Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Bankruptcy
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The bankruptcy court, administering a complex bankruptcy, dismissed NexPoint Advisors, LP’s objection to professional fees paid to myriad organizations. NexPoint appealed to the district court, sitting as an appellate court. The district court dismissed for lack of standing to appeal. NexPoint appealed.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that NexPoint failed to establish that the adversary proceeding “directly, adversely, and financially impacts” it beyond anything other than mere speculation. Further, the court held that: Lexmark does not expressly reach prudential concerns in bankruptcy appeals and brought no change relevant here. The court wrote by failing to raise the Cajun Electric argument simultaneously, NexPoint waived its right to do so here. Finally, the court wrote that Collins, when read in conjunction with the “party in interest” language from Bankruptcy Code Sections 330 and 1109, still fails to engage the court’s longstanding precedent that appellate standing in bankruptcy actions is afforded only to a “person aggrieved.” View "NexPoint Advisors v. Pachulski Stang" on Justia Law

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The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians is a federally recognized Indian tribe. One of its businesses extended Coughlin a payday loan. After receiving the loan, Coughlin filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, triggering an automatic stay under the Bankruptcy Code against further collection efforts by creditors. The lender allegedly continued attempting to collect Coughlin’s debt. The First Circuit reversed the Bankruptcy Court's dismissal of Coughlin’s subsequent suit on tribal sovereign immunity grounds.The Supreme Court affirmed. The Bankruptcy Code unambiguously abrogates the sovereign immunity of all governments, including federally recognized Indian tribes; 11 U.S.C. 106(a), expressly abrogates the sovereign immunity of “governmental unit[s]” for enumerated purposes. Section 101(27) defines “governmental unit” as “United States; State; Commonwealth; District; Territory; municipality; foreign state; department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States.... a State, a Commonwealth, a District, a Territory, a municipality, or a foreign state; or other foreign or domestic government.” The sections cannot plausibly be read to preserve sovereign immunity. The definition of “governmental unit” exudes comprehensiveness and includes a broad catchall phrase, sweeping in “other foreign or domestic government[s].” Reading the statute to carve out certain governments from the definition of “governmental unit” would risk upending the Code’s policy choices. Federally recognized tribes are indisputably governments. Congress need not use any particular words to make its abrogation intent clear. View "Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians v. Coughlin" on Justia Law

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When the ACA’s mandate and SRP were still in effect, a husband and wife (“Taxpayers”) did not maintain the minimum insurance coverage required by the ACA. The taxpayers did not include their $2409 SRP when they filed their 2018 federal tax return. The Taxpayers filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The IRS filed a proof of claim for the unpaid SRP and asserted that its claim was entitled to priority as an income or excise tax under Section 507 of the Bankruptcy Code. The Taxpayers objected to the government’s claim of priority. The bankruptcy court granted the objection, concluding that, for purposes of the Bankruptcy Code, the SRP is a penalty, not a tax, and therefore is not entitled to priority under Section 507(a)(8). The government appealed to the district court, which affirmed the bankruptcy court’s decision. The district court held that even if the SRP was generally a tax, it did not qualify as a tax measured by income or an excise tax and thus was not entitled to priority. The government thereafter appealed.   The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court concluded that that the SRP qualifies as a tax under the functional approach that has consistently been applied in bankruptcy cases and that nothing in the Supreme Court’s decision in NFIB requires the court to abandon that functional approach. Because the SRP is a tax that is measured by income, the government’s claim is entitled to priority under 11 U.S.C. Section 507(a)(8)(A). View "US v. Fabio Alicea" on Justia Law

