On August 29, 2014, Judge John T. Laney, III, the Chief United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Middle District of Georgia, issued an order denying FMB Bancshares’ motion to dismiss the involuntary bankruptcy petition filed by its TruPS creditor, Trapeza CDO XII. Among other conclusions, Judge Lacey found that the restrictions contained in FMB Bancshares’ written agreement with the Federal Reserve constituted a a restriction on the company’s ability to pay, rather than its legal duty to pay. While detrimental to FMB Bancshares’ motion to dismiss, this conclusion should reinforce the ability of third parties to enter binding contractual arrangements with bank holding companies, which should be of great relief to those willing to lend to bank holding companies.
As reflected in the opinion and other court documents, FMB Bancshares issued $12 million in Trust Preferred Securities to Trapeza CDO XII in 2006. Starting in March 30, 2009, FMB Bancshares elected to defer payments under its TruPS, and on March 30, 2014, FMB Bancshares exhausted the twenty consecutive quarter deferral period. Trapeza has alleged that FMB Bancshares was non-responsive to Trapeza’s efforts to find an out-of-court solution, and declared the TruPS in default on April 7, 2014, causing an acceleration of all principal and interest. On June 9, 2014, Trapeza filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition for FMB Bancshares, indicating that it believed an auction under Section 363 of the Bankruptcy Code would maximize its return. On July 3, 2014, FMB Bancshares filed a motion to dismiss the bankruptcy petition, arguing (1) that Trapeza did not have the right (or standing) to institute an involuntary bankruptcy under the terms of the TruPS, (2) that FMB Bancshares was unable to pay because of its regulatory obligations with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, resulting in the debt being legally contingent, and (3) that the bankruptcy court was not the right venue for the disagreement.
In a 20-page opinion, Judge Laney succinctly rejected each of FMB Bancshares’ arguments.
With regard to Trapeza’s standing to institute the involuntary bankruptcy filing, Judge Laney found that the terms of both the Indenture and Amended Trust Agreement provided Trapeza CDO, as the the holders of the Trust Preferred Securities, with broad powers to enforce their rights against FMB Bancshares directly following the event of default (the occurrence of which was conceded by FMB Bancshares). Specifically, both the Indenture and Amended Trust Agreement provided, following an event of default, that any holder of TruPS had a contractual right to institute a suit or proceeding directly against FMB Bancshares for enforcement of payment. Judge Laney found that an involuntary bankruptcy case could be properly construed as a suit for enforcement of payment, noting that bankruptcy cases in other jurisdictions reached the same conclusion.
One of the most dramatic tools a lender can use in the collection of a loan is the involuntary bankruptcy case. It is dramatic because of the implications for both the debtor and the lender who files the case. If a bankruptcy court determine that the petitioning creditor has not met the statutory requirements it may require the creditor to pay the debtor’s costs and attorneys fees in defending the petition and if the court finds that the petition was filed in bad faith it can award compensatory and punitive damages. The consequences for the debtor are that if the creditor is successful, the debtor’s business and assets are now subject to disposition under a frameworks found in the Bankruptcy Code which may involve the appointment, at least initially, of a bankruptcy trustee to administer the debtor’s estate. Even if the debtor is successful in fighting off the petition it may suffer dramatic reputational risks that might affect its continued viability. Think of it then as the “nuclear” option.
This tool has now been used at least twice in connection with the enforcement by holders of Trust Preferred Securities (“TruPS”) against bank holding companies (“BHCs”). TruPS are hybrid securities that are included in regulatory tier 1 capital for BHCs and whose dividend payments are tax deductible for the issuer. In 1996 the Federal Reserve Board’s decided that TruPS could be used to meet a portion of BHCs’ tier 1 capital requirements. Following that decision many BHCs found these instruments attractive because of their tax-deductible status and because the increased leverage provided from their issuance can boost return on equity.
Smaller BHC’s typically did not bring TruPS to the market themselves, rather they were issued into a collateralized debt obligation (“CDO”) which in turn purchased TruPS from many different BHCs. According to Fitch since 2000 over 1,800 entities issued roughly $38 billion of TruPS that were purchased by CDO’s. In addition, many federally insured institutions held TruPS themselves once the banking regulators determined that TruPS were an acceptable investment.
