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    Posts Tagged ‘“Southern District of New York”’

    Section 363 and the Limits of Buyer Protection

    Monday, March 7th, 2011

    Asset sales through bankruptcy are all the rage – they’re presumably [relatively] quick.  And just as importantly, they’re perceived as clean – that is, they permit assets to be sold “free and clear” of an “interest” in the property.

    Grumman

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    The term “interest” has been construed broadly, and has been interpreted to extend to successor liability claims – including often prohibitively expensive environmental liabilities.  Indeed, one recent post on this blog (here) notes the potentially broad reach of bankruptcy court orders authorizing asset sales – and suggests the relief available in some circumstances may even be broader than the Chapter 11 discharge.

    But not all courts agree with this conclusion . . . at least not entirely.

    Late last month, the Southern District of New York (the same jurisdiction which authorized the “Section 363″ sale of General Motors free and clear of environmental liabilities) reached a different result in the case of In re Grumman Olson Industries, Inc.

    Grumman Olson, an auto-body manufacturer whose primary customers were Ford and General Motors, commenced Chapter 11 proceedings nearly nine years ago and completed a “363 sale” of its assets to Morgan Olson, LLC about 6 months after filing.  The sale order contained provisions which purported to release both Morgan Olson and the sold assets themselves from any successor liability claims which might arise.

    Ms. Frederico, a FedEx employee, sustained serious injuries on October 15, 2008 when the FedEx truck she was driving hit a telephone pole.  In a New Jersey lawsuit filed after the accident, the Fredericos claimed that the FedEx truck involved in the accident was manufactured, designed and/or sold by Grumman in 1994, and was defective for several reasons.  The Fredericos claimed that Morgan Olson continued Grumman‘s product line, and was, therefore, liable to the Fredericos as a successor to Grumman under New Jersey law.  In response, Morgan Olson requested that Bankruptcy Judge Stuart Bernstein re-open the [now closed] Grumman Olson case, then filed an adversary proceeding to determine that the Federico’s claim was barred by the prior sale order.

    Both sides sought Judge Bernstein’s summary judgment regarding the Morgan Olson suit.  In a 21-page decision, Judge Bernstein ruled (following a brief discussion addressing his continuing jurisdiction to interpret the prior sale order) that  Morgan Olson was, indeed, a successor for purposes of the Fredericos’ suit.  This was because the Fredericos’ claimed injuries arose not from the assets sold through bankruptcy, or from personal claims against Grumman Olson that arose prior to Grumman’s Chapter 11, but from Morgan Olson’s post-confirmation conduct:

    the Fredericos are basing their claims on what Morgan [Olson] did after the sale. According to their state court Amended Complaint, Morgan [Olson] is liable as a successor under New Jersey law because it “continued the product line since the purchase,” “traded upon and benefited from the goodwill of the product line,” “held itself out to potential customers as continuing to manufacture the same product line of Grumman trucks” and “has continued to market the instant product line of trucks to Federal Express.” The Sale Order did not give Morgan [Olson] a free pass on future conduct, and the suggestion that it could is doubtful.

    A good portion of Judge Bernstein’s decision is devoted to a discussion of what constitutes a “claim” for bankruptcy purposes – and the circumstances under which an anticipated “future tort claim” (i.e., claim based on a defective product manufactured by the debtor which hasn’t yet caused an injury, but which will at some point in the future) may be addressed through a “Section 363″ sale.

    In permitting the Fredericos to proceed with their New Jersey law suit against Morgan Olson, Judge Bernstein’s analysis focused on three areas:

    – the Fredericos’ lack of any meaningful “contact” with Grumman prior to the commencement of Grumman’s case or confirmation of Grumman’s Chapter 11 plan;

    – the absence of any notice by the Fredericos of the Grumman/Morgan sale; and (though less important than the lack of contact and lack of notice)

    – the absence of any provision for such anticipated “future claims” in Grumman’s Chapter 11 plan.

