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Ruined, Missing Wine leads to Million Dollar Hangover for Debtor

Old wine bottles in a wooden crate.

A Chapter 7 debtor’s failure to comply with a bankruptcy court order to preserve a $2 million dollar-plus collection of fine wines has led to the imposition of sanctions of over $1 million, most of which could be charged against the debtor’s otherwise exempt property.

The wine in question, after three years of litigation, was determined to be part of the bankruptcy estate of Jeffrey Prosser.  Prosser used to own companies that provided telephone, internet and cable television service to the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Both he and his companies filed bankruptcy in 2006.  A recent, 66-page opinion from the U.S. District Court in the Virgin Islands sets forth this saga of the wine collection in great detail; if you are taken to oenophilia, be ready to despair.  See In re Jeffery L. Prosser, Bankruptcy Case 2006-3009, Civil Action 3:2013-0087 (February 23, 2017, Doc. No. 58).

In its opinion, the district court largely upheld orders by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Virgin Islands holding both Prosser and his wife, Dawn, in contempt

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What Do You Mean My Claim Is Capped? Ninth Circuit Ruling Further Clarifies Types Of Damages Excluded From A Landlord’s Claim In Bankruptcy

March 2, 2017

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently provided landlords dealing with a rejected lease with further guidance on the size and basis of their claims against a tenant’s bankruptcy estate.  Kupfer v. Salma (In re Kupfer), No. 14-16697 (9th Cir. Dec. 29, 2016).  The Ninth Circuit held that the statutory cap – 11 U.S.C. § 502(b)(6) – on a landlord’s claims against a tenant arising from lease rejection in bankruptcy applies only to claims that result directly from the lease termination; the cap does not apply to collateral claims.

The Statutory Cap in Bankruptcy Code Section 502(b)(6)

Bankruptcy Code Section 502(b)(6) caps a landlord’s claim for damages for a lease terminated before or during the tenant’s bankruptcy to (a) the greater of (i) one year’s worth of rent or (ii) 15%, not to exceed three years, of the remaining lease term; plus (b) any unpaid rent due under the lease as of the earlier of (x) the date the bankruptcy case was initiated (commonly called the “petition date”) or (y) the date the landlord repossessed the property or the tenant surrendered it.  The cap is designed to prevent landlords from pursuing large claims arising from terminated

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What’s Yours is Mine and What’s Mine is For the Benefit of My Creditors: Bankruptcy Courts Remain Reluctant to Impose Constructive Trusts on Debtor Property

February 27, 2017

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There is an inherent tension between the goals of bankruptcy law and the state law doctrine of constructive trust.  A central tenet of bankruptcy policy is that similarly situated creditors should be treated equally: because an insolvent business or individual will not be able to pay all creditors in full, a proper bankruptcy system must provide as equitable a distribution to each of them as possible.  Constructive trust law, on the other hand, works to the advantage of a single creditor – which always means the detriment of the others when everyone is competing for limited funds.

Constructive trusts are imposed when “property has been acquired in such circumstances that the holder of the legal title may not in good conscience retain the beneficial interest.”  Beatty v Guggenheim_Exploration_Co, 225 N.Y. 380, 386 (1919) (Cardozo, J.).  When a creditor in a bankruptcy case alleges that the debtor is holding certain property in constructive trust, it is saying that the debtor does not really own the property; the debtor is simply holding on to it for the creditor.  Because only the debtor’s property can be used to pay its creditors, any property held in constructive trust for one creditor is

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Fifth Circuit Rules for PACA Claimants, and Weakens PACA, All in One Curious Ruling

Set of colored vegetables for kids

Most restructuring practitioners are aware, either vaguely or through punishing experience, of the power of PACA creditors.  PACA (or the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, 7 U.S.C. § 499a et seq. for those who hate brevity) requires that buyers of produce hold such produce – and their proceeds – in trust for the benefit of produce sellers.  General creditors of the produce buyer receive nothing, even if they hold a lien on the buyer’s assets, until produce sellers are paid in full on any valid PACA claims (including their interest and attorneys’ fees in most instances).

But sometimes, or many times, the PACA trust assets needed to pay produce sellers are not present.  Accounts must be collected, by use of employees, lawyers, collection agents, or other parties.  Inventory must be preserved and then sold, incurring further costs.  In short, assets to pay PACA claims don’t magically appear, and if no one is paid to pound the pavement to sell that inventory and collect those funds, nothing will be collected, and nobody gets paid.

The Bankruptcy Code

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No Trustee Left Behind – Another Bankruptcy Court Requires Colleges to Return Tuition to the Bankruptcy Estate

February 13, 2017

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b09036864402bfedc690a2f80d6de804Another bankruptcy trustee catches another hapless college unaware.  In Roach v. Skidmore College (In re Dunston), Bankr. S.D. Ga. (Jan 31, 2017), a trustee appears to win the next battle of “bankruptcy estates v. child’s college,” ruling that an insolvent parent who paid the college tuition of an adult child made a fraudulent transfer to the college.  Thus, the unsuspecting college will likely have to return the tuition to the parent’s bankruptcy estate.