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Outstanding debt for Chicago traffic tickets surpassed $1.8 billion last year. Under a 2016 Chicago ordinance, when a driver incurs the needed number of outstanding tickets and final liability determinations, Chicago is authorized to impound her vehicle and to attach a possessory lien. Many drivers cannot afford to pay their outstanding tickets and fees, let alone the liens imposed on their cars through this process. Mance incurred several unpaid parking tickets; her car was impounded and subject to a possessory lien of $12,245, more than four times her car’s value. With a monthly income of $197 in food stamps, Mance filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and sought to avoid the lien under 11 U.S.C 522(f). When a vehicle owner files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, she can avoid a lien under 522(f) if the lien qualifies as judicial and its value exceeds the value of her exempt property (the car). If the lien is statutory, it is not avoidable under the same provision.The bankruptcy and district courts and the Seventh Circuit concluded that the lien was judicial and avoidable. The lien was tied inextricably to the prior adjudications of Mance’s parking and other infractions, so it did not arise solely by statute, as the Bankruptcy Code requires for a statutory lien. View "City of Chicago v. Mance" on Justia Law

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Springfield, debtors in bankruptcy who applied for and were denied Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds pursuant to the CARES Act solely due to their bankruptcy status, initiated this adversary proceeding in bankruptcy court against the Administrator of the SBA, in her official capacity. Springfield challenges the SBA's administration of PPP funds and asks that the bankruptcy court enjoin the SBA from denying its PPP application on the basis of its bankruptcy status.The Second Circuit held that, based upon the plain language of Section 525(a) of the Bankruptcy Code, that the PPP is a loan guaranty program and not an "other similar grant," and Section 525(a) does not apply to the PPP. Therefore, the bankruptcy court incorrectly ruled that Springfield was entitled to summary judgment and a permanent injunction. Rather, the court concluded, as a matter of law, that summary judgment in the SBA's favor is warranted on the Section 525(a) claim, reversing the judgment and vacating the permanent injunction. The court remanded to the bankruptcy court for further proceedings. View "Springfield Hospital, Inc. v. Guzman" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court's judgment and held that, under the particular circumstances presented here, Ultra Resources is not subject to a separate public-law obligation to continue performance of its rejected contract, and that 11 U.S.C. 1129(a)(6) did not require the bankruptcy court to seek FERC's approval before it confirmed Ultra Resource's reorganization plan.Applying In re Mirant Corp., 378 F.3d 511 (5th Cir. 2004), the court concluded that the power of the bankruptcy court to authorize rejection of a filed-rate contract does not conflict with the authority given to FERC to regulate rates; rejection is not a collateral attack upon the contract's filed rate because that rate is given full effect when determining the breach of contract damages resulting from the rejection; and in ruling on a rejection motion, bankruptcy courts must consider whether rejection harms the public interest or disrupts the supply of energy, and must weigh those effects against the contract's burden on the bankrupt estate. Because Mirant clearly holds that rejection of a contract is not a collateral attack on the filed rate, the court concluded that FERC does not have the authority to compel continued performance and continued payment of the filed rate after a valid rejection. The court rejected any further arguments to the contrary. View "Federal Energy Regulatory Commission v. Ultra Resources" on Justia Law

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Debtor, licensed under North Dakota’s pari-mutuel wagering system, filed for bankruptcy in 2004. Ten years later, the district court ruled that the state was not authorized to collect certain taxes from the Debtor. North Dakota agreed to pay the estate $15 million. Creditors asserted claims. Although the state constitution provides that “the entire net proceeds of such games of chance are to be devoted to educational, charitable, patriotic, fraternal, religious, or other public-spirited uses,” North Dakota did not raise the rights of any charities.In 2018, the bankruptcy court ruled on the claims. North Dakota filed a new proof of claim. The court concluded that the state lacked parens patriae authority to assert claims on behalf of charities. The Eighth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (BAP) remanded. On remand, the state attempted to add a breach of contract claim. The bankruptcy court denied that motion and concluded that the contract claim had no merit. The court also rejected a constitutional-statutory claim.The BAP affirmed, rejecting arguments that North Dakota law requires that charities, not Debtor, recover the remaining tax settlement funds and that the court erred when it disallowed the contract claim. The state constitution concerns the legislature and does not govern the actions of private parties such as Debtor. Debtor paid the taxes originally; the reimbursement of those improperly-paid taxes should inure to the benefit of Debtor after distribution under the bankruptcy priority scheme. View "North Dakota v. Bala" on Justia Law

