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Section 550(a)(2) and a Lesson in the Presumption Against Extraterritorially

Michael Vandermark

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

In In re Madoff Securities, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York recently held that section 550(a)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code does not apply extraterritorially.[1] There, the SIPA trustee sought to recover both funds transferred from Madoff Securities in New York to several Madoff-related foreign feeder funds[2] and, more specifically, subsequent transfers made by those feeder funds to their foreign investors.[3] The trustee argued that because the defendants had allegedly received several million dollars in fraudulent subsequent transfers from the feeder funds, he was entitled to reclaim those funds under section 550(a)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code.[4] In response, Defendants’ argued that section 550(a)(2) does not apply extraterritorially and therefore does not reach those subsequent transfers made from one foreign entity to another.[5] Ultimately, the Madoff Securities court held that section 550(a)(2) cannot be applied against the foreign defendants on an extraterritorial basis.[6]

The Uncertain Future of the Unfinished Business Doctrine

By: Daniel Teplin

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Recently, a federal district court in California issued a decision in Heller Ehrman LLP v. Davis, Wright, Tremaine, LLP[1], which is of great importance to former partners of dissolved law firms, holding that under California law, the unfinished business doctrine does not apply to hourly fee matters.[2] Therefore, the court concluded that the bankruptcy estate of a dissolved law firm did not retain a property interest in the hourly fee matters that were pending at the time the firm dissolved.[3] Heller Ehrman LLP (“Heller”) was a large global law firm before it dissolved in 2008.[4] After Heller defaulted on its revolving line of credit, the partners were unable to continue operating the firm and therefore voted to dissolve the firm.[5] Their dissolution plan included a “Jewel Waiver,” which waived unfinished-business claims for the profits generated by former Heller attorneys from any pending hourly fee matters.[6] After it filed for bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee sought to avoid the “Jewel Waiver” as a fraudulent transfer and recover the profits from the firm’s former members’ new firms for the pending hourly fee matters on two grounds. First, pursuant to California law, the trustee argued that the bankruptcy estate had a property interest in pending hourly matters, citing Jewel v. Boxer,[7] because the former members of the dissolved law firm violated their fiduciary duty “with respect to unfinished partnership business for personal gain.”[8] Second, the trustee asserted that two separate public policy considerations supported his claim.[9] The first consideration asserted by trustee was that “preventing extra compensation to law partnerships ‘prevents partners from competing for the most remunerative cases during the life of the partnership in anticipation that they might retain those cases should the partnership dissolve.’”[10] The idea being, that this would allow the firm to operate as one entity, and dissuade its individual members to act purely with their own interest in mind. The trustee argued that the second consideration was that holding that Heller had a property interest in the hourly matters would prevent former partners of firms from “seeking personal gain” by soliciting the firm’s former clients after its dissolution.[11] Ultimately, the court rejected the trustee’s arguments and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant law firms and against the trustee.[12]

State Sanctioned and Regulated Community Mental Health Center Is Entitled to Chapter 11 Relief

By: D. Nicholas Panzarella

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Recently, in In re Seven Counties Services, Inc.,[1] a bankruptcy court held that a Kentucky non-profit corporation designated as a community mental health center (“CMHC”) was not a “governmental unit” and therefore, was eligible to be a debtor in a chapter 11 bankruptcy case.[2] In Seven Counties, the CMHC debtor filed for bankruptcy under chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code after the Kentucky General Assembly raised the contribution rate for participants in a state pension system, which the debtor participated in pursuant to a state statute.[3] After filing, the CMHC debtor sought to reject its executory contract with the pension system.[4] In response, the state pension commenced an adversary proceeding seeking (1) a determination that the CMHC debtor was a “governmental unit,” and not a “person,” and thus was statutorily barred from seeking relief under chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code and (2) the issuance of a preliminary injunction compelling the CMHC debtor to continue contributing to the pension.[5] The Seven Counties court held that the CMHC debtor was entitled to chapter 11 relief and permitted the CHMC debtor to reject its executory contract with the pension system.[6]

The Inapplicability of Section 922(d): Interest Rate Swap Agreements Do Not Qualify as Special Revenue Bonds

By: Debra March

St. John’s Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

Recently, in Syncora Guarantee Inc. v. City of Detroit,[1] a federal district court held that the exception to the automatic stay contained in section 922(d) of the Bankruptcy Code did not apply to casino tax revenues pledged to secure the debtor’s swap obligations because the court opined that the swap agreements were not the type of special revenue bonds that the statute was intended to protect, and the debtor’s swap obligation was not a form of indebtedness owed to the swap counterparties or the swap insurer.[2] In 2005, the City of Detroit (the “City”), in order to strengthen its finances and secure pensions, issued debt by forming two not-for-profit service corporations to issue Certificates of Participation (“COPs”) since state law prohibited the City from directly issuing more debt.[3] These service corporations sold the certificates and gave the capital to the City to fund its pensions.[4] The City needed to protect itself against the risk of floating interest rates of COPs[5] because if the rates increased, the amount of interest the City would owe would also increase.[6] In order to protect the City against this risk, the service corporations executed interest-rate swaps with two banks.[7] Since the City had major debt problems, however, investors would not buy the COPs and the banks would not execute the interest-rate swaps without an insurer guaranteeing the City’s obligations.[8] Syncora, a monoline insurer, promised to make payments under the certificates and the swaps if the City failed to do so.[9] After the City defaulted, Syncora allowed the City to enter into a collateral agreement with swap counterparties.[10] Pursuant to this agreement, the City gave swap counterparties an optional termination right and created a “lockbox” system the caused casino tax revenues to be paid into a designated bank account, which could be frozen if the City failed to make it swap payments.[11] The swap counterparties could access this casino tax revenue by obtaining the City’s permission.[12] In June 2013, Syncora notified the bank that the City had defaulted, and the bank froze the casino tax revenues in the account.[13] The City sued in state court to recover the funds.[14] After the state court ordered the bank to release the funds, Syncora removed the case to the federal district court.[15] The district court then transferred the case to bankruptcy court after the City subsequently filed for bankruptcy in July 2013.[16] In August 2013, the bankruptcy court decided that the casino tax revenue was property of the estate and protected by the automatic stay.[17] In April 2014, the district court sua sponte stayed Syncora’s appeal of the bankruptcy court’s decision regarding the lock box funds until the Sixth Circuit ruled on whether the City was eligible to file.[18] Subsequently, the Sixth Circuit granted Syncora’s request for a writ of mandamus and directed the district court to rule on Syncora’s appeal.[19] Ultimately, the district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s ruling.[20]

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