The Fairchild Corporation (“Fairchild” or the “Debtor”), filed for bankruptcy in Delaware on March 18, 2009. Fairchild’s bankruptcy proceeding is before the Honorable Christopher S. Sontchi of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. According to its press release, Fairchild operates in three markets: aerospace, real estate and motor cycle apparel. In the aerospace industry, Fairchild distributes parts and equipment to companies servicing aircraft. Fairchild’s business also includes managing and developing commercial real estate. Finally, with its apparel business, Fairchild designs and produces motorcycle apparel for companies such as Harley Davidson and PoloExpress. (Read Fairchild’s Affidavit in Support of Bankruptcy Motions here.)
The DIP Financing Motion and Relief From the Automatic Stay
One of Fairchild’s “first day” motions seeks debtor-in-possession (“DIP”) financing, refinancing of prepetition debt and modification of the automatic stay (the “DIP Motion“). As stated in the DIP Motion, Fairchild’s prepetition debt totals $19 million and Fairchild seeks to refinance its debt with a postpetition revolving credit facility up to $23 million (the “DIP Facility”). Under the DIP Facility, PNC, as postpetition lender, would receive a “priming lien” that is senior or equal to previously encumbered property. Fairchild seeks the priming lien for the DIP Facility pursuant to 11 U.S.C. 364(d)(1)(authorizing a bankruptcy court to approve DIP financing secured by an equal or superior lien on property of the estate already subject to a lien, provided the holder of the primed lien receives adequate protection).
Pursuant to paragraph 65 of the DIP Motion, Fairchild proposes that the automatic stay under 11 U.S.C. 362 be vacated to permit the DIP lenders to perform “any acts necessary to implement” the DIP Facility. In addition, Fairchild seeks to lift the automatic stay for the lenders “to the extent necessary to exercise, upon the occurrence and during the continuation of any event of default … and to take various actions without further order of or application to the Court.” Although the DIP Motion does not contain citations for granting relief from the automatic stay, it notes that “[s]tay modification provisions of this sort are ordinary and usual features of debtor in possession financing.” This blog post will look at the standard often applied in Delaware for parties seeking relief from the automatic stay.
Scope of the Automatic Stay
Section 362(a)(3) of the Bankruptcy Code defines the scope of the automatic stay. Under this section, the automatic stay bars any “act to obtain possession of property of the estate or of property from the estate or to exercise control over property of the estate.” In order to have the stay “lifted,” section 362(d) authorizes a bankruptcy court to “grant relief from the stay provided
under subsection (a) of this section, such as by terminating, annulling, modifying or conditioning such stay …(1.) for cause, including the lack of adequate protection of an interest in property of such party in interest.”
In order to trigger the automatic stay, there must be an act against either the debtor or against property of the debtor or of the estate. The automatic stay does not stay actions taken against non-debtor third parties. The Third Circuit has recognized that although the automatic stay has a broad scope, the clear language under 362(a) applies only against a debtor. See McCartney v. Integra Nat’l Bank North, 106 F.3d 506, 509 (3d Cir. 1997). As a consequence “it is universally acknowledged that an automatic stay of proceedings accorded by § 362 may not be invoked by entities such as sureties, guarantors, co-obligors, or others with a similar legal or factual nexus to the … debtor.” Id.
Relief from Stay
Under section 362(d)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code, the bankruptcy court “shall” lift the automatic stay for “cause.” If a creditor seeking relief from the automatic stay makes a prima facie case of “cause” for lifting the stay, the burden going forward shifts to the debtor pursuant to Bankruptcy Code § 362(g). See In re 234-6 West 22nd St. Corp., 214 B.R. 751, 756 (Bankr.S.D.N.Y. 1997).
The Bankruptcy Code does not define “cause.” Instead, whether cause exists to lift the automatic stay should be determined on a case by case basis. See Izzarelli v. Rexene Prod. Co. (In re Rexene Prod. Co.), 141 B.R. 574, 576 (Bankr.D.Del. 1992). See also, In re Texas State Optical, Inc., 188 B.R. 552, 556 (Bankr. E.D.Tex. 1995) (finding that “cause” for modification of the automatic stay is “an intentionally broad and flexible concept that permits … [a] [b]ankruptcy [c]ourt, as a court of equity, to respond to inherently fact-sensitive situations.”) Courts determine what constitutes “cause” based on the totality of the circumstances in each particular case. Baldino v. Wilson (In re Wilson), 116 F.3d 87, 90 (3d Cir. 1997).
In re Rexene provides the “balancing test” to determine whether cause exists to lift the automatic stay. 141 B.R. at 576. Under Rexene, the balancing test looks at three factors to decide whether to lift the automatic stay, including: (a.) whether prejudice will be caused to the estate or the debtor;
(b.) whether hardship to the movant from continuing the stay outweighs any hardship to the debtor; and (c.) whether the movant has a reasonable probability of prevailing on the merits of the suit. Id.
The relief from stay sought for the DIP lenders in the Fairchild DIP Motion serves as one example of the importance of the automatic stay. Through the DIP Motion, Fairchild seeks to preemptively lift the automatic stay so its lenders can exercise their rights in the event of a default. Without receiving such blanket protection, lenders may be unwilling to lend to a debtor in possession. Regardless, the automatic stay is a fundamental protection provided to debtors. It is always helpful to understand the scope of the stay, as well as the parameters applied when a party seeks relief from the automatic stay.