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St. John's Case Blog

By: Christopher Atlee F. Arcitio

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

In general, a debtor may, subject to court approval, retain and pay professionals, including attorneys, under section 327 of the chapter 11 Bankruptcy Code. It is unclear, however, who is responsible for paying a professional retained by a debtor’s professional. The United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Idaho held in a chapter 11 bankruptcy case that a court-approved accountant can be statutorily barred from recovering legal fees from the debtor. Debtor, Walker Land & Cattle, L.L.C., filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and requested permission to use cash collateral. Upon the request of Creditor, Wells Fargo Bank, the court required the debtor to provide audited financial statements. The court approved the employment of accountant Judith K. Bower (“Bower”) to conduct the audit. Bower conducted the audit within five months. After the audit, the creditor issued a notice to depose Bower. The creditor subsequently issued a subpoena for Bower to testify at the debtor’s confirmation hearing. Bower retained counsel for both the deposition and hearing. Bower subsequently sought $7,735 for reimbursement of her attorney’s fees from the debtor. The court denied the request, finding that Bower did not prove the legal fees were necessary expenses under section 330 of the Bankruptcy Code. Therefore, Bower could not recover such fees as reimbursement expenses.

January 5 2016

By: Lindsay Lersner


St. John’s Law Student


American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff


The culmination of a chapter 11 case is typically a plan that provides for payment to creditors in accordance with the priority scheme in Section 507 of the United States Bankruptcy Code (“Code”).[1] In In re Jevic Holding Corp. , the Third Circuit held that in certain rare circumstances, bankruptcy courts have the discretion to approve structured dismissals, which do not comply with Section 507 of the Code.[2] A structured dismissal is a settlement proposed to the court that provides for the distribution of the debtor’s assets to creditors.[3] In In re Jevic , the debtor proposed a structured dismissal after reaching a consensus with a majority of its creditors.[4] The Jevic truck drivers (“Drivers”), former employees of Jevic with a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (“WARN”) claim,[5] however, did not agree to the settlement.[6] In opposing bankruptcy court approval of the settlement and the structured dismissal, the Drivers argued that (1) the Code does not allow for structured dismissals and (2) the settlement paid the creditors with claims junior to the Drivers’ WARN claims and therefore violated the priority scheme established under Section 507.[7] Bankruptcy settlements generally follow the absolute priority rule, which requires that creditors be paid in the order of their priority under Section 507.[8] The bankruptcy court overruled the Drivers’ objection and approved the settlement providing for the dismissal of the debtor’s chapter 11 case upon payment of certain administrative and tax expenses which were lower in priority than the Drivers’ claims.[9] On appeal, the district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s decision.[10] The Drivers appealed again, and the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit also affirmed.[11]

January 5 2016

By: Megan Kuzniewski

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

11 U.S.C. Section 523 lists certain debts that may not be discharged by a debtor’s bankruptcy.[1] In particular, 11 U.S.C. Section 523(a)(2)(A) (“Section 523(a)(2)(A)”) provides that a debtor who files a bankruptcy will not be discharged of debts that were obtained by “false pretenses, a false representation, or actual fraud, other than a statement respecting the debtor’s or an insider’s financial condition.”[2] False representations, such as those described in Section 523(a)(2)(A), carry a scienter requirement which requires that it be shown that an individual knowingly made false statements or representations.[3] In In re Bocchino , the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that gross recklessness satisfies the scienter requirement of Section 523(a)(2)(A).[4] In S.E.C. v. Bocchino , the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) filed a lawsuit against Bocchino, a stockbroker, in the District Court of the Southern District of New York.[5] The district court found Bocchino civilly liable for “inducing investors via high pressure sales tactics and material misrepresentations” and entered a judgment against him totaling $178,967.55, including disgorgement of fees, interest, and civil penalties.[6] Thereafter, Bocchino filed for chapter 13 bankruptcy protection.[7] The SEC petitioned the bankruptcy court for a judgment declaring the judgments against Bocchino nondischargeable under Section 523(a)(2)(A).[8] The SEC argued that Bocchino had obtained the funds “by… false pretenses, a false representation, or actual fraud.”[9] Bocchino had sought investors for two ventures that turned out to be fraudulent.[10] He began seeking out investments without doing any independent research into the ventures, despite there being cause for suspicion.[11] The bankruptcy court found that, although “Bocchino did not knowingly make any false statements,” the scienter requirement of Section 523(a)(2)(A) “may be satisfied by grossly reckless behavior.”[12] The bankruptcy court discharged the civil penalty portion of the judgment but concluded that the remaining portions of the judgment were nondischargeable under Section 523(a)(2)(A).[13] Bocchino appealed this finding.[13] On appeal, the district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s decision,[15] and thereafter, the Third Circuit also affirmed the lower court.[16]

