Bankruptcy Litigation

Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Chapter 15 Appeal by Purported Shareholder on Standing Grounds

 

In a March 19, 2019 summary order, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of a purported shareholder’s appeal challenging the chapter 15 recognition of a Cayman Islands restructuring of an offshore drilling contractor. See In re Ocean Rig UDW Inc., No. 18-1374, 2019 WL 1276205 (2d Cir. Mar. 19, 2019). The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of that appeal for lack of appellate standing. An Orrick team handled the chapter 15 proceedings in the bankruptcy court, as well as the appellate proceedings in the district court and Court of Appeals.

Background

The appeal was brought by a self-described shareholder of debtor Ocean Rig UDW Inc. (“UDW”). The appellant sought review of an order issued by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn granting recognition of provisional liquidation and scheme of arrangement proceedings in the Cayman Islands of UDW and three of its subsidiaries as “foreign main proceedings” under section 1517 of the Bankruptcy Code. That recognition order gave rise to various forms of relief, including an automatic stay with respect to the Debtors and their property within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

In the ancillary proceedings in the bankruptcy court, the appellant had opposed the Debtors’ petition for recognition on numerous grounds, including on the basis that venue was improper in the Southern District of New York, that the Debtors failed to meet their burden of proving that their center of main interests (“COMI”) was in the Cayman Islands, that the Debtors improperly manipulated their COMI, and that granting recognition would violate the public policy objectives of chapter 15. The bankruptcy court overruled those objections and granted recognition and other related relief under sections 1520 and 1521 of the Bankruptcy Code. See In re Ocean Rig UDW Inc., 570 B.R. 687 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. 2017).

Appellant timely noticed an appeal to the district court, but did not seek a stay of the recognition order. Thus, the Debtors moved forward with their restructuring via four interrelated schemes of arrangement under Cayman Islands law (the “Schemes”). The Schemes involved the exchange of more than $3.7 billion of existing financial indebtedness for $450 million in new secured debt, approximately $288 million in cash, and new equity in UDW. Under the Schemes, existing shareholders of UDW retained a nominal amount of equity in the reorganized UDW (0.02%), but this token amount was provided solely to facilitate UDW’s ability to maintain its NASDAQ listing and was not an indication of UDW’s solvency. In fact, the indicative value of the consideration distributed to the creditors under the Schemes was significantly less than the face amount of their claims.

Appellant did not object to the provisional liquidation proceedings or the Schemes, which were later sanctioned (i.e., approved) by the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands. Similarly, appellant did not object to a motion in the chapter 15 proceedings for entry of an order granting comity and giving full force and effect to the Schemes and Cayman court’s ruling in the United States, which the bankruptcy court subsequently granted. Promptly upon the bankruptcy court’s issuance of this “enforcement order,” the Debtors consummated the restructuring in accordance with the Schemes.

Thereafter, in the district court, before U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl, the Debtors and their authorized foreign representative moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that the appellant’s purported shareholder status was insufficient to give her appellate standing, and that in any event, her appeal had been rendered equitably moot by the consummation of the restructuring. The district court granted the motion on both alternative grounds. See In re Ocean Rig UDW Inc., 585 B.R. 31 (S.D.N.Y. 2018).

Appellant then sought review of the district court’s dismissal in the Second Circuit. While that appeal was pending, a third-party company (Transocean Ltd.) acquired UDW in a cash and stock transaction valued at approximately $2.7 billion.

The Second Circuit’s Ruling

The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the appeal for lack of standing. The Court of Appeals began its analysis by reiterating the settled legal standard for bankruptcy appellate standing: “To have standing to appeal from a bankruptcy court ruling in this Circuit, an appellant must be an ‘aggrieved person,’ a person directly and adversely affected pecuniarily by the challenged order of the bankruptcy court.” 2019 WL 1276205 at *1 (quoting In re Gucci, 126 F.3d 380, 388 (2d Cir. 1997)). “The stringency of our rule,” the Court explained, “is rooted in a concern that freely granting open‐ended appeals to those persons affected by bankruptcy court orders will sound the death knell of the orderly disposition of bankruptcy matters.” Id.

