May 19, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Funds Received in Arbitration Award Determined to be “General Intangibles”; Prevailing Party Entitled to Attorney Fees

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Millenium Bank v. UPS Capital Business Credit on Thursday, March 13, 2014.

Summary Judgment—Creditors’ Rights— Uniform Commercial Code.

UPS Capital Business Credit (UPS) loaned Superior Plaster and Drywall, Inc. (Superior) $1,027,000, secured by Superior’s assets. Millennium Bank (Millennium) loaned Superior $1.5 million, also secured by Superior’s assets. Millennium and UPS entered into an Intercreditor Agreement to establish the respective priority of their secured interests in Superior’s assets. Under the Intercreditor Agreement, (1) Millennium had first priority, and UPS second priority, in Superior’s accounts receivable; and (2) UPS had first priority, and Millennium second priority, in Superior’s general intangibles.

This case arose when Millennium and UPS disputed their rights to funds awarded to Superior in an arbitration proceeding. Superior had subcontracted with Beck Development, LLC (Beck) to perform drywall and paint work as part of the construction of two condominium towers. Superior claimed Akzo Nobel Paints, LLC (Akzo) had supplied defective paint; Akzo countered that Superior’s application techniques were to blame. Superior repainted the project four times at Beck’s insistence. The problem was not fixed, and Beck terminated Superior, without paying Superior for the costs incurred in repainting.

Superior sued Beck and Akzo, claiming (1) breach of contract by Beck and Akzo; (2) breach of warranty by Akzo; and (3) the right to receive payment on a mechanic’s lien it had filed on the condominium towers for work performed on the subcontract. The three entities agreed to arbitrate the claims against Akzo.

The arbitration panel determined that Akzo’s paint was the cause of the paint problems. The panel awarded consequential damages to Beck and Superior. To Superior, the damages encompassed (1) the amount due on Superior’s lien for work performed under the subcontract on the towers; (2) Superior’s costs for excess labor and excess materials in repainting the towers; and (3) punitive damages. Two weeks later, Superior filed for bankruptcy. Approximately one year later, Beck successfully moved, without objection, for dismissal of Superior’s claims against it.

The funds awarded in the arbitration became part of Superior’s bankruptcy estate. Millennium and UPS asserted their rights in those funds as secured creditors under Colorado’s version of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). They disputed only the priority rights with respect to the part of the funds representing the excess costs in labor and materials ($638,226.83) incurred by Superior in repainting the towers (challenged funds).

Millennium asserted the challenged funds were the proceeds of an account, on which it had first priority; UPS asserted they were the proceeds of an intangible right, on which it had first priority. The bankruptcy court determined it lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the priority dispute and ordered the trustee to deliver the challenged funds to Millennium and UPS jointly for state law determination of their interests in the funds.

After the parties filed a statement of undisputed facts and cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court entered summary judgment for UPS, concluding that the challenged funds were general intangibles, rather than accounts. Millennium appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The parties agreed the resolution of the case depended on whether, as a matter of law, the challenged funds were, under the UCC, proceeds of an “account” or the proceeds of a “general intangible.” The “general intangible” category of assets traditionally encompassed proceeds from the right to pursue many types of lawsuits between a debtor and a party other than the interested creditor. However, this category, under the UCC, does not include “accounts.”

Here, the challenged funds were from an arbitration award Superior recovered from Akzo on a breach of warranty claim, not the right to payment of a monetary obligation for services rendered or to be rendered. Thus, the funds recovered from Akzo were not proceeds from an “account,” but rather proceeds of a “general intangible.” The district court’s classification of the funds was affirmed.

UPS requested its attorney fees incurred on appeal pursuant to a prevailing party fee provision in the Intercreditor Agreement. The Court agreed that UPS was entitled to those fees and remanded the case to the district court to award a reasonable amount of attorney fees incurred on appeal.

Summary and full case available here.

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