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      Insolvency News and Analysis - Week of December 19, 2014
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    Posts Tagged ‘dismissal’

    “Comity Is Not Just A One-Way Street”

    Monday, April 19th, 2010

    International readers of this blog – and those in the US who practice internationally – are more than likely aware of the doctrine of “comity” embraced by US commercial law.  In a nutshell, “comity” is shorthand for the idea that US courts typically afford respect and recogntion (i.e., enforcement) within the US to the judgment or decision of a non-US court – so long as that decision comports with those notions of “fundamental fairness” that are common to American jurisprudence.

    In the bankruptcy context, “comity” forms the backbone for significant portions of the US Bankruptcy Code’s Chapter 15.  Chapter 15 – enacted in 2005 – provides a mechanisim by which the administrators of non-US bankruptcy proceedings can obtain recogntion of those proceedings, and further protection and assistance for them, inside the US.

    But in at least some US bankruptcy courts, “comity” for non-US insolvencies only goes so far.  Last month, US Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Argesti, of Pennsylvania’s Western District, offered his understanding of where “comity” stops – and where US bankruptcy proceedings begin.

    Judge Argesti currently presides over Chapter 15 proceedings commenced in furtherance of two companies – Canada’s Railpower Technologies Corp. (“Railpower Canada”) and its wholly-owned US subsidiary, Railpower US.  The two Railpower entities commenced proceedings under the Canadian Companies Creditors’ Arrangement Act (“CCAA”) in Quebec in February 2009.  Soon afterward, their court-appointed monitors, Ernst & Young, Inc., sought recogntition of the Canadian Railpower cases in the US.

    Railpower Technologies Corp.
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    Railpower US’ assets and employees – and 90% of its creditors – were located in the US.  The company was managed from offices in Erie, PA.  Nevertheless, it carried on its books an inter-company obligation of $66.9 million, owed to its Canadian parent.  From the outset, Railpower US’ American creditors asserted this “intercompany debt” was, in fact, a contribution to equity which should be subordinate to their trade claims.  Judge Argesti’s predecessor, now-retired Judge Warren Bentz, therefore conditioned recognition of Railpower US’ case upon his ability to review and approve any proposed distribution of Railpower US’ assets.  After the company’s assets were sold, Judge Bentz further required segregation of the sale proceeds pending his authorization as to their distribution.  Finally, after the Canadian monitors obtained a “Claims Process Order” for the resolution of claims in the CCAA proceedings and sought that order’s enforcement in the US, Judge Bentz further “carved out” jurisdiction for himself to adjudicate the inter-company claim if the trade creditors received anything less than a 100% distribution under the CCAA plan.

    Railpower US’ assets were sold – along with the assets of its Canadian parent – to R.J. Corman Group, LLC.  Railpower US was left with US$2 million in sale proceeds against US$9.3 million in claims (other than the inter-company debt).  The Canadian monitor indicated its intention to file a “Notice of Disallowance” of the inter-company debt in the Canadian proceedings, but apparently never did.  Meanwhile, approximately CN$700,000 was somehow “upstreamed” from Railpower US to Railpower Canada.  Finally, despite the monitor’s assurances to the contrary, Railpower Canada’s largest shareholder – and an alleged secured creditor – sought relief in Quebec to throw both Railpower entities into liquidation proceedings under Canada’s Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

    roundel adopted by Royal Canadian Air Force, f...
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    Enough was enough for Railpower US’ American creditors.  In August 2009, they filed an involuntary Chapter 7 proceeding against Railpower US, seeking to regain control over the case – and Railpower US’ assets – under the auspices of an American panel trustee.

    The Canadian monitor requested abstention under Section 305 of the Bankruptcy Code.  Significantly re-drafted in the wake of Chapter 15’s enactment, that section permits a US bankruptcy court to dismiss a bankruptcy case, or to suspend bankruptcy proceedings, if doing so (1) would better serve the interests of the creditors and the debtor; or (2) would best serve the purposes of a recognized Chapter 15 case.

    Judge Argesti’s 14-page decision, in which he denied the monitors’ motion and permitted the Chapter 7 case to proceed, is one of apparent first impression on this section where it regards a Chapter 15 case.

    Where the “better interests of the creditors and the debtor” are concerned, Judge Argesti’s discussion essentially boils down to the proposition that because creditors representing 85% – by number and by dollar amount – of Railpower US’ case sought Chapter 7, those creditors have spoken for themselves as to what constitutes their “best interests” (“The Court starts with a presumption that these creditors have made a studied decision that their interests are best served by pursuing the involuntary Chapter 7 case rather than simply acquiescing in what happens in the Canadian [p]roceeding.”).

