Four decades and several years ago, Congress repeals the Federal Bankruptcy Act of 1898 and replaces it with the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978, aka the “Bankruptcy Code.”[Fn. 1]
A decade later, Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are still disparaging the new Bankruptcy Code as the “sweeping changes Congress instituted in 1978” and “the radical reforms of 1978.”[Fn. 2]
Four years after New York grocery chain Tops’ exit from Chapter 11, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain ruled that the Tops’ Chapter 11 trustee may proceed with litigation against certain private equity investors. The trustee alleged that the investors drove the company into bankruptcy by paying themselves more than $375 million in dividends while neglecting to address Tops’ unfunded pension liabilities.
In his final opinion, Judge Robert D. Drain of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York held that dividends paid from proceeds of safe-harbored transactions under section 546(e) of the Bankruptcy Code are not safe-harbored. While only approximately 15 pages of Judge Drain’s 109-page final opus are dedicated to consideration of the section 546(e) issue, the relevant analysis ends with a pressing question to Congress and an appeal to modify section 546(e) to “restrict to public transactions its currently overly broad free pass . . .
The ramifications of uneven increases to fees in chapter 11 bankruptcies continue to ripple through federal courts.
The Situation: Courts have disagreed over whether a make-whole premium triggered by a borrower's bankruptcy filing must be disallowed as unmatured interest. They have also disputed whether the "solvent-debtor exception" requiring the payment of postpetition interest to unimpaired unsecured creditors of a solvent debtor survived the enactment of the Bankruptcy Code. Finally, courts have split on what rate of postpetition interest unimpaired unsecured creditors of a solvent debtor are entitled to receive.
On October 14, 2022, the Fifth Circuit issued its decision in Ultra Petroleum, granting favorable outcomes to “unimpaired” creditors that challenged the company’s plan of reorganization and argued for payment (i) of a ~$200 million make-whole and (ii) post-petition interest at the contractual rate, not the Federal Judgment Rate. At issue on appeal was the Chapter 11 plan proposed by the “massively solvent” debtors—Ultra Petroleum Corp. (HoldCo) and its affiliates, including subsidiary Ultra Resources, Inc.
Federal district courts, with the consent of the parties, are authorized by statute to refer "civil matter[s]" to magistrate judges for the purpose of conducting all proceedings and entering a judgment in the litigation. In the case of an appeal to a district court from a bankruptcy court, however, this statutory authority arguably conflicts with another statutory provision dictating that appeals from a bankruptcy court order or judgment be heard by a "district court" or a "bankruptcy appellate panel." This apparent conflict was recently addressed by the U.S.
Siegel v. Fitzgerald, 142 S. Ct. 1770 (June 6, 2022)
The Bankruptcy Protector
On August 18, 2022, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana, in In re BWGS, LLC, No. 19-01487-JMC-7A, 2022 WL 3568045 (Bankr. S.D. Ind. Aug. 18, 2022), narrowly interpreted the safe harbor provision in section 546(e) of the Bankruptcy Code by refusing to dismiss a lawsuit against a guarantor whose liability was eliminated by the debtor’s payment to the bank that held the guarantee.
Overview on Section 546(e) of the Bankruptcy Code
On June 21, 2022, Congress and the President (i) extend the $7.5 million debt limit for Subchapter V eligibility, and (ii) adjust other Subchapter V rules.[Fn. 1]
One of the adjustments is this: