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      Insolvency News and Analysis - Week Ending July 25, 2014
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    Posts Tagged ‘Bankruptcy’

    Recent Insolvency and Bankruptcy Headlines – June 6, 2014

    Friday, June 6th, 2014

    Some of the week’s top bankruptcy and restructuring headlines:

    English: Part of Title 11 of the United States...

    English: Part of Title 11 of the United States Code (the Bankruptcy Code) on a shelf at a law library in San Francisco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

     

    Trends

     

    - Business Bankruptcy Filings Off 21% Year-Over-Year

     

    - Less Than 1M Filings This Year?

     

    LBO Defaults Set to Reach A High This Year, Fitch Says

     

    - The Changing Nature of Chapter 11

     

    Cross-Border

     

    - Cross-Border Issues: Misconduct No Grounds for Termination of Chapter 15

     

    Liquidators urge speedy action on Hong Kong corporate rescue bill

     

    Financing

     

    - DIP Dimensions: Energy Future Intermediate Holding Co. LLC”s Financing Fracas

     

    Avoidance Actions

     

    - Avoidance Actions: Subsequent New Value Defense, Good Faith Defense, and Section 546(e) Safe-Harbor

     

    - Ponzi Schemes:  11th Circuit Opines on “Property of the Debtor”

     

    Thelen Ruling Highlights Evidentiary Issues in Fraudulent Transfer Case

     

    Bankruptcy Sales

     

    - Limits On Credit Bidding and Section 363(k):  Another Court Follows Fisker

     

    Successful Bidder Must Pay Damages (In Addition to Forfeiting Deposit) After Backing Out of Sale – At Least in Certain Circumstances

     

    Upsetting a Bankruptcy Auction: Money Talks

     

    - Never Do This: A Lesson On What Not To Do In a Section 363 Auction

     

    Confirmation

     

    - Plan Confirmation:  The Tax Man Cometh . . . And Getteth Impaired

     

    Claims

     

    - Debt Recharacterization: In re Alternate Fuels: Tenth Circuit BAP Holds Recent Supreme Court Decisions Do Not Limit Power to Recharacterize Debt to Equity

     

    . . . And More Debt Recharacterization: In re Optim Energy: Court Denies Creditor Derivative Standing to Seek Recharacterization of Equity Sponsors’ Debt Claims

     

     

     

    And Still More:

     

    Related articles

     

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    The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

    Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

    Squeaky WheelAn old and well-known proverb warns:  “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”  Over against this timeless advice, however, a very recent Second Circuit offers more specific guidance for creditors of a bankrupt debtor:

    The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    In Adelphia Recovery Trust v. Goldman, Sachs & Co., et al., a creditors’ trust established to recover transfers under Adelphia Communications’ confirmed Chapter 11 plan of reorganization sought unsuccessfully to recover “margin call” payments made to Goldman, Sachs & Co.  The Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the lower courts in determining that the commingled funds used to make the payments had been taken from a “concentration account” scheduled as property of one of Adelphia Communications’ subsidiaries; consequently the funds were not Adelphia Communications’ to recover, and the trust could not belatedly be re-characterized them as such.  A copy of the decision is available here.

    In 2002, Adelphia Communications Corporation and related subsidiaries entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy following the disclosure of fraudulently concealed, off-balance sheet debt on Adelphia Communications’ books.  The companies were ultimately liquidated and their secured creditors paid in full.  In addition, all of the unsecured debt of Adelphia Communications’ subsidiaries was paid in full, with interest, and Adelphia Communications’ general creditors were paid in part.  Under Adelphia Communications’ Chapter 11 Plan (confirmed in early 2007 – about 2½ years after the company entered bankruptcy), those same unsecured creditors were to receive the proceeds of the Adelphia Recovery Trust.  The Trust was charged with recovery of, among other things, fraudulent transfers made by Adelphia Communications prior to the commencement of the Adelphia cases.

    It was not until 2009 that the Trust identified as funds belonging to Adelphia Communications certain commingled funds held in a “concentration account” of one of Adelphia Communications’ subsidiaries.  Those funds, it was alleged, were used to cover “margin calls” made by Goldman Sachs & Co. in connection with margin loans previously made to Adelphia Communications’ founders and primary stockholders and collateralized by Adelphia Communications stock.  Goldman Sachs had issued the margin calls as the value of Adelphia Commutations stock declined amidst revelations of Adelphia Communications’ off-balance sheet debt.

