May 23, 2016

Tenth Circuit: Bankruptcy Creditor Has Standing to Object to Potentially Fraudulent Conveyance of Real Property

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Lavenhar: Lavenhar v. First American Title Insurance Co. on Thursday, December 17, 2015.

On October 28, 2010, First American Title Insurance Company (“First American”) earned a judgment and damages award in its favor in the amount of $434,913.39, plus interest, in Colorado state court against Jeffrey Lavenhar. During the pendency of this litigation, Jeffrey and his then-wife Laurie initiated dissolution proceedings, resulting in the issuance of a divorce decree in November 2010, which incorporated a separation agreement dated October 26, 2010. The separation agreement required Jeffrey pay Laurie $4,400 per month in spousal maintenance, and also contained a provision stating the property located on Antelope Ridge Trial is and always has been the sole property of the Laurie H. Lavenhar Living Trust.

In seeking to collect its damages, First American filed suit against the Lavenhars and the Laurie H. Lavenhar Living Trust, asserting the transfer of Jeffrey’s interest in the Antelope Ridge Trail property to the Laurie H. Lavenhar Living Trust was a fraudulent conveyance. In addition to that independent lawsuit, First American sought to intervene in the Lavenhars’ divorce, seeking a declaration that the Lavenhars’ divorce proceeding was a fraud upon the court designed to hinder its ability to collect on the judgment against Jeffrey. The state divorce court granted First American’s motion to intervene.

Before the resolution of the various legal proceedings instituted by First American against the Lavenhars, Jeffrey filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. In response, First American filed a motion to lift the automatic stay as to the Antelope Ridge Trail property, asserting it should be able to litigate its state-court fraudulent conveyance action. The bankruptcy court denied the motion, concluding only the Chapter 7 Trustee had standing to bring such an action. Shortly thereafter, Laurie filed in the bankruptcy court a priority unsecured claim for domestic support obligations in the amount of $347,400. First American then filed a new motion to lift the automatic stay, seeking permission to litigate its complain in intervention of the Lavenhars’ divorce proceeding, which was granted in part by the bankruptcy court such that both First American and the Chapter 7 Trustee could litigate the complaint in intervention as to the single issue that would affect the validity of Laurie’s proof of claim, but not as to any other issues resolved in the divorce decree.

The district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s partial lifting of the automatic stay, and Laurie appealed, asserting the bankruptcy and district courts erred in concluding First American has standing to litigate the validity of the component of the divorce decree addressing domestic support obligations via its state-court complaint in intervention.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined First American has standing to object to Laurie’s potentially fraudulent proof of claim for domestic support obligations. Next, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the order of the bankruptcy court partially lifting the automatic stay to allow the state divorce court to declare whether or not the Lavenhars’ divorce decree was obtained through fraud on the court. In so ruling, the Tenth Circuit reasoned there is no indication that the state divorce court cannot or will not comply with the limited scope of the bankruptcy court’s order lifting the stay. In rejecting Laurie’s argument that the validity of the property division is not separable from the validly of the spousal maintenance provision, both of which are contained in the separation agreement, the Tenth Circuit noted the Antelope Ride Trial property is and always has been the sole property of the Laurie H. Lavenhar Living Trust. Thus, the court reasoned it is simply not true that the issue the bankruptcy court allowed to proceed in the motion in intervention is inseparably intertwined with the property-transfer issues to be litigated by the Chapter 7 Trustee in the fraudulent conveyance action. Lastly, the court noted a ruling on First American’s behalf on the limited issue the bankruptcy court allowed to be litigated in the complaint in intervention would benefit all creditors equally, such that there exists no danger of intrusion on the exclusive prerogatives of the Chapter 7 Trustee.

Max Montag is a 2016 J.D. Candidate at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Tenth Circuit: Guarantors May Be Liable for More than Loan Amount in Bankruptcy

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Gentry: FB Acquisition Property I, LLC v. Gentry on Tuesday, December 8, 2015.

