Tomorrow, October 17, 2007, marks the second anniversary of the effective date of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, known as BAPCPA. BAPCPA was enacted primarily to make sweeping changes to the consumer provisions of the Bankruptcy Code. However, BAPCPA also made significant revisions in the business bankruptcy arena. When it was passed, bankruptcy lawyers, creditors, and potential debtors had many questions about how these changes would play out as new cases made their way through the system. Two years out, we now have answers to some of those questions.
In this post I'll look at a few of BAPCPA's more substantial revisions and how courts have addressed them so far. These include new rules governing real estate leases, reclamation, the "20 day goods" administrative claim, key employee retention plans, cross-border bankruptcy cases, and an important preference defense. As we walk down memory lane, I'll also point you to earlier posts where you can find more details on these issues.
Commercial Real Estate Leases. Under BAPCPA, if the debtor is the tenant under an unexpired commercial lease, it must either assume or reject the lease within 120 days of the filing of bankruptcy. The court can extend this time period without the landlord’s consent for 90 additional days, making a total of 210 days, but any further extensions require the landlord’s prior written consent. If the lease is not assumed (or assumed and assigned) within this period, the lease automatically will be deemed rejected and the debtor will have to move out.
- Before BAPCPA, debtors initially had only 60 days to assume or reject leases but there was no statutory limit on extensions of that period. Cumulative extensions of a year or more, over a landlord's objection, were not uncommon under the pre-BAPCPA version of the Bankruptcy Code. That is no longer possible under BAPCPA.
- Below market leases can represent a significant asset, particularly for retailers with many store leases, and BAPCPA has forced these debtors to move very quickly to assume and assign leases or to sell designation rights to make the most of the 210 day maximum period. In a number of cases, this 210 day limit has depressed the value of the debtor's leases and the recovery for its creditors.
- For more on real estate leases, you may want to read "Commercial Real Estate Leases: How Are They Treated In Bankruptcy?" previously posted on this blog.
Reclamation. When a debtor becomes insolvent or files bankruptcy, some vendors may be able to take advantage of a special, although limited, right to get back or "reclaim" certain of the goods. This reclamation right is part of both the Uniform Commercial Code and the Bankruptcy Code. BAPCPA made some changes in the reclamation area and post-BAPCPA cases have put some meat on the bones of those changes. A new, 45-day bankruptcy reclamation right was added to Section 546(c) of the Bankruptcy Code, expanding the Uniform Commercial Code's 10-day rule. Under BAPCPA, the goods must have been sold in the "ordinary course" of the vendor's business and the debtor must have received the goods while insolvent. The reclamation demand must be in writing and made within 45 days of the receipt of the goods by the customer (now the debtor in bankruptcy). If the 45-day period expires after the bankruptcy case is filed, the vendor must make the reclamation demand within 20 days after the bankruptcy filing.
Two decisions from earlier this year have helped clarify the impact, and highlight the limitations, of BAPCPA's reclamation changes.
- In January 2007, Judge Christopher S. Sontchi of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware refused to issue a temporary restraining order in favor of a reclamation claimant in the Advanced Marketing Services case who sought to prevent the sale of goods it was trying to reclaim. The Court cited the superior rights of the secured creditor, which had a lien on the goods. A discussion of the case and a copy of the Court's decision is available at this earlier post.
- Then, in April 2007, Judge Burton R. Lifland of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York applied the "prior lien defense" in favor of a secured creditor by valuing all reclamation claims in the Dana Corporation case at zero. You can find a discussion of that case and a copy of the decision at this previous post.
The "20 Day Goods" Administrative Claim. Although the post-BAPCPA decisions have not been favorable to vendors in the reclamation area, recent developments have underscored the value of the new Section 503(b)(9) administrative claim. That new provision, added by BAPCPA, gives vendors an administrative priority claim for "the value of any goods received by the debtor within 20 days before" the date a bankruptcy petition was filed "in which the goods have been sold to the debtor in the ordinary course of such debtor's business." For an overview of the new provision, you may find the post entitled "20 Day Goods: New Administrative Claim For Goods Sold Just Before Bankruptcy," of interest.