Applying that standard, the Second Circuit readily concluded that the appellant was not an “aggrieved person.” Although the appellant was subject to injunctions set forth in the bankruptcy court’s recognition order, she had not “pursued any action against UDW that has been stayed because of the injunctive relief, and her brief [did] not identify any action that she plans to pursue.” Id. Relatedly, the Second Circuit noted that the district court had found UDW was significantly insolvent at the time the Debtors initiated the Cayman proceedings, a finding which appellant had not challenged. Because Cayman Islands law provides that creditors must be made whole before shareholders can recover in a “winding up” proceeding, the Second Circuit concluded that shareholders, including appellant, lacked any pecuniary interest in those proceedings and the U.S. order recognizing those proceedings. Id. (citing Cayman Islands Companies Law § 140(1)).

The Second Circuit also treated as inapposite a prior chapter 15 decision invoked by appellant, Morning Mist Holdings Ltd. v. Krys (In re Fairfield Sentry Ltd.), 714 F.3d 127 (2d Cir. 2013). That decision arose from an appeal brought by shareholders of a feeder fund that invested in the Madoff fraud. The shareholders there challenged the bankruptcy court’s chapter 15 recognition of liquidation proceedings that were ongoing in the British Virgin Islands. But as the Second Circuit’s summary order here explained, standing was not at issue in that case, and the facts were distinguishable. The shareholders in Fairfield Sentry had filed a New York shareholder derivative suit that was stayed as a result of chapter 15 recognition, whereas here, the appellant could not identify any way that recognition caused her to be aggrieved.

The Second Circuit did not explicitly address the district court’s alternative basis for dismissal: i.e., that the consummation of the Debtors’ restructuring, combined with the appellant’s failure to seek a stay, rendered the appeal equitably moot. In re Ocean Rig UDW Inc., 585 B.R. at 39-41. Noting simply that it had considered the appellant’s remaining arguments and concluded that they were without merit, the Court of Appeals did not discuss the appellant’s contention that the equitable mootness doctrine is inapplicable to chapter 15 proceedings. The district court had previously rejected appellant’s arguments that equitable mootness did not apply under chapter 15, concluding that the same “principles of finality and fairness” that pertain to “domestic reorganizations” and the same “concerns of comity” that animated former section 304 of the Bankruptcy Code apply in the chapter 15 context. Id. at 41.


If you have any questions about any of the topics discussed in this opinion, please contact your Orrick attorney or any of the following attorneys:

Evan Hollander

Daniel Rubens

Emmanuel Fua

Update to Madoff

 

Following our post on the district court’s extraterritoriality decision, the bankruptcy court dismissed the actions against several defendants on the grounds that the presumption against extraterritoriality and international comity principles limit the scope of § 550(a)(2) such that the trustee of a domestic debtor cannot use it to recover property that the debtor transferred to a foreign entity that subsequently transferred it to another foreign entity. However, on February 25, 2019, the Second Circuit disagreed with the bankruptcy court’s decision and vacated the judgement and remanded the matter back to the bankruptcy court for further proceedings. More to come.

 

Second Circuit Affirms Sabine: New Focus on Horizontal Privity Requirement May Affect Oil and Gas Gathering Agreement Terms

The Sabine Oil & Gas Corp. chapter 11 bankruptcy has been closely watched by many for guidance on how to structure midstream gathering agreements between upstream producers and midstream gatherers (who gather, transport and process oil and gas after it has been extracted from the land). On May 25, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the debtor, Sabine, had the right to reject gathering agreements with two midstream companies. In re Sabine, 2018 WL 2386902 (2d. Cir. May 25, 2018). In the Sabine agreements, Sabine had agreed to dedicate all of the gas produced from a designated area for processing by one of the midstream gatherers.

Looking to Texas law, the Second Circuit ruled that for the agreements to be treated as covenants “running with the land” immune from such rejection by the debtor, there would have to be horizontal privity relating to the land. For horizontal privity to exist, there must be a common interest in the land in addition to the applicable covenant at the time of the agreement. For example, horizontal privity exists where Party A conveys a fee interest in real property in fee to Party B, if as part of the same transaction Party B grants Party A a leasehold interest over the conveyed real property. Because, in the view of the Second Circuit, there was no such privity in the Sabine case, the agreements were subject to rejection.