Susan and Larry Gentry are the sole shareholders, officers, and directors of Ball Four Inc., a sports complex in Adams County. In 2005, Ball Four received a $1.9 million loan from FirsTier Bank, which was secured with various Ball Four assets and personally guaranteed by the Gentrys. After four years, Ball Four stopped making payments to FirsTier. FirsTier initiated foreclosure proceedings, and Ball Four filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Ball Four proposed a reorganization plan that provided for the bank’s lien to be paid in full. Ball Four’s plan was approved in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Division of Banking closed FirsTier and the FDIC was appointed as receiver. The FDIC assigned its rights to SIP, and in December 2014 SIP was replaced by FB Acquisition.

In October 2010, one month after Ball Four filed for bankruptcy, FirsTier sued the Gentrys in Colorado state court to collect the guarantees. The Gentrys filed their Chapter 11 case in November 2011. The Gentrys filed disclosures and an amended plan, asserting that the Gentrys’ liability on the 2005 loan would be satisfied by Ball Four. The bankruptcy court confirmed the Gentrys’ plan in 2013.

FB Acquisition appealed two decisions of the bankruptcy court to the Tenth Circuit: first, that the Gentry plan was feasible, and second, that under the plan language, the Gentrys’ liability mirrors Ball Four’s liability. The Tenth Circuit first addressed the feasibility of the Gentry plan. Although FB Acquisition argued the Gentry plan did not offer a reasonable assurance of success, the Tenth Circuit noted that even though the bankruptcy court’s findings were brief, they were sufficient to satisfy a clear error inquiry.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed FB Acquisition’s contention that the bankruptcy court erred in limiting the Gentrys’ liability to the amount that Ball Four owed. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the bankruptcy court’s evaluation of the Gentrys’ liability. The bankruptcy court found no provisions in the loan contract creating a greater obligation for the Gentrys than that owed by Ball Four, but the Tenth Circuit found three. Because the bankruptcy court misunderstood its duty to confer liability for the entirety of the debt on the guarantors, the Tenth Circuit remanded for the bankruptcy court to determine the amount of FB Acquisition’s claims under the guarantees. The Tenth Circuit noted the bankruptcy court should also reevaluate the feasibility of the plan.

The bankruptcy court’s ruling was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: Severance Payments to Terminated President Not Avoidable Under § 548

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Adam Aircraft Industries, Inc.: Weinman v. Walker on Thursday, October 15, 2015.

Joseph Walker was the president and a board member for Adam Aircraft Industries (AAI). On February 1, 2007, George “Rick” Adam, AAI’s board chair, informed Walker that the board had decided to replace him as president and requested his resignation in lieu of terminating his employment. AAI was engaged in debt financing negotiations with Morgan Stanley for an $80 million loan and did not want to imperil its negotiations with bad publicity from Walker’s termination. Walker returned to his office late that night to collect his belongings, and sent an email to the board chair and another board member outlining requests for his resignation. His replacement as president started working for AAI on February 2. Over the next two weeks, AAI and Walker negotiated the terms of his separation and eventually entered into Separation Agreement I and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on February 13, 2007. On March 20, 2007, AAI refunded Walker’s security deposit for an airplane, plus interest, and on May 18, 2007, the parties entered into Separation Agreement II. AAI continued to make twice-monthly severance payments to Walker between February 2007 and February 2008.

On February 15, 2008, AAI filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy, and the trustee, Weinman, sold substantially all of AAI’s assets for a gross purchase price of $10 million in April 2008. Walker filed a proof of claim in AAI’s bankruptcy case for $134,931.00, including $10,950.00 as a priority-employee claim based on wages, salaries, and commissions under the MOU and Separation Agreements. AAI filed a complaint in January 2010, seeking to avoid and recover transfers to Walker under the MOU and Separation Agreements. The bankruptcy court held a trial in February 2013 and entered its order in June 2013, ruling that Walker ceased to be a statutory insider on February 1, 2007, and did not meet criteria for a non-statutory insider; the transfers to Walker did not occur under an employment contract; and Walker gave reasonably equivalent value for the transfers. AAI appealed to the BAP, which affirmed the bankruptcy court, and again appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

AAI argued to the Tenth Circuit that its transfers to Walker were avoidable under 11 U.S.C. § 548(a)(1). The Circuit iterated five prongs that AAI must meet to prove its transfers were avoidable: (1) the transfers must have occurred within two years of the bankruptcy filing; (2) Walker must have been an insider either when the transfers were negotiated or when the money was paid; (3) the transfers must have been made under an employment contract; (4) AAI must have received less than equivalent value for the transfers; and (5) the transfers must have been made outside the ordinary course of business. The Tenth Circuit noted that the burden was on AAI to prove all five prongs, and failure to prove even one prong would mean AAI could not prevail. Since the parties did not dispute the first factor, the Tenth Circuit began its analysis by looking at whether Walker was an insider when the transfers were negotiated or the money was paid.

