Whats Wrong With 363 Asset Sales? The Problems and Some Proposed Solutions NAAG/NAGTRI Conference Chapter 11 Commission Hearings October 2013 Santa Fe, New Mexico What is a 363 Asset Sale? An asset sale in bankruptcy is the debtors sale or transfer of estate property to a third party outside of the ordinary course of business,
which requires notice to creditors and interested parties, a hearing, and court approval. The problematic asset sales are those that sell substantially all of the debtors assets. 2 How Does a 363 Asset Sale Work? An asset sale requires court approval sought by motion, on notice to all parties who have liens or other interests in the property being sold. The court conducts a hearing. Sales can be done privately or by public auction and
bidding among prospective purchasers is intended. 363(f) and Rule 6004 The validity of an asset sale to a BFP is unaffected by an appeal of the sale order unless the objecting party obtains a stay. 363(m). An order approving the sale is stayed for 14 days after the order, unless the court orders otherwise. R. 6004(h) 3 How Does a 363 Asset Sale Work? Under 363(e), the court may prohibit or condition a sale as is necessary to provide adequate protection to an interest.
The property interests, of which the assets are being sold free and clear, are expected to be satisfied by the proceeds of the sale, thereby providing the property interest holder with adequate protection of its interest. 4 Free and Clear Asset Sale Criteria The debtors property may be sold free and clear of any interest in such property under 363(f), but only if: (1) Applicable non-bankruptcy law permits the sale free and clear of the interest; (2) Entity holding the interest consents;
(3) The interest is a lien and the sale proceeds are greater than the value of all liens on the assets sold; (4) An interest is in bona fide dispute; or (5) An entity could be forced to accept monetary satisfaction of the interest . 5 Basic Bankruptcy Concepts The Code is intended to provide equity and fairness to creditors and to foster their recovery. The Code gives debtors a fresh start, not a free pass. The Code protects the debtors estate, not non-debtor third parties.
The Code is intended to satisfy monetary claims against the debtor with property of the estate. To the extent possible, sales should satisfy all interests affected by the free and clear sale from the proceeds of the sale holders of those interests should have clear notice of what is considered subject to the sale prior to approval. 6 Basic Bankruptcy Concepts Section 363 is an enabling statute to aid equitable estate administration, and does not preempt, override or otherwise affect state law. Integrated Solutions v. Service Support Spec., 124 F.3d 487 (3d
Cir. 1997). The Code sets forth the limits of a debtors rights as well as the courts jurisdictional limits. Bankruptcy is not a haven for debtors or purchasers to avoid compliance with State and federal laws. 7 Newer Concepts Espinosa: Bankruptcy court sua sponte not only can direct the debtor to conform a plan to the Code, but it must do so and it has an affirmative duty to confirm only lawful plans. By extension, the bankruptcy court has a duty
to approve only asset sales that comply with the Code and are lawful under nonbankruptcy law. 8 Newer Concepts Stern v. Marshall: Bankruptcy court lacks jurisdiction to determine State law counterclaim independent of bankruptcy law and not necessarily resolvable by a ruling on the creditor's proof of claim By extension, does a bankruptcy court have jurisdiction to determine a State law claim or issue in the context of a 363 asset sale, such as successor liability for products or environmental liability, tax
rate-setting, labor law, etc.? 9 Why 363 Needs Fixing Sub Rosa Plan. The sale of substantially all of a debtors assets prior to a disclosure statement and plan being proposed results in the elimination of the traditional safeguards of good faith, transparency, fairness, equity, and creditor acceptance built into the plan process, which are necessary for confirmation under 1129. Fairness. Court approval of a 363 sale is based on the debtor only showing business justification or a good business reason (See Lionel, Gucci, Iridium, Chrysler, GM,
et al.); whether the sale is in the best interest of creditors is not necessarily a factor considered. 10 Why 363 Needs Fixing Who benefits? The debtor and its professionals primarily benefit from asset sales that are followed by liquidation (professional fees can be exceedingly high). The stalking horse bidder benefits by virtue of greater access to information and therefore holds a superior position to other potential bidders (break up fees are excessive). After a sale, creditor recovery under the plan allocating
the sales proceeds typically is far less than the cherrypicked creditors whose liabilities are assumed by the buyer in the sale. 11 Why 363 Needs Fixing Not Arms Length. An asset sale is most unfair when (1) a purportedly competitive thirdparty purchaser is an insider or affiliate, (2) the bidding is not truly competitive, or (3) the purchaser merges with or merely continues the business while its successor liability is cut off without regard to applicable non-bankruptcy law (e.g., GM, Chrysler, Urban Telecomm.).
