On Thursday, April 19, 2007, in perhaps only the second decision on reclamation since the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) took effect in October 2005, Judge Burton R. Lifland of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York issued this Memorandum Decision in the In re Dana Corporation Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. Employing an analysis similar to that of Judge Sontchi in his January 2007 decision in In re Advanced Marketing Services, Inc. (discussed in this post), Judge Lifland valued all pending reclamation claims in the Dana Corporation case at zero, effectively denying them in their entirety.

A Quick Primer On Reclamation Under BAPCPA. Section 546(c) of the Bankruptcy Code, as amended by BAPCPA, gives vendors the ability to assert a reclamation claim for goods received by a debtor in the 45 days prior to the bankruptcy filing. In addition to extending the reclamation period to 45 days, BAPCPA also added a provision in Section 546(c) making reclamation claims "subject to the prior rights of a holder of a security interest in such goods or the proceeds thereof." This quoted language refers to a secured creditor with a prior senior lien in the same goods, a defense to reclamation often referred to as the "Prior Lien Defense." (For more details on reclamation claims, both before and after a bankruptcy is filed, you may find this earlier post on reclamation of interest.)

The Reclamation Claims Process. As is typical in large Chapter 11 cases, a reclamation procedure was established in the Dana Corporation case. After setting a deadline for the filing of reclamation claims, the following events unfolded:

  • As debtor and debtor in possession, Dana Corporation filed a motion seeking bifurcation of the Prior Lien Defense from the more fact-based defenses it also intended to advance.
  • The Bankruptcy Court granted the motion and entered this bifurcation order, which separated out the Prior Lien Defense for discovery, briefing, and decision while staying discovery and other efforts relating to the remaining defenses.
  • The debtor then filed an initial brief on the Prior Lien Defense and related arguments, asserting that the scores of reclamation claims filed by creditors all were "subject to" pre-existing liens on the goods in question, rendering the reclamation claims valueless. Relying on the pre-BAPCPA case of In re Dairy Mart Convenience Stores, Inc., 302 B.R. 128 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. 2003), the debtor argued that the use of DIP financing with liens on the goods in question to satisfy prepetition loans meant that those goods were effectively disposed of, were not subject to reclamation, and that reclamation claims based on them were valueless.
  • Many reclamation claimants filed objections to the debtor’s motion (this objection is representative of the types of arguments advanced). They contended that reclamation claims are valueless only if the goods sought to be reclaimed are actually used to pay the lien of the secured creditor to which they are "subject." Relying on In re Phar-Mor, Inc., 301 B.R. 482, 497 (Bankr.N.D. Ohio 2003), amended on rehearing, 2003 Bankr. LEXIS 2009 (Bankr.N.D.Ohio Dec. 18, 2003), they argued that the prepetition loans were repaid with funds from the DIP loans, not from liquidation of the goods subject to the reclamation claims.
  • The debtor then filed this reply brief, again arguing that Dairy Mart is still good law and that its principles made all reclamation claims valueless in this case.

The Dana Corporation Decision. In his 21-page decision, Judge Lifland made two important rulings. First, he addressed whether amended Section 546(c) creates a new federal common law of reclamation or whether it still relies on the Uniform Commercial Code and other state law:

The Reclamation Claimants contend that the deletion of the reference to state law in the amended section 546(c) no longer incorporates the state law right of reclamation, and instead creates a brand new federal bankruptcy law right. I disagree.

*           *           *

It is not a section dedicated to granting an independent federal right of reclamation nor does it create a coherent comprehensive federal scheme for reclamation. First, Congress did not use the language of creation – Congress did not say that “a seller may reclaim goods when….”

