Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Bankruptcy
USF Federal Credit Union v. Gateway Radiology Consultants, P.A.
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
Black v. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
Title IV of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) creates an insurance program to protect employees’ pension benefits. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)—a wholly-owned corporation of the U.S. government—is charged with administering the pension-insurance program. PBGC terminated the “Salaried Plan,” a defined-benefit plan sponsored by Delphi by an agreement between PBGC and Delphi pursuant to 29 U.S.C. 1342(c). Delphi had filed a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition and had stopped making contributions to the plan. The district court rejected challenges by retirees affected by the termination.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Subsection 1342(c) permits termination of distressed pension plans by agreement between PBGC and the plan administrator without court adjudication. Rejecting a due process argument, the court stated that the retirees have not demonstrated that they have a property interest in the full amount of their vested, but unfunded, pension benefits. PBGC’s decision to terminate the Salaried Plan was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Black v. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp." on Justia Law
Hidalgo County Emergency Service Foundation v. Carranza
Hidalgo, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, alleged that it was denied a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) based on its status as a bankruptcy debtor. The bankruptcy court ruled in favor of Hidalgo and issued a preliminary injunction mandating that the SBA handle Hidalgo's PPP application without consideration of its ongoing bankruptcy.The Fifth Circuit held, under well-established circuit precedent, that the bankruptcy court exceeded its authority when it issued an injunction against the SBA Administrator. The court explained that the issue at hand is not the validity or wisdom of the PPP regulations and related statutes, but the ability of a court to enjoin the Administrator, whether in regard to the PPP or any other circumstance. Accordingly, the court vacated the preliminary injunction. View "Hidalgo County Emergency Service Foundation v. Carranza" on Justia Law
In re: FirstEnergy Solutions Corp.
FES distributes electricity, buying it from its fossil-fuel and nuclear electricity-generating subsidiaries. FES and a subsidiary filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court enjoined the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) from interfering with its plan to reject certain electricity-purchase contracts that FERC had previously approved under the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 791a or the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, 16 U.S.C. 2601, applying the ordinary business-judgment rule and finding that the contracts were financially burdensome to FES. The counterparties were rendered unsecured creditors to the bankruptcy estate. The Sixth Circuit agreed that the bankruptcy court has jurisdiction to decide whether FES may reject the contracts, but held that the injunction was overly broad (beyond its jurisdiction) and that its standard for deciding rejection was too limited. The public necessity of available and functional bankruptcy relief is generally superior to the necessity of FERC’s having complete or exclusive authority to regulate energy contracts and markets. The bankruptcy court exceeded its authority by enjoining FERC from “initiating or continuing any proceeding” or “interfer[ing] with [its] exclusive jurisdiction,” given that it did not have exclusive jurisdiction. On remand, the bankruptcy court must reconsider and decide the impact of the rejection of these contracts on the public interest—including the consequential impact on consumers and any tangential contract provisions concerning such things as decommissioning, environmental management, and future pension obligations—to ensure that the “equities balance in favor of rejecting the contracts.” View "In re: FirstEnergy Solutions Corp." on Justia Law
City of Chicago v. Fulton
Chicago's Code permits the city to immobilize and impound a vehicle if its owner has three or more “final determinations of liability,” or two final determinations that are over a year old, “for parking, standing, compliance, automated traffic law enforcement system, or automated speed enforcement system violation[s].” Fines range from $25 to $500. Failure to pay the fine within 25 days automatically doubles the penalty. After a vehicle is impounded, the owner is further subjected to towing and storage fees and to the city’s costs and attorney’s fees. A 2016 amendment created a possessory lien in favor of the city in the amount required to obtain the vehicle's release. Chicago began refusing to release impounded vehicles to debtors who had filed Chapter 13 petitions. In each of four consolidated cases, the bankruptcy courts each held that Chicago violated the automatic stay by “exercising control” over bankruptcy estate property and that none of the exceptions to the stay applied. The courts ordered the city to return debtors’ vehicles and imposed sanctions for violating the stay. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that it addressed the issue in 2009 and held that a creditor must comply with the automatic stay and return a debtor’s vehicle upon her filing of a bankruptcy petition. View "City of Chicago v. Fulton" on Justia Law
Kentucky Employees. Retirement System v. Seven Counties.Services, Inc.