12 Why 363 Needs Fixing Wrong Chapter? A sale of substantially all of the debtors assets outside of a plan means that the debtor plans to liquidate and is therefore in the wrong chapter. Selling off assets and paying creditors is what Chapter 7 trustees do. There is no justification to allowing a debtor to retain control rather than bringing in an independent Chapter 7 to fairly administer and liquidate the estate equitably. 13
Why 363 Needs Fixing Lack of Transparency. Asset sales, particularly ones done urgently, do not sufficiently identify either the precise assets being sold free and clear, or the specific interests being affected. Even in these melting banana cases (to quote Chief Justice Roberts in Piccadilly), the debtor typically completes the sale arrangements prepetition including setting artificial deadlines with the buyer and then uses those same deadlines to force the process forward in its own and the buyers best interests, rather than in the best interests of creditors. 14
Why 363 Needs Fixing Expansive Interpretation. Courts broadly construe 363(f) to find certain governmental interests to be interests in such property from which the assets can be sold free and clear - when those interests are statutory requirements and are not per se interests in the assets being sold. Sale for Purpose of Eliminating Liability. Asset sales are being specifically used for the purpose of eliminating a range of the debtors and the purchasers compliance obligations and liabilities, including products and environmental liabilities, contractual, pension, labor, and tax obligations. 15
Why 363 Needs Fixing No Stay/No Appeal Rights. Sale orders routinely eliminate or significantly shorten the 14-day stay provided in Rule 6004(h), which results in immediate statutory mootness of any objectors appeal under 363(m). Permit Transfer. Courts routinely approve sales that provide for the debtors unilateral transfer of permits to the buyer without required government authorization. 16
The Problem: Sub Rosa Plan Proposed Solution 1 Amend SOFA to add the following Qs: (a) Did pre-bankruptcy planning include the sale of substantially all assets? (b) Was a stalking horse identified pre-petition and what agreements were made at that time (breakup fees, timing of sale, etc.)? (c) What were the pre- and/or post bankruptcy marketing efforts undertaken? (Identify other prospective buyers who expressed interest) (d) What claims will be satisfied by the sale and what is the 506(a) value of those claims?
17 The Problem: Sub Rosa Plan Proposed Solution 2 Amend 363(f) to require that when substantially all of the debtors assets are to be sold outside of a plan, good cause must be shown, including: (a) The sale is in the best interest of creditors and will result in a greater recovery under the liquidation plan; (b) The assets were marketed in accordance with generally accepted practices in the industry; and (c) There is a factual basis for Picadillys melting banana urgency, which is not debtor/buyer-created.
18 The Problem: Wrong Chapter Proposed Solution : Amend Rule 6004 to provide that when substantially all asset sale is proposed, an 1104 trustee is appointed: (1) To obtain limited DIP financing for a 3-4 month period and limit professional fees; (2) To evaluate the value of assets to be sold and the liens/interests in those assets; (3) To assess creditor recovery under reorganization versus liquidation; (4) To assure competitive bidding and an arms length transaction; and (5) To move the debtor to a chapter 7 depending on results of trustee
evaluation/assessment. 19 The Problem: Lack of Transparency Proposed Solution: Amend Rule 6004 to require the sale motion to list the precise assets being sold and to identify the specific interests affected, making clear which of the sellers environmental, pension, contractual and other obligations the purchaser intends to assume, which liabilities will remain with the debtor, which liabilities will be satisfied (or not) by the proceeds from the sale, and whether the
buyer asserts it is exempt from any statutory liabilities by reason of having bought the assets in the 363 sale. 20 The Problem: Expansive Interpretation of 363(f) The Trend. Courts are reading the term free and clear of any interest in such property to include ANY kind of liability or obligation, including experience ratings, environmental liability (purchaser as successor), tort and products liability claims, pension funding obligations, non-monetary rights such as the ability to use standby travel vouchers, etc. There is no limit to what can be treated as an interest in
property under this analysis. All corporate obligations are in some way connected to the corporate assets. Thus, under this analysis virtually any corporate obligation can be considered to be an interest in the assets being sold. 21 The Beginning of the Trend In re Leckie Smokeless Coal, 99 F.3d 573 (4th Cir. 1996) (debtor coal mine operators could sell assets free and clear of pension benefit obligations under the Coal Act because assets being sold were still to be used for coal mining purposes).