    In the end, he observed that “every case. . . addressing this issue has concluded for reasons of practicality or due process, or both, that a person injured after the sale (or confirmation) by a defective product manufactured and sold prior to the bankruptcy does not hold a ‘claim’ in the bankruptcy case and is not affected by either the § 363(f) sale order or the discharge under 11 U.S.C. § 1141(d).”

    Judge Bernstein’s Grumman Olson decision serves as an important reminder that “section 363 sales” – though undoubtedly a very powerful tool for disposing of distressed assets quickly and cleanly – do not provide “bullet-proof” protection for any type of liability which might be associated with the debtor’s assets, or with its general product line.

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    Kazakhstan’s 2d Largest Bank Seeks Protection of Its US Assets Through Chapter 15

    Sunday, February 7th, 2010

     

    BTA Bank (Банк ТуранАлем)
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    JSC BTA Bank (BTA), reportedly the second largest bank in Khazakstan, sought protection for its US-based assets through Chapter 15 last Thursday in New York’s Southern District.

    The Chapter 15 filing in Manhattan appears to be part of Khazakstan’s own banking bailout for BTA.  In papers submitted to Bankruptcy Judge James Peck, BTA Chairman Anvar Saidenov represented, through BTA’s counsel, that between 2004 and 2007 BTA expanded rapidly with significant increases in its total assets and number of branches and cash offices.  This expansion was primarily funded through short- and medium-term bank borrowings and the issue of securities in the international capital markets.  Khazakstan’s credit-rating downgrade in late 2007 precluded BTA from refinancing its short-term credit lines, which in turn curtailed BTA’s ability to make new loans.

    Beyond the Kazakh credit downgrades, BTA allegedly further suffered “significant losses” due to “fraudulent and ulawful transactions entered into by [BTA’s] former management prior to February 2009.”

    Before last February, the Republic of Kazakhstan and its Agency for Regulation and Supervision of Financial Markets and Financial Organizations (FMSA) had previously announced a proposal to recapitalize BTA as part of a broader plan to stabilize the country’s financial system. The plan involved JSC National Welfare Fund Samruk-Kazyna (Samruk-Kazyna), Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund, providing financial support to struggling financial institutions. At the same time, Samruk-Kazyna acquired a controlling 75.1 % of BTA’s total share capital. BTA also continued to down-size its operating activities in response to the deteriorating market and BTA’s financial condition.

     BTA’s recapitalization triggered “change-of-ownership” clauses and demands for repayment under some of its lines of credit from foreign lenders.  These and other, continuing regulatory problems inside Khazakstan ultimately led to a preliminary restructuring plan in mid-2009.

    Coat of arms of Kazakhstan (flat)
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    At the end of August 2009, the Kazakh government enacted banking regulatory legislation which put into place, among other things, an insolvency regime to deal with the restructuring of financial institutions.  BTA sought protection under this new legislation less than 45 days after its enactment, thereby obtaining a stay of all relevant claims of BTA’s creditors and protection of BTA’s property from execution and attachment until completion of the restructuring.

    BTA’s restructuing – presently contemplated within the third quarter of 2010 – presently contemplates that creditors of the Bank, including Samruk-Kazyna and certain related parties (excluding depositors and certain government agencies funding special loan programs) will receive a mixture of cash, senior debt, subordinated debt, other forms of debt, equity and so-called “recovery notes” in consideration for the restructuring of their claims.  Payments on the “recovery notes” will be funded by cash recoveries on any provisioned assets, litigation recoveries, and deferred tax recoveries.

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    Pushing the Envelope

    Monday, January 25th, 2010

    From New York’s Southern District comes the strange tale of the Canadian asset backed commercial paper market, and a decision that raises the question of whether foreign courts provide a possible strategic “end run” around US law for parties doing business in the US – and even for US litigants with a business presence overseas.

