U.S. Supreme Court Holds that FDCPA Does Not Apply to Debt Purchasers

This post was authored by Gabrielle Glemann and summer associate Deniz Irgi.

On June 12, the U.S. Supreme Court significantly restricted the universe of companies subject to the restrictions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.   In the first opinion authored by new Justice Neil Gorsuch the court unanimously ruled, in Henson v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., that purchasers of debt who seek to collect on it for their own account are not “debt collectors” subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

The FDCPA was enacted in 1978 to rein in abusive, deceptive, predatory and unfair debt collection practices, including ”disruptive dinnertime calls,” false reporting, and “downright deceit.”  The Act establishes guidelines under which debt collectors may conduct business, prescribes penalties and remedies for violations of the act, and authorizes enforcement of the act by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), and through private lawsuits commenced by the targeted consumer.  As a threshold matter, however, the act only governs the practices of a “debt collector,” defined in the statute as anyone who “regularly collects or attempts to collect . . . debts owed or due . . . another.”   To the extent the party whose actions are at issue does not qualify as a debt collector, the statute provides no enforcement provisions or remedies either for the consumer or the federal agencies charged with enforcing the FDCPA. Continue Reading

WASHINGTON’S NOT QUITE UNIFORM VOIDABLE TRANSACTIONS ACT TAKES EFFECT JULY 23

UVTA. Washington’s version of the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act (UVTA) will become effective on July 23.  The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) adopted amendments and a new name for the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA) in 2014, and Washington will become the 15th state to enact the new version.  As Professor Ken Kettering, the reporter for the ULC project, has written, while the name has changed,

the renaming should not be taken to imply that the UVTA is a new and different act, or that the amendments make major changes to the substance of the UFTA. Nothing could be further from the truth. The UVTA is not a new act; it is the UFTA, renamed and lightly amended.

The impetus behind the project was an article Professor Kettering wrote in 2011 suggesting that UFTA be amended to include a choice of law rule.  Most of the rest of the re-drafting project focused on small changes to UFTA, while retaining the basic intent of the statute.  It is likely that UVTA will have more effect on litigation involving what are now called “voidable transactions” than it will on the substance of what is voidable.  By clarifying the choice of law, standards of both pleading and proof, and the burden of proof—provisions not contained in UFTA or its predecessors—parties to litigation under UVTA should be afforded more certainty than they had before.

Choice of Law Rule. Under UVTA, the choice of law is the location of the debtor, i.e., the person whose transfers are being examined to determine if they are voidable.  The location of the debtor is determined as follows:

  • For individuals, their principal residence
  • For organizations, their place of business, and, if they have more than one, their chief executive office

This rule will be familiar to those who know the choice of law rules under the Uniform Commercial Code, except that there is no special rule for “registered organizations.” In other words, a corporation organized under Delaware law but whose headquarters are in Prosser, Washington will be, for UVTA purposes, subject to Washington law.

Washington Variants. Washington adopted three variants to the uniform version of UVTA.  One Washington variant in particular may lead to some interesting results when the choice of law rule is applied.  Under UVTA (as under UFTA and every fraudulent conveyance law going back to the Statute of 13 Elizabeth in 1571), a transfer is voidable if made with actual intent to “hinder, delay or defraud” any creditor of the debtor.  Section 8(a)(1) of UFTA granted  a defense to such a claim to a transferee who acted in good faith and paid reasonably equivalent value for the asset.  Continue Reading

Gabrielle Glemann: A Welcome Addition to Our Bankruptcy Practice

Stoel Rives is pleased to welcome Gabrielle Glemann as Of Counsel in our Corporate Group in Seattle. Her arrival solidifies our bankruptcy practice both in the Pacific Northwest and nationally.

Our clients will greatly benefit from Gabrielle’s significant experience in national and international corporate bankruptcy and bankruptcy litigation matters. Before joining the Stoel Rives team, Gabrielle was counsel at  Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP in New York City, representing debtors, trustees, examiners, and secured and unsecured creditors in Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcies for over 10 years.

Corporate-Focused Legal Counsel

Gabrielle’s extensive experience in corporate restructuring and distressed debt transactions makes her an ideal advisor for our corporate clients. She will advise clients from a variety of industries on commercial and regulatory matters, including:

  • Financing transactions
  • Asset sales and acquisitions
  • Risk assessment and mitigation
  • Corporate governance
  • Regulatory compliance

Gabrielle’s expertise in a wide range of corporate and bankruptcy-related areas enable her to meet the complex needs of our clients.

“Corporate bankruptcy and debt restructuring require an attorney to develop a detailed knowledge of the client’s finances and management,” Gabrielle said. “Gaining an understanding of the business that is necessary to help guide a corporate restructuring requires a great deal of trust on behalf of the client.”

One of the qualities that drew Gabrielle to Stoel Rives is our excellent reputation for client service, so she is excited to join Stoel Rives and welcomes the task of growing its bankruptcy practice. For the benefit of our family of corporate clients (and beyond), she plans to contribute to Restructuring Debt Review to provide ongoing insight into legal developments regarding bankruptcy law.

