Justia Commercial Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Bankruptcy
Long v. Piercy
Long and the Piercys operated a Tennessee quarry. Their agreement was silent as to whether their division of “profit” would be based on gross profit after payment of a royalty or net profit after payment of the royalty plus other costs. Based on the division of labor and respective contributions, Long believed that the four individuals should receive equal shares of the gross profit. When Long complained, the Piercys padlocked him off the property and threatened to call the sheriff, then stopped paying Long. A state court chancellor found that Long was entitled to the difference between what the Piercys had paid him and what Long should have received ($151,670.87) but rejected Long’s claim for lost anticipated profits, declining to find that the Piercys breached the partnership agreement but assessing costs against the Piercys.The Piercys sought Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief. Long initiated adversary proceedings, seeking a declaration that the judgment was nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(4) for debts incurred by embezzlement, or through defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity. The Sixth Circuit reversed the bankruptcy court and district court. Long’s state-court judgment may be declared nondischargeable if Long can produce evidence of wrongful intent. The state-court judgment is unclear as to the basis for its relief and does not preclude a finding of fraud. Under the Tennessee Revised Uniform Partnership Act, partners owe each other fiduciary duties. View "Long v. Piercy" on Justia Law
Bash v. Textron Financial Corp.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision rejecting the bankruptcy trustee's efforts seeking to avoid payments from Fair Finance to Textron as fraudulent transfers under Ohio's Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (OUFTA).The court concluded that the district court correctly rejected the trustee's bad-faith-invalidation argument at summary judgment. In this case, Textron's actions did not render its perfected interest ineffective against the holder of a judicial lien subsequently obtained in a hypothetical UCC priority contest. Therefore, Textron enjoyed a valid lien under OUFTA. The court explained that its conclusion is grounded in the nature of the UCC's priority test as well as critical distinctions between normal priority disputes and the OUFTA valid-lien test. The court also concluded that loan payments encumbered by the perfected 2002 security interest are not transfers under OUFTA and thus cannot be avoided as fraudulent transfers. The court disagreed with the trustee that the jury erred in determining that the 2004 changes did not amount to a novation and concluded that, to the extent there was an error in the jury instruction, it was harmless. The court rejected the trustee's additional argument to the contrary. View "Bash v. Textron Financial Corp." on Justia Law
Deutsche Bank Trust Co. v. U.S. Energy Development Corp.
Texas and Oklahoma oil and gas producers challenge the bankruptcy court's grant in part and denial in part of Deutsche Bank's motion for partial summary judgment in a lien priority dispute. The competing security interests arose out of proceeds from the sale of oil that debtor purchased from appellants before declaring bankruptcy.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court's order, holding that the bankruptcy court did not err in holding that the warranty of title did not waive the Producers' rights to assert a lien under either Texas UCC 9.343 or the Oklahoma Lien Act; because the warranties did not waive Producers' claims to proceeds in the hands of debtor, the Bank's reliance is misplaced on cases where producers attempted to collect from purchasers downstream of the first purchasers; and following Fishback Nursery, Inc. v. PNC Bank, N.A., 920 F.3d 932, 939-40 (5th Cir. 2019), Delaware law governs the competing priorities under either Texas choice of law or the federal independent judgment test. The court affirmed the bankruptcy court's conclusion that the Bank's interests in the disputed collateral prime any interests held by the Texas Producers. Furthermore, the bankruptcy court correctly dismissed the Producers' affirmative defenses of estoppel, unclean hands, and waiver. View "Deutsche Bank Trust Co. v. U.S. Energy Development Corp." on Justia Law
EPLET, LLC v. DTE Pontiac North, LLC
In 2007, GM sold a power plant to DTEPN, which leased the land under the plant for 10 years. DTEPN agreed to sell utilities produced at the plant to GM, to maintain the plant according to specific criteria, and to address any environmental issues. DTEPN’s parent company, Energy, guaranteed DTEPN’s utility, environmental, and maintenance obligations. Two years later, GM filed for bankruptcy. GM and DTEPN agreed to GM’s rejection of the contracts. DTEPN exercised its right to continue occupying the property. An environmental trust (RACER) assumed ownership of some GM industrial property, including the DTEPN land. DTEPN remained in possession until the lease expired. RACER then discovered that DTEPN had allowed the power plant to fall into disrepair and contaminate the property.The district court dismissed the claims against Energy, reasoning that RACER’s allegations did not support piercing the corporate veil and Energy’s guaranty terminated after GM rejected the contracts in bankruptcy.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Michigan courts have held that a breach of contract can justify piercing a corporate veil if the corporate form has been abused. By allegedly directing its wholly-owned subsidiary to stop maintaining the property, Energy exercised control over DTEPN in a way that wronged RACER. DTEPN is now judgment-proof because it was not adequately capitalized by Energy. RACER would suffer an unjust loss if the corporate veil is not pierced. Rejection in bankruptcy does not terminate the contract; the contract is considered breached, 11 U.S.C. 365(g). The utility services agreement and the lease are not severable from each other. Energy guaranteed DTEPN’s obligations under the utility agreement concerning maintenance, environmental costs, and remediation, so Energy’s guaranty is joined to DTEPN’s section 365(h) election. View "EPLET, LLC v. DTE Pontiac North, LLC" on Justia Law
