In Case You Missed It: Bankruptcy Legislative Update

Perhaps you were riveted by @realDonaldTrump’s live Twitter feeds from the #SocialMediaSummit on Thursday. Or the counter-narrative. Or maybe you tuned out and made cat treats. However you spent the day, it would have been easy to miss the bankruptcy bills that were quietly reported out of Committee for consideration by the House of Representatives.

Update: 7/24/19

The House of Representatives has approved the following legislation by voice vote.

The Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019 (HR 3311)

The Small Business Reorganization Act (fondly known as the “SBRA”) would add an exciting new Subchapter V to Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.  This new subchapter would provide a streamlined Chapter 11 process for small businesses. “Small” means “very small,” e.g., businesses with less than roughly $2.5 million in liablities.

But wait, there’s more! SBRA would allow small business owners to preserve their ownership interests – avoiding liquidation under a receivership or assignment or pesky new value problems under a traditional Chapter 11. The idea is that, with proper planning and execution (yes, there’s always a catch), a small business can use SBRA to successfully emerge from bankruptcy within several months with a bright, shiny court-approved plan of reorganization. You can read more about it on The National Law Review.

And take heart. Bipartisanship is not yet dead. No. Seriously. SBRA was proposed by Congressman Ben Cline (R-Virginia) and David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) along with House Judiciary Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-Georgia) and Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee).

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and I want to make sure they have the tools to keep their doors open. The Small Business Reorganization Act would help business owners maintain more control over their life’s work while overcoming difficult times. I appreciate the leadership of Congressmen Cicilline, Cline and Cohen on this important legislation.

Doug Collins

The Family Farmer Relief Act of 2019 (HR 2336)

Though Chapter 12 provides special support to family farmers, its $4.1 million debt limit keeps many from using it. The Family Farmer Relief Act of 2019 would allow more family farmers to use the program by raising the debt cap to $10 million.

[This] provides the restructuring and seasonal repayment flexibility that many farmers need in today’s lagging farm economy and will help to align bankruptcy law with the scale and credit needs of U.S. agriculture.

Zippy Duval, American Farm Bureau Federation President

This Farm Bureau-supported bill was introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and cosponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.).

The National Guard & Reservists Debt Relief Extension Act of 2019 (HR 3304)

Currently, National Guard members and reservists who serve on active duty are are exempt from the Bankruptcy Code’s means test. This protection is set to expire at the end of the year, but HR 3304 would extend it for an additional 4 years.

Without question, this commonsense measure warrants our support and its prompt consideration by the full House.

Jerry Nadler

The Honoring American Veterans in Extreme Need Act of 2019 (HR 2938)

The “HAVEN Act” would exclude certain veterans’ disability benefits paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense from income under the Bankruptcy Code’s means test. In other words, veterans’ disability would be handled in much the same way as Social Security payments.

This legislation is supported by the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges, the American Bankruptcy Institute, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, and the National Consumer Law Center. It is also supported by the Veterans of Foreign Affairs, the American Legion, and the Disabled American Veterans, among others.

Bankruptcy Venue Reform Act of 2018

Occasionally you ask about the most recent efforts at venue reform. The Bankruptcy Venue Reform Act of 2018 was introduced on January 8, 2018. It was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary where it is currently gathering electronic dust. You can track its slow progress on Congress.gov.

Mette K.

Cornyn & Warren Introduce the Bankruptcy Venue Reform Act of 2017

Earlier today, Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the Bankruptcy Venue Reform Act of 2017. The bill would require companies to seek bankruptcy protection where they have their principal assets or their principal executive offices. And it would eliminate the possibility of filing where they are incorporated and restrict their ability to file where an affiliate’s case is pending. The end result? The bill would effectively limit access to popular bankruptcy courts in New York and Delaware. If passed, this would represent a seismic shift for corporate bankruptcies.

The Rationale for the Bill: Preventing Corporate Abuse

Sens. Cornyn and Warren said in a joint statement that the bill is meant to strengthen the integrity of the bankruptcy system and build public confidence by preventing companies from “shopping” for favorable courts. The bill is also intended to allow employees at bankrupt companies, small business creditors, and others to participate in cases that will have tremendous impacts on their lives.

“Workers, creditors, and consumers lose when corporations manipulate the system to file for bankruptcy wherever they please. I’m glad to work with Senator Cornyn to prevent big companies from cherry-picking courts that they think will rule in their favor and to crack down on this corporate abuse of our nation’s bankruptcy laws.” -Sen. Warren 

The bill is endorsed by the Commercial Law League, Texas Bankruptcy Bar Association, Texas Hotel & Lodging Association, Boston Bar Association, Ag & Business Legal Strategies, and… the Iowa Bankers Association.

Another Viewpoint: Litigation at the Speed of Business

Proponents of the current system, however, argue that experienced courts and judges can better handle complicated issues in a big bankruptcy case. This leads to greater predictability, thus reducing the cost, risk and delay associated with bankruptcy filings. And those benefits, in turn, help to save businesses, preserve jobs, and reduce creditor losses.

The bill faces opposition from Gov. Carney and Delaware’s three federal lawmakers, who said in their own joint-statement that more than two-thirds of U.S. businesses in the Fortune 500 incorporate in Delaware to gain access to “Delaware’s world-class bench and bar with exceptional expertise in corporate legal issues, including bankruptcy.”

“Denying American businesses the ability to file for bankruptcy in the courts of their choice would not only hurt Delaware’s economy but also hurt businesses of all sizes and the national economy as a whole. Our economy thrives when the bankruptcy system is fair, predictable, and efficient. Experienced bankruptcy judges are critical to ensuring that companies can restructure in a way that saves jobs and preserves value.”

This is something I can now begin to speak to from some level of personal experience. After attending the Pre-Admission Conference for new Delaware lawyers held by the Delaware Supreme Court, two themes stood out. An unwavering insistence on civility and the highest ethical and professional standards. And an uncompromising commitment to delivering “litigation at the speed of business.”

Further Reading: Full Text of the Bill

The bill’s complete text is available here.

Mette K.

The CLLA Sets Its Sights on Bankruptcy Venue Rules… Again

I have barely unpacked my suitcases, and yesterday the Commercial Law League of America (CLLA) announced that a bankruptcy venue reform bill will be proposed this week in the U.S. Senate. The bill will to seek to change the venue rules for filing Chapter 11 business cases. If you want to view the CLAA’s press release, it is available here. (The CLLA previously supported S.314 (109th Congress 2005-2006) and H.R.2533 (112th Congress 2011-2012), which were not enacted.)

A Very Old Debate

The venue rules were already a long-standing topic of debate when I began practicing law over 20 years ago. In fact, the argument has been ongoing for roughly 40 years. And it has not dramatically changed over the decades. Rather, it is a debate that periodically ebbs and flows in public discourse.

If you’re a newcomer to the conversation, the gist of the debate is this.

  • On one hand, some people argue that current law gives debtors too much leeway in deciding where to file bankruptcy, allowing them to “shop” for favorable venues.
  • On the other hand, some people argue that existing venue laws work, allowing debtors the flexibility to choose a venue that provides them with the best opportunity to reorganize and maximize estate value.

The Significance of the Venue Debate

Why does this matter? Because the District of Delaware and the Southern District of New York attract the largest share of Chapter 11 filings. In fact, they have attracted more than 75% of large public company filings since 2010.

What to Expect Next?

The bill was introduced on January 8, 2017.  More information is available in my follow up post.

Stayed tuned as I track the proposed bill and provide updates on the latest developments.

 

Mette K.