    Collapse of the Canadian Asset Backed Commercial Paper Market

    Asset backed commercial paper (ABCP) is a Canadian short-term investment with a low interest yield.  Generally marketed as a “safe” investment, ABCP is considered “asset backed” because the cash used to purchase these notes goes to create a portfolio of financial or other assets, which are then security for repayment of the originally issued paper.  In flush times, ABCPs were typically paid off with the proceeds from the purchase of new paper – or simply rolled over into new paper purchases themselves.

    But times did not stay flush.

    By 2007, ABCPs were collateralized by everything from auto loans to residential mortgages – which, unlike the “short-term” paper they backed, had much longer maturities.  With the rapidly-cresting economic downturn, uncertainty began to ripple through the ABCP market by mid-2007.  Because ABCPs were not transparent investments and investors could not determine which assets backed their paper, the uncertainty soon grew into a full-scale liquidity crisis.

    The Big Freeze – And The Planned Thaw

    In August 2007, approximately CAN$32 billion of non-bank sponsored ABCP in the Canadian market was frozen after an agreement between the major market participants.  This “freeze” was implemented pending an attempt to resolve the crisis through a restructuring of the market.  A “Pan-Canadian Investors Committee” was created, which introduced a creditor-initiated Plan of Compromise and Arrangement under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).  The Plan was sanctioned in June 2008 in the Metcalfe cases.  Essentially, the Plan converted the noteholders’ frozen paper into new, long-term notes with a discounted face value that could be traded freely, in the hope that a strong secondary market for the notes would emerge in the long run.

    Releases for Third Parties

    Part of the Plan required that market participants, including banks, dealers, noteholders, asset providers, issuer trustees, and liquidity providers be released from any liability related to ABCP, with the exception of certain narrow fraud claims.  Among those receiving these releases were Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, HSBC Bank USA, Merrill Lynch International, UBS, and Wachovia Bank and their respective affiliates.

    These third party releases were themselves the subject of appellate litigation in Canada, but were eventually upheld as within the ambit of the CCAA.  The Plan became effective in January 2009, and the court-appointed monitors (Ernst & Young, Inc.) sought US recognition of the Metcalfe cases in New York the following October.  More specifically, the monitors sought enforcement in the US of the third-party releases which were a centerpiece of the Canadian Plan.

    Third-party releases of non-bankrupt parties are significantly limited under US bankruptcy law – and, in a number of circuits, prohibited altogether.  In the 2d Circuit – where the recognition cases are pending – they are permissible only where (i) “truly unusual circumstances render the release terms important to the success of the plan;” and (ii) the released claims “directly affect the res (i.e., the property) of the bankruptcy estate.”  In Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn’s view, the Canadian releases went a bit further than what the 2d Circuit would otherwise permit.  Nevertheless, Ernst & Young asked Judge Glenn to permit them.

    Recognition and Enforcement In the US

    Ernst & Young’s request was based, first, on Section 1509, which requires that if a US Bankruptcy Court grants recognition in a foreign main proceeding, it “shall grant comity or cooperation to the foreign representative.”  Moreover, where recognition is granted, the US court “may provide additional assistance to [the] foreign representative” (Section 1507(a)), provided that such assistance is “consistent with the principles of comity” and serves one or more articulated policy goals set forth in Section 1507(b).  The decision to provide such assistance “is largely discretionary and turns on subjective factors that embody principles of comity.”  It is also subject to a general but narrowly construed “public policy” restriction in Section 1506.

    Comity

    Though it is given prominence in Chapter 15, the American concept of “comity” in fact grows out of many decades of US commercial experience: Over a century ago, the emerging freedom of markets, comparatively few limits on imports, exports, immigration and exchanges of information and capital flows gave rise to what has been termed as the “first age of globalization.” In keeping with the spirit of that age, US courts of the period sought to resolve commercial disputes involving international litigants in a manner that would facilitate free international trade. They did so by preserving, where possible, the sanctity of rulings rendered in foreign tribunals as those rulings pertained to US citizens involved in foreign transactions. Those efforts found their expression through application of the case law doctrine of “comity.”

