Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Corporate Compliance
Stettner, et al. v. Smith
IFS and 17 affiliated organizations (collectively, Interamericas) were debtors in a series of Chapter 7 cases. This appeal arose from eight collective adversary proceedings, which a trustee of IFS brought against appellants for avoidance of fraudulent transfers under Chapter 5 of the Bankruptcy Code and Chapter 24 of the Texas Business and Commerce Code. Appellants appealed the district court's affirmance of the bankruptcy court judgment of over $3 million in favor of the trustee. The court held that control could be sufficient to show ownership of what was ultimately a fact-based inquiry that would vary according to the peculiar circumstances of each case. The court also held that the lower courts' findings of ownership were not clearly erroneous and, moreover, comported with precedent and the court's holding today where IFS exercised control over the accounts at issue such that it had de facto ownership over the accounts, as well as the funds contained. The court further held that the record supported the lower courts' findings of fraudulent transfer. Specifically, IFS faced pending lawsuits and mounting debts just as it liquidated nearly all Interamericas' assets and evidence that IFS operated as a fraudulent enterprise at the time of transfer supported this finding of fraudulent intent. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed.
Evans, et al. v. Sterling Chemicals, Inc., et al.
This appeal required the court to determine what effect, if any, a retiree benefits-related provision included in an asset purchase agreement had on the acquiring company's retiree benefits plans governed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1000 et seq. The court held that the provision constituted a valid plan amendment. Moreover, the court held that the provision was assumed, not rejected, in bankruptcy. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded.
Southgate Master Fund, L.L.C. v. United States
Plaintiff partnership was formed for the purpose of facilitating the acquisition of a portfolio of Chinese nonperforming loans (NPLs). The IRS determined that plaintiff was a sham partnership that need not be respected for tax purposes and that plaintiff's allocation of the $200 million loss to the deducting partner should be disallowed. At issue on appeal are the income-tax consequences of three interrelated transactions entered into by plaintiff and its three members. The court held that the district court correctly held that, while the acquisition of an interest in a portfolio of Chinese NPLs had economic substance, the plaintiff partnership was a sham that must be disregarded for federal income-tax purposes. As a consequence, that acquisition must be recharacterized as a direct sale. The court also held that the district court was correct to disallow all accuracy-related penalties on the ground that plaintiff had reasonable cause for, and exhibited good faith in, reporting the positions it took on its 2002 partnership return. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed.
LHC Nashua Partnership, Ltd. v. PDNED Sagamore Nashua, LLC, et al