In the recent decision of Indian Harbor Ins. Co. v. Zucker, 860 F.3d 373 (6th Cir. 2017), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a liquidation trustee’s suit against the debtor’s former directors and officers (D&Os) falls within the “insured-versus-insured” exclusion in the debtor’s liability insurance policy.

The liquidation trustee sued the D&Os for $18.8 million, alleging breach of fiduciary duties.  The insurance company filed a suit for a declaratory judgment that it had no obligation to cover any damages from the lawsuit because the trustee’s claims fell within on the “insured-versus-insured” exclusion, which excluded from coverage “any claim made against an Insured Person . . . by, on behalf of, or in the name or right of, the Company or any Insured Person,” except for derivative suits by independent shareholders and employment claims.  The District Court held that exclusion applied.  The Circuit Court affirmed.

The Sixth Circuit held that, “[a]s a voluntary assignee, the Trust stands in [debtor] Capitol’s shoes and possesses the same rights subject to the same defenses.  Just as the exclusion covers a lawsuit ‘by’ Capitol, it covers a lawsuit ‘by’ the Trust ‘in the . . . right’ of Capitol.”

The fact that the debtor became a new entity – a debtor in possession – upon filing for bankruptcy did not change the result because “this new-entity argument surely would not work before bankruptcy.  Capitol could not have dodged the exclusion by transferring a mismanagement claim to a new company – call it Capitol II – for the purpose of filing a mismanagement claim against the [D&Os].  No matter how legally distinct Capitol II might be, the claim would still be ‘by, on behalf of, or in the name or right of’ Capitol.  The same conclusion applies to a claim filed after bankruptcy.”

The Sixth Circuit acknowledged that the purpose of the “insured-versus-insured” exception was to prevent people within the insured company from “push[ing] the costs of mismanagement onto an insurance company just by suing (and perhaps collusively settling with) past officers who made bad business decisions.”  Nevertheless, it mattered not that the bankruptcy court approval of the plan transferring the causes of action provided “a safeguard against the collusive suits that insured-versus-insured exclusions seek to prevent” because it did “not eliminate the practical and legal difference between an assignee and a court-appointed trustee that receives the right to sue on the estate’s behalf by statute.”

Carl D. Neff is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  You can reach Carl at (302) 622-4272 or at cneff@foxrothschild.com.

In a decision signed October 25, 2017, Judge Shannon of the Delaware Bankruptcy Court issued an opinion requiring a professional to disgorge fees, pay a sanction of $25,000, and enjoined him from taking various actions in bankruptcy court. Judge Shannon’s opinion is available here (the “Opinion”).

The United States Trustee filed a Complaint for Injunctive relief, Fines and Civil Contempt against Robert F. Martin.  Mr. Martin has twice before been the subject of inquiry and action by the United States Trustee. First in 2011, the United States Trustee alleged that Mr. Martin was acting as a petition preparer in violation of 11 U.S.C. § 110. A Consent Order resolving that litigation was entered by the Court on March 28, 2012 (the “First Consent Order”) by which Mr. Martin agreed to disgorge fees and refrain from acting as a petition preparer in the future.

Two years later, the United States Trustee filed a new complaint against Mr. Martin, alleging that he had acted as a petition preparer in at least 19 cases in violation of the terms of the First Consent Order.  Mr. Martin again agreed to disgorge fees and to refrain from acting as a petition preparer in the future.

The United States Trustee alleged that Mr. Martin returned to his prior practice of encouraging homeowners to file for relief under Chapter 13, and assisting them in the process of filing bankruptcy in violation of § 110 of the Bankruptcy Code. Mr. Martin’s debtor clients were not adequately instructed  by Mr. Martin regarding the Chapter 13 filing and its potential consequences, and that his efforts constituted a violation of the provisions of Bankruptcy Code § 110 and the First and Second Consent Orders.

The Court held that “Mr. Martin’s business model is based upon practices that violate federal law and orders of this Court.”  Opinion at *14.  It then levied the above fines and directed that Mr. Martin was to refrain from taking any further actions in violation of Bankruptcy Code § 110.

While this is not the type of case normally discussed on this blog, it illustrates an important principle that I have seen play out several times in the Delaware Bankruptcy Court – each time you are penalized for the same bad act, the consequences get more severe.

In a decision signed October 4, 2017 in an adversary proceeding arising within the Haggens bankruptcy (HH Liquidation, LLC, et al., case 16-51204), Judge Gross of the Delaware Bankruptcy Court denied a motion for summary judgment, holding that he Court and needs to see evidence at trial of why and how the Debtor failed while a related entity was flush with cash. Judge Gross’s opinion is available here (the “Opinion”).