Don’t Panic! Even Though Oregon Changed from Alternative B to Alternative A on January 1, 2016

On January 1, 2016, the Oregon legislature amended ORS 79.0503 to adopt Alternative A in the 2010 Amendments to Article 9 of the UCC.  What does that mean and should you be worried?

The 2010 Amendments to Article 9 gave states a choice between two approaches regarding how to handle individual names in UCC financing statements.  These alternatives are referred to as Alternative A and Alternative B.  Oregon adopted the 2010 Amendments, including Alternative B, effective July 1, 2013.  Under Alternative A, a financing statement naming a debtor who is an individual is effective “only if” the name exactly matches the name on a particular document (ordinarily a driver’s license).  Alternative A is also known as the “only if” alternative.  Under Alternative B, a financing statement naming a debtor who is an individual is effective if it matches the name on that document, but also if it gives “the individual name of the debtor” or “provides the surname and first personal name of the debtor.”  Alternative B is also known as the “safe harbor” alternative.

The ramifications of this change will likely be minor for a number of reasons. Continue Reading

Petters Strikes Again: Amended Minnesota Fraudulent Transfer Act Does Not Shelter Certain Charitable Contributions

The latest turn in the ongoing Petters bankruptcy saga came on June 11, when U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Gregory Kishel issued a 46-page order examining 2012 amendments to the Minnesota Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (MUFTA). Specifically, Judge Kishel reviewed whether the MUFTA amendments created a complete defense and barred the Petters trustee’s avoidance claims against several charitable organizations. In the end, Judge Kishel denied motions to dismiss filed by the charities and permitted the trustee’s suits to move forward.

These cases arose from an unraveling of one of the largest Ponzi schemes in U.S. history, which was primarily perpetrated by Minnesota businessman Tom Petters. In the course of the Petters Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases, a trustee was appointed to remediate damages caused by the scheme. With that charge, the trustee has proceeded to engage in numerous lawsuits; among those, the trustee filed suit against several charitable organizations seeking to avoid specific transfers made to them by Petters or his affiliated entities under MUFTA (invoked through 11 U.S.C. 544).

While those suits were pending, the Minnesota Legislature amended MUFTA in 2012 to add a retroactively-effective provision limiting the scope and nature of transfers to qualifying charitable organizations that may be subjected to avoidance claims. Following that, those charities sued by the Petters trustee moved to dismiss the complaints on grounds that the amendments sheltered the transfers at issue and barred the trustee’s claims. Continue Reading

Have You Hugged Your Bankruptcy Attorney Today? We’re Feeling a Little Unloved

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued its opinion in Baker Botts v. Asarco, holding that professionals retained in bankruptcy cases cannot receive compensation for the costs of defending their fee applications. Even if you aren’t a bankruptcy professional, there are two things to keep in mind about this opinion. First, it won’t stop us restructuring professionals from doing our jobs. Second, the reality of commercial bankruptcy practice is often at odds with the pure textual analysis favored by the Supreme Court.

The holding itself is straightforward. Section 330 of the Bankruptcy Code authorizes retained professionals to receive reasonable compensation for “actual, necessary services rendered”. The Court, reviewing the statue, held that the language did not authorize a deviation from the ubiquitous “American Rule” which mandates that unless a statute or a contract provides otherwise, each party bears the costs of his own attorneys’ fees. Services rendered, it held, are those rendered to the client, not in defense of one’s own fee application. To be sure, this case did not have the kind of facts that engender sympathy for poor bankruptcy professionals. The primary firms in question received a combined award of $120 million in fees and a $4.1 million enhancement for exceptional performance (truly exceptional in the sense that all creditors in the case were paid in full). On top of this, however, the Bankruptcy Court also awarded $5 million for the costs of defense of the original fee applications. It was that additional attorneys’ fee award that the Supreme Court overturned. Continue Reading

Dewsnup Lives On: Debtors May Not Strip Underwater Junior Liens

On Monday, June 1, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its opinion in Bank of America v. Caulkett, a closely watched matter concerning whether Section 506(d) of the Bankruptcy Code permits junior lien stripping in the context of Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  Addressing two consolidated cases, Justice Clarence Thomas—writing for a virtually unanimous Supreme Court—held that Section 506(d) forbids debtors from voiding junior liens, even when such liens are wholly underwater.

In Caulkett, the individual debtors owned homes worth less than the amount each owed on a senior mortgage. The debtors had junior mortgage liens, for which the junior mortgagor—Bank of America—would receive nothing if the homes were sold today as a result of (1) subordination to a senior mortgage, and (2) a decline in each home’s market value. To strip those junior liens in bankruptcy, the debtors relied on Section 506(d) of the Bankruptcy Code, which provides: “To the extent that a lien secures a claim against the debtor that is not an allowed secured claim, such lien is void.”

The debtors prevailed in the lower courts on their argument that wholly underwater junior mortgage liens were no longer “secured” because the collateral had no value relative to the claim. The Supreme Court reversed those decisions.

In doing so, the Supreme Court credited the debtors’ argument that a straightforward reading of Section 506(a)(1)—which provides that “an allowable claim . . . is a secured claim to the extent of the value of such creditor’s interest in . . . such property”—would void an underwater junior mortgage lien.