    As expressed long ago by the US Supreme Court, “comity” is that “recognition which one nation allows within its territory to the legislative, executive or judicial acts of another nation.” As described by more modern precedent, US courts will recognize the “[a]cts of foreign governments purporting to have extraterritorial effect” when those acts are consistent with US law and policy.

    It is worth noting that “consistent with US law and policy” does not mean identical with US law and policy.  As Judge Glenn observed, “[t]he relief granted in the foreign proceeding and the relief available in a [US] proceeding need not be identical.”  Instead, the “key determination” is “whether the procedures used in [the foreign court] meet [US] fundamental standards of fairness.”

    “Fundamental standards of fairness” are understandably vague, and – beyond the basic idea of due process – often difficult to establish.  In this case, Judge Glenn essentially found that though the releases in question likely went beyond what would pass muster under US law, third party releases weren’t completely unheard of – and besides, the decision of a Canadian court of competent jurisdiction should be entitled to recognition as a matter of comity in any event.

    What It All Means

    The Metcalfe decision is interesting.  One one hand, it seems to provide merely another example of the well-recognized fact that Canadian judgments are routinely upheld by US courts.  However, it also suggests that parties with access to foreign tribunals with insolvency schemes resembling the US, but providing relief somewhat different from (i.e., more favorable to) that available under US insolvency law, may be able to maneuver around US law by filing a “main [insolvency] case” in a foreign jurisdiction, then seeking recognition and enforcement of that relief in the US – on the basis of comity.

    Something to think about.

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    Chicken.

    Monday, November 30th, 2009

    The purchase of debt on the cheap and subsequent use of activist litigation to seize control of a troubled company, or obtain other economic concessions from the debtor, is a common tactic in Chapter 11 practice.  But it is not without risk – especially when the purchased debt comes with possible strings attached.

    From New York’s Southern District last week, a cautionary tale of what can happen when an agressive distressed debt investor presses its luck despite ambiguous lending documents:

    ION Media Networks’ Pre-Petition Credit Arrangements and Pre-Arranged Chapter 11.

    ION Media Networks Ltd. and its affiliates (“ION”) entered into a series of security agreements with its first- and second-priority lenders during the “go-go” days of 2005.  The documents included an intercreditor agreement setting forth the respective parties’ rights to ION’s assets.

    By early 2009, ION was involved in restructuring discussions with the first-priority lien holders.  Those discussions resulted in a Restructuring Support Agreement (“RSA”) by which ION conveyed 100% of ION’s reorganized stock to the first-priority lien holders upon confirmation of a Chapter 11 plan.  In furtherance of the RSA, the ION companies filed jointly administered Chapter 11 cases in May 2009.

    Enter Stage Right: Cyrus.

    In the meantime, Cyrus Select Opportunities Master Fund Ltd. (“Cyrus”) purchased some of ION’s second-lien debt for pennies on the dollar.  Using its newly acquired stake, Cyrus systematically attempted to interpose itself into ION’s pre-arranged reorganzation:  It objected to DIP financing proposed by the first-priority lien holders, requested reconsideration of the DIP financing order so it could offer alternative financing on better terms, objected to ION’s disclosure statement, commenced its own adversary proceeding for a declaratory judgment, prosecuted a motion to withdraw the reference with respect to two adversary proceedings concerning ION’s FCC broadcast licenses, objected to confirmation, proposed amendments to the Plan to enable it more effectively to appeal adverse rulings of the Bankruptcy Court, and even filed supplemental papers in opposition to confirmation on the morning of the confirmation hearing.

    Cyrus’ basic objective in this campaign was quite straightforward.  It sought to challenge the rights of ION’s first lien holders (and DIP lenders) to recover any of the enterprise value attributable to ION’s FCC broadcast licenses.  Its ultimate objective was to leverage itself into economic concessions from ION and the first lien holders – and a hefty profit on its debt acquisition.