While we continue to emerge from the Great Recession, we are also approaching another cliff that could have significant ramifications for many community banks that continue to defer interest payments under their Trust Preferred securities. Under the terms of such Trust Preferred, issuers are generally allowed to defer interest payments for up to twenty consecutive quarters (or five years) without triggering a default. Many institutions began deferring interest payments about four and half years ago, both to preserve capital generally and in reaction to Federal Reserve Bank enforcement actions that limited the ability of banks to pay interest on the subordinated debt supporting the Trust Preferred. As we approach the end of the permitted five-year deferral period, we are now assisting a number of clients, on all sides of the equation, in addressing the ramifications of approaching, and potentially ultimately exceeding, the five-year deferral period.
One issue we have looked at is whether the Federal Reserve will permit a bank holding company subject to an enforcement action to bring its Trust Preferred current when failure to do so would result in default.
We’ve looked at the language in a number of agreements hoping that it would prohibit bank holding companies from paying interest only when such interest can be contractually deferred. Unfortunately, all the enforcement actions that we reviewed have a blanket prohibition on interest payments without regard to the permissibility of the deferral under the indenture. We understand that the Federal Reserve Banks are looking closely at the issue but have not yet provided any guidance as to the ultimate position on payment. In addition, most bank holding companies seeking to pay interest will need a dividend from their subsidiary bank to fund such payment; accordingly, the bank level regulator(s) will likely need to be involved as well.
U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Arizona’s Employment Verification Law
On May 26, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Arizona law that sanctions employers for hiring unauthorized aliens and endorsed Arizona’s requirement that employers use the federal E-Verify screening program. A 5-3 majority of the Court found that language in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 did not pre-empt the Arizona Law. For the answers to frequently asked questions about the Arizona law, please click here to read the Client Alert published by the Labor & Employment Client Service Group on August 4, 2011.
Employers Should Consider Expressly Prohibiting FMLA Fraud
Many employers have updated their FMLA policies to reflect recent amendments to the law and revisions to the regulations. Another aspect of an FMLA policy that merits attention is ensuring that the policy expressly prohibits FMLA fraud and specifies the penalty for the offense. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an unpublished opinion earlier this year that reinforces the need for express fraud prohibition. To learn more about the implications of the opinion, please click here to read the Client Alert published by the Labor & Employment Client Service Group on August 19, 2011.
SEC Proxy Access Rule Vacated by Federal Court
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recently set aside and vacated Exchange Act Rule 14a-11 concerning shareholder proxy access, adopted by the SEC on August 25, 2010. On a petition for review, a panel held that the SEC had “failed adequately to consider the rule’s effect upon efficiency, competition and capital formation,” as the SEC was required to do under its enabling statutes. Thus, the Court held that adoption of the Rule was “arbitrary and capricious” and vacated the Rule. To read more about the decision, please click here to read the Alert published by the Corporate Finance and Securities Client Service Group published August 4, 2011.
The Implications for FCPA Enforcement of the SEC’s New Whistleblower Rules
The SEC’s recent adoption of rules to implement the whistleblower program mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act has particular significance for enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. For a discussion of the overall SEC enforcement context for the new whistleblower rules, a summary of the rules, and a discussion of the key issues for FCPA enforcement, including recommendations that companies should take now, please click here to read the Alert published by the Global Anti-Corruption Team of the Securities Litigation and Enforcement and International Trade Groups on June 22, 2011.
Supreme Court De-Certifies Largest Employment Discrimination Class Action In History
In Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, the Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s decision to certify a nationwide class pursuing employment discrimination claims against the nation’s largest employer. A 5-4 majority of the Court concluded that the class of 1.5 million current and former female employees could not satisfy the commonality requirement. For a discussion of the decision, please click here to read the Alert published by the Class and Derivative Actions section of the Labor & Employment Client Service Group on June 21, 2011.