    Goldman Sachs sought, and obtained, summary judgment in the District Court on the basis that the funds in question had been paid by Adelphia Communications’ subsidiary – and not by Adelphia Communications.  The Recovery Trust appealed, arguing that the funds in question were, in fact, owned by Adelphia Communications.  The Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed the District Court’s ruling.

    The Second Circuit explained that the commencement of a bankruptcy case triggers a number of requirements for a debtor.  Among these is the mandatory requirement that the debtor must submit a schedule of all its interests in any property, wherever situated.  Ultimately, the debtor must propose a plan which distributes this property within a defined priority scheme, and in the manner most advantageous for the greatest number of creditors.

    The plan must also designate classes of claims and classes of interests and specify how the debtor will attend to these classes.  Once the relevant parties, including the creditors, approve the debtor’s plan, the court confirms the plan and binds all parties.  It is therefore crucial that all claims and interests must be settled before the plan is finalized and within the time frame allotted by the Bankruptcy Code.

    The Second Circuit found that the commingled funds sought by the Adelphia Recovery Trust were claimed by one of Adelphia Communications’ subsidiaries during the bankruptcy proceeding.  Those claims were asserted without objection from Adelphia Communications’ creditors.  The Trust’s subsequent claim to those assets in a subsequent proceeding was therefore inconsistent with creditors’ earlier stance.  Under the doctrine of judicial estoppel, parties (and their successors) cannot be allowed to change their positions at their convenience.  Consistent with this doctrine, disturbing claims and distributions at such an advanced stage of the proceedings to address the creditors’ changed position would undermine the administration of Adelphia Communications’ and its subsidiaries’ related cases.  It would also threaten the integrity and stability of the bankruptcy process by encouraging parties to alter their positions at their whim, as and whenever convenient.

    Adelphia Recovery Trust highlights three important realities of bankruptcy practice:

    First, the filing of a debtor’s bankruptcy schedules is more than a merely a perfunctory act.  It is a preliminary statement, made to the best of the debtor’s belief and under penalty of perjury, of the debtor’s assets (including all of its ownership interests in any property, anywhere) and its liabilities.  Ultimately, creditors and other interested parties – and the court itself – rely upon those schedules in determining the debtor’s compliance with the reorganization requirements of Bankruptcy Code section 1129.

    - Second, related debtors are commonly related in much more than name or ownership.  In addition to inter-company transfers and claims between debtors, it is common for such enterprises to separate functional asset ownership from legal asset ownership.  This distinction may be an important one for various groups of creditors seeking additional sources of recovery.

    - Third (and finally), creditors – and the professionals who represent them – should thoroughly investigate any and all “control,” commingling, and other aspects of the relationships between related debtors which may give rise to indirect ownership of assets.  Where doubt or conflicting claims exist as to specific assets, it is important for parties with competing claims to reserve their rights early and clearly – thereby making themselves the “squeaky wheel” in the event of any future “grease.”

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    Chapter 15 Round-Up

    Tuesday, February 14th, 2012
    English: Gold miner with cart emerging from a ...

    Image via Wikipedia

    Canadian gold mining concern Crystallex International Corp. filed for protection under Canada’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) on Dec. 23, 2011.  The company operates an open pit mine in Uruguay and three gold mines in Venezuela. 

    Among its Venezuelan projects is the 9,600-acre Las Cristinas mine.  Court papers said the site’s untapped gold deposits are among the largest in the world, containing an estimated 20 million ounces of gold.  Crystallex filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection in Delaware on the same date to protect its US assets while seeking a Canadian restructuring.  Delaware Bankruptcy Judge Peter Walsh granted recognition on January 20.

    Crystallex’s financial troubles allegedly stem from the Venezuelan government’s threatened revocation of Crystallex’s operating agreement for the Las Cristinas project as a result of the company’s failure to obtain an environmental permit.  Crystallex blames this failure on the Venezuelan government’s own continued failure to grant the permit.

    The company continues to operate, but appears to be staking its restructuring hopes primarily on arbitration claims for $3.8 billion in alleged losses suffered in connection with the Las Cristinas agreement.  Crystallex said it has invested more than C$500 million in the uncompleted Las Cristinas project.  The company believes an arbitration award will provide sufficient funds to pay all its creditors in full while leaving value for the company’s shareholders.

    Those creditors include secured lenders China Railway Resources Group (owed C$2.5 million) and Venezolano Bank about (owed $1 million).  They also include $104.14 million in 9.34% senior unsecured notes the company issued on Dec. 23, 2004.  Crystallex’s CCAA filing and its concurrent Chapter 15 petition were filed on the same date its notes matured.