January 5 2016

By: Peter Collorafi

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

In August 2015, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York determined, inter alia, that the Joint Compulsory Liquidators for Hellas Telecommunications (Luxembourg) II SCA (“Hellas II”) could amend their original complaint to include a foreign fraudulent transfer claim under Section 423 of the United Kingdom Insolvency Act of 1986 (“Section 423”) against certain United States defendants. The plaintiffs filed their initial complaint seeking to avoid and recover an initial transfer of approximately €1.57 billion made by Hellas II to its parent entity and a subsequent series of transfers totaling €973.7 million made to several named defendants and an unnamed class of transferees. The plaintiffs’ initial complaint contained actual and constructive fraudulent transfer claims under New York law in addition to an unjust enrichment claim under unspecified law. The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ New York law fraudulent transfer claims for lack of standing and, consequently, the plaintiffs sought to amend their complaint.

January 5 2016

By: Nicolas Berg

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

In certain instances, a professional, such as a financial advisor, may contract the right to receive a “success fee” from a debtor in bankruptcy.[1] The courts have established different tests for awarding a success fee.[2] In In re Valence Technology , the United States District Court in the Western District of Texas held that KPMG was entitled to a success fee from Valence Tech for closing a $50 million dollar debt-equity conversion, but it was not entitled to a similar fee for closing a $20 million capital loan.[3] After filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy, Valence Tech hired KPMG to assist with necessary financial restructuring advice.[4] Pursuant to their agreement, if KPMG’s work resulted in “any consideration” from Valence Tech’s primary financier, Berg & Berg, KPMG would be entitled to a “success fee” of 1.25% of the value of that consideration or no less than $500,000.[5] Valence Tech received two payments from Berg & Berg: (1) a $50 million debt-to-equity conversion and (2) a $20 million capital loan.[6] While KPMG contended that it was entitled to the 1.25% success fee for both payments, Valence Tech argued that it should not have to pay the success fee for either payment.[7] The bankruptcy court concluded that under the agreement KPMG was entitled to the success fee for the debt-to-equity conversion.[8] The court, however, denied KPMG’s request for the success fee for the capital loan.[9] Valence Tech appealed the bankruptcy court’s ruling to the district court maintaining that KPMG was not entitled to a success fee for either transaction while KPMG cross-appealed to argue for payment of the success fee in connection with the capital loan.[10] To settle the dispute, the district court analyzed the agreement to determine whether the capital loan should be included in the meaning of “any consideration.”[11] Noting the sophistication of the parties, the district court found the contract described two potential scenarios: (1) a “Private Placement” coming from any party other than Berg & Berg resulting in a 2.5% fee for KPMG, and (2) a “Private Placement” coming from Berg & Berg reducing KPMG’s fee to 1.25%.[12] The district court reasoned that either way the contract defined “Private Placement” as having “Private Placement Value,” which necessarily included equity linked financing.[13] Therefore, according to the district court, the $50 million debt-equity conversion qualified as a “Private Placement,” which entitled KPMG to the agreed upon 1.25% “success fee.”[14] The $20 million capital loan did not qualify because it was not linked to any equity.[15]