22 The Beginning of the Trend In re Trans World Airlines, 322 F.3d 283 (3d Cir. 2003) (assets sold free and clear of employee travel voucher claims, government discrimination claims against TWA because the airline assets being sold were related to the discrimination claims at issue). In re Colarusso, 295 B.R. 166 (B.A.P. 1st Cir. 2003) (363s phrase interest in such property covers more than in rem interests and is at least as broad as the term property of the estate under Section
541). 23 The Trend Picks Up Serious Speed In re Chrysler, 576 F.3d 108 (2d Cir. 2009) (Old Chryslers assets were sold potentially free and clear of New Chryslers successor liability for future tort claims caused by Old Chryslers cars)* In re General Motors, 407 B.R. 463 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. 2009) (same, relying on Chrysler) * Chrysler court refused to define extent of bankruptcy court's authority to extinguish future tort claims (and thereby
run afoul of due process) until presented with an actual claim for an injury that is caused by Old Chrysler, that occurs after the Sale, and that is cognizable under state successor liability law. 24 The Trend Taken to New Limits In re PBBPC, 484 B.R. 860 (1st Cir. BAP 2013) (asset purchaser not subject to debtor's experience rating used to calculate purchaser's future unemployment insurance tax rates for its own operations because rating was an interest," of which debtor's
assets could be sold free and clear). In re Tougher Industries, 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 1228 (Bankr. N.D.N.Y. 2013) (same). 25 Pushing Back: A Narrower Reading In re Grumman Olson, 467 B.R. 694, 702-703 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) ("free and clear" sale order did not prevent plaintiffs from pursuing successor liability tort claims against 363 asset purchaser, based on post-petition injuries suffered while driving a truck made prepetition because enforcing the order would deny plaintiffs due process)
26 A Narrower Reading of 363(f) Folger Adam Security, Inc. v. DeMatteis, 209 F.3d 252, 258 (3d Cir. 2000) (affirmative defenses of setoff/recoupment are not interests in property from which assets were sold free and clear) In re Fairchild Aircraft , 184 B.R. 910, 917-19 (Bankr. W. D. Tex. 1995) vacated on other grounds, 220 B.R. 909 (Bankr. W.D. Tex. 1998) (tort action based on post confirmation injuries caused by defective plane manufactured prior to bankruptcy was not barred against asset purchaser because such an action was not an interest in the assets sold; claims are not interests in the
property; only in rem rights are covered). 27 A Narrower Reading of 363(f) Ninth Avenue Remedial Group v. AllisChalmers Corp., 195 B.R.716, 730-34 (N.D. Ind. 1996) (363 applies to in rem interests in property and not CERCLA cause of action that had not arisen during the pendency of the bankruptcy; approval of asset sale free and clear does not affect or discharge environmental claims brought later against the purchaser under successor liability theory). 28
A Narrower Reading of 363(f) Zerand-Bernal v. Cox, 23 F.3d 159, 162- 64 (7th Cir. 1994) (363(f) does not bar products liability action against asset purchaser because such an action was not an effort to enforce a lien from which assets were free and clear; bankruptcy court does not have power to order such a release of liability for the successor if its exists). In re Wolverine Radio, 930 F.2d 1132, 1147 (6th Cir. 1991), ("interest" under 363 is one that attaches "to the property so as to cloud its title." thus, debtor's past experience rating was not an "interest").
29 A Narrower Reading of 363(f); Tax-Related Interests Excluded from 363(f)s Reach In re Eveleth Mines, 318 B.R. 682 (BAP 8th Cir. 2004) (under Tax Injunction Act bankruptcy court must abstain when State-law tax issues are raised in motion to enforce 363 sale order free and clear of tax calculation; reversing on jurisdictional grounds bankruptcy courts underlying rejection of Leckie and TWA, and holding that State tax action against the 363 purchaser of a debtors mine was not barred by sale because tax calculation was not an
interest in the property sold). . 30 Defining Interest in Such Property The word in [such property ] means something. 363 sales historically affected only in rem interests, such as UCC and other liens, mortgages, judgments and other classic real or personal property encumbrances that created direct rights in the assets being sold. See Collier 14th Ed. (1978). 363s original purpose was to make the assets marketable and the estate more easily administered, while protecting those secured interests, which attached to the sale
proceeds. The sale merely transferred an interest holders rights against a tangible asset into rights against the sale proceeds. 31 Defining Interest in Such Property? The definition of a property interest is governed by State real property laws and the UCC, which construe it as a compensable right or security interest in real or personal property, carrying with it the right of enforcement (e.g., by foreclosure) against the property in which the holder has a direct interest. The Supreme Court, citing Blacks LD, says the commonly
understood definition of a property interest is a legal share in something; all or part of a legal or equitable claim to or a right in property. Schwab v. Reilly, 560 U.S. 770 (2010). 32 Defining Interest in Such Property: Statutory Construction The maxim noscitur a sociis, that a word is known by the company it keeps, while not an inescapable rule, is often wisely applied where a word is capable of many meanings in order to avoid the giving of unintended breadth to
Acts of Congress. Jarecki v. G.D. Searle & Co., 367 U.S. 303, 307 (1961) 33 Defining Interest in Property: 363s Language 363 uses a variety of words (i.e., the company being kept) in discussing property interests - all have an in rem connotation : (1) security interest (2) liens (3) encumbrances,