    Recently, the company sought to alleviate its immediate liquidity concerns by means of an auctioned DIP facility.  Specifically, Crystallex sought a debtor-in-possession loan of C$35 million, convertible into an “exit facility.”

    Crystallex reported to the US Bankruptcy Court that it was in receipt of multiple expressions of interest in such a facility.  Meanwhile, pending the completion of due diligence and approval by the Canadian Court, Cyrstallex sought recognition of a much smaller C$3.125 million “bridge facility” from Tenor Special Situations Fund, L.P., which the Canadian Court approved January 20.

    The bridge facility expires April 16, and required US Bankruptcy Court approval by February 20.  Judge Walsh provided that approval at a hearing held yesterday.

    Crystallex’s Chapter 15 proceeding is pending as Case No. 11-bk-14074.

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    Central District of California’s Judicial Practices Survey

    Thursday, February 9th, 2012

    For those practitioners practicing locally here in SoCal – or for those who need to appear pro hac in one of the many Chapter 11′s pending in the nation’s largest bankruptcy district – the Central District has very recently collaborated with the local bankruptcy bar to produce a detailed list of individual judicial preferences.

    In a District with nearly 30 sitting bankruptcy judges scattered over five divisions, a “score-card” like this one is essential reading.  A copy of the survey is available here.

    Other Posts of Interest:

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    The Year in Bankruptcy – 2011

    Monday, January 30th, 2012

    JonesDay’s comprehensive and always-readable summary of notable bankruptcies, decisions, legislation, and economic events was released just over a week ago.  A copy is available here.

    As 2012 gets off to an uncertain start, some more recent headlines are accessible immediately below.

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    Intercreditor Agreements: How Far Can They Reach?

    Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
    Creditor's Ledger, Holmes McDougall

    Image by edinburghcityofprint via Flickr

    Can a senior secured lender require, through an inter-creditor agreement, that a junior lender relinquish the junior’s rights under the Bankruptcy Code vis á vis a common debtor?

    Though the practice is a common one, the answer to this question is not clear-cut.  Bankruptcy Courts addressing this issue have come down on both sides, some holding “yea,” and others “nay.”  Late last year, the Massachusetts Bankruptcy Court sided with the “nays” in In re SW Boston Hotel Venture, LLC, 460 B.R. 38 (Bankr. D. Mass. 2011).

    The decision (available here) acknowledges and cites case law on either side of the issue.  It further highlights the reality that lenders employing the protective practice of an inter-creditor agreement as a “hedge” against the debtor’s potential future bankruptcy may not be as well-protected as they might otherwise believe.

    In light of this uncertainty, do lenders have other means of protection?  One suggested (but, as yet, untested) method is to take the senior lender’s bankruptcy-related protections out of the agreement, and provide instead that in the event of the debtor’s filing, the junior’s claim will be automatically assigned to the senior creditor, re-vesting in the junior creditor once the senior’s claim has been paid in full.

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    What’s In a Name?

    Sunday, August 21st, 2011

    After a brief hiatus, we’re back – and just in time to discuss a recent decision of some import to trademark owners and licensors.

    Judge Richard Posner at Harvard University

    Image via Wikipedia

     

    For many years, insolvency practitioners have recognized the value of the Bankruptcy Code in permitting a reorganizing firm to assign contractual rights to a third party, even where the contract itself prohibits assignment.  That power is limited, however, where “applicable [non-bankruptcy] law” prohibits the assignment without the non-bankrupt party’s consent.

    In recent years, the “anti-assignment” provisions of federal copyright and patent law have limited the transfer of patent and copyright licenses through bankruptcy.   Whether the transfer of trademark licenses is likewise limited has been an open question, at least amongst the Circuit Courts of Appeal.

    Until now.

    In late July, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found in In re XMH Corp. that trademarks were not assignable.

    XMH Corp. involved the former Hartmarx clothing company’s Chapter 11, along with the related filings of several subsidiaries.  XMH ultimately sold its assets and assigned contracts to a group of third-party purchasers.  Those assets included certain trademark licenses for jeans held by one of the XMH subsidiaries.  The trademarks were owned by a Canadian firm.

    The Canadian firm objected to the trademark assignment, and the bankruptcy court agreed.  The District Court reversed, and the licensor appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

    In a succinct, 15-page decision, Judge Posner found that where “applicable law” prohibits the assignment of a trademark, it cannot be assigned through a bankruptcy proceeding absent the trademark owner’s consent.

