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Bankruptcy Headlines

In re 56 Walker LLC—The Resurrection of the Gifting Doctrine?

By: Brianna Walsh

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Recently, in In re 56 Walker LLC, a bankruptcy court overruled a debtor’s objection a secured creditor’s proposed order providing for the distribution of the proceeds from the sale of real property that was the debtor’s sole asset pursuant to the debtor’s confirmed plan of reorganization even though the secured creditor “gifted” a portion of its recovery to a junior class because, among other reasons, the court found that the distribution scheme would not violate the absolute priority rule. In 56 Walker, the debtor pledged a six-story mixed-use building, its sole asset, as security for an $8 million mortgage loan. After the debtor defaulted one year later, the bank that had acquired the mortgage loan from an FDIC receivership commenced a foreclosure action in New York state court. Subsequently, the debtor filed for bankruptcy under chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in order to stay the foreclosure proceeding. This first case was ultimately dismissed. Following dismissal of the debtor’ first chapter 11 case, the bank resumed the foreclosure action in state court and moved for summary judgment. The debtor then crossed-moved for summary judgment, arguing that the bank had not provided adequate proof that it was the assignee of the mortgage or the note and that the bank was liable for certain lender-liability claims. The state court granted the bank’s motion for summary judgment of foreclosure and denied the debtor’s cross-motion. The debtor timely filed a notice of appeal. Prior to the state court entering the bank’s proposed judgment of foreclosure, the debtor filed a second chapter 11 case. Ultimately, the debtor confirmed a consensual plan of reorganization and sold the property for $18 million. After selling the property, the debtor objected to, among others, the bank’s claim. In its decision, the court overruled the debtor’s objection and directed the bank to settle an order to provide for the distribution of the sales proceeds. The bank then filed a proposed order, providing that (i) the bank would have a distribution in the amount of $15.1 million, (ii) another mortgage lender would have a distribution in the amount of $150,000, (iii) a mechanic’s lien holder would have a distribution in the amount of $400,000, (iv) another mechanic’s lien holder would have a distribution of $350,000, (v) the debtor’s counsel would have an administrative claim for fees and expenses capped at $250,000, and (vi) the remaining funds would be distributed to the debtor’s unsecured creditors. Equity would not receive a distribution under the proposed order. The debtor objected to the proposed order, arguing, among other things, that the proposed distribution to a mechanic’s lien holder was premature because the debtor’s previous objection to the mechanic’s lien holder’s claim was still pending. The court, however, overruled the debtor’s objection to the proposed order, noting that the only reason the mechanic’s lien holder would receive anything was the bank’s willingness to forgo part of its claim and “gift” it to the junior secured creditors.

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Defining Residency Under the Federal Homestead Exemption

By: Sally A. Profeta

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Recently, in In re Abraham, a bankruptcy court held that debtors living in Iran could not claim the federal homestead exemption for their real property located in New Jersey because the property did not qualify as their “residence” under section 522(d)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code. In Abraham, the married debtors moved to Tehran, Iran from New Jersey in 2011, seeking employment after the husband’s business income started to decline. Their children, however, continued to occupy the debtor’s New Jersey home, making payments for the mortgage, utilities, and the general maintenance of the property. In 2012, the debtors filed for bankruptcy in New Jersey and claimed an exemption for the New Jersey property. In their original Schedule C, the debtors claimed a $10,505.76 exemption in the New Jersey property. Subsequently, the debtors amended their Schedule C and claimed a $43,250 exemption in the property. The chapter 7 trustee objected to the debtors’ proposed exemption. The trustee argued that the property did not qualify as their residence, and the debtors filed their amended exemption in bad faith. In the husband’s certification, he indicated that, while the debtors lived and worked in Iran, they intended to return to the New Jersey property in the future. Yet this assertion contradicted the debtors’ previously filed certification in support of a motion to compel abandonment of the property, where they stated they did not intend to return to the United States in the near future. In addition to the husband’s certification, the husband offered his New Jersey driver’s license as proof of residency during a section 341 meeting of creditors. Therefore, the debtors argued that the New Jersey property was their “residence” under section 522(d)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code. Ultimately, the bankruptcy court agreed with the trustee and denied the homestead exemption.

Chapter 11 Non-Debtor Release Provisions: The High Burden Officers and Directors Must Meet

By: Ashraf Mokbel

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Recently, in National Heritage Foundation Inc. v. Highbourne Foundation, the Fourth Circuit held that a non-debtor release provision in a chapter 11 reorganization plan was not warranted by the circumstances of the case because the court found that the bankruptcy case would not be adversely affected if the provision was not included in the plan.

The Resurrection of the Eleventh Amendment in Chapter 9 Cases

By: Christopher J. Pedraita

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Reversing the bankruptcy court, in In re City of San Bernardino, a district court recently held that the Eleventh Amendment barred a chapter 9 debtor’s claims against certain state agencies. In San Bernardino, the City of San Bernardino (the “City”) sought to protect funds, which the State of California (the “State”) demanded that the City remit to the State. The funds at issue in San Bernardino had been parceled out to the City’s redevelopment agency (“RDA”) and earmarked for redeveloping urban neighborhoods. In light of the fiscal emergency experienced by State in 2011, however, its legislature supplanted the existing RDAs with “successor agencies” to conclude all remaining matters of the RDAs, including returning the funds to the county auditor-controller that the RDAs had not already been committed to a project. As part of this process, the State ordered the City’ successor agency to return millions of dollars in tax revenues to the State’s Department of Finance (the “DOF”). If the successor agency failed to remit the funds to the DOF, the State warned that it could withhold tax revenue from the successor agency or the City. The warning prompted the City to commence adversary proceedings against the various state agencies seeking injunctive and declaratory relief to, among other things, prevent the State agencies from withholding tax revenue from the successor agency (and the City itself). The State agencies moved to dismiss the City’s complaint on several grounds, including that claims were barred under the Eleventh Amendment. While the bankruptcy court granted the State agencies’ motion to dismiss with leave to amend, believing that the City could show imminent injury if the state agencies withheld the tax money, the court rejected the state agencies’ Eleventh Amendment defense. In particular, the bankruptcy court ruled that when the subject of litigation was unquestionably within the court’s control state sovereign immunity could not prevent the adversary proceeding. On appeal, the district court reversed the bankruptcy court holding the Eleventh Amendment to apply in order to protect the State’s rights to run its own finances.

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