    Cyrus picked its fight (i) while its position was “out of the money”; and (ii) in the face of an Intercreditor Agreement prohibiting Cyrus from “tak[ing] any action or vot[ing] [on a Chapter 11 plan] in any way . . . so as to contest (1) the validity or enforcement of any of the [first lien holders’] Security Documents … (2) the validity, priority, or enforceability of the [first lien holders’] Liens, mortgages, assignments, and security interests granted pursuant to the Security Documents … or (3) the relative rights and duties of the holders of the [first lien holders’] Secured Obligations . . .”).

    Cyrus apparently decided to go forward because, in its view, ION’s valuable FCC broadcast licenses were not encumbered by the first-priority liens that were the subject of the Intercreditor Agreement.  As a result, Cyrus claimed a right to pro rata distribution, along with the first-priority lien holders (who were themselves undersecured), in the proceeds of the purportedly unencumbered FCC licenses.  Therefore, its objections, based on Cyrus’ position as an unsecured creditor, were appropriate.  By the time the cases moved to confirmation, the ION debtors had commenced their own adversary proceeding to determine whether or not Cyrus’ objections were so justified.

    Second-Guessing Cyrus’ Strategy.

    Cyrus’ game of legal “chicken” was, in the words of New York Bankruptcy Judge James Peck, a “high risk strategy” designed to “gain negotiating leverage or obtain judicial rulings that will enable it to earn outsize returns on its bargain basement debt purchases at the expense of the [first lien holders].”

    Unfortunately for Cyrus, its “high risk strategy” was not a winning one.

    In a 30-page decision overruling Cyrus’ objections to ION’s Chapter 11 plan, Judge Peck appeared to have little quarrel with Cyrus’ economic objectives or with its activitst approach.  But he was sharply critical of Cyrus’ apparent willingness to jump into the ION case without first obtaining a determination of its rights (or lack thereof) under the Intercreditor Agreement:

    Cyrus has chosen . . . to object to confirmation and thereby assume the consequence of being found liable for a breach of the Intercreditor Agreement.  Cyrus’ reasoning is based on the asserted correctness of its own legal position regarding the definition of collateral and the proper interpretation of the Intercreditor Agreement.  To avoid potential liability for breach of the agreement, Cyrus must prevail in showing that objections to confirmation are not prohibited because those objections are grounded in the proposition that the FCC Licenses are not collateral and so are not covered by the agreement.  But that argument is hopelessly circular. Cyrus is free to object only if it can convince this Court or an appellate court that it has correctly analyzed a disputed legal issue. It is objecting as if it has the right to do so without regard to the incremental administrative expenses that are being incurred in the process.

    In contrast to Cyrus’ reading of the Intercreditor Agreement, Judge Peck read it to “expressly prohibit[] Cyrus from arguing that the FCC Licenses are unencumbered and that the [first lien holders’] claims . . . are therefore unsecured . . . .  At bottom, the language of the Intercreditor Agreement demonstrates that [Cyrus’ predecessors] agreed to be ‘silent’ as to any dispute regarding the validity of liens granted by the Debtors in favor of the [first lien holders] and conclusively accepted their relative priorities regardless of whether a lien ever was properly granted in the FCC Licenses.”

    Judge Peck further found that because Cyrus’ second-priority predecessor had agreed to an indisputable first-priority interest in favor of the first lien holders regarding any “Collateral,” this agreement also included any purported “Collateral” – and, therefore, prohibited Cyrus’ dispute of liens in the FCC broadcast licenses . . . even if such licenses couldn’t be directly encumbered:

    The objective was to prevent or render moot the very sort of technical argument that is being made here by Cyrus regarding the validity of liens on the FCC [l]icenses. By virtue of the Intercreditor Agreement, the parties have allocated among themselves the economic value of the FCC [l]icenses as “Collateral” (regardless of the actual validity of liens in these licenses).  The claims of the First Lien Lenders are, therefore, entitled to higher priority . . . .  Affirming the legal efficacy of unambiguous intercreditor agreements leads to more predictable and efficient commercial outcomes and minimizes the potential for wasteful and vexatious litigation . . . .  Moreover, plainly worded contracts establishing priorities and limiting obstructionist, destabilizing and wasteful behavior should be enforced and creditor expectations should be appropriately fulfilled.