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Venoco operated a drilling rig off the coast of Santa Barbara, transporting oil and gas to its Onshore Facility for processing. Venoco did not own the Offshore Facility but leased it from the California Lands Commission. Venoco owned the Onshore Facility with air permits to use it. Following a 2015 pipeline rupture, Venoco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and abandoned its leases, relinquishing all rights in the Offshore Facility.Concerned about public safety and environmental risks, the Commission took over decommissioning the rig and plugging the wells, paying Venoco $1.1 million per month to continue operating the Offshore and Onshore Facilities. After a third-party contractor took over operations, the Commission agreed to pay for use of the Onshore Facility. The Commission, as Venoco’s creditor, filed a $130 million claim for reimbursement of plugging and decommissioning costs. Before the confirmation of the liquidation plan, Venoco and the Commission unsuccessfully negotiated a potential sale of the Onshore Facility to the Commission. The Commission stopped making payments, arguing it could continue using the Onshore Facility without payment under its police power.After the estates’ assets were transferred to a liquidation trust, the Trustee filed an adversary proceeding, claiming inverse condemnation, against California. The district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s rejection of California's assertion of Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. The Third Circuit affirmed. By ratifying the Bankruptcy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, states waived their sovereign immunity defense in proceedings that further a bankruptcy court’s exercise of its jurisdiction over the debtor's and the estate's property. View "In re Venoco, LLC" on Justia Law

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Crocs's Design Patent 789, titled “Footwear,” has a single claim for the “ornamental design for footwear.” Crocs sued Dawgs for infringement, Dawgs sought inter partes reexamination (IPE) under 35 U.S.C. 311. The district court stayed its proceedings. The examiner rejected the claim as anticipated, 35 U.S.C. 102(b). While an appeal to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board was pending, Dawgs filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court approved the sale of all of its assets to a new entity, Holdings, “not free and clear of any Claims Crocs . . . may hold for patent infringement occurring post-Closing Date by any person ... or any defenses Crocs may have in respect of any litigation claims that are sold.” The bankruptcy court authorized the distribution of the net sale proceeds and dismissed Dawgs’s bankruptcy case. Holdings assigned all rights, including explicitly the claims asserted by Dawgs in the infringement action and the IPE, to Mojave. Dawgs dissolved but continued to exist for limited purposes, including “prosecuting and defending suits" and "claims of any kind.”The Board declined to change the real-party-in-interest from the IPE requestor to Mojave, then reversed the examiner’s rejection of the patent’s claim. The Federal Circuit granted the motion to substitute. The assignments indicate that Mojave is Dawgs's successor-in-interest; as such, Mojave has standing. If the Board precludes substitution on the basis of a transfer in interest because of a late filing, it would defeat the important interest in having the proper party before the Board. View "Mojave Desert Holdings, LLC v. Crocs, Inc." on Justia Law

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Gateway is a small business debtor in an active Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding seeking a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Gateway applied for a PPP loan and falsely stated that it was not in bankruptcy in order to be eligible for the program. When Gateway filed a motion for approval in the bankruptcy court, the SBA objected that Gateway was ineligible for a PPP loan because it was in bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court granted Gateway's motion anyway, concluding that the SBA's rule rendering bankruptcy debtors ineligible for PPP loans was an unreasonable interpretation of the statute, was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act, and as a result was unlawful and unenforceable against Gateway.The Eleventh Circuit vacated the bankruptcy court's approval order, concluding that the SBA's rule is neither an unreasonable interpretation of the relevant statute nor arbitrary and capricious. The court concluded that the SBA did not exceed its authority in adopting the non-bankruptcy rule for PPP eligibility; the rule does not violate the CARES Act, is based on a reasonable interpretation of the Act, and the SBA did not act arbitrarily and capriciously in adopting the rule; and the bankruptcy court committed an error of law in concluding otherwise in its approval order and its preliminary injunction order. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. The court dismissed the appeal from the memorandum opinion for lack of jurisdiction. View "USF Federal Credit Union v. Gateway Radiology Consultants, P.A." on Justia Law