Affirmative Insurance Holdings

In a 33 page decision released March 29, 2017, Judge Sontchi of the Delaware Bankruptcy Court ruled on competing motions to dismiss the remaining claims and counterclaims in an adversary proceeding in the Affirmative Insurance bankruptcy – Adversary Proceeding Case No. 16-50425.  Judge Sontchi’s opinion is available here (the “Opinion”).  As Judge Sontchi stated in the Opinion, the issue was a simple one, Opinion at *3, there is a dispute of a material fact between the parties, and dismissal is therefor inappropriate.  Opinion at *4.

The issue arises as the result of the allocation of sales proceeds between parties with a claim on the debtor’s assets.  The plan appointed liquidator (the “AIC Liquidator”) asserts that the funds from the sale should be in its control pursuant to the plan, and held in trust to pay the estate’s tax liability.  Opinion at *12.  JCF AFFM Debt Holdings, L.P. (“JCF”) is the other party in interest in the Opinion.  JCF was a major lender to the debtor, and claimed to hold a validly perfected security interest in the account into which the sales proceeds were eventually deposited.

JCF had filed the complaint that initiated the adversary proceeding.  The AIC Liquidator filed its counterclaims and also moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that this was a conflict between two creditors with no impact on the Debtor.

Judge Sontchi first addressed the argument of subject matter jurisdiction, determining that “the threshold question here is whether the funds [at issue] are property of the estate or not.”  Opinion at *21.  As Judge Sontchi ruled, the account at issue is in the name of the Debtor, and accordingly, “its funds are presumably property of the estate under section 541(a) of the Bankruptcy Code.” Opinion at *26. Citing In re BankUnited Financial, Judge Sontchi instructed that “what is or is not property of a bankruptcy estate is an issue that stems from the bankruptcy itself, one that can only arise in a bankruptcy proceeding…”  Opinion at *28.

On pages 31 and 32 Judge Sontchi examines the counterclaims and whether they should be dismissed.  It is interesting to note that a key aspect of his analysis, as I read the Opinion, is the remedy sought in the counterclaims – establishment of a constructive trust.  Judge Sontchi states: “The imposition of a constructive trust may be an appropriate remedy for any of the causes of action asserted.  Thus, if the AIC Liquidator prevails on any of the counterclaims it would be determinative of the ultimate issue of whether the funds are property of the estate. The Court finds that the Counterclaims contain specific factual allegations, taken they are true, to suggest that the AIC Liquidator is entitled to the funds in the …Account.. As such, it is apparent that there is a dispute of a material fact.”  I can’t help but wonder, if the counterclaims had sought relief of a different sort, such as damages, would the outcome have been the same?

At the end of the day, it’s hard to argue that a bankruptcy court doesn’t have jurisdiction over a matter that can, by definition, only arise in a bankruptcy – including determining what constitutes a debtor’s estate.  The determination of what is property of a debtor’s estate is a highly fact sensitive issue, and if there are facts in dispute, it is unlikely that a motion for summary judgment or a motion to dismiss will be granted.  We will, no doubt, continue to see them filed as they play an important role in narrowing the scope of a conflict, but in my experience and observation of the bankruptcy court, they are denied far more frequently than they are granted.

The Affirmative Insurance Holdings, Inc. Section 341 meeting has been continued to December 14, 2015, at 1:00 p.m. at J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building, 844 King St., Room 2112, Wilmington, Delaware.  For a prior post on this bankruptcy proceeding, click here.

Carl D. Neff is a bankruptcy attorney with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Carl is admitted in Delaware and regularly practices before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. You can reach Carl at (302) 622-4272 or at cneff@foxrothschild.com.

On October 14, 2015, Affirmative Insurance Holdings, Inc. and 7 affiliates filed for relief under chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.  The cases are jointly administered under Case Number 15-12136 and presided over by Judge Christopher S. Sontchi.  The first day hearing was held on October 19, 2015.  The second day hearing is scheduled for November 18, 2015 at 12:30 p.m.

The majority of the information available about the Debtors comes from the Declaration of Michael J. McClure in Support of the Debtors’ Chapter 11 Petitions and First Day Pleadings [D.I. 2] (the “Declaration”).  The Debtors offered non-standard personal automobile insurance (“NSPIA”) policies – policies that are provided to “drivers who find it difficult to obtain insurance from standard automobile insurance companies…”  These policies have a higher average premium, which “results from the increased frequency of loss costs…”

The Debtors’ bankruptcy petition lists assets of $10-$50 million and debt of $50-$100 million.  According to the Declaration, the NSPIA market segment is highly competitive and has few barriers to entry.  The Debtors have incurred losses from operations from 2008 until the present, and began selling portions of the business beginning in 2013.  While it is unclear from the Declaration whether the Debtors intend to liquidate or restructure, the significant NOLs (approximately $80 million) held by the Debtors may make them a prime takeover candidate.  The Debtors are represented by Polsinelli PC and McDermott Will & Emery LLP in these bankruptcy proceedings.

A formation meeting is scheduled for October 30, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. in the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building, 844 King St., Room 5209, Wilmington, DE 19801.  The 341 Meeting is scheduled for November 18, 2015 at 2:00 p.m.

One way in which creditors can assert their interests is to attend the Formation Meeting and become a part of the creditors’ committee.  The creditors’ committee is one of the most active participants in a corporate bankruptcy, and has access to a significant amount of information not available to normal creditors.  There are, naturally, trade-offs to gaining access to this information (including limitations on a company’s ability to trade in securities of the debtor), but you will be far better informed of what occurs in the bankruptcy proceeding.

Another way creditors can assert their interests is to attend the Section 341 Meeting of Creditors to depose the debtor’s representative regarding the assets and liabilities of the bankruptcy estate.  Creditors may retain counsel to conduct such an examination of the debtor’s representative.  The Section 341 meeting of creditors is an integral component of a bankruptcy proceeding.

General topics that are discussed during a Section 341 meeting may include the following:

  • The nature and scope of a debtor’s assets and liabilities;
  • The amount of accounts receivable and accounts payable;
  • The extent that the debtor is able to repay its creditors;
  • Whether insurance remains active;
  • The condition and location of goods received in the 20-45 days before bankruptcy;
  • The debtor’s or trustee’s plan to reorganize its debt or liquidate its assets;
  • The debtor’s plan after it emerges from bankruptcy (not applicable to a Chapter 7 debtor);
  • Whether the debtor experienced any changes in revenue since filing for bankruptcy; and
  • Potential avoidance actions to be commenced by the debtor or trustee