    Judge Posner apparently reached this decision despite a lack of either party to articulate which “applicable law” actually prohibited the assignment:

    Unfortunately the parties haven’t told us whether the applicable trademark law is federal or state, or if the latter which state’s law is applicable (the contract does not contain a choice of law provision)—or for that matter which nation’s, since [the licensor] is a Canadian firm. ([The licensee's] headquarters are in the State of Washington.)  None of this matters, though, because as far as we’ve been able to determine, the universal rule is that trademark licenses are not assignable in the absence of a clause expressly authorizing assignment. Miller v. Glenn Miller Productions, Inc., 454 F.3d 975, 988 (9th Cir. 2006) (per curiam); In re N.C.P. Marketing Group, Inc., 337 B.R. 230, 235-36 (D. Nev. 2005); 3 McCarthy on Trademarks § 18:43, pp. 18-92 to 18-93 (4th ed. 2010).

    But the Seventh Circuit then turned to the question of whether the contract actually contained a valid trademark license - and found that though the agreement appeared to provide a relatively short-term license of the trademark, what remained at the time of the proposed assignment was merely a contract for services.

    Despite its brevity, XMH Corp. is instructive in two respects:

    • Trademarks cannot be assigned – at least not in the 7th Circuit.
    • Contract drafters and negotiators must be careful to identify and preserve the trademark rights at issue.
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    Valuing Companies in Chapter 11 – Courts Weigh In On Supportability Of Assumptions

    Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

    Guest-blogger Ray Clark of Valcor (whose prior posts appear here, here, and here) has recently completed a succinct but helpful piece on the valuation of firms in Chapter 11.

    Ray’s piece focuses on the supportability of assumptions underlying valuations.  As he notes:

    Over the last year, there have been a rash of bankruptcy cases and related lawsuits involving challenges to both debtor and creditor financial experts, wherein opposing parties successfully attacked the relevance and reliability of valuation evidence. In a number of cases, even traditional methodologies were disqualified for lack of supportable assumptions, which severely impacted recoveries for various stakeholders.

    The piece is here.

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    When Shari’a Law Meets Chapter 11

    Monday, June 20th, 2011

    A prior post on this blog featured an article highlighting some of the basic principles from Shari’a law which apply to insolvent individuals and businesses.

    Countries with Sharia rule.

    Image via Wikipedia

     

    Another, more recent article explores the intriguing question of what happens when an investment structured according to Shari’a law needs to be restructured in a non-Shari’a forum – such as a United States Bankruptcy Court.  The University of Pennsylvania’s Michael J.T. McMillen uses the recent Chapter 11 filing of In re East Cameron Partners, LP as a case study to highlight some of the issues.

    According to McMillen:

    The issues to be considered [in connection with efforts to introduce Shariah principles into secular bankruptcy and insolvency regimes throughout the world] are legion. Starting at the level of fundamental principle, will the contemplated regime provide for reorganization along the lines of Chapter 11 systems, or will liquidation be the essential thrust of the system?  If, in line with international trends, the system will incorporate reorganization concepts and principles, what is the Sharīʿah basis for this regime?  Even the fundamental questions are daunting.  For example, consideration will need to be given to debt rescheduling concepts, debt forgiveness concepts, delayed debt payment concepts, equity conversion concepts, asset sale concepts, and differential equity conceptions.  There will have to be consideration of whether voluntary bankruptcies can and will be permissible.  And after agreement is reached on the basic nature and parameters of the system, the long road of discovery and elucidation of specific Sharīʿah principles will have to be addressed.  That undertaking will wind through a great deal of new territory, from the Sharīʿah perspective, and will entail a comparative laws analyses, and a systemic comparison, unlike any in history.

    The article is available here.

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    A Lesson In Vocabulary: “Indubitable Equivalence”

    Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

    Chapter 11 practice – like so many other professional service specialties – is regrettably jargon-laden.  Businesses that need to get their financial affairs in order “enter restructuring.”  Those that must re-negotiate their debt obligations attempt to “de-leverage.”  And those facing resistance in doing so seek the aid of Bankruptcy Courts in “cramming down” their plans over creditor opposition.

    Likewise, the Bankruptcy Code – and, consequently, Bankruptcy Courts – employ what can seem an entirely separate vocabulary for describing the means by which a successful “cram-down” is achieved.  One such means involves providing the secured creditor with something which equals the value of its secured claim: If the secured creditor holds a security interest in the debtor’s apple, for example, the debtor may simply give the creditor the apple – or may even attempt to replace the creditor’s interest in the apple with a similar interest in the debtor’s orange (provided, of course, that the orange is worth as much as the original apple).