(4) vested or contingent right in the nature of dower or curtsey (5) undivided interest as a tenant in common, joint tenant, or tenant by the entirety (6) co-owner 34 The Problem: Expansive Reading of 363(f) Proposed Solution: Amend 363 to: (1) Clarify that interest in property means only direct in rem interests (liens, security interests, encumbrances, ownership interests) in the assets being sold for which the
creditor can be required to accept money in satisfaction under non-bankruptcy law; (2) Specifically require that interests attach to the proceeds in the same order as under non-bankruptcy law; and (3) Exclude claims or interests that a party may be able to assert against a purchaser as a successor under applicable nonbankruptcy law. 35 Justification Brings consistency to 363 with the usage of the term interest under the rest of the Code; Limits free and clear sales to interests that can be forced to accept monetary payments (resolving issues
associated with easements and covenants and whether they can be eliminated by a free and clear sale); Eliminates cherry-picking by debtor and/or buyer to pay some creditors preferentially (e.g., by liability assumption), but not pay others who may hold claims in a similar class - or even higher priority); 36 Justification Clarifies that successorship rights and liabilities are not affected by free and clear sale except as allowed by non-bankruptcy law; Clarifies that buyers cannot avoid their own liabilities
under non-bankruptcy law that do not arise from claims against debtor; Preserves due process rights of future claimants (tort, products, environmental); Adds a clear statement about interests attaching to proceeds. 37 The Problem: Sales for the Sole Purpose of Liability Avoidance Proposed Solution Borrowing the intention behind the protective language in 1129(d), which prohibits confirmation if the plans principal purpose is tax or
securities law avoidance, 363 also should be amended to provide: On request of a party in interest that is a governmental unit, the court may not approve a sale of substantially all of the debtors assets if the principal purpose of the sale is the avoidance of environmental or other liability to a governmental unit under State or federal laws. 38 Problem: Improperly Affecting Purchasers Obligations 363 motions often purport to affect the Purchasers
obligations to comply with applicable environmental laws as the new owner or operator of property. Those obligations are not affected by an asset sale or by bankruptcy - and this principle is now wellestablished. Ohio v. Kovacs, 469 U.S. 274, 285 (1985); In re General Motors, 407 B.R. 463, 508 (S.D.N.Y. 2009). The Government is forced to object on this ground, and typically prevails on the objection, but this concept needs to be clearly stated in 363. 39 The Problem: Purchasers Obligations The Proposed Solution
Nothing in an order approving an asset sale shall be construed to affect any liability to a governmental unit under applicable nonbankruptcy law that any entity would be subject to as the owner or operator of property. 40 The Problem: Eliminating Purchasers Successor Liability Sales routinely include provisions, later approved in the 363 order, that eliminates the purchasers liability as a successor to the debtor. Nothing in the Code actually
authorizes such a non-bankruptcy law result. While the law of successorship is fairly narrow and most arms length sales would not result in liability in any event, the court lacks authority to eliminate liability by fiat. 41 The Problem: Successor Liability The Solution Amend 363 to provide: (1) Nothing in the order approving a sale shall affect the purchasers future liability under applicable State or federal law.
(2) The debtor and purchaser may request a determination based on a factual record and pursuant to applicable law that successorship does not result, but may not simply eliminate liability in a factual and legal vacuum. 42 Justification Due Process. Preserves rights of those not before the court. Certainty. After sale, debtor and purchaser both understand their respective liabilities/obligations to creditors. Purchaser can no longer expect liabilities to be eliminated if the transaction as a matter of law results in
mere continuation of the business, or de facto merger, or is fraudulent so as to create state law liability. Purchaser cannot assert that a successor liability provision is an inducement to the asset purchase if it is no longer authorized. 43 The Problem: Eliminating the Stay/ Statutory Mootness The Proposed Solution: Amend 6004 to require good cause shown for any waiver or shortening of the 14-day stay, and to provide that a provision in the purchase agreement or
other agreement between the debtor and the purchaser is insufficient to create good cause. 44 Justification Objectors are entitled to their day in court to raise legitimate jurisdictional and substantive issues, as long as they exercise their rights quickly to preserve the value of the assets sold. Depriving them of that right is contrary to well-settled jurisprudence.
45 The Problem: Permits Transferred The Proposed Solution: Amend 363 to provide: Nothing in an order approving an asset sale shall authorize the transfer or assignment to the purchaser of any license, permit, registration, authorization, or approval issued by a governmental unit except in accordance with applicable non-bankruptcy law governing such transfer or assignment. Or Amend 363 to allow conditional approval pending the governments authorization to transfer permits.
46 Justification Protection of Public. Government approval of permit transfer serves important legal and public policy purposes. No surprises. The purchaser becomes known to the regulator before closing and obtains a clear understanding of the permit requirements, reporting and other obligations, regulatory status of the assets, etc. Timing. Government approval of the permit transfer to the purchaser can be expedited. Sale Objections Avoided.
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