The bankruptcy court concluded that Walker’s insider status ceased as of February 1, 2007, and the Tenth Circuit agreed. AAI argued that because the MOU listed March 1, 2007, as Walker’s termination date, the first Separation Agreement and MOU were entered into while Walker retained insider status. The bankruptcy court found, however, that Walker did no further work for AAI after that date, he did not return to the AAI premises, and his replacement started on February 2. The Tenth Circuit found no clear error in the bankruptcy court’s determinations. The bankruptcy court also held Walker could not qualify as a non-statutory insider, which AAI argued was applicable because Walker proposed the initial terms of his separation, which AAI ultimately accepted. The Tenth Circuit found this was insufficient to satisfy AAI’s burden. The Tenth Circuit similarly rejected AAI’s contention that refusing to classify Walker as an insider would frustrate the purpose of BAPCPA, noting it could not imagine Congress intended the BAPCPA to allow businesses to negotiate separation terms with an employee, which the employee fulfilled, then avoid any reciprocal obligations to the employee.

AAI next argued its payments to Walker were recoverable under the “non-insider” portions of § 548. The statute allows avoidance of transfers if AAI received less than equivalent value at the date of each transfer and AAI was insolvent. The Tenth Circuit again noted that failure of one prong would negate the possibility of avoidance. The bankruptcy court had found that the antecedent debt created by the MOU and Separation Agreements for the severance package constituted “reasonably equivalent value” because Walker had agreed to resign instead of facing termination in order not to imperil the debt financing with Morgan Stanley and had not retained employment with competing companies. As for the airplane deposit and stock purchase refund, the Tenth Circuit found no error in the bankruptcy court’s determination that these transactions were not avoidable.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court.

Tenth Circuit: No Avoidance of Transaction Made Within Ordinary Course of Business

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re C.W. Mining Co.: Jubber v. SMC Electrical Products, Inc. on Monday, August 10, 2015.

C.W. Mining was forced into bankruptcy after creditors filed a petition for involuntary bankruptcy on January 8, 2008. In June 2007, C.W. had entered into an agreement with SMC Electrical Products, Inc., to purchase equipment in order to switch from a continuous method of mining to a longwall method. On September 18, 2007, SMC submitted an invoice to C.W. for $808,539.75, due in 30 days. C.W. made a $200,000 payment on the invoice on October 16, 2007, two days before it was due. The bankruptcy trustee initiated an adversary proceeding to avoid the transfer under 11 U.S.C. § 547(b). The bankruptcy court granted SMC summary judgment and rejected the trustee’s claim on the grounds that the transfer was made in the ordinary course of business. The BAP affirmed, and the trustee appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit analyzed avoidance and the ordinary course of business exception, including the scrutiny applied to first-time transactions. The Tenth Circuit explained the purpose of the ordinary course of business transaction in detail, and examined its application as to both parties in the business transaction. Applying its analysis to the circumstances of this case, the Tenth Circuit found that the transaction between C.W. and SMC was within the ordinary course of business. The purchase was an arms’ length transaction for the purpose of assisting in mining operations. The Tenth Circuit dismissed the trustee’s arguments, characterizing them as an argument against a first-time transaction and finding that was not enough to avoid the transfer.

The bankruptcy court’s ruling was affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: Cases Properly in Federal Court but Arising Under State Law Trigger Article III Protections

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Renewable Energy Development Corp.: Loveridge v. Hall on Friday, July 10, 2015.