    Judge Peck acknowledged case law from outside New York’s Southern District that disfavors pre-petition intercreditor agreements which prohibit junior creditor voting on a Chapter 11 plan or a junior creditor’s appearance in the case as an unsecured creditor.  But these features were not the ones at issue here: Cyrus was permitted to vote, and it could (presumably) make a general appearance as an unsecured creditor.  However, it could not, in this capacity, object to the ION Chapter 11 plan.

    Finally, Judge Peck noted that his own prior DIP Order acknowledged the first lien holders’ senior liens on “substantially all the [ION] Debtors’ assets.”  As a result, Cyrus was independently prohibited from re-litigating this issue before him – and couldn’t have done so in any event because it had no standing to raise a proper objection.

    Food for Thought.

    The ION decision raises a number of questions – about the activist litigation tactics often used to extract the perceived value inherent in distressed debt acquisitions, and about the debt itself.

    Was Cyrus overly aggressive in enforcing its purchased position?  Judge Peck suggests, in a footnote, that Cyrus would have been free to raise objections to a settlement between the ION debtors and unsecured creditors by which the unsecured creditors were provided consideration sufficient to meet the “best interests of creditors” test required for confirmation.  But wouldn’t any objection ultimately have raised the same issues as those put forward by Cyrus independently – i.e., the claimed lack of any direct encumbrance on ION’s FCC licenses, and the extra value available to unsecured creditors?

    Or perhaps Cyrus wasn’t agressive enough?  For all the paper it filed in the ION cases, shouldn’t Cyrus have concurrently given appropriate notice under its second-priority debt Indenture and commenced an adversary proceeding to determine its rights under the Intercreditor Agreement?

    Finally, what of Cyrus’ purchased position?  Was the Intercreditor Agreement truly “unambiguous” regarding Cyrus’ rights?  Didn’t the “Collateral” described and the difficulty of directly encumbering FCC licenses create sufficient ambiguity to trigger an objection of the sort Cyrus offered?  Are “purported liens” the same as “purported collateral“?  And is a distinction between the two merely “technical”?

    For distressed debt investors (and for lenders negotiating pre-petition intercreditor agreements), ION Media offers provoking food for thought.

    But while you’re thinking . . . be sure to check your loan documents.

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    Who’s Gonna Clean Up This Mess?!!

    Monday, August 31st, 2009

    Chrysler’s and GM’s recent sales through the Bankruptcy Courts of New York’s Southern District have raised the question of whether some jurisdictions provide more receptive forums than others for getting a “distressed M&A” transaction accomplished.  This sort of “forum shopping” is both a well-established concept in commercial insolvency practice and an integral part of reorganization planning.

    Last week, a 7th Circuit decision highlighted another area where geography – at least as it concerns the choice of a Bankruptcy Court – can have an important effect on the outcome of a Chapter 11 case, as well as on a reorganized debtor’s post-confirmation operations: The resolution of environmental liabilities.

    U.S. v. Apex Oil Company involved an environmental injunction obtained against Apex Oil, successor-by-merger to Clark Oil and Refining Corporation.

    Clark Oil, its corporate parent, and a number of affiliates filed related Chapter 11 cases 12 years ago, in 1987.  Clark was subsequently merged into Apex, and a Chapter 11 Plan confirmed in the debtors’ related Chapter 11 cases.  Nearly two decades later, in 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency sought an injunction requiring Apex to clean up a contaminated site in Hartford, Illinois, which housed an oil refinery once owned by Clark.

