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A secured lender’s “mere retention of property [after a pre-bankruptcy–repossession] does not violate” the automatic stay provision [§362(a)(3)] of the Bankruptcy Code (Code), held a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 14, 2021. City of Chicago v. Fulton, 141 S. Ct. 585, 589 (Jan. 14, 2021). Reversing the Seventh Circuit’s affirmance of a bankruptcy court judgment holding a secured lender in contempt for violating the automatic stay, the Court resolved “a split” in the Circuits. Id. The Second, Eighth and Ninth Circuits had agreed with the Seventh Circuit. See, e.g., In re Weber, 719 F.3d 72, 79 (2d Cir. 2013) (by retaining possession of collateral, lender “was ‘exercising control’ over” debtor’s property). But the Third, D.C., and Tenth Circuits, had reached the right result in other cases. In re Denby-Peterson, 941 F.3d 115 (3d Cir. 2019) (secured creditor has no “affirmative obligation under the automatic stay to return a debtor’s [repossessed] collateral” to estate “immediately upon notice” of debtor’s bankruptcy filing); In re Cowen, 849 F.3d 943, 950 (10th Cir. 2017) (only “affirmative acts” to take “possession of, or to exercise control over” debtor’s property “violate” automatic stay); United States v. Inslaw, Inc., 932 F.2d 1467, 1474 C.D.C. Cir. 1991) (“Nowhere in [Code §362(a)] is there a hint that it creates an affirmative duty ….”). As shown below, the Supreme Court effectively held that the Code’s automatic stay provides no automatic turnover of a lender’s collateral. The Code’s turnover provision (§542) is also not automatic.
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By Eva D. Gadzheva, Jeremy M. Downs and David E. Morrison
This article reminds us of the conflict-of-laws analysis at the heart of such retention of title disputes, and then discuss the multi-step UCC analysis that is also required.
By Michael L. Cook
The Second Circuit applied federal bankruptcy law when holding that good faith is an affirmative defense.
By Thomas R. Califano and Anna Gumport
Members of Congress recently introduced the Nondebtor Release Prohibition Act, which proposes to amend the Bankruptcy Code to, among other things, restrict courts’ ability to approve third-party releases of nondebtors and related injunctions under plans of reorganization or otherwise in Chapter 11 cases.
By Steven B. Smith and Rachel Ginzburg
If you think public policy favoring the freedom to file a Chapter 11 trumps the freedom to negotiate specific restrictions to such a filing, think again.