The theory is simple (albeit unsettling to some).  Under Section 548 of the Bankruptcy Code (and applicable state law, as a back-up), if any debtor makes a transfer to a third party while insolvent, and does not receive reasonably equivalent value in return, the debtor’s bankruptcy trustee may reclaim such transfer for the benefit of unsecured creditors (and for the benefit of the trustee’s fees, of course).  In plain English, the recipient got the money, and didn’t provide anything to the insolvent party which made the payment.  That’s unfair to the insolvent payor’s other creditors (who are left with crumbs, or nothing), and thus

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A Lender’s Federal Post-Judgment Interest Quandary

Post-judgment interest is not something most lenders consider when making a loan. In fact, it is not ordinarily the subject of significant analysis even when litigation becomes necessary.  Where the United States District Court is the preferred venue, however, parties easily can fall into the quandary of being stuck with the federal statutory post-judgment interest rate, which is currently less than 1% per annum.

Pre-judgment, a lender often has solid rights to contract interest and potentially very high default interest rates, which often approach double-digits, added to a recovery when a solvent obligor is on the other side. But a final judgment may be a game-changer on the rate of interest a lender is able to receive.  Recent circuit court decisions are developing the law on post-judgment interest in a way contrary to the economic recovery of contracting parties, and lenders in particular.  It may be possible, however, to draft around this problem.

Current State of the Law

In cases pending before the United States District Court, “post-judgment interest is governed by federal law,” even where jurisdiction is based upon diversity, because post-judgment interest is viewed as a procedural issue. Citicorp Real Estate Inc. v. Smith, 155 F.3d 1097,

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Handy List of Basic Issues to Consider for the Transactional Workout

While significant energy here at the Bankruptcy Cave is devoted to substantive bankruptcy matters, not all aspects of a general insolvency practice are always fun and litigation.  Oftentimes insolvency lawyers add the most value by helping clients avoid a bankruptcy filing, or by successfully resolving a case through a consensual transactional restructuring.  Below are a few key issues diligent counsel for creditors and debtors should think through in connection with a transactional restructuring.[1]

1. Notice and Demand After Default. As anyone reading this knows, a lender often sends a notice of default and maybe even a demand for payment after its borrower defaults.  However, simply sending a notice of default and demand for payment may not always be sufficient or have the intended effect.  Most loan documents provide a cure period before a breach becomes an actionable default.  Some loan documents will only permit a lender to accrue default interest after specific notice is given to the borrower.  And sometimes no notice or demand is required at all.  While it is generally considered best practice for a lender to notify a borrower of a breach, demand repayment, and affirmatively elect to accrue default interest after a breach, a

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A Debtor’s Allegedly False Financial Statement Doesn’t, At All, Excuse a Lack of Lender Diligence

January 9, 2017

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A decision rendered during the sometimes peaceful interlude between Christmas and New Year’s is worth reading, and heeding.  Hurston v. Anzo (In re Hurston), Adv. Proc. No. 15-2026 (Bankr. N.D. Ga. Dec. 27, 2016) is a helpful reminder to anyone representing lenders or creditors which are hell-bent-for-leather to pursue a non-dischargeability claim against a debtor that submits a false written statement (e.g., a personal financial statement) to obtain credit.  Often, in the fervor of the start of a bankruptcy case, the creditor (and its lawyer) will make great hay from the fact that a debtor may have lied in a pre-petition credit application, or forbearance agreement, or other written medium.  However, the facts of Hurston show that a creditor (and its lawyer) should pause, take a breath, and critically evaluate whether the creditor actually relied on the pre-petition writing from the debtor, and whether that creditor’s reliance was also, in fact, reasonable.  If not, then the creditor deserves a serious challenge from its own counsel on the wisdom of pursuing a expensive, and likely unsuccessful, non-dischargeability claim.

We don’t need to go in detail on the debtor’s alleged falsehoods – that is not the point of Hurston.  Instead, Judge Sacca of the Bankruptcy Court for the

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Supreme Court Weighs Granting Cert on Bankruptcy Issues Involving Surcharge and Voting Rights of Assignee of Insider Claim

December 5, 2016

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The Supreme Court is considering whether to grant review of two bankruptcy cases.  On October 3, 2016, the Supreme Court invited the Solicitor General to file briefs expressing the views of the United States.  Because the Supreme Court’s justices normally give significant weight to the federal government’s recommendations regarding interpretations of federal statutes (here, the Bankruptcy Code), the Solicitor General’s forthcoming briefs could influence whether the Supreme Court grants cert. on the two notable bankruptcy cases.

Southwest Securities v. Segner

The first case under consideration is Southwest Securities v. Segner (In re Domistyle, Inc.), 811 F.3d 691 (5th Cir. 2015).  At the commencement of this case, the trustee believed the debtor possessed equity in certain real property that could benefit unsecured creditors.  Id. at 693-94.  The property was encumbered by Southwest Securities’ lien.  After marketing the property for a year, the trustee was unable to sell the property and ultimately abandoned it to Southwest and moved to surcharge Southwest for the expenses paid in maintaining the property from the start of the case.  Id. at 694-95.  The Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Texas approved the surcharge over Southwest’s objection that the expenses were incurred to benefit unsecured creditors, and not Southwest.

To surcharge a lender

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