the issues such cases present.  The issue calls for careful study, but, as with most political issues these days, we are instead presented with a binary choice.

I have often contemplated concentrating the biggest chapter 11 cases among a group of bankruptcy judges, trained in complexities of multi-state or even global businesses.  A small panel of such judges could be formed in various regions around the country, such that the parties would never have to travel further than to a neighboring state for proceedings.  Geographically larger states – i.e., California and Texas – might comprise regions all by themselves.

Such an approach would ensure that cases would capture some of the benefits of the present system, without the drawbacks of having a Seattle-based company file its bankruptcy case on the East Coast.  Comments are open, what do readers think about developing a nationwide group of "big case" judges?

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." »

Bankruptcy Venue Reform -- Yes, Again, But Maybe This Is the Time?

posted by Bob Lawless

As many Credit Slips readers will know, chapter 11 venue reform has been an issue for decades. As corporate filers have flocked to the Southern District of New York and the District of Delaware, the real reason some observers say is that these courts favor corporate managers, dominant secured lenders, bankruptcy attorneys, or a combination of all of them. Regardless of the merits of these claims, it certainly undermines respect for the rule of law when faraway federal courts decide issues affecting local interests. A great example comes from right here in Champaign, Illinois, where local company Hobbico has recently filed chapter 11. The company, a large distributor of radio-control models and other hobby products, has more than $100 million in debt. The company has over 300 employees in the Champaign area who own the company through an employee stock ownership plan. Yet, the company's fortunes are now in the hands of a Delaware bankruptcy court.

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Other (Non-Religious) Non-Profit Organizations Also File Bankruptcy

posted by Pamela Foohey


NumberNRYesterday I posted about the number of religious organizations that filed chapter 11 between 2006 and 2017, and how their filings track fluctuations in consumer bankruptcy filings during those years. Non-religious non-profit organizations also file chapter 11, but in fewer numbers than religious organizations. As shown in this graph, between 2006 and 2017, a mean of 44 other non-profits filed chapter 11 per year (note: I count jointly-administered cases as one case).

 In comparison, a mean of 79 religious organizations filed chapter 11 per year between 2006 and 2017. Over these twelve years, 36% of all chapter 11 cases filed by non-profit organizations were filed by non-religious non-profits.

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So, Is the High Yield Market Efficient?

posted by Stephen Lubben

My inbox is being bombarded with law firm commentary on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit's decision that cramdown interest rates should be determined by "market rates," rather than by formula, when the relevant debt market is efficient. A good summary of the commentary can be found over at the Harvard Bankruptcy Roundtable.

And then we have a Bloomberg story this morning, filled with hand wringing about what might happen if a particular mutual fund were to sell a particular bond position – where the fund owns less than 20% of the issue. Nevertheless, the suggestion is that such a sale could have big, market moving effects. That does not sound like a very efficient market.

Given that the high yield market is apt to be the most relevant market to a chapter 11 case, what precisely, then, has the Court of Appeals achieved?

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.

 

 

Toys "Я" US's Curious Bankruptcy Venue

posted by Adam Levitin

Toys "R" Us filed for bankruptcy with impeccable timing--the very morning I was teaching my Financial Restructuring class about the commencement of the bankruptcy process. I decided to take my class through the TRU petition on PACER. Some 19 TRU entities filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond division. Only one of those 19 entities is a Virginia entity. I don't know the domicile of the other entities, but TRU is headquartered in New Jersey, and I'd be shocked if there wasn't at least one Delaware entity in the family.  

This left me puzzled. It would seem that TRU likely had at least two respected venues for large Chapter 11s:  District of New Jersey, and District of Delaware. Yet TRU chose to file in Virginia, and in Richmond to boot. 

After a few minutes of sleuthing on the LoPucki-UCLA WebBRD, I discovered that TRU's counsel, Kirkland & Ellis seems to have a cottage industry of Chapter 11 filings in Richmond:  5 cases in recent years. Again, this is puzzling. Richmond is hardly a convenient venue for K&E (with a bankruptcy practice based in Chicago and NY), nor is it a convenient venue for really anyone else--all of the financial creditors are likely to be NY-based, while the suppliers are from all over.  Nor is there obviously better law in the 4th Circuit for a retail bankruptcy (as far as I know, and if there is, it doesn't explain why Richmond rather than Alexandria). Are EDVA judges more lenient on fee applications or less likely to push back against overreaching DIP financing agreements? I don't know, but clearly there's something on tap in Richmond that K&E likes.  

Now here's what else I discovered--there are only two bankruptcy judges in Richmond, and K&E seems to keep getting the same one for its cases. I don't know how cases are assigned in EDVA, but it seems that K&E has discovered a sort of one-judge venue, much like Reno, NV. And what lawyer wouldn't want to pick the judge?  

I'm curious for others' thoughts.  I'd like to think that the chances of bankruptcy venue reform have increased with the departure of Joe Biden from the Senate (or Naval Observatory), not that we're likely to see any legislative action in the foreseeable future.  

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?    

A Quiet Revolution in Pension Reform

posted by Jason Kilborn

A historic vote was announced overnight that signals a new era for large pension reform. As is often the case, "reform" here means that ordinary, hard-working folks will suffer a significant amount of pain as big companies are relieved of some liabilities, but the hope is it will be less painful than the alternative. The revolution began in 2014, when Congress adopted the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA).  The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation guarantees a portion of the benefits due to participants in pension plans that have become insolvent, but as a result, it is also facing a nearly $100 million shortfall in its ability to cover the projected volume of its existing guarantees. Congress attempted to avert disaster by allowing particularly large and especially distressed pension funds to slash benefits themselves in order to maintain solvency. Ordinarily, this extraordinary action would, if possible at all, require an insolvency filing and court oversight of some kind, but the MPRA allows plans who aggregate benefits for many companies (multiemployer plans) to apply to the Treasury Department for administrative permission to abrogate their pension agreements and cut benefits with no court filing or general reorganization proceeding. There are, of course, restrictions on the level of distress required for such a move and the degree of proposed cuts, but the MPRA allows large pension funds to reduce the pension benefits of thousands of beneficiaries with simple administrative approval. The plan participants get a vote on such proposals, but the law builds in a presumption: Treasury-approved cuts go into effect unless a majority of plan beneficiaries votes to reject the cuts.

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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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