By way of history, the Haggen family started operating a grocery in 1933, growing to operate thirty stores and a pharmacy by 2011.  In late 2014, the Safeway / Albertsons merger occurred, which required them to sell 146 stores.  In February 2015, Haggen (thanks in large part to the direction of Comvest Partners, a private equity firm who had purchased 80% of Haggen’s equity) purchased the 146 former Albertsons locations.  With a signature, Haggens grew to a size that was approximately 600% larger than it had ever been.  It is my opinion that growth at this pace either succeeds fantastically, or fails fantastically.  Unfortunately, this is a bankruptcy court opinion – so it’s clear this wasn’t a fantastic success.

Haggens split the acquisition into multiple pieces, segregating the operating and real property assets in different entities.  Those which held real property I will refer to collectively as PropCos, and those which operated stores and leased the real property for such a purpose I will refer to collectively as OpCos.  For those who have not followed the Haggens bankruptcy, it is important to recognize that OpCos were placed into bankruptcy and the PropCos were not.

The plaintiff in the adversary proceeding argued that the debtor and non-debtor related entities should be substantively consolidated and that the OpCos and PropCos were liable for fraudulent transfer.  Without consolidation or a fraudulent transfer ruling, the PropCos creditors will receive 100% of their claims while OpCos unsecured creditors will receive 0%.  If the plaintiffs are successful in their claims, the PropCos creditors and the OpCos creditors would all receive approximately 20% of their claims.  Opinion at *7.

Judge Gross was not sympathetic to the Debtors’ opining that:

Comvest created Holdings, the OpCo Entities and the PropCo Entities and formed them to hold separate assets. The OpCo Entities held operational assets and leased property from the PropCo  Entities which held the real property. Then, in a matter of a few months the OpCo Entities were bankrupt and are unable to pay unsecured creditors anything while the PropCo Entities are flush with money.  The Court and the OpCo Entities’ creditors need to see evidence at trial of why and how this happened.

Opinion at *7-8.  Of particular note, Judge Gross made repeated references to the Mervyn’s decision,  In re Mervyn’s Holdings, LLC, 426 B.R. 488 (Bankr. D. Del. 2010).  “In Mervyn’s, like here, the owner of real property (Target Corporation) sold its interest in Mervyn’s, LLC to a group of private equity firms who spun off real estate leaving the operational portion of Mervyn’s, LLC undercapitalized and paying rent to the real estate holding entity.”  Opinion at *9.  I have found that when a judge on the Bankruptcy Court makes repeated reference to another decision, particularly when it is a decision of that very judge, litigants should make every effort to differentiate, or analogize, the instant case.  The repeated reference to Mervyn’s by Judge Gross provides a clear picture of the issues he will need answered by the litigants here.  It’s his opinion, I’d expect it to be the first and last thing out of both litigants’ mouths.

In a decision signed September 21, 2017 in an adversary proceeding related to the Boomerang Systems bankruptcy (case 15-11729), Judge Walrath of the Delaware Bankruptcy Court denied a defendants FRCP 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss a preference complaint. Judge Walrath’s opinion is available here (the “Opinion”).

Judge Walrath first provided the requirements for a preference action to survive a motion to dismiss.  Quoting Stanziale v. DMJ Gas-Mktg. Consultants, LLC (In re Tri-Valley Corp.), Adv. No. 14-50446 (MFW), 2015 WL 110074, at *2 (Bankr. D. Del. Jan. 7, 2015), Judge Walrath stated that “to satisfy Rule 8, the complaint must identify each alleged preferential transfer by the date of the transfer, the name of the debtor/transferor, the name of the transferee, and the amount transferred.”  Opinion at *5.

In this case, Gavin Solmonese, LLC, the liquidating trustee of Boomerang Systems (the “Liquidating Trustee”), filed a preference action that is, in Delaware, a fairly routine pleading.  In its complaint, the Liquidating Trustee alleged the amount, date, and method of payment made by the Debtors to the Defendant.  Judge Walrath held that “this allegation is sufficient to allege a preferential transfer.”  Opinion at *6.

The Defendant asserted its affirmative defenses as grounds for dismissal of the complaint.  However, as the Court held, “these defenses are not grounds to dismiss the action under Rule 12.”  Opinion at *6.  A 12(b)(6) dismissal requires a deficiency in the plaintiff’s pleading.