    The concept of replacing something of value belonging to a secured creditor with something else of equivalent value is known in “bankruptcy-ese” as providing the creditor with the “indubitable equivalent” of its claim – and it is a concept employed perhaps most frequently in cases involving real estate assets (though “indubitable equivalence” is not limited to interests in real estate).  For this reason, plans employing this concept in the real estate context are sometimes referred to as “dirt for debt” plans.

    A recent bankruptcy decision out of Georgia’s Northern District issued earlier this year illustrates the challenges of “dirt for debt” reorganizations based on the concept of “indubitable equivalence.”

    Map of USA with Georgia highlighted

    Image via Wikipedia

     

    Green Hobson Riddle, Jr., a Georgia businessman, farmer, and real estate investor, sought protection in Chapter 11 after economic difficulties left him embroiled in litigation and unable to service his obligations.

    Mr. Riddle’s proposed plan of reorganization, initially opposed by a number of his creditors, went through five iterations until only one objecting creditor – Northside Bank – remained.  Northside Bank held a first-priority secured claim worth approximately $907,000 secured by approximately 36 acres of real property generally referred to as the “Highway 411/Dodd Blvd Property,” and a second-priority claim secured by a condominium unit generally referred to as the “Heritage Square Property.”  It also held a judgment lien recorded against Mr. Riddle in Floyd County, Georgia.

    A key feature of Mr. Riddle’s plan involved freeing up the Heritage Square Property in order refinance one of his companies, thereby generating additional payments for his creditors.  To do this, Mr. Riddle proposed to give Northside Bank his Highway 411/Dodd Blvd Property as the “indubitable equivalent,” and in satisfaction, of all of Northside’s claims.

    Northside Bank objected to this treatment, respectfully disagreeing with Mr. Riddle’s idea of “indubitable equivalence.”  Bankruptcy Judge Paul Bonapfel took evidence on the issue and – in a brief, 9-page decision – found that Mr. Riddle had the better end of the argument.

    Judge Bonapfel’s decision highlights several key features of “indubitable equivalent” plans:

    -         The importance of valuation.  The real challenge of an “indubitable equivalence” plan is not its vocabulary.  It is valuing the property which will be given to the creditor so as to demonstrate that value is “too evident to be doubted.”  As anyone familiar with valuation work is aware, this is far more easily said than done.  Valuation becomes especially important where the debtor is proposing to give the creditor something less than all of the collateral securing the creditor’s claim, as Mr. Riddle did in his case.  In such circumstances, the valuation must be very conservative – a consideration Judge Bonapfel and other courts recognized.

    -       The importance of evidentiary standards.  Closely related to the idea of being “too evident to be doubted” is the question of what evidentiary standards apply to the valuation.  Some courts have held that because the property’s value must be “too evident to be doubted,” the evidence of value must be “clear and convincing” (the civil equivalent of “beyond a reasonable doubt”).  More recent cases, however, weigh the “preponderance of evidence” (i.e., does the evidence indicate something more than a 50% probability that the property is worth what it’s claimed to be?).  As one court (confusingly) put it: “The level of proof to show ‘indubitably’ is not raised merely by the use of the word ‘indubitable.’”  Rather than require more or better evidence, many courts seem to focus instead on the conservative nature of the valuation and its assumptions.

    -       The importance of a legitimate reorganization purpose.  Again, where a creditor is receiving something less than the entirety of its collateral as the “indubitable equivalent” of its claim, it is up to the debtor to show that such treatment is for the good of all the creditors – and not merely to disadvantage the creditor in question.  Judge Bonapfel put this issue front and center when he noted, in Mr. Riddle’s case:

    [I]t is important to recognize that § 1129(b), the “cram-down” subsection, “provides only a minimum requirement for confirmation … so a court may decide that a plan is not fair and equitable even if it is in technical compliance with the Code’s requirements.” E.g., Atlanta Southern Business Park, 173 B.R. at 448. In this regard, it could be inequitable to conclude that a plan provision such as the one under consideration here is “fair and equitable,” if the provision serves no reorganization purpose. See Freymiller Trucking, 190 B.R. at 916. But in this case, the evidence shows that elimination of the Bank’s lien on other collateral is necessary for the reorganization of the Debtor and his ability to deal with all of the claims of other creditors who have accepted the Plan. No evidence demonstrates that the Plan is inequitable or unfair

    In re Riddle, 444 B.R. 681, 686 (Bankr. N.D. Ga. 2011).

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