    Chief US District Court Judge David Herndon of Illinois’ Southern District conducted a 17-day bench trial in early 2008 and, in July 2008, issued a 178-page decision finding that, in fact, contamination was present at the site and that it was Apex’s responsibility to clean it up.

    Apex appealed, arguing that confirmation of the Chapter 11 Plan and discharge obtained in Clark Oil’s Chapter 11 case 2 decades earlier precluded enforcement of the more recent federal injunction.  In essence, Apex argued that Section 101 of the Bankruptcy Code defines a “claim” as a “right to an equitable remedy for breach of performance if such breach gives rise to a right to payment.”  Since cleaning up the contaminated Hartford, Ill. refinery site in response to the federal injunction would obviously require the significant expenditure of money, Apex reasoned that this obligation was effectively a “claim” subject to the earlier Chapter 11 discharge, and could not be enforced.

    Judges Posner, Cudahy, and Kanne of the 7th Circuit were not persuaded.  Judge Posner’s comparatively brief, 12-page decision issued last week held that the EPA’s federal injunction at issue did not give rise to a “claim” as that term is defined by the Bankruptcy Code . . . and, therefore, could not be discharged by means of Clark Oil’s Chapter 11 Plan.

    Consequently, Apex now holds the clean-up tab for the old Clark refinery.

    In order to hand Apex that tab, Judge Posner and his colleagues distinguished Apex’s case from a 1985 Supreme Court decision – Ohio v. Kovacs, 469 U.S. 274 – which involved Ohio’s appointment of a receiver to remediate environmental claims after the debtor failed to abide by a state court consent decree requiring him to do so.  The Supreme Court found that these enforcement efforts constituted a dischargeable “claim” in Kovacs’ bankruptcy.

    The result in Apex was different because, in Judge Posner’s view, the receiver in Kovacs sought money for clean-up, whereas the EPA in Apex merely sought clean-up . . . from Apex.  And, in fact, the federal statute under which the EPA sought remediation (the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act – “RCRA”) affords only this relief – and nothing more.

    Juge Posner’s analysis of RCRA relies in part on earlier 7th Circuit precedent (AM Int’l. v. Datacard Corp., 106 F.3d 1342) – which itself relies on other Supreme Court precedent (Meghrig v. KFC W., Inc., 516 U.S. 479) – to hold that RCRA doesn’t allow a party obtaining a “clean-up” order to clean up a contaminated site itself, then sue for response costs in lieu of seeking an injunction.  For this reason, he held, RCRA cannot “give rise to a right to payment” for purposes of a bankruptcy discharge.

    The 7th Circuit panel acknowledged that Apex’s case is similar to U.S. v. Whizco, 841 F.2d 147 – in which the 6th Circuit reached a conclusion opposite from Judge Posner and his 7th Circuit colleagues.   But where Apex is concerned, that is no matter.  As Judge Posner sees it, the 6th Circuit’s rationale “cannot be squared with . . . [7th Circuit] decisions [such as Datacard] which hold that cost incurred [to comply with an equitable order] is not equivalent to the ‘right to payment’ . . . .”

    Though the 7th Circuit’s understanding of RCRA is based in part on Supreme Court precedent, few decisions outside either the 6th or 7th Circuit appear to discuss its application in the bankruptcy context.  Moreover, other Supreme Court precedent (such as Kovacs) holds that, at least in certain circumstances, equitable remedies (such as appointment of a receiver) are, in reality, “claims” within the meaning of the Bankruptcy Code – and, therefore, can be discharged.

    As a result, the resolution of environmental claims in bankruptcy appears to turn not only on the “clean-up” statute at issue – or, more specifically, its remedies – but also on the jurisdiciton where the debtor’s bankruptcy case is filed.

    So who’s gonna clean up this environmental mess?

    That depends, at least in part, on which court first decides the claims resolution mess.

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