Avoidance actions are painful for defendants – particularly when they are innocent actors.  But the innocence of a preference defendant is not a defense.  The only defenses available are those provided by statute – 11 U.S.C. § 547(c). We have provided an overview of these defenses in our short booklet A Preference Reference.

Starting on September 12, 2017, Peter Kravitz, as Settlement Trustee of the Samson Settlement Trust, filed approximately 293 complaints seeking the avoidance and recovery of allegedly preferential and/or fraudulent transfers under Sections 547, 548 and 550 of the Bankruptcy Code.

Samson Resources Corporation and its affiliated debtors filed voluntary petitions for bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware on September 16, 2015 under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code.  The Debtors were an onshore oil and gas exploration and production company with interests in various oil and gas leases primarily located in Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming.  On February 13, 2017, the Court entered an order confirming the Global Settlement Joint Chapter 11 Plan of Reorganization of Samson Resources Corporation and Its Debtor Affiliates. The cases are jointly administered pursuant to Rule 1015(b) of the Bankruptcy Rules.

The various avoidance actions are pending before the Honorable Christopher S. Sontchi.  As of the present date, the Pretrial Conference has not yet been scheduled.

For readers looking for more information concerning claims and defenses in preference litigation, attached is a booklet prepared by this firm on the subject: “A Preference Reference: Common Issues that Arise in Delaware Preference Litigation.”

Carl D. Neff is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  You can reach Carl at (302) 622-4272 or at cneff@foxrothschild.com.

Starting on September 5, 2017, the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors on behalf of the bankruptcy estates of HH Liquidation, LLC and its affiliated debtors (“Debtors”) filed approximately 178 complaints seeking the avoidance and recovery of allegedly preferential and/or fraudulent transfers under Sections 547 and 550 of the Bankruptcy Code.

The Debtors filed voluntary petitions for bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware on September 8, 2015 under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.  On September 21, 2015, pursuant to section 1102 of the Bankruptcy Code, the Office of the United States Trustee appointed the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors.

The various avoidance actions are pending before the Honorable Kevin Gross.  For preference defendants looking for an analysis of defenses that can be asserted in response to a preference complaint, below are several articles on this topic:

Preference Payments: Brief Analysis of Preference Actions and Common Defenses

Minimizing Preference Exposure: Require Prepayment for Goods or Services

Minimizing Preference Exposure (Part II) – Contemporaneous Exchanges

Carl D. Neff is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  You can reach Carl at (302) 622-4272 or at cneff@foxrothschild.com.

In a decision signed September 8, 2017 in an adversary proceeding related to the Money Center of America bankruptcy (case 14-10603), Judge Sontchi of the Delaware Bankruptcy Court denied a defendants FRCP 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss a complaint filed in the adversary proceeding 15-50250. Judge Sontchi’s opinion is available here (the “Opinion”).

The chapter 7 trustee of the Money Center of America bankruptcy, Maria Aprile Sawczuk (the “Trustee”) filed a complaint against Christopher Wolfington, Jason Walsh and Lauren Anderson, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, corporate waste, conversion, recovery of avoidable transfers, and equitable subordination.  Defendant Walsh filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the Trustee failed to adequately plead non-dischargeability in his personal bankruptcy or fraud.  His motion to dismiss was the subject of the Opinion.

After analyzing and reciting the complaint, the Court determined that “the Trustee’s Complaint sufficiently alleged that Walsh perpetrated fraudulent transfers through conduct “of the kind” specified in sections 523(a)(2) and (a)(4) in order to withstand a motion to dismiss.”   Opinion at *6.  The Court further held that “the Trustee has sufficiently alleged facts showing that Walsh’s conduct of the kind specified under sections 523(a)(2) and (a)(4).”  Opinion at *7.

This Opinion, although short, provides a strong reminder of the requirements of the pleading standards in the Delaware Bankruptcy Court.  Complaints do not need to contain long recitations of facts supported by extensive evidence.  Rather, a complaint need only contain allegations of sufficient facts to support the claims alleged.  In a prior blog post I discussed a time when this did not occur: You Don’t Get Three Strikes when Filing a Complaint – Lessons from Tropicana.  When a complaint clears this hurdle, it will not be dismissed by the Bankruptcy Court.

On August 29, 2017, The Wet Seal, LLC filed preference actions against 67 defendants.  The lead Wet Seal bankruptcy case is Case No. 17-10229 in the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.  Wet Seal is represented by A.M. Saccullo Legal, LLC and ASK, LLC.