January 5 2016

By: Adam Lau

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

In In re Overseas Shipholding Group, Inc., a bankruptcy court held that rejection of a lease by a debtor constituted a pre-petition breach of the lease and was not a termination of the lease. The debtor, Overseas Shipholding Group, Inc., entered into a lease agreement with TST/Commerz East Building (“TST”) that was set to expire on December 31, 2020. Two years into the lease, debtor subleased a part of the space to Maritime Overseas Corporation (“Maritime”). After filing voluntary petitions under chapter 11, the debtor and Maritime entered into a stipulation with the assignee of TST whereby the debtor and Maritime agreed to reject the lease and the sublease. Maritime then vacated the premises and proceeded to file a claim against debtor for $30,788.32 for return of its security deposit under the sublease, but amended its claim, adding $367,858 for damages from rejection of the sublease, including moving expenses, increased rent, electricity, and legal fees relating to Maritime’s relocation. The debtor objected to the amended claim, and asked the court to disallow the claim for rejection damages and to limit the recovery to the amount of the security deposit. The debtor argued that the rejection of the lease constituted a termination of the lease, which would, under Clause 2 in the sublease, preclude Maritime from recovering rejection damages. Clause 2 provided that, “this Sublease shall terminate (in whole or in part, as applicable) on the date of such termination as if such date had been specified in this Sublease as the Expiration Date and Tenant shall have no liability to Subtenant with respect to such termination.” The debtor relied on Chatlos Systems, Inc. v. Kaplan, where the court held that a debtor’s rejection of a non-residential lease resulted in termination of the lease. In response, Maritime argued the Bankruptcy Code establishes that the rejection of the overlease was not a termination of the lease but merely a pre-petition breach. The court was not persuaded by the debtor’s argument, finding that the Chatlos case was not applicable because that case involved a lessee of the debtor who chose to remain in possession of the property, whereas Maritime did not elect to remain on the premises. However, while the bankruptcy court agreed with Maritime’s argument that the rejection of the lease constituted a breach and not termination, Maritime was still precluded from claiming rejection damages because Clause 22(j) in the sublease provided that the “subtenant shall look solely to Tenant's interests in the Lease to enforce Tenant's obligations hereunder and shall not seek any damages against Tenant or any of the Tenant's Related Parties.”

December 29 2015

By: Amanda Hoffman

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

In In re Johns-Manville Corporation, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York enforced orders it issued in 1986, confirming a plan (the “Plan”) of reorganization for Johns-Manville. Pursuant to the Plan, a settlement agreement was reached in which insurers contributed $770 million to a trust benefitting asbestos personal injury claimants. In exchange, the insurers of Johns-Manville, including long-time insurer Marsh USA (“Marsh”), were relieved of all liability related to their insurance of Johns-Manville and the insurers would be protected from claims via injunctive orders of the Bankruptcy Court. Marsh contributed $29.75 million to the trust in exchange for the injunction, which barred future claimants from bringing action against Marsh as an insurer of Johns-Manville. This settlement agreement was approved by the court, resulting in the court entering a confirmation order of the Plan (the “Confirmation Order), and an Insurance Settlement Order, together known as the “1986 Orders”. Under the 1986 Orders, Johns-Manville and its insurers were released from further liability, but present and future claimants could claim against the trust. Part of the settlement agreement included the appointment of a legal representative by the Bankruptcy Court, in order to ensure the rights of future claimants.