Renewable Energy Development Corporation (REDCO) entered into Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings and attorney George Hofmann was appointed the bankruptcy trustee. Hofmann consulted with Summit Wind Power, LLC, to determine the value of REDCO’s wind leases on private properties, and eventually discovered that REDCO had failed to pay consideration for some of the leases. Hofmann concluded REDCO’s options were unenforceable and encouraged Summit to pursue its own leases with the private property owners, which it did. Later, Hofmann decided the property owners could not cancel their leases with REDCO in favor of Summit without first offering REDCO the opportunity to cure, so he asked Summit to forgo its leases, but Summit refused. Eventually Hofmann brought adversarial claims in bankruptcy on behalf of REDCO against his other client, Summit. Summit responded with state law claims against Hofmann and his firm for malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and more. Hofmann was replaced as REDCO’s bankruptcy trustee. Summit filed suit against Hofmann in federal district court, alleging diversity jurisdiction and the right to have the case resolved in an Article III court. Hofmann argued the case should be resolved in an Article I bankruptcy court, and the district court agreed, removing the case to the bankruptcy court but certifying its decision for immediate appeal.

The Tenth Circuit evaluated Article III jurisdiction under the test articulated in Stern v. Marshall, 131 S. Ct. 2594 (2011) and the public rights doctrine. The Tenth Circuit recognized the conflict between the public rights doctrine and bankruptcy cases, noting that the Supreme Court has suggested certain aspects of public rights may properly find resolution in Article I courts. The Tenth Circuit analyzed Stern‘s holding that when a claim is a state law action not necessarily resolvable by a ruling on the creditor’s claim in bankruptcy, it implicates private rights and thus cannot be finally resolved in bankruptcy court. The Circuit found this scenario present, since the Summit’s claims against Hofmann were far removed from the bankruptcy proceeding. The Tenth Circuit recognized that perhaps cases involving similar factual scenarios should create a new exception to Article III, but declined to issue such a rule. The Tenth Circuit also found that the bankruptcy court could hear the case but not decide the issues, acting as a sort of magistrate or special master, and then deferring to the district court for decisionmaking. The Tenth Circuit also found that the district court retained diversity jurisdiction over the case.

The Tenth Circuit remanded the case to district court.

Hon. Janice Karlin Appointed 10th Circuit BAP Chief Judge

On Monday, August 31, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals announced that Hon. Janice Karlin will be the new Chief Judge of the Tenth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel, effective September 4, 2015. Judge Karlin will replace Judge Thurman, Bankruptcy Judge for the District of Utah, as Chief Judge of the BAP. Judge Thurman will continue to serve as a recalled bankruptcy judge despite his retirement.

Judge Karlin has been a judge on the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel since 2008, and prior to that was a Bankruptcy Judge for the District of Kansas since 2002. She was an Assistant United States Attorney for 22 years prior to her appointment to the bench, where she practiced civil litigation and was in charge of the Kansas City office. She received both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Kansas.

For more information about the appointment, click here.

Tenth Circuit: Bankruptcy Exemption for Retirement Plan Property Not Applicable When Property Withdrawn from Plan

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Gordon: Gordon v. Wadsworth on Friday, June 26, 2015.

In this bankruptcy appeal, the Gordons claimed $2,051 in their savings account as an exempt asset under C.R.S. § 13-54-102(1)(s) because the money represented a lump-sum distribution from their retirement plan and had not been commingled with other funds. The bankruptcy trustee objected on the ground that the exemption for retirement plans does not apply once the money is withdrawn from the plan. The bankruptcy judge agreed with the trustee’s objection and denied the Gordons’ motion for reconsideration. On appeal, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado affirmed, as did the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit evaluated the language of C.R.S. § 13-54-102(1)(s), which exempts property held in or payable from retirement plans from levy and sale under writ of execution. The Gordons argued that the legislature intended to create an exemption from all retirement funds, regardless of whether they remained in the plan. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding the plain language of the statute precluded this reading. The Tenth Circuit found no statutory support for the Gordons’ argument.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court and denied the Gordons’ request to certify questions of law to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Tenth Circuit: Sole Shareholders Should Not Be Discouraged from Infusing Capital Into Failing Businesses

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Alternate Fuels, Inc.: Redmond v. Jenkins on Friday, June 12, 2015.

