In the recent decision of Klauder v. Echo/RT Holdings LLC (In re Raytrans Holding, Inc.), Adv. No. 15-50273 (CSS) (Del. Bankr. Aug. 10, 2017), Judge Sontchi granted Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the Trustee’s Second Amended Complaint, dismissing the Trustee’s claims in their entirety either under collateral estoppel or the doctrine of res judicata.

Procedural Background

Prior to the Raytrans bankruptcy proceeding, creditor Spring Capital Real Estate, LLC (“Spring Capital”) commenced a lawsuit in the Court of Chancery against Defendants Echo/RT Holdings LLC and Echo Global Logistics, Inc. (“Echo Defendants”) and RayTrans Distribution on October 31, 2012, seeking to void as fraudulent conveyances the transfers made to defendants by Holdings and RayTrans Distribution.

The Trustee joined the fraudulent transfer action commenced by Spring Capital in the Court of Chancery. On November 3, 2014, the Trustee asserted crossclaims against the defendants, pursuant to Del. Ch. R. 13(g), “seeking to assert the estate’s interest in, and to void as fraudulent conveyances, the transfers made to defendants by Holdings under Delaware and Illinois state law that were being challenged by Spring Capital. As recoverable by a creditor holding an unsecured claim.”

On December 31, 2013, the Court of Chancery dismissed Spring Capital’s claims with prejudice.  The Trustee then filed Amended Cross-Claims against the Echo Defendants, asserting slightly modified fraudulent transfer claims brought by Spring Capital, under both Delaware and Illinois law, that had also been dismissed by the Court of Chancery.  The Echo Defendants moved to dismiss the Trustee’s claims, which was granted on February 18, 2016, and the Court of Chancery both dismissed the Trustee’s entire Amended Cross-Claim with prejudice and denied the Trustee’s request for leave to amend (the “Dismissal Order”).  On December 12, 2016, the Delaware Supreme Court rejected the appeals filed by the Trustee and Spring Capital and affirmed the Dismissal Order.

Before the Court of Chancery granted the Motion to Dismiss, the Trustee filed the instant adversary proceeding against the Echo Defendants on April 24, 2015, asserting (i) three counts for avoidance of fraudulent transfers pursuant to 11 U.S.C. §§ 548 and 550, (ii) a count for avoidance of preferential transfer pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 547, (iii) one count for recovery of an avoided transfer pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 550, and (iv) disallowance of all claims pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 502(d) and (j)

On November 7, 2016, the Trustee sought leave to amend his complaint. On December 28, 2016, the Court granted the Motion to Amend and the Trustee filed his Second Amended Complaint, now asserting two counts for avoidance of fraudulent transfers under Sections 544, 548, and 550 and added a new breach of contract claim (Count V) and a claim for attorneys’ fees (Count VIII). The original breach of contract claim (Count VI) and accounting claim (Count VII) remain in the Second Amended Complaint.

Analysis

The Court found that Counts I and II (for fraudulent transfer under Sections 544 and 548) were barred under the doctrine of collateral estoppel.  The Court of Chancery previously found that the APA was supported by reasonably equivalent value, and that the APA did not amount to a fraudulent transfer.

The Court likewise dismissed Counts III and IV, seeking the avoidance and recovery of preferential transfers under Sections 547 and 550 of the Bankruptcy Code.  Per the Opinion, the Trustee merely stated that Defendants were “insiders” of the Debtor, but offered no factual support for such a conclusion in the Second Amended Complaint.

Finally, the Court dismissed Counts V (breach of contract and judicial estoppel), VI (breach of contract), VII (accounting) and VIII (breach of guaranty and attorneys’ fees) under the doctrine of res judicata.  The Court noted that for the past three years, the Trustee and the defendants have been litigating before the Court of Chancery and then on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, and that the “basis of the entire adversary proceeding, and the prior Court of Chancery litigation, was the APA.”  Accordingly, the Court dismissed the Trustee’s Second Amended Complaint in its entirety.

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 brief, 4-page decision released May 26, 2016, Judge Gross of the Delaware Bankruptcy Court granted a motion for summary judgment, barring state court litigation in California on the grounds of res judicataJudge Gross’ opinion is available here (the “Opinion”).

The Creditors (the state court plaintiffs) seek damages from landslides and soil movement which affected their homes.  The Creditors commenced the California Action against Debtor and others in May, 2009.  Opinion at *1.  Following the Debtor’s bankruptcy filing in 2013, the Plaintiffs severed and stayed the claims against the Debtor, filing a proof of claim for the estimated total cost of repair attributable to the Debtor.  Opinion at *1.  In fact, the proof of claim was allowed and distributions were made by the Trustee.

Judge Gross quoted EDP Med. Computer Sys. v. United States, 480 F. 2d 621, 625 (2d Cir. 2007) for the principle that “a bankruptcy court order allowing an uncontested proof of claim constitutes a ‘final judgment’ and thus a predicate for res judicata.” Opinion at *2.  Judge Gross held that the allowance of the claim, and distribution made pursuant to the same, had the effect of adjudicating the litigation in favor of the Plaintiffs, thus estopping them from continuing the California litigation.

While it is true that payment of a claim is rarely – strike that – almost never as satisfying as a 100% payment, the code doesn’t allow for general unsecured claimants to receive anything more than their pro-rata distributions.  In this instance, the Plaintiffs were lucky enough to be able to avoid the cost of litigating their claim against the Debtor in state court, but unlucky that their litigation target was a debtor in bankruptcy.  Nickels are never as satisfying as dollars.