Supreme Court Draws Bright Line Barring Securities Fraud Claims Against Advisers to Companies Who Do Not “Make” Statements At Issue
In June the U.S. Supreme Court issued a significant decision restricting the ability of plaintiffs to bring securities fraud actions against adviser defendants who play a role in preparing statements actually made by companies they are advising. In Janus Group, et al. v. First Derivative Traders, the court held that an investment adviser to a mutual fund could not be sued in a private securities fraud action for false statements made in mutual fund prospectuses. To read more, please click here for the Alert published by the Securities Litigation and Enforcement practice group on June 16, 2011.
CPSC Opens Business Registration for New Consumer Product Safety Information Database
The new Consumer Product Safety Information Database is now available online on a trial basis, and will launch officially in March at www.SaferProducts.gov. The Database allows a broad range of people to file so-called “reports of harm” informing the CPSC about an incident or concern that the submitter believes is an indication a product is unsafe or potentially hazardous. To read more the database, please click here to see the Alert published by the Retail Team on February 3, 2011.
IRS Reverses Course — Breast Pumps and Other Lactation Supplies are Now Deductible Medical Expenses Subject to Reimbursement under FSAs, HRAs and HSAs
In Announcement 2011-14, the Internal Revenue Service concluded that breast pumps and supplies that assist lactation are medical care under Section 213(d) of the Internal Revenue Code and can therefore be reimbursed under a health flexible spending arrangement. To learn more about this announcement, please click here to read the Feburary 22, 2011 Alert published by the Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Client Service Group.
Patent Reform Act of 2011
On January 25, 2011, The Patent Reform Act of 2011 was introduced by Senator Leahy (D-VT) with bipartisan support. The Bill is the latest installment of Congress’ attempts to pass patent legislation reform, following the Patent Reform Act of 2009 and other bills in recent years, all of which died in Congress. To learn more, please click here to read the February 22, 2011 Bulletin published by the Intellectual Property Client Service Group.
Wide-Open House Budget Debate Moves Toward Finish Line
The House continues to work towards completing a major budget bill to fund the federal government for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. Of the hundreds of amendments which have been offered and voted upon, major energy and environment-related amendments would reverse a law that requires the federal government to pay the legal costs of some environmental plaintiffs, de-fund the White House climate czar’s office, prevent an EPA appeals board from revoking air permits for oil exploration in the Arctic, and de-fund the EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions registry. To read more about the proposed amendments and other energy updates, please click here to see the February 18, 2011 Energy Update.
In Dish Network Corp. v. DBSD N. Am., Inc. (In re DBSD N. Am., Inc.), — F.3d —-, 2011 WL 350480, (2d Cir. Feb. 7, 2011), the Second Circuit issued a ruling that sends two very important messages to parties involved in chapter 11 restructurings. First, the Second Circuit enforced the absolute priority rule in favor of an unsecured creditor who opposed a debtor’s plan that was premised on a “gifting” strategy, where a secured creditor left value behind for the benefit of the equity holders even though unsecured creditors were not paid in full. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the Second Circuit ruled that a competitor of the debtor that bought a large claim was properly denied the right to vote on the claim because it did so for an improper “ulterior motive.
The Absolute Priority Rule “Trumps” The Strategy Of Gifting Value To A Debtor’s Equity Holders
In DBSD, Sprint Nextel Corporation (“Sprint”) held a general unsecured, unliquidated litigation claim temporarily allowed in the amount of $2 million against debtor DBSD North America, Inc. (“DBSD”). DBSD’s plan provided that the second lien secured creditor class, which was composed of $740 million in convertible senior notes, would receive the bulk of the shares in the reorganized debtor valued at 51% to 73% of their original claims. Unsecured creditors, including Sprint, received shares valued at 4% to 46% of their original claims. DBSD’s old shareholders received shares and warrants in the reorganized debtor pursuant to a “gift” from the second lien secured creditor class.