Alternative Fuels, Inc. (AFI) is a Kansas corporation that formerly engaged in surface coal mining operations in Missouri. AFI filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Kansas in 1992 and briefly continued operations while its bankruptcy was pending. John Warmack acquired 100% of AFI’s stock and formed Cimarron Energy Co. to continue the mining operations for which AFI still held permits. Mr. Warmack provided the State of Missouri with new reclamation bonds to assure that AFI would reclaim the mining land when its mining operations were finished. The bonds were secured with 24 certificates of deposit, worth approximately $1.4 million.

Mr. Warmack finished mining in 1999 and entered into an agreement with Mr. Jenkins where Mr. Jenkins would fulfill the reclamation obligations and obtain the proceeds of the 24 certificates of deposit and Cimarron’s remaining mining equipment. Mr. Jenkins paid Mr. Warmack $549,250 in exchange for 100% of AFI’s stock and 99% of Cimarron’s stock, certain equipment owned by Cimarron, and the 24 certificates of deposit. On the same day, AFI executed a promissory note for $500,000 to Mr. Jenkins. AFI executed three promissory notes to Mr. Jenkins altogether—two for $500,000 and one for $1,000,000. In 2002, AFI filed a lawsuit against certain state officers and employees, alleging tortious interference with the reclamation efforts. AFI assigned $3,000,000 of its potential recovery to Mr. Jenkins.

Judgment entered for AFI in the tort suit for $6.4 million, which, following an appeal and payment of attorney fees and costs, resulted in a recovery of about $5 million. AFI’s creditors began making claims against the proceeds, and in 2009 AFI applied for help from the bankruptcy court in distributing the funds. Mr. Jenkins filed a proof of claim against AFI’s estate for about $4.3 million. Exercising discretion and applying the Tenth Circuit test for recharacterization, the bankruptcy court recharacterized the transfers evidenced by the promissory notes as equity infusions and found he no longer held a claim secured by the alleged assignment of the suit proceeds. The bankruptcy court held in the alternative that Mr. Jenkins failed to provide sufficient documentation to prove the amount of his claim, and additionally held in the alternative that equitable subordination would be appropriate since Mr. Jenkins had acted inequitably to the detriment of AFI’s creditors and his claim should be subordinated to the level of an unsecured creditor. Mr. Jenkins appealed. The Tenth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed, and Mr. Jenkins again appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first rejected Mr. Jenkins’ argument that two recent Supreme Court decisions overruled Tenth Circuit precedent in In re Hedged Investments. The two cases relied on by Mr. Jenkins dealt with disallowance, not recharacterization, so the Tenth Circuit found the 13-step Hedged Investments recharacterization test applied. The bankruptcy court found three steps superficially supported treating Mr. Jenkins’ advances as loans: the names given to the certificates evidencing indebtedness, no increased participation in management as a result of the advances, and the extent to which the advances were used to acquire capital assets. The Tenth Circuit agreed that these three steps supported treating the advances as loans, but averred they did so more than superficially.

The Tenth Circuit found little support for the bankruptcy court’s determination that other factors necessitated recharacterization. It discounted the bankruptcy court’s decision that the ninth factor, the identity of interest between creditor and shareholder, pointed to recharacterization, finding that because there was only one shareholder this factor did not apply. As for the second factor, the presence or absence of a fixed maturity date, the Tenth Circuit disagreed with the court’s finding that the notes lacked a maturity date, finding instead they each required full payment after five years. The fact that Mr. Jenkins did not seek repayment did not render the requirement meaningless. Concerning the eighth factor, recapitalization, the Tenth Circuit found that placing too much emphasis on the factor could discourage investors from funding “rescue efforts” for failing businesses. As to the seventh factor, the intent of the parties, the Tenth Circuit found the parties intended the capital contributions to be treated as loans. The Tenth Circuit balanced the remaining factors and decided the bulk of the Hedged Investments factors weighed against recharacterization. The Tenth Circuit painted a picture of Mr. Jenkins as a sole shareholder loaning money to a failing business in hopes of keeping it afloat.