Sutton 58 Associates LLC v. Pilevsky
The Court of Appeals held that federal bankruptcy law did not preempt Plaintiff's state law claims asserted against non-debtor third parties for tortious interference with a contract.Plaintiff loaned $147,250,000 to nonparties "Mezz Borrower" and "Mortgage Borrower" (collectively, Borrowers). Borrowers later defaulted, and Plaintiff sought to conduct a foreclosure sale of Mezz Borrower's 100 percent membership interest in Mortgage Borrower pursuant to the pledge and security agreement. Mezz Borrower and Mortgage Borrower subsequently filed separate voluntary petitions for chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court. Plaintiff then commenced this action in state court alleging that Defendants had tortiously interfered with the loan agreements between Plaintiff and the nonparty borrowers. Defendants - various affiliated persons and entities - moved for summary judgment on the ground that the action was preempted by the Bankruptcy Code. Supreme Court denied the motion, holding that the action was not preempted because it did not involve the bankruptcy. The Appellate Division reversed, concluding that Plaintiff's claims were preempted by federal law because damages arose only because of the bankruptcy filings. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Defendants failed to meet their burden of establishing that federal bankruptcy law preempted Plaintiff's tortious interference claims. View "Sutton 58 Associates LLC v. Pilevsky" on Justia Law
Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Co. v. Keach
In this case, a byproduct of litigation stemming from the derailment of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, Ltd. (MMA) freight train carrying crude oil in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the First Circuit affirmed the district court's entry of judgment in favor of Robert Keath, the estate representative of MMA, and against creditor Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Company, holding that, giving due deference to the fact-finder's resolution of the burden of proof, the judgment must be affirmed.One month after the derailment, MMA filed a voluntary petition for protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Wheeling instituted an adversary proceeding in the bankruptcy court against MMA and the estate representative, seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the existence and priority of its security interest in certain property of the MMA estate. The case involved intricate questions concerning secured transactions, carriage of goods, and corporate reorganization. After a settlement, the bankruptcy court ruled in favor of the estate representative. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) ultimately, this case turned on principals relating to the allocation of the burden of proof and the deference due to the finder of fact; and (2) giving due deference to the fact-finder's resolution of the burden of proof issue, the district court's judgment must be affirmed. View "Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Co. v. Keach" on Justia Law
Whirlpool Corp. v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.
In 2011 Wells Fargo entered into a loan and security agreement with hhgregg to provide the retailer with operating credit. Wells Fargo had a perfected first-priority, floating lien on nearly all of hhgregg’s assets. In 2017, hhgregg petitioned for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, owing Wells Fargo $66 million. Wells Fargo agreed to provide debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing in return for a priming, first-priority security interest on substantially all of hhgregg’s assets, including existing and after-acquired inventory and its proceeds. The bankruptcy judge approved the DIP financing agreement and the super-priority security interest. Whirlpool had long delivered home appliances to hhgregg on credit for resale. Three days after the approval of the DIP financing, Whirlpool sent a reclamation demand seeking the return of $16.3 million of unpaid inventory delivered during 45 days before the petition date and filed an adversary complaint, seeking a declaration that its reclamation claim was first in priority as to the reclaimed goods. Reorganization proved unsuccessful. The bankruptcy judge authorized hhgregg to sell its inventory—including the Whirlpool goods—in going-out-of-business sales and entered summary judgment for Wells Fargo.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Reclamation is a limited remedy that permits a seller to recover possession of goods delivered to an insolvent purchaser, subject to significant restrictions, 11 U.S.C. 546(c). A seller’s right to reclaim goods is “subject to the prior rights of a holder of a security interest in such goods or the proceeds thereof.” Whirlpool’s later-in-time reclamation demand is “subject to” Wells Fargo’s prior rights as a secured creditor; its reclamation claim is subordinate to the DIP financing lien. View "Whirlpool Corp. v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law
Wells Fargo, N.A. v. Bear Stearns & Co., Inc.