The Second Circuit’s rationale surprised some because the district court had relied on a different theory in allowing the rejection of the agreement. Because the Second Circuit’s ruling was made by summary order and was not intended to have precedential effect, and because it speaks to Texas law, the decision will have limited, if any, precedential value. Nonetheless, this Second Circuit ruling will be looked at by other courts facing similar issues, and may have some persuasive value. As a result, practitioners may want to examine their approach to midstream gathering and services agreements and whether their agreements should be structured to ensure that horizontal privity exists between the parties.

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Orrick’s Marc Levinson Compares Chapter 9 to Chapter 11 for the Federal Judicial Center Website

 

Orrick Restructuring Senior Counsel Marc Levinson is one of the chapter 9 experts assisting in the preparation of a chapter 9 manual for bankruptcy judges and court clerks that has been posted on the website of the Federal Judicial Center, an arm of the United States Courts which educates federal judges.  Among other things, the manual will discuss the differences between chapter 9 and chapter 11 bankruptcies. The below video comparing chapter 9 v. chapter 11 was prepared at the FJC’s request that Marc draw upon his experience representing the cities of Stockton and Vallejo, California, in their chapter 9 cases. It has been posted on the FJC’s website, but note that access to the video on that website is restricted to judges. READ MORE

Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Jevic on Whether Distribution of Settlement Proceeds May Depart From Statutory Priority Scheme

 

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on December 7, 2016 in Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp. The case poses a question that has divided the Second, Third, and Fifth Circuits: Whether a bankruptcy court may authorize the distribution of settlement proceeds in a way that departs from the statutory priority scheme in the Bankruptcy Code, including through a so-called “structured settlement.” READ MORE

Sixth Circuit Finds Bankruptcy Court Cannot Force City to Provide Services in Chapter 9

On November 14, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that courts in chapter 9 cases lack authority to order a municipal debtor to provide services to its constituents. Affirming the bankruptcy court’s dismissal of customers’ claims arising from the termination of their water service by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, the Sixth Circuit held that section 904 of the Bankruptcy Code prohibits a chapter 9 court from entering orders that “interfere” with a municipality’s “political [and] governmental powers.” In re City of Detroit, Mich., No. 15-2236, 2016 WL 6677715 (6th Cir. Nov. 14, 2016). READ MORE

Third Circuit Departs from Momentive and Reinstates EFIH Noteholder Make-Whole Claims Causing Uncertainty over EFH’s Ability to Exit Bankruptcy

Recently, the Third Circuit reversed decisions issued by the Delaware Bankruptcy and District Courts and permitted first and second lien noteholders of Energy Future Intermediate Holding Company LLC and EFIH Finance Inc. to receive payment of a make-whole premium. In re Energy Future Holdings Corp., No. 16-1351 (3d Cir. Nov. 17, 2016).  The decision, which is largely grounded in New York law, departs from recent controversial decisions issued by the Bankruptcy Court and District Court for the Southern District of New York in the Momentive bankruptcy, which we have previously discussed here and here.  In Momentive, the courts reached the opposite conclusion on substantially similar facts.  In Momentive, the courts reached the opposite conclusion on substantially similar facts.  In addition to creating a split between the Third Circuit and the Southern District of New York, the ruling creates uncertainty regarding the ability for the debtors in the long-running EFH bankruptcy to confirm their proposed chapter 11 plan. READ MORE

Orrick’s Marc Levinson Publishes Chapter 11 v. Chapter 9 Checklist in Practical Law

 

In a recent article for Practical Law Bankruptcy, Restructuring Senior Counsel Marc Levinson prepared a comparison chart providing an overview of the major facets of a Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy and comparing them to those of a traditional Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Chart examines, among other crucial issues, commencement of the case, eligibility requirements, case administration, preference actions and plans. To read the full chart, please click here.

Supreme Court to Resolve Circuit Split Over Structured Dismissals

 

The Supreme Court again will be addressing the powers of bankruptcy courts. At the end of the term, the Court granted certiorari in Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp. to decide whether a bankruptcy court may authorize the distribution of settlement proceeds in a way that violates the statutory priority scheme in the Bankruptcy Code.  No. 15-649, 2016 WL 3496769 (S. Ct. June 28, 2016).  The Supreme Court is expected to address this fundamental bankruptcy issue sometime early next year. READ MORE