    The more interesting aspect of the decision concerns Judge Argesti’s discussion of whether or not the requested dismissal “best serve[d] the purposes” of Railpower’s Chapter 15 cases.  For guidance on this issue, Judge Argesti turned to Chapter 15’s statement of policy, set forth in Section 1501 (“Purpose and Scope of Application”) – which states Chapter 15’s purpose of furthering principles of comity and protecting the interests of all creditors.  Then, proceeding point by point through each of the 5 enunciated principles behind the statute, he arrived at the conclusion that the purposes of Chapter 15 were not “best served” by dismissing the involuntary Chapter 7 case.  As a result, Railpower US’ Chapter 7 case would be permitted to proceed.

    Judge Argesti’s analysis appears to focus primarily on (i) the Canadian monitors’ apparent delay in seeking disallowance of the inter-company debt in Canada; (ii) the “upstreaming” of CN$700,000 to Railpower Canada; and (iii) the monitors’ apparent failure, as of the commencement of the involuntary Chapter 7, to “unwind” these transfers or to recover them from Railpower Canada for the benefit of Railpower US’ creditors.  It also rests on the fact that Railpower US was – for all purposes – a US debtor, with its assets and creditors located primarily in the US.

    In this context, and in response to the monitors’ protestations that comity entitled them to judicial deference regarding the Chapter 15 proceedings, Judge Argesti noted that:

    comity is not just a one-way street.  Just as this Court will defer to a [non-US] court if the circumstances require it, so too should a foreign court defer to this Court when appropriate.  In this case it was clear from the start that [this Court] expressed reservations about the distribution of Railpower US assets in the Canadian [p]roceeding . . . .  The Monitor has [not] explained how this [reservation] is to be [addressed] unless the Canadian Court shows comity to this Court.

    Judge Argesti’s decision may be limited to its comparatively unique facts.  However, it should also serve as a cautionary tale for representatives seeking to rely on principles of comity when administering business assets in the US.  In addition to his more limited construction of “comity,” Judge Argesti also noted that recognition of Railpower US’ Chapter 15 case was itself subject to second-guessing where subsequently developed evidence suggested that the company’s “Center of Main Interests” was not in Canada, but in the US.

    For anyone weighing strategy attendant to the American recognition of a non-US insolvency proceeding, this decision is important reading.

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    Chapter 15 Round-Up: July-September 2009

    Monday, October 5th, 2009

    After a blazing start during the first half of 2009, it was a longer, slower summer for newsworthy Chapter 15 filings.  The last 3 months have produced a handful of new cases, including:

    Stomp Pork – The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based pig-farm operator sought Chapter 15 protection in Iowa’s Northern District on May 29 after being placed into receivership the same day under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in the Court of the Queen’s Bench, Judicial Centre of Saskatoon.  It was the company’s second trip to bankruptcy court after a prior, 2008 reorganization under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act.

    The company’s Candian receiver, Ernst & Young Inc., planned to liquidate the company’s assets and distribute the proceeds to its creditors.  Prior to seeking protection in the US, the company received approval from the Candian court to sell its 130,000 pigs to Sheldon, Ohio-based G&D Pork LLC for $2.8 million.  Of these proceeds, creditor National Bank reportedly received $2.7 million.

    The filing was made in an abundance of caution, but ultimately proved unnecessary: Following the sale and the distribution of proceeds, the debtor obtained a dismissal of the recognition petition on the grounds that no further assets remained for the Iowa Bankruptcy Court to protect.

    Sky Power Corp. – The Toronto-based developer of solar and wind-powered energy projects in Canada, the US, India and Panama (and portfolio company of bankrupt Lehman Brothers) sought protection in Delaware in August, seven days after seeking protection under Canada’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

    The company characterized its bankruptcy as part of a “domino effect” created by Lehman’s bankruptcy (Lehman was the major shareholder), as well as on reduced liquidity and on defaults triggered with respect to its senior debt by Lehman’s filing.

    At the time of the filing, the company was reportedly relying on a $15 million DIP financing commitment from CIM Group Inc. for liquidity.  The facility was priced at prime plus 875 basis points (prime is given a 3.5% floor), matures November 30, and permits CIM Group to credit bid the DIP obligation toward a purchase of SkyPower.