But the Supreme Court also found that it had already adopted a construction of “secured claim” in its Dewsnup v. Timm opinion. In that case, the Supreme Court rejected an argument that a claim was “secured only to the extent of the judicially determined worth of the real property,” and instead defined the term “secured claim” to mean “a claim supported by a security interest in property, regardless of whether the value of that property would be sufficient to cover the claim.”

The debtors’ in Caulkett sought to distinguish Dewsnup because those secured liens in question were only partially underwater, as opposed to wholly underwater. The Supreme Court declined to draw that distinction because of the odd framework it would enact. In essence, had the Supreme Court accepted the Caulkett debtors’ distinction, a debtor could not strip down a junior lien if the collateral was valued at one dollar more than a senior lien, but a debtor could strip a junior lien if the collateral was valued at one dollar less. Such a framework would lead to arbitrary results, particularly given constant fluctuations in property values.

It is unclear from the Supreme Court’s decision why the debtors chose not to attack Dewsnup head on.  After all, they had a spirited dissent in Dewsnup from Justice Scalia behind them.  And the Supreme Court appears to go out of its way, repeatedly, to highlight that the debtors have not asked the Court to overrule Dewsnup.  Future litigants should take note.

By Andrew Pieper (andrew.pieper@stoel.com) and Jamila Toussaint.  Ms. Toussaint is a Summer Associate with Stoel Rives LLP and is not currently licensed to practice law.

“The world will end not in fire, or ice, but in a bankruptcy court.”

Those words are from Justice Sotomayor’s opinion in the recent decision by the Supreme Court in Wellness International Network, Ltd. v. Sharif, which decision has generated significant press coverage (and blog postings) among bankruptcy practitioners across the country. This author certainly doesn’t intend to add to the noise out there by reciting the facts and procedural history of the case yet again. Rather, I’d like to make certain observations of the 6-3 decision that may provide some insight into how this decision will affect the adjudication of “Stern claims” going forward.

First, the Supreme Court’s decision is a big win for bankruptcy courts and those who champion the power of the 349 judges who currently sit on our bankruptcy courts. The majority opinion appears to have resolved the debate over whether individual parties to a litigation of a “Stern-claim” could waive their rights to adjudicate such claims before an Article III judge.  The Supreme Court concluded that “allowing bankruptcy litigants to waive the right to Article III adjudication of Stern claims does not usurp the constitutional prerogatives of Article III courts.”

Continue Reading

RadioShack Bankruptcy More Proof that Timing is EVERYTHING

Any business executive worth her salt will admit that timing is everything in business. Launch a product before consumers are ready to try something new or enter a market after the niche is saturated and even the best business plan is unlikely to see you through. The ongoing RadioShack bankruptcy is a good illustration of this concept from a Chapter 11 perspective.

Bankruptcy is business, and frequently it is the business of “just getting it done.” Show up too late in the process or fail to juggle every one of the multitudes of balls in the air in a complex Chapter 11 and you may lose the few options available. The juggling is going fast and furious in the case of RadioShack’s Chapter 11 in Delaware. As you may recall, the Shack filed on February 5 seeking a quick sale of most of its assets, with an affiliate of existing lenders acting as the “stalking horse bidder” subject to higher and better bids.

What sounds simple in the blogosphere is actually a lot more complicated and is as much about timing as anything. When RadioShack filed, it also asked the Bankruptcy Court for authority to borrow up to $20 million in “Debtor in Possession Financing” from its prior lenders, on what many bankruptcy practitioners would consider favorable “roll up” terms. As part of that motion, RadioShack sought to insert a provision in the financing order that would prohibit any party from challenging the security interests of the lenders. The motion was granted over the objection of the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors and others, but as is common in such orders, the Court gave the Committee (or other parties with standing) just about 60 days to file a challenge to the lenders’ position (i.e. about April 14). Continue Reading

Ponzi Scheme Clawbacks Dealt a Blow by MN Supreme Court Ruling

The Minnesota Supreme Court recently issued an opinion overturning a legal presumption that permitted victims of financial fraud to forego evidentiary requirements under the Minnesota Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (MUFTA) in cases involving Ponzi schemes. As a result, the ruling calls into question the potential recovery of more than $1 billion in alleged false profits from those with relationships to Tom Petters, the mastermind of one of the largest financial frauds in U.S. history, second only to Bernie Madoff.

In 2010, Petters—a prominent Minnesota businessman and CEO of Petters Group Worldwide, a holding company with diverse assets that included Sun Country Airlines and Polaroid—was convicted on counts of fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering in connection with a $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme. Prior to Petters’s conviction, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Minnesota appointed a bankruptcy trustee who proceeded to file more than 200 clawback suits against lenders and others in order recoup assets under MUFTA and other available claims.

Prior to the recent ruling, Minnesota courts applied a “Ponzi scheme presumption” to financial transfers between the perpetrator of the Ponzi scheme and beneficiaries of the fraud. As such, those transfers were deemed fraudulent on their face, without a trustee or receiver bearing the evidentiary burden of proving involvement by each individual beneficiary of a fraudulent transfer. Continue Reading

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