Good News for Committees… Standard Carve Out Provisions Do Not Limit Fee Awards

Over and over again the same story plays out.  A case files.  A lender carves-out a small amount from its collateral to fund Committee professionals and an investigation of the lender’s position.  That amount is inadequate, and the Committee blows past the carve-out amount.

That’s just what happened in Molycorp, where the DIP financing agreement contained a typical $250,000 carve-out provision for the Committee’s investigation of claims.

 After an extensive discovery process resulting in asserted claims, mediation, and a global settlement, the court confirmed a consensual plan and the Committee’s counsel requested payment of $8.5 million in fees.

The lender objected, arguing that the $250,000 carve-out was an absolute cap on fee payments.  The Committee responded that while the carve-out may have limited its fees in an administratively insolvent case, it was irrelevant in a case with a confirmed chapter 11 plan.  The Delaware court agreed.

The court explained that “[t]he carve-out is . . . an agreement by the secured creditor to subordinate its liens and claims to certain allowed administrative expenses, permitting such professionals’ fees to come first in terms of payment from the estate’s assets. . . .  [W]hen there are insufficient unencumbered assets to pay professionals’ fees and no plan has been confirmed, professionals’ only recourse is the carve-out.”

Here, however, a plan was confirmed. In that context, Bankruptcy Code section 1129(a)(9)(A) requires that allowed administrative claims be paid in cash (or as otherwise agreed) on the plan’s effective date.  And nothing in the carve-out language suggested that the fee cap would prohibit the allowance of administrative fees upon plan confirmation.

“If the secured parties desire confirmation, the administration claims must be paid in full in cash at confirmation even it if means invading their collateral.”

A World of Caution….

 The court contrasted the carve-out at issue with one in a DIP financing order entered in another case that stated: “[n]otwithstanding anything to the contrary therein, and absent further Order of the Court, (i) in no event during the course of the Chapter 11 Cases will actual payments in respect of the aggregate fees and expenses of all professional persons retained pursuant to an Order of the Court by the Creditor’s Committee exceed $450,000 in the aggregate (the ‘Creditors’ Committee Expense Cap’) … (iii) any and all claims (A) incurred by the Creditor’s Committee in excess of the Creditor’s Committee Expense Cap or (B) incurred by any professional persons or any party on account of professional fees and expenses that exceed the applicable amounts set forth in the Budget shall not constitute an allowed administrative expense claim for purposes of section 1129(a)(9)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code.”  At the same time, the court offered “no opinion as to whether it would approve a DIP order containing [such] provisions” had it been presented ….

See In re Molycorp, Inc., 562 B.R. 67 (Bankr. D. Del. 2017).

 

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