According to the complaints, the Debtors were a national multichannel specialty retailer selling fashion apparel and accessory items designed for female customers aged 18 to 24 years old. The Debtors were comprised of two primary business units; the retail store business and an e-commerce business. Through their retail store business, the Debtors operated approximately 142 retail locations in 37 states, principally in leased-based mall locations. Through their e-commerce business, the Debtors operated an e-commerce site at  and had over 2 million followers on their Facebook page.  As retailers, they had a significant supply chain, comprised of a significant number of suppliers.  The defendants in these preference actions were entities who were alleged to have received payments within the 90-day period immediately preceding Wet Seal’s February 2, 2017 bankruptcy filing.

 

Preference actions are a form of litigation specifically provided for by the Bankruptcy Code which are intended to recover payments made by the Debtor within the 90 days prior to declaring bankruptcy.  The presumption is that the Debtor knew it was going to file bankruptcy, so any payments it made during this 90-day window went to friends and people it wanted to keep happy, and stiffed those the Debtor’s management didn’t like.   Recognizing that these payments aren’t always made for inappropriate reasons, the Bankruptcy Code provides creditors with many defenses to preference actions. Included among these are the “ordinary course of business defense” and the “new value defense.” For reader’s looking for more information concerning claims and defenses in preference litigation, attached is a booklet I prepared on the subject: “A Preference Reference: Common Issues that Arise in Delaware Preference Litigation.”

On August 26, 2017, Model Reorg Acquisition, LLC, and eighteen of its subsidiaries and affiliates (collectively, “Model Reorg” or “Debtors”), filed voluntary petitions for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware (No. 17-11794).

The Debtors, which primarily operate under the brand “Perfumania”, comprise the largest national specialty retailer and distributor of fragrances and beauty products.  According to a press reslease issued by Perfumania Holdings, Inc., Model Reorg “has initiated a recapitalization to be facilitated through a pre-packaged Plan of Reorganization (“the Plan”) to reduce its retail store count to better align with current consumer shopping patterns, increase investments in its e-commerce business, and become a privately-held Company.”   A link to the press release can be found here.

The case has been assigned to the Honorable Christopher S. Sontchi.  The Debtors are represented by the law firm of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP.  The First Day hearing is noticed to take place today, at 2:00 p.m.

Carl D. Neff is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  You can reach Carl at (302) 622-4272 or at cneff@foxrothschild.com.

On August 23, 2017, Judge Shannon of the Delaware Bankruptcy Court issued an order that is a reminder that this is a court of equity – and that at the end of the day, he will act equitably.  A copy of Judge Shannon’s opinion (the “Opinion”) is available here.  Mr. Welsh filed the complaint that led to this Opinion, seeking damages for emotional distress, and punitive damages, for alleged violations of the automatic stay.

Brian Welsh is a debtor in bankruptcy case no. 14-11503 in the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.  On April 13, 2012, despite his mortgage being in default, Bank of America (“BofA”) mistakenly recorded a satisfaction of mortgage.   On February 7, 2014, BofA
filed a complaint in the Superior Court in the State of Delaware to set aside the Satisfaction.  On June 18, 2014, prior to any disposition in the Superior Court litigation, Mr. Welsh filed his Chapter 13 petition. On November 3, 2014, in order to protect its interest, BofA filed a proof of claim on account of the mortgage.  In response to an adversary proceeding seeking to avoid BofA’s claim, the Court issued a decision on October 1, 2015, in which it held that a bona fide purchaser would not have been on notice of the Superior Court litigation as of the Petition Date, and the lien was therefore avoided pursuant to Section 544(a)(3).  At that time, Judge Shannon said that Mr. Welsh “will benefit mightily due to [Defendant’s] honest mistake”, in essence obtaining “a house for free”.

As the facts are provided by Judge Shannon in the Opinion, it appears that he would be inclined to rule that BofA did violate the automatic stay.  This is reinforced by his denial of the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint.  He does, however, issue a parting word of guidance to the parties that makes exceptionally clear that the Debtor should not expect to receive any amount of damages due to BofA’s violation of the automatic stay.  “Candor requires that the Court advise the parties that it is highly unlikely that, at trial, this Court would award damages to the Plaintiff beyond the free house he has already obtained.”

When I was in law school, I heard numerous times that “pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered”.  Mr. Welsh got a rich reward due to his handling of his bankruptcy petition – a free home.  Anything more than a free home, which had a mortgage of $205,000, may be more than a judge in a court of equity could in good conscience award.