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    Posts Tagged ‘Law’

    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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    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.

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    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.”

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    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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    Shari’a Law and Bankruptcy

    Monday, February 21st, 2011

    During recent years, the global economy has seen significant growth in transactions which purport to be governed by classic Islamic – or Shari’a – law.  Primarily, the legal and business community’s focus has been on Shari’a finance.  But what happens under Shari’a law when a transaction or venture turns sour?

    That is the question posed recently by Abed Awad and Robert E. Michael of Pace Univeristy in White Plains.  In IFLAS AND CHAPTER 11: CLASSICAL ISLAMIC LAW AND MODERN BANKRUPTCY, Awad and Michael (both adjunct professors at Pace, and both practicing attorneys in the New Jersey-New York metropolitan area) explore this issue in some much-needed detail.

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    Specifically, their article:

    is intended to provide an exposition and analysis of the basic precepts of this side of Islamic commercial law and, in doing so, compare them to the basic elements of western bankruptcy, notably that of the most successful and emulated one, Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Above all, this article will discuss what the authors consider to be the five primary concepts that underpin or constitute the foundation of the Islamic law of bankruptcy: (1) the prohibition of riba (interest), and the concomitantblack of a theory of the time value of money; (2) the obligation to be socially responsible; (3) the divine directive to pay all of one’s debts if you are able to do so, with death being the only source of a final discharge; (4) the absence of a limited liability or entity shielding concept; and (5) the absence of concepts of intangible assets and many forms of non-possessory rights common in other legal systems. These five concepts are interwoven in the fabric of Islamic commercial and financial law.

    In light of continuing global financial turmoil and further political turmoil in the Middle East, the article – which first appeared in last fall’s issue (Vol. 44) of SMU’s International Lawyer – is worth reading. 

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    The Year in Bankruptcy: 2010

    Saturday, February 12th, 2011

     

    Jones Day’s Charles Oellerman and Mark Douglas have just issued The Year in Bankruptcy: 2010.  It is a (relatively) concise, thorough (81 pages), and useful compendium of bankruptcy statistics, trend analyses, case law highlights, and legislative updates for the year.

    What to expect for 2011?  According to the authors:

    [M]ost industry experts predict that the volume of big-business bankruptcy filings will not increase in 2011.  Also expected is a continuation of the business bankruptcy paradigm exemplified by the proliferation of prepackaged or prenegotiated chapter 11 cases and quick-fix section 363(b) sales. Companies that do enter bankruptcy waters in 2011 are more likely to wade in rather than freefall, as was often the case in 2008 and 2009. More frequently, struggling businesses are identifying trouble sooner and negotiating prepacks before taking the plunge, in an effort to minimize restructuring costs and satisfy lender demands to short-circuit the restructuring process.  Prominent examples of this in 2010 were video-rental chain Blockbuster Inc.; Hollywood studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.; and newspaper publisher Affiliated Media Inc. Industries pegged as including companies “most likely to fail” (or continue foundering) in 2011 include health care, publishing, restaurants, entertainment and hospitality, home building and construction, and related sectors that rely heavily on consumers.  Finally, judging by trends established in 2010, companies that do find themselves in bankruptcy are more likely to rely on rights offerings than new financing as part of their exit strategies.

    Happy reading.

    Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

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    Now Coming to a Bankruptcy Court Near You: The Section 363 Discharge(?!)

    Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

    Norton’s recently-published 2010 Annual Survey of Bankruptcy Law offers an intriguing article focusing on an often-overlooked difference between “Section 363 sales” and Chapter 11 Plans – and suggesting that, for certain liabilities, Section 363 may actually afford broader relief than a Chapter 11 discharge.

    In Classic Chapter 11 Reorganizations Versus Section 363 Sales And The Effects On Environmental Cleanup Obligations: The Choice After Apex Oil Co. And General Motors, authors Joel Gross and Christopher Anderson contend:

    “[U]nless the law [surrounding Section 363 sales] changes, any debtor seeking to provide maximum protection to its surviving business from broad cleanup liabilities for divested properties would be best advised to utilize a Section 363 sale.  The protection from successor liability that can be achieved through such a sale will very likely exceed the more narrow discharge from monetary claims that can be obtained if the property is transferred under a plan of reorganization.”