Seven Counties, a nonprofit provider of mental health services, attempted to file for Bankruptcy Code Chapter 11 reorganization. For decades, Seven Counties has participated in Kentucky’s public pension plan (KERS). Because the rate set for employer contributions has drastically increased in recent years, Seven Counties sought to reject its relationship with KERS in bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court and the district court both held that Seven Counties is eligible to file under Chapter 11 and that the relationship between Seven Counties and KERS is based on an executory contract that can be rejected. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Seven Counties is only eligible to be a Chapter 11 debtor if it is a “person” under 11 U.S.C. 109(a); a “governmental unit” is generally excluded from the category of “person.” Because the Commonwealth does not exercise the necessary forms of control over Seven Counties for it to be considered an instrumentality of the Commonwealth, Seven Counties is eligible to file. Seven Counties characterized its relationship with KERS as contractual, such that, to the extent it is executory, it may be rejected in bankruptcy, 11 U.S.C. 365. KERS argued the relationship is purely statutory, similar to an assessment, such that it cannot be rejected. The Sixth Circuit certified the question of the nature of the relationship to the Kentucky Supreme Court. View "Kentucky Employees. Retirement System v. Seven Counties.Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Wittkopf v. Idaho Dept of Labor
On July 11, 2013, the Idaho Department of Labor (“IDOL”) mailed an eligibility determination for unemployment benefits (the “2013 determination”) to William Wittkopf. This determination found Wittkopf underreported his wages for several weeks, which resulted in an overpayment in unemployment benefits. As a result, Wittkopf was: (1) ordered to repay the overpayment; (2) ineligible for any unemployment benefits for a fifty-two week period; and (3) assessed a civil penalty. Additionally, Wittkopf was told that he would remain ineligible for unemployment benefits until all amounts were repaid. Pursuant to Idaho Code section 72– 1368(3) the last day for Wittkopf to file a protest to the 2013 determination was July 25, 2013, which he failed to do. IDOL attempted to collect on the 2013 determination over the next year without success. Subsequently in early 2016, Wittkopf filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The debt he owed to the state of Idaho was included in his bankruptcy and was discharged by order of the Bankruptcy Court. In September 2016, Wittkopf began filing new claims for unemployment benefits with IDOL because he worked a seasonal job and was not receiving any income in the winter months. After not receiving benefits for several weeks, Wittkopf called IDOL which informed him he was ineligible for unemployment benefits because he had failed to pay back his overpayment, civil penalty, and interest he owed IDOL, even though those amounts were discharged in bankruptcy. Wittkopf mailed a letter to IDOL protesting the denial of his unemployment benefits. Wittkopf claimed in this letter that he was eligible for unemployment benefits because his bankruptcy discharged any amount he owed to IDOL. An Appeals Examiner construed Wittkopf’s 2016 letter as a protest of the 2013 determination. Two days later the Appeals Examiner issued a written decision finding there was no jurisdiction to hear Wittkopf’s protest because it was not filed within fourteen days of when it was issued on July 25, 2013, as required by Idaho Code section 72-1368. On November 3, 2016, Wittkopf appealed the Appeals Examiner’s decision to the Industrial Commission. On January 27, 2017, the Industrial Commission affirmed the Appeals Examiner’s decision. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the Industrial Commission erred in affirming the examiner without having determined first whether: (1) the bankruptcy discharge voided IDOL's 2013 determination; (2) whether the discharge operated as an injunction against any effort to collect, recover or offset the 2013 debt; and if yes, (3) why the Department's denial of current benefits on the basis of the 2013 debt wasn't a violation of the injunction. The matter was remanded back to the Industrial Commission for further proceedings. View "Wittkopf v. Idaho Dept of Labor" on Justia Law
Lefoldt v. Rentfro
After Natchez Regional Medical Center (“NRMC”) filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, H. Kenneth Lefoldt, who had been appointed trustee for the NRMC Liquidation Trust, sued NRMC’s former directors and officers in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, alleging breach of fiduciary duties of care, good faith, and loyalty. The directors and officers sought dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and argued that they were immune under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”). The district court agreed and granted dismissal to the directors and officers. Lefoldt appealed, and the Fifth Circuit certified questions of Mississippi Law to the Mississippi Supreme Court pertaining to the MTCA as the exclusive remedy for a bankruptcy trustee standing in the shoes of a public hospital corporation against the employees or directors of that public corporation. If indeed the MTCA was the exclusive remedy, then did the MTCA permit the trustee to pursue any claims against the officers and directors in their personal capacity? The Mississippi Supreme Court answered the first question in the negative: the MTCA did not furnish the exclusive remedy for the bankruptcy trustee. View "Lefoldt v. Rentfro" on Justia Law
Lyda v. City of Detroit
In 2013, the City of Detroit filed for chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, facing problems “run[ning] wide and deep”—including the affordable provision of basic utilities. In 2014, plaintiffs, customers, and the purported representatives of customers, of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), filed an adversary proceeding, based on DWSD’s termination of water service to thousands of residential customers. Citing 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Supreme Court holding in Monell v. Department of Social Services, plaintiffs sought injunctive relief. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal. Section 904 of the Bankruptcy Code explicitly prohibits this relief. Whether grounded in state law or federal constitutional law, a bankruptcy court order requiring DWSD to provide water service at a specific price, or refrain from terminating service would interfere with the City’s “political [and] governmental powers,” its “property [and] revenues,” and its “use [and] enjoyment of . . . income-producing property,” 11 U.S.C. 904. Plaintiffs’ due process and equal protection claims were inadequately pled. View "Lyda v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law
Ochadleus v. City of Detroit
In 2013, Detroit filed for municipal bankruptcy, 11 U.S.C. 109(c). The city had $18 billion in debt, 100,000 creditors, negative cash flow, crumbling infrastructure, and could not provide basic police, fire, and emergency services. Based on settlements with almost all creditors and stakeholders, the bankruptcy court confirmed the city’s plan, which included the reduction of municipal-employee pension benefits. The city’s General Retirement System has a traditional defined-benefit pension plan and a 401(k)-style employee-contribution annuity savings program (ASF). The city is responsible for funding the defined-benefits plan. Detroit is not responsible for funding the ASF, but $387 million of city money had been wrongly directed into and distributed from it, to ensure participants a promised 7.9% annual return regardless of investment returns. The defined-benefit plan was underfunded by $1.879 billion. The city obtained outside funding ($816 million) from the state and philanthropic foundations in order to reduce defined-benefit pensions by only 4.5%, while eliminating cost-of-living increases, dental, vision, and life insurance benefits; reducing healthcare coverage; and establishing a mechanism for the partial recoupment of excess ASF distributions. Defined-benefit pension claimants voted 73% in favor of accepting the plan, which eliminated $7 billion in debt and freed $1.7 billion in revenue for city services and infrastructure. Many aspects of the plan have been implemented or completed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of challenges to the reduction in benefits as equitably moot. View "Ochadleus v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law