    Judge Peter Walsh entered a recognition order on September 15.

    Daewoo Logistics Corp. – The Seoul, Korea-based shipping company sought protection in New York in mid-September to protect US-based assets from the immediate effects of an adverse arbitration ruling.

    In addition to the award – obtained by Saga Forest Carriers International for $609,638 in New York’s Southern District – the company also faced 12 other actions, including five others pending in New York.

    The company had previously sought creditors’ protection under the Republic of Korea’s Debtor Rehabilitation and Bankruptcy Act with the 8th Bankruptcy Division of the Seoul Central District Court.  The Korean filing was allegedly a result of plummeting profits stemming from a decline in the market value of dry bulk shipping contracts.  The company also identified a failed land purchase in Madagascar, which was disrupted by a military coup in that country, as a source of financial stress.

    Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland granted a preliminary injunction on September 24.

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    Is The Shortest Way Up . . . Straight Down?

    Sunday, August 16th, 2009

    “There’s a cement slab on Ridge Lane, topped with a few pipes, an electrical box and a porta-john.  Nearby, an empty house, a large sign in the driveway declaring ‘inventory home.’  Around the corner, a few muddy lots, rimmed with construction fences … ‘If [the developer] is gone,’ [Kathy] Koss [a resident in the neighborhood] said, ‘what is going to happen to these houses?'”

    This quote from a story in March 15’s Charlotte Observer opens an extensive and intriguing study assembled by Sarah P. Woo, entitled “A Blighted Land: An Empirical Study of Residential Developer Bankruptcies in the United States – 2007-2008.”  Woo is an independent risk management consultant and doctoral scholar at Stanford University with prior experience as a research manager at Moody’s KMV London and a background in corporate finance at White & Case LLP.  She offers a simple premise as the basis for her 194-page work, which also serves as her dissertation:

    Until the housing sector is stabilized, there will simply be no recovery in America.  And as financially distressed residential developers and home builders are forced into liquidation or foreclosure, the unfinished projects they leave behind affect not only the immediate community, but area housing prices as well.

    Woo is not alone in her assessment of the persistent weakness of the US residential housing sector.  A Deutsche Bank study released in early August and briefly summarized in a CNN-Money article last Wednesday indicates that home prices may fall another 14% before hitting a bottom, leaving as many as 48% of mortgage holders “underwater” by 2011.

    Ouch.

    Among Woo’s findings on developers who have filed Chapter 11 cases over the last 2 years:

    – Only 5.3% were able to successfully reorganize.  In fact, the majority of cases were actually dismissed or converted to Chapter 7 – leaving real estate to be foreclosed or liquidated in forced sales.

    – 72% of the cases sampled involved at least one request by a secured lender to lift the stay for purposes of foreclosure.  In such instances, relief was granted approximately 90% of the time.  However, foreclosure may not always have been the best outcome for the bank.  According to Ms. Woo, “[i]n one case, the bank which repossessed the property not only had trouble with the remaining development process but also found itself in a position where it could not necessarily sell the property as a going concern . . . .  In [another] case, the bank which repossessed the property was seized by regulators 2 months later for being insufficiently capitalized, raising the issue of the extent to which a bank’s own financial problems might have contributed to its preference for liquidation during bankruptcy proceedings.”

    – Where properties were disposed of through “363 sales,” Woo “uncovered a pattern of winning credit bids where secured lenders acquired the properties . . . at low prices.”

    – Access to DIP financing appears to have been severely impaired for developers (as it has been for many Chapter 11 debtors this cycle, regardless of industry).  Even where DIP financing has been available, such financing often occurred in cases where the debtor was ultimately liquidated or packaged for sale (again, a common scenario this cycle regardless of the debtor’s industry).

    Is the near-certain prospect of liquidation or sale facing struggling residential home developers a good one for the sector?

    On the one hand, Woo’s study appears to suggest that the control available to lenders through mechanisms such as DIP financing and stay relief litigation, employed by highly regulated and troubled US banks desperate to raise capital by seizing and liquidating collateral, puts housing developers who might reorganize in Chapter 11 on a very slippery slope with little prospect of survival.  On the other, it suggests that the industry may be ridding itself of weak performers very quickly, leaving only the strongest to survive as the residential housing sector struggles back to prior levels.

    Where real estate development and the residential housing sector are concerned, is the shortest way up . . . straight down?

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