    In support of their argument, Gross and Anderson compare the results of two recent decisions – In re Apex Oil and the 2009 In re General Motors Corp. decision.

    In Apex Oil, the 7th Circuit held that, despite its prior discharge in Chapter 11, the reorganized debtor remained liable for environmental liabilities incurred years earlier on the grounds that such liabilities were not “claims” subject to discharge under Chapter 11’s provisions.  A prior post regarding Apex is available here.

    In General Motors – by contrast – the the US Government supported, and the Bankruptcy Court accepted, the transfer of GM’s business assets to a newly-formed entity (“New GM”) under a sale “free and clear of all . . . interests,” including successor liability claims.  In reaching this decision, the Bankruptcy Court relied on the reasoning set forth in In re Trans World Airlines, Inc., 322 F.3d 283 (3d Cir.2003) – i.e., that Section 363 provides a basis for selling assets free and clear of successor liability claims.

    The recognizable TWA logotype
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    Not every circuit permits an extension of Section 363’s “free and clear” language to successor liability claims.  See Michael H. Reed, Successor Liability and Bankruptcy Sales Revisited—A New Paradigm, 61 Bus. Law. 179, 208–211 (2005) (surveying the lower courts’ application of TWA).  Though at least one District Court and the Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel have followed the TWA decision, the Ninth Circuit has not explicitly ruled.

    Consequently, “[i]n light of the split in circuit authority, it remains to be seen whether the view that successor liability claims can ultimately be cut off via a Section 363 sale will prevail.  For the time being, however, the majority of appellate courts (including the Second and Third Circuits where so many major Chapter 11 cases are fled) have held that they can, and there seems to be a similar trend in the lower courts.”

    That said, the use of Section 363 to avoid environmental liabilities isn’t without its problems: “One potentially important limitation, which appears not to have been addressed by any court to date, is Section 363(e)’s requirement that all sales approved under Section 363 provide adequate protection for the interest of any entity in the property sold.”

    Other issues present themselves as well.  For example:

    - Is it possible to provide for liens against the sale proceeds for successor interests?  Gross and Anderson don’t think so – as they see it, doing so would provide otherwise-unsecured creditors with preferential treatment.

    - How much are contingent successor claims truly worth?  Even if it were possible to provide “adequate protection” for successor claims, doing so raises the question of what such claims are truly worth.

    - Finally, the ability to shield assets from successor liability claims frequently implicates the Court’s equitable power under Section 105, and the extent of its scope.

    Problematic or not, these considerations likely won’t stop debtors from taking a shot at a sale: “[G]iven the certainty following Apex Oil that at least some injunctive claims will survive a traditional chapter 11 reorganization, it can be expected that debtors with significant environmental exposure will prefer to follow the roadmap laid out in GM.”

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    Federal Bankruptcy Rules Revisions – Analysis and Comment

    Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

     

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    The Insolvency Law Committee for the California State Bar’s Business Law Section has produced a very helpful analysis of recent changes to the Federal Bankruptcy Rules – which (as most readers are aware) became effective as of December 1, 2010.

    A copy is available here.

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    Fraudulent Transfers By The Numbers – Revisited

    Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

    Back in May, this blog featured a post on some preliminary research addressing the idea of “probability-based” fraudulent transfer analysis.  PBGC lawyer (and Cadwalader alum) John Ginsburg  has argued that rather than merely asking whether insolvency is “reasonably foreseeable,” courts ought to clarify “reasonable foreseeability” in probabalistic terms.  The basic idea underlying this argument is that it should be easier to attack (or to defend) a fraudulent transfer if it can be shown, for example, that the “probability” of insolvency at the time of an LBO was 50% – or 60%, or 75%.

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    Mr. Ginsberg argues further that courts ought to articulate what, for them, constitutes an acceptable margin of error (say, 40% risk of insolvency with a margin of error of +/- 15%).

    Following comments offered here and elsewhere, Mr. Ginsberg – and colleagues Zachary Caldwell, Daniel Czerwonka, and Mary Burgess – have gone through a number of revisions and have a final draft version of the article available for review prior to going to publication with ABI Law Review in March.

    A discussion is hosted at http://www.bulletinboards.com/view.cfm?comcode=LBO_FT, where anyone can critique and debate the paper, upload a rebuttal from a word-processor, or upload a handwritten mark-up in PDF.  In written comments to South Bay Law Firm, Mr. Ginsberg notes that the authors are particularly “interested in hearing from private equity fund managers, from the investment bankers who finance their deals, and from the lawyers, financial analysts and others who earn fees helping put those deals together.  The paper has significant implications for them.”

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    Altered Egos – The Ninth Circuit Weighs in (Again) On Whether Individual Creditors Can Pursue Their Own “Alter Ego” Claims Against a Bankrupt Entity’s Principals

    Monday, October 25th, 2010

    Whenever a troubled business seeks bankruptcy protection, unsecured creditors are often left scrambling to find other sources of recoveries for their claims.

    In addition to individual, contractually negotiated protections such as personal guarantees and letters of credit, alter ego claims against the debtor’s principals can provide such creditors with additional pockets from which to seek payment.  To do so, however, such creditors must often address the objection that they are without standing to pursue such claims, because alter ego claims are often “general” ones, by which all creditors were injured – and from which all creditors are entitled to benefit.  As a result, goes the objection, only the trustee – and not individual creditors – may pursue alter ego claims against the debtor’s principals.

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    The idea that alter ego claims may be prosecuted only by the debtor’s bankruptcy trustee on behalf of all creditors has been endorsed by at least one Circuit Court of Appeals:  The 11th Circuit has affirmed as much in Baille Lumber Company, LP v. Thompson, 413 F.3d 1293 (11th Cir. 2005).

    But this view is not universally held.  In fact, the 9th Circuit has long held a contrary view, as has the 8th Circuit.  See Williams v. California 1st Bank, 859 F.2d 664, 667 (9th Cir. 1988) (“[N]o trustee . . . has the power under . . . the [Bankruptcy] Code to assert general causes of action, such as [an] alter ego claim, on behalf of the bankrupt estate’s creditors.”).  See also In re Ozark Restaurant Equipment Co., Inc., 816 F.2d 1222, 1228 (8th Cir. 1987); Estate of Daily v. Title Guar. Escrow Services, Inc., 187 B.R. 837, 842-43 (D. Haw. 1995), aff’d. 81 F.3d 167 (9th Cir. 1996).

    Despite the Ninth Circuit’s guidance, however, several lower courts in California have continued to permit bankruptcy trustees to “glom onto” alter ego claims.  See, e.g., In re Advanced Packaging and Products Co., 2010 WL 234795 (C.D. Cal. 2010) (permitting a trustee in bankruptcy to settle an alter ego claim brought against the bankrupt corporation’s parent entity because the claim was “general” rather than “particularized”).

    Last week – for what appears to be the third time in as many decades – the Ninth Circuit revisited this issue in Ahcom, Ltd. v. Smeding.

    Ahcom‘s facts are relatively straightforward:  Ahcom, a UK-based corporation, contracted for almonds with California-based Nuttery Farms, Inc. (NFI).  After NFI allegedly failed to deliver the almonds, Ahcom commenced arbitration in Europe, then sued in the US to collect on the arbitrator’s award – but not before NFI had filed for bankruptcy protection.  Undeterred, Ahcom directly sued NFI’s non-debtor principals, Hendrik and Lettie Smeding, seeking to pierce NFI’s corporate veil.  The Smedings removed the action to US District Court for the Northern District of California and successfully dismissed the action on the grounds that Ahcom’s alter ego claims were “general” in nature – and, therefore, property of NFI’s bankruptcy estate.

    On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed, noting that in California, “there is no such thing as a substantive alter ego claim at all . . . .” (citing Hennessey’s Tavern, Inc. v. Am. Air Filter Co., 251 Cal.Rptr. 859, 863 (Ct. App. 1988)).  The panel then went further to explain that California law on this issue has been misread by bankruptcy courts and by the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the Ninth Circuit.

    As a result, “California law does not recognize an alter ego claim or case of action that will allow a corporation and its shareholders to be treated as alter egos for purposes of all the corporation’s debts.  Just because NFI’s trustee could not bring such a claim against the Smedings under California law, there is no reason why Ahcom’s claims against the Smedings could not proceed.”

    A circuit split worthy of resolution by the Supreme Court?  Perhaps.  An alternate means of recovery for unsecured creditors who can allege the right facts?  Most definitely.

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