Sprint objected to the gift to old equity and argued it was an improper end run around the absolute priority rule of 11 U.S.C. § 1129(b)(2)(B). The Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York confirmed the plan over Sprint’s objection and the Federal District Court affirmed on appeal. The Second Circuit, however, held that voluntary gifting to a junior class when an intermediary class does not receive full value on their claims is a violation of the absolute priority rule.
A recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision provides several clear messages regarding the dangers of poorly thought out involuntary bankruptcy petitions. In In re Southern California Sunbelt Developers, Inc., 608 F.3d 456 (9th Cir. 2010), the two debtors placed into involuntary bankruptcies won an attorney fee award of $745,000 and a punitive damages award of $130,000 against all 13 petitioning creditors.
Section 303(b) of the Bankruptcy Code provides the general rule that an involuntary chapter 7 or 11 case may be commenced “by three or more entities, each of which is either a holder of a claim . . . that is not contingent as to liability or the subject of a bona fide dispute as to liability or amount, or an indenture trustee representing such a holder, if such noncontingent, undisputed claims aggregate at least $13,475 . . .” more than the value of the underlying collateral (if any). (There are different rules for entities with less than 12 creditors and partnership debtors. See 11 U.S.C. § 303(b)(2), (3).)
In Southern California Sunbelt, the circumstances were somewhat unusual. Two individuals controlled all 13 petitioning creditors. The debtors proved the 13 petitioning creditors had debts which were the subject of a bona fide dispute. Their counsel then litigated whether or not the involuntary filings were “bad faith filings” which would open up the petitioning creditors to an award for actual or punitive damages.
IRS Has Announced its 2011 Cost-of-living Adjustments for Retirement Plans
On October 28 the IRS issued a press release announcing its 2011 cost-of-living adjustments for retirement plans. For a chart reflecting the qualified plan limits for years 2008-2011, please click here to see the Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group’s Client Alert published October 28, 2010.
SEC Issues Proposed “Say-on-Pay” and “Golden Parachute” Rules
The SEC has released its proposed “say-on-pay” and related golden parachute rules to implement the provisions of Dodd-Frank set forth in new Section 14A of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The comment period will close on November 18, 2010 and the SEC plans to issue final rules in early 2011. For a discussion of the proposed rules, please click here to read the Bulletin published by the Corporate Finance and Securities Group on October 20, 2010.
Employee Benefits Provisions of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010
On September 27, 2010, the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 was signed into law. While the Act mainly focuses on providing tax and other assistance to small businesses, it also includes provisions aimed at promoting retirement preparation that are not limited to small business. For a discussion of these provisions, please click here to read the Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation goup’s client alert Alert published October 4, 2010.
Third Circuit Rules Secured Lender Not Entitled to Credit Bid at Sale of Collateral Under a Cramdown Plan
On March 22, 2010, the Third Circuit in a split decision joined the Fifth Circuit in holding that a debtor may sell its assets under a plan of reorganization without permitting a secured lender to credit bid by offsetting its secured claim against the purchase price. This decision may have major implications for secured lenders and may lead to more contested confirmation hearings and litigation over valuation. For more information, please read the Client Alert published by the Bankruptcy, Restructuring and Creditors’ Rights Client Service Group on March 30, 2010.
Summary of the Federal Reserve Board’s Final Gift Card Rules
On March 23, 2010, the Federal Reserve Board issued its final rule, a summary and analysis of the final rule, and the official staff interpretation of the final rule in connection with Title IV of the CARD Act. The Final Rules are comparable to the proposed rules that were issued in November, and follow the gift card related provisions set forth in the CARD Act. For a brief summary of key provisions of the Rules, please read the Client Alert published by the Financial Institutions Client Service Group on March 29, 2010.
Proposed Amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Emphasize the Importance of Having an Effective and Compliant Records Management Program – What Every Business Needs to Know
In January, the United States Sentencing Commission published proposed changes to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Public hearings on the proposed amendments were held in March. The Commissioners are to take final action on the proposals in April. The amendments will be effective in November, unless Congress intervenes. A major focus of the proposed amendments is on the document retention component of records management. For a discussion of the proposed changes, please read the Client Alert published by the Records Management Team on March 24, 2010.