The Tenth Circuit similarly rejected the bankruptcy court’s alternative holding discharging Mr. Jenkins’ claim because he failed to meet his burden of persuasion as to amount. The Tenth Circuit found the copies of the three promissory notes proved his claim amount. The Tenth Circuit also declined to accept the bankruptcy court’s determination that if Mr. Jenkins’ claim were allowed to proceed it should be equitably subordinated. The Tenth Circuit noted that equitable subordination is an extraordinary remedy that should be employed sparingly and only if three factors are present: inequitable conduct, injury to the other creditors, and consistency with the provisions of the Bankruptcy Code. The Tenth Circuit further noted that the inequitable conduct warranting subordination must be egregious, tantamount to fraud, or involving moral turpitude. The Tenth Circuit found no such conduct from Mr. Jenkins.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the bankruptcy court’s judgment, finding neither recharacterization nor equitable subordination appropriate to Mr. Jenkins’ claims. Judge Phillips wrote a thoughtful and detailed dissent.

Tenth Circuit: CEA Allows Nationwide Service of Process for Receivers Pursuing Receivership Property

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Klein v. Cornelius on Wednesday, May 27, 2015.

R. Wayne Klein was appointed receiver of Winsome Investment Trust, a business entity whose founder, Robert J. Andres, caused it to illegally distribute funds as part of a Ponzi scheme. William Cornelius and his Houston law firm, Cornelius & Salhab, received some of the illegally obtained funds as payment for a New Hampshire criminal defense representation of one of Andres’ friends. Klein, as receiver, brought suit against Cornelius in Utah federal court to void the fraudulent transfer to Cornelius for approximately $90,000 in legal fees. The Utah court granted summary judgment to Klein, and Cornelius appealed, raising several points of error.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Cornelius’ three jurisdictional challenges. Cornelius first argued the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) does not authorize a receiver to bring state fraudulent transfer claims in federal court against a third-party recipient of Ponzi scheme funds. The Tenth Circuit found that the CEA authorizes the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to bring civil actions in federal court to enjoin violations of the CEA, and does not prohibit a receiver from pursuing state law claims in federal court. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to resolve Klein’s Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA) claims on Winsome’s behalf.

Cornelius next challenged standing, arguing Klein lacked standing to bring a UFTA claim because Winsome itself could not bring such a claim. Cornelius reasoned that because Winsome was unincorporated and under Andres’ control, it was an alter ego for Andres and therefore had no authority to sue in its own right. Although he conceded Klein could sue as a receiver for Andres, the Tenth Circuit disagreed with Cornelius’ contention that Winsome could not sue in its own right. The Tenth Circuit found that as a business entity abused as part of a Ponzi scheme, Winsome became a defrauded creditor. The Tenth Circuit found that Winsome was its own entity under Utah law and therefore Klein had standing to pursue the UFTA claim.

Cornelius also argued the district court lacked personal jurisdiction because he did not have sufficient contacts with Utah and because he was not properly served with a complaint. The Tenth Circuit first found the CEA allowed nationwide service of process for receivers pursuing receivership property. The Tenth Circuit next looked at Cornelius’ argument that he had minimum contacts with Utah, and found that in federal question cases where nationwide service of process invokes jurisdiction, the defendant must establish that the chosen forum burdens the defendant with “constitutionally significant inconvenience.” Because Cornelius made no jurisdiction arguments other than the minimum contact argument, the Tenth Circuit found no error in the district court’s determination that it had jurisdiction. Cornelius also argued that in personam jurisdiction was inappropriate and only in rem jurisdiction would apply, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding personal jurisdiction applied under the particular statutory scheme.

Next, Cornelius argued three points of error regarding the district court’s application of UFTA: (1) Texas law applies, (2) the transfer was not fraudulent, and (3) regardless, Klein’s claim is barred by the statute of limitations. The Tenth Circuit addressed each argument in turn. Because the relevant provisions of Texas law use the same language as Utah, the Tenth Circuit found Cornelius’ first argument of no practical significance. Next, the Tenth Circuit found that because Ponzi schemes are inherently insolvent, there is a presumption that transfers from such entities involve an intent to defraud. Cornelius argued that neither he nor the criminal defendant he represented knew of the Ponzi scheme, but the Tenth Circuit noted that nothing in the UFTA requires a transferee to have knowledge of the fraud. The Tenth Circuit also declined to adopt Cornelius’ assertion that he provided “reasonably equivalent value” for his payment, noting that his legal services conferred no benefit on Winsome and the payments to Cornelius only served to diminish its net worth.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit addressed the statute of limitations argument. Claims alleging actual intent to defraud under the UFTA must be brought within four years of when the transfer was made or one year after the transfer could reasonably have been discovered. Klein brought suit against Cornelius in December 2011. The payments to Cornelius for his legal services were made between September 2006 and July 2007, and Cornelius argued the suit was untimely because it was brought well after the four year statute of limitations had expired. However, Klein was appointed as receiver in January 2011, and he could not have reasonably discovered the fraud until his appointment. The Tenth Circuit found the claim was timely since it was brought within one year of Klein’s appointment as receiver.