*          *          *

Moreover, if amended section 546(c) was a new federal reclamation right arising under the Bankruptcy Code, it would not be subject to the avoiding powers. [footnote omitted]

Second, having concluded that amended Section 546(c) did not supplant existing reclamation law, Judge Lifland examined Phar-Mor, Dairy Mart, and related case law and ruled that the Prior Lien Defense made the reclamation claims valueless in this case:

Here, the prepetition collateral, including the reclaimed goods, was subject to the Prepetition Lien. Pursuant to the Interim DIP Order, the Debtors were authorized to use the Prepetition Lenders’ cash collateral, with the Replacement Lien providing a replacement security interest in all of the Debtors collateral subject to the DIP Lien, including the prepetition collateral and the proceeds thereof. The DIP Lien granted to the DIP Lenders pursuant to the Interim DIP Order and the Final DIP Order, provided a security interest in, and lien upon, all of the collateral constituting the prepetition collateral. Thus the lien chain continued unbroken. Cf. Dairy Mart, 302 B.R. at 184 (holding that the transaction of releasing the prepetition lien and simultaneously granting the lien to the post-petition lender, must be viewed as an integrated transaction). The grant of the DIP Lien was a necessary condition of the DIP Lenders’ agreement to enter into the DIP Facility. Pursuant to the Final DIP Order, the Prepetition Indebtedness was refinanced and paid off using the proceeds of the DIP Facility on the payoff date. Because the reclaimed goods or the proceeds thereof were either liquidated in satisfaction of the Prepetition Indebtedness or pledged to the DIP Lenders pursuant to the DIP Facility, the reclaimed goods effectively were disposed as part of the March 2006 repayment of the Prepetition Credit Facility. Accordingly, the Reclamation Claims are valueless as the goods remained subject to the Prior Lien Defense.

Recognizing Another BAPCPA Change: Section 503(b)(9)’s New Administrative Claim. Although the Bankruptcy Court was considering only BAPCPA’s amended Section 546(c) and reclamation claims, the decision makes several comments about the impact of another of BAPCPA’s changes, the new "20 day goods" administrative claim. (A February 2007 update post described the first few decisions on this new Section 503(b)(9) administrative claim.) These include the following: 

The issues before the Court today relate solely to the Prior Lien Defense to reclamation rights under section 546(c) of the Bankruptcy Code and not to the rights to an administrative expense under the newly enacted section 503(b)(9) of the Bankruptcy Code. This new provision presents other issues concerning, inter alia, the valuing of the subject goods; what constitutes the actual receipt of the goods; how is the claim asserted; when is it to be paid; is it subject to the claims processing and omnibus bar date orders, etc.? These issues will not, and need not, be parsed here. Suffice it to say that in light of the section 503(b)(9) amendment, section 546(c) is no longer an exclusive remedy for a prepetition seller.

*         *          *

In addition, amended 546(c) provides for an administrative claim: "If a seller of goods fails to provide notice in the manner described in paragraph (1), the seller still may assert the rights contained in section 503(b)(9)." 11 U.S.C. § 546(c)(2). New section 503(b)(9) in turn allows the seller an administrative expense claim equal to "the value of any goods received by the debtor within 20 days before the date of commencement of a case under this title in which the goods have been sold to the debtor in the ordinary course of such debtor’s business." 11 U.S.C. § 503(b)(9). There is no shortage of commentary on the interplay of sections 503(b)(9) and 546(c).5

[Footnote 5]

With the introduction of section 503(b)(9) priority, reclamation claims under amended section 546(c) have decreased importance because goods delivered to a debtor in the 20 days prior to bankruptcy will have automatic priority. Thus, reclamation rights are now mainly beneficial for goods delivered in the 21 to 45 days prior to the bankruptcy filing under amended section 546(c). However, with the expansion of the reclamation period, the likelihood of early administrative insolvency will increase, and debtor companies will need greater financial resources to reorganize. See Charles J. Shaw and Brent Weisenberg, Effect of a Preexisting Security Interest in the Debtor’s Inventory on the Rights of Reclamation Creditors, 2005 Norton Ann. Surv. Of Bankr. Law Part I §15 (Sept. 2006) (hereinafter “Norton Survey”).

Where Does This Decision Leave Creditors And Debtors? While valuing all reclamation claims at zero, Judge Lifland was careful to mention the existence of the new administrative claim for goods delivered to the debtor in the 20 days prior to the bankruptcy. This comment is significant and reveals how BAPCPA has changed the old reclamation equation. While the jury is certainly still out, the early post-BAPCPA reclamation decisions in Advanced Marketing Services (Delaware) and Dana Corporation (Southern District of New York) suggest that creditors may have even more difficulty establishing reclamation claims. If so, instead of reclamation, the new 20 day goods administrative claim may turn out to be the more valuable right for creditors — and the more costly obligation for debtors — in this post-BAPCPA world.