Key Employee Retention Plans. One of BAPCPA's most notable changes was the significant restrictions imposed on key employee retention plans, known as KERPs. Prior to BAPCPA, KERPs were a very popular way of making sure that a company could retain its most important officers and employees to guide it through bankruptcy. Citing perceived abuses, however, Congress added language in BAPCPA that requires debtors to satisfy nearly impossible standards before courts would be permitted to approve payment of retention bonuses (or severance payments) as administrative claims to officers and other insiders of a bankrupt company. In short, a debtor would have to show that the individual was essential the the survival of the business and that he or she had a bona fide job offer from another business at the same or greater rate of compensation.
Debtors looking to compensate key officers have moved away from retention plans entirely and instead have turned to incentive plans.
- Several courts have approved incentive plans covering insiders but have applied certain factors to judge the reasonableness of the plan, including an assessment of the relationship between the plan and the results to be obtained, the cost of the plan, and whether the plan's overall scope is fair and reasonable.
- In May 2007, the Delaware Bankruptcy Court even approved a downward adjustment to an incentive plan's targets, permitting a bonus to be paid to insiders, when the original plan's targets turned out to be unrealistic.
- For more on this topic, including copies of three significant decisions in the Dana Corporation, Global Home Products, and Nellson Nutraceuticals cases, follow the link to this earlier post on key employee incentive plans.
Chapter 15 On Cross-Border Bankruptcies. BAPCPA added a new chapter to the Bankruptcy Code to adopt an internationally drafted Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency. Chapter 15 is used principally by representatives of, or creditors in, foreign insolvency proceedings to obtain assistance in the United States, by a debtor or others seeking to obtain assistance in a foreign country regarding a bankruptcy case in the United States, or when both a foreign proceeding and a bankruptcy case in the United States are pending with respect to the same debtor. Follow the link in this sentence for a detailed overview of Chapter 15.
- In a recent case involving two Bear Stearns hedge funds, the Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York refused to recognize proceedings pending in the Cayman Islands as either a foreign main or foreign nonmain proceeding, denying those entities Chapter 15 protection in the United States.
- You can find the details on this case (and a copy of the original and amended decisions) here and here.
Preferences. Before it took effect, one of BAPCPA's most talked about changes was a revision to the "ordinary course of business" defense to preference claims. BAPCPA dropped the requirement that a preference defendant establish that a transfer was both (i) made in the ordinary course of business or financial affairs between the debtor and the defendant and (ii) made according to ordinary business terms.
- BAPCPA's main change was to replace the "and" with an "or", meaning that a preference defendant now has to establish only one of the two prongs (instead of both) to prevail on the defense. When it was enacted, many bankruptcy lawyers believed this change would favor preference defendants.
- In something of a surprise, however, the first case interpreting the revised statute applied a brand new standard to the "ordinary business terms" provision. Unlike the prior analysis of that prong, the new standard examined the question from the perspective of both the creditor (as had been done pre-BAPCPA) and the debtor (the new BAPCPA twist). As a result, in that decision the preference defendant lost. For more on the decision, in the In re National Gas Distributors, LLC case, check out this post on David Rosendorf's BAPCPA Blog.
- There have been surprisingly few cases interpreting this section, so it remains to be seen whether other courts will follow the National Gas Distributors interpretation.
Another Great BAPCPA Resource. In addition to the BAPCPA Blog, which has posts on many decisions from BAPCPA's first year, don't miss Steve Jakubowski's Bankruptcy Litigation Blog, in particular his BAPCPA and BAPCPA Outline topics. Steve has posted on a range of BAPCPA issues, including major consumer decisions and many business bankruptcy decisions.
Acting Like A Two Year Old? As we begin the third year under BAPCPA, the law is beginning to take early steps toward greater clarity in some areas but much remains to be decided. In particular, few appellate decisions have been issued on BAPCPA's key changes, giving us little guidance on how the Courts of Appeals will interpret the new law. As always, stay tuned for more developments and feel free to subscribe to the blog by email or by RSS to your feedreader.