The district court’s grant of summary judgment to Klein was affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: “Reverse Preemption” Deprived District Court and Tenth Circuit of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Western Insurance Co. v. A & H Insurance Inc. on Friday, April 24, 2015.

Western Insurance is insolvent and being liquidated in Utah state court. The liquidator brought suit against several of Western’s “affiliates” to recover funds Western had transferred to them. The defendants removed the ancillary proceeding to federal court under diversity jurisdiction, and the liquidator sought a remand, which the district court granted. Defendants appealed.

Because insolvent insurers are exempt from federal bankruptcy protection, state law governs insurer insolvency proceedings. After the defendants removed the case to federal court, liquidators argued the McCarran-Ferguson Act barred removal, as it is essentially a “reverse preemption” doctrine. The district court remanded “for the reasons stated on the record.”

The Tenth Circuit first evaluated its jurisdiction and found it could only proceed to entertain the appeal if the remand order was not based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In its order, the district court made several contradictory statements regarding its rationale for remand, leaving it unclear whether it relied on the McCarran-Ferguson Act’s “reverse preemption” in its remand order. However, the Tenth Circuit found that the bulk of the district court’s decision focused on the McCarran-Ferguson Act. Because the district court’s remand was based to a fair degree on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the Tenth Circuit found it lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

The appeal was dismissed.

Tenth Circuit: FDIC Exclusively Holds Claims Against Failed Bank’s Holding Company

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Barnes v. Harris on Tuesday, April 21, 2015.

The Barnes Banking Company (“bank”) began engaging in risky lending practices in the 2000s, leading to its ultimate demise in January 2010. The FDIC was appointed as receiver. In January 2012, J. Canute Barnes filed a derivative shareholder complaint in Utah state court against Barnes Bancorporation (“holding company”), parent of the bank, alleging breach of fiduciary duty. Attached to the Utah complaint was a demand letter alleging the bank was the holding company’s sole asset. The initial complaint stated the defendants were sued in their capacity as officers and directors of the holding company and not the bank. The FDIC filed a motion to intervene in state court, arguing it possessed sole statutory authority under FIRREA to assert the derivative claims at issue. The FDIC then removed the case to federal court.

The district court granted a motion to amend the complaint to include two additional shareholders, W. King Barnes and Robert Jones. Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand to state court, arguing the FDIC was not a party to the case because it had not filed a pleading, which motion was denied. Plaintiffs then moved to dismiss the FDIC for failure to state a claim. The FDIC filed its own motion to dismiss, and defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings. The district court denied plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss, granted in part the motions filed by defendants and the FDIC, and dismissed most of plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice while allowing some to be re-pled. Plaintiffs’ second amended complaint attempted to re-describe the bank as the holding company’s “primary asset,” but the focus of the complaint was still the harm suffered by the bank’s failure. The second amended complaint also alleged the bank received a $9 million tax return, which should have been in part distributed to the holding company, and that the holding company misused $265,000 by paying insurance premiums and retaining counsel. Both FDIC and defendants moved to dismiss the second complaint, which the district court granted. Plaintiffs appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first considered the district court’s jurisdiction. Through FIRREA, the FDIC is deemed a party, and the case is deemed to arise under federal law. The district court therefore had jurisdiction to hear the complaints. Plaintiffs argue the FDIC lacked jurisdiction because it never filed a pleading. The Tenth Circuit found the case on which plaintiffs relied inapposite to that assertion. Because FDIC was permitted to intervene in state court, it became a party to the proceeding, and jurisdiction was exclusive in the district court under FIRREA.