December 29 2015

By: Arielle Cummings

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

With certain limited exceptions, an individual debtor may have his debts discharged in bankruptcy. Debts resulting from a debtor’s fraud, however, are generally not dischargeable. In In re Glenn, the United States Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s holding that if a debt is the result of fraud, the court can discharge the debt in bankruptcy if the debtor was not complicit in the fraud and that the court can still discharge the debt even if the fraud was created by the debtor’s agent, provided, again, that the debtor was not complicit in it. In Glenn, the defendants, the Glenns, asked a loan broker, Karen Chung to get them a short-term “bridge” loan of $250,000. Chung told the Glenns that a bank had agreed to give the Glenns a $1 million line of credit, but that the line for credit would not be available for a few weeks—hence the need for the “bridge” loan. Brian Sullivan, a lawyer and friend of Chung, agreed to lend the Glenns the $250,000. The loan was never repaid and the $1 million line of credit was never approved because Chung never applied for it in the first place. The Glenns declared bankruptcy and the lower court found that neither of the Glenns had committed fraud and refused to impute Chung’s fraud to either of them under an agency theory. The court granted the Glenn’s discharge. The court reasoned that “[p]roof that a debtor’s agent obtains money by fraud does not justify the denial of discharge to the debtor, unless it is accompanied by proof which demonstrates or justifies an inference that the debtor knew or should have known of the fraud.”

December 29 2015

By: Anna Chen

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

In Cantu v. Schmidt (In Re Cantu), the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that malpractice claims that arise during chapter 11 reorganization but before chapter 7 liquidation belong to the bankruptcy estate. In Cantu, the debtors, the Cantus, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. The debtors hired an attorney, Ellen Stone, to represent them in the bankruptcy case. Upon the request of a group of creditors, the bankruptcy court converted the debtors’ chapter 11 case to chapter 7 and a trustee was appointed. Following conversion, the creditors filed a complaint seeking a judgment declaring that the debtors’ debts were not dischargeable. After a two-day trial, the bankruptcy court determined that the debtors’ debts would not be discharged. The court pointed out a number of “omissions, misstatements, and controversies” that plagued the chapter 11 bankruptcy, such as the Cantus’ failure to disclose significant assets and transactions, an improper transfer of $50,000 of what would have been estate property to a close friend during the bankruptcy case, and the Cantus’ lack of cooperation with the court and trustee. A few years later, the Cantus hired an attorney to investigate a possible legal malpractice claim against Stone for her representation during the Cantus’ bankruptcy. The trustee informed the new counsel that he believed the claims against Stone were “property of the estate and under the trustee’s sole authority to prosecute.” The bankruptcy court agreed with the trustee and authorized him to investigate the legal malpractice claims. After conducting his investigation, the trustee filed a malpractice suit against Stone in state court. After removal to federal court, Stone and the trustee settled for $281,710.54. The district court referred the case to the bankruptcy court to determine whether the settlement proceeds belonged to the debtors or the bankruptcy estate. The bankruptcy court held that the settlement proceeds belonged to the estate. On appeal, the district court and the Fifth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court’s decision, holding that the proceeds belonged to the debtors’ estate.

December 29 2015

By: Alana Friedberg

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Recently, in Royal v. First Interstate Bank (In re Trierweiler), the Tenth Circuit held that a mortgage granted in favor of the private electronic database Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”), which records transfers of notes and mortgages, was enforceable as to a bankruptcy trustee even though the promissory note was held by a third-party. In Trierweiler, the debtors took out a loan from and granted a mortgage to First Interstate Bank (“First Interstate”) in order to purchase real property. The mortgage identified First Interstate as the “lender,” and MERS as both the “mortgagee” and the “nominee for the lender and lender’s successors and assigns.” Sometime thereafter, First Interstate assigned the note to Fannie Mae, but remained as the servicer for the loan. The debtors subsequently defaulted on the loan and filed for bankruptcy under chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. The chapter 7 trustee then sought to avoid the mortgage, using his “strong arm” powers under section 544(a). In particular, the chapter 7 trustee claimed that MERS “was powerless to foreclose on the property” because it did not hold the note and instead was merely the mortgagee. The trustee also claimed that while Fannie Mae held the note, it “had no ability to enforce the mortgage because it was not listed as the mortgagee in the land records . . . .” Therefore, the trustee asserted that this “combination rendered the mortgage unenforceable and void as to [him].” The bankruptcy court, however, rejected the trustee’s arguments and ruled that the mortgage was a properly recorded and enforceable security interest that could not be avoided in bankruptcy.[13] On appeal, the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Tenth Circuit and the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit both affirmed.

April 2 2015