HomeBanc, in the residential mortgage loan business, obtained financing from Bear Stearns under 2005 repurchase agreements and transferred multiple securities to Bear Stearns. In 2007 HomeBanc failed to repurchase the securities or pay for an extension of the due date. Bear Stearns issued a notice of default. HomeBanc filed voluntary bankruptcy petitions. Bear Stearns, claiming outright ownership of the securities, auctioned them to determine their fair market value. After the auction closed, Bear Stearns’s finance desk determined that Bear Stearns’s mortgage trading desk had won. Bear Stearns allocated the $60.5 million bid across 36 securities. HomeBanc believed itself entitled to the August 2007 principal and interest payments from the securities. HomeBanc claimed conversion, breach of contract, and violation of the automatic bankruptcy stay. Following multiple rounds of litigation, the district court found that Bear Stearns acted reasonably and in good faith. The Third Circuit affirmed. A bankruptcy court’s determination of good faith regarding an obligatory post-default valuation of collateral subject to a repurchase agreement receives mixed review. Factual findings are reviewed for clear-error while the ultimate issue of good faith receives plenary review. Bear Stearns liquidated the securities at issue in good faith compliance with the Repurchasing Agreement. Bear Stearns never claimed damages; 11 U.S.C. 101(47)(A)(v) “damages,” which may trigger the requirements of 11 U.S.C. 562, require a non-breaching party to bring a legal claim for damages. The broader safe harbor protections of 11 U.S.C. 559 were relevant. View "Wells Fargo, N.A. v. Bear Stearns & Co., Inc." on Justia Law
First Midwest Bank v. Reinbold
The debtor obtained a commercial loan from Bank. The agreement dated March 9, 2015, granted Bank a security interest in substantially all of the debtor’s assets, described in 26 categories of collateral, such as accounts, cash, equipment, instruments, goods, inventory, and all proceeds of any assets. Bank filed a financing statement with the Illinois Secretary of State, to cover “[a]ll Collateral described in First Amended and Restated Security Agreement dated March 9, 2015.” Two years later, the debtor defaulted and filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. Bank sought to recover $7.6 million on the loan and filed a declaration that its security interest was properly perfected and senior to the interests of all other claimants. The trustee countered that the security interest was not properly perfected because its financing statement did not independently describe the underlying collateral, but instead incorporated the list of assets by reference, and cited 11 U.S.C. 544(a), which empowers a trustee to avoid interests in the debtor’s property that are unperfected as of the petition date. The bankruptcy court ruled that ”[a] financing statement that fails to contain any description of collateral fails to give the particularized kind of notice” required by UCC Article 9. The trustee sold the assets for $1.9 million and holds the proceeds pending resolution of this dispute. The Seventh Circuit reversed, citing the plain and ordinary meaning of the Illinois UCC statute, and how courts typically treat financing statements. View "First Midwest Bank v. Reinbold" on Justia Law
IPC (USA), Inc. v. Ellis
U.C.C. 9-319(a), which grants a consignee "rights and title to the goods," also grants the consignee an interest in the proceeds of those goods that were generated prior to bankruptcy. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy appellate panel's decision affirming the bankruptcy court's grant of summary judgment for the bankruptcy trustee who brought an adversary proceeding seeking avoidance of transfers.Under settled bankruptcy law, if a consignee files for bankruptcy, any consigned "goods" in its possession become property of the bankruptcy estate unless the seller has previously provided public notice of its interest in the goods (normally by filing a document known as a "financing statement") and thereby "perfected" its interest. The panel held that this rule also extended to the proceeds from goods sold that are held by the consignee on the date it files for bankruptcy. View "IPC (USA), Inc. v. Ellis" on Justia Law