The Tenth Circuit proceeded to examine the merits. Once the FDIC is appointed as a receiver, FIRREA grants it all rights, powers, and privileges of the bank with respect to the assets of the bank, including those of the holding company. The question of whether FIRREA applies to cases in which a breach of fiduciary duty suit is brought against a bank holding company’s officers after the bank has gone into receivership was one of first impression in the Tenth Circuit. The Tenth Circuit examined similar cases from other jurisdictions, as well as Utah corporate law, and determined that FIRREA applies. The majority of plaintiffs’ claims were derivative, reaching the holding company only because of the harms of the bank. Those claims belong to the FDIC.

The Tenth Circuit found similarly that the $9 million tax return belonged exclusively to the bank and therefore the FDIC was the only party entitled to the return. The tax refund due from a joint return generally belongs to the company responsible for the losses that formed the basis for the return, and due to the receivership, the entire refund belongs to the FDIC.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit addressed the claims that the holding company misused $265,000 by using the funds to pay insurance premiums and legal fees. The Tenth Circuit, like the district court, found these claims inadequately pleaded. Plaintiffs were in a privileged position and could have examined the holding company’s records to find support for their claims. Plaintiffs further failed to explain how the expenditures constituted an actionable wrong. The Tenth Circuit upheld the district court’s dismissal of this claim.

Expressing sympathy for the plaintiffs’ position, the Tenth Circuit recognized the broad scope of the FDIC’s authority in dealing with the aftermath of a bank failure, and admonished bank holding company shareholders to take action prior to the bank’s collapse to stave off the collapse and protect their assets. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Tenth Circuit: Bare Legal Title Is Not An Interest that Can Be Avoided in Bankruptcy

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Nguyen: Davis v. Pham on Monday, April 13, 2015.

In September 2007, Hoa Thi Pham purchased property in joint tenancy with her now common law husband, Noel Esplund, so that Pham had a two-thirds interest in the property and Esplund had a one-third interest. Pham then conveyed her interest to the couple’s children, Tung Nguyen and Lisa Dang (now Lisa Stirrat), as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. In May 2008, Nguyen transferred his interest to Esplund and Dang via quit claim deed for no compensation. In May 2009, Nguyen and his wife filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. The bankruptcy trustee, Carl Davis, filed a complaint in Bankruptcy Court, seeking to avoid the transfer from Nguyen under 11 U.S.C. § 548(a)(1)(B), alleging that Nguyen transferred his interest in the property less than two years before filing from bankruptcy, was insolvent at the time of the transfer, and received inadequate consideration for the transfer.

The Bankruptcy Court concluded Nguyen possessed only bare legal title to the property and his mother possessed equitable ownership of his one-third share, finding the transfer created a resulting trust under a Kansas statute that allows a trust to form when a payor provides consideration for a piece of property and then enters into an agreement with another “without fraudulent intent” to hold the property in trust. The Bankruptcy Court based its decision on the circumstances of the agreement, to which Pham and Nguyen testified at the evidentiary hearing, and concluded that bare legal title, when transferred for no consideration, is not an “interest in property” that may be avoided. The trustee appealed to the BAP, which affirmed the Bankruptcy Court’s decision.

The Tenth Circuit first noted that the parties do not dispute the correctness of the Bankruptcy Court’s determination that if Nguyen possessed solely “bare legal title” to the property, § 548(a)(1)(B) could not be used to avoid the transfer. The Tenth Circuit further found no dispute as to the Bankruptcy Court’s factual finding regarding the intent of the parties in the transfer. Therefore, the issue on appeal was whether such transfers are contrary to Kansas law.

Davis argued that a resulting trust is incompatible with a joint tenancy under Kansas law and Tenth Circuit precedent. The Tenth Circuit first found that the precedent on which Davis relied had been impliedly overruled by the Kansas Supreme Court. Analysis of the Kansas case law revealed that Kansas law does allow resulting trusts in joint tenancy situations. Because Davis did not challenge the Bankruptcy Court’s factual finding that Pham and Nguyen intended to create a resulting trust, or its conclusion that bare legal title is not an interest that can be avoided under § 548(a)(1)(B), the Tenth Circuit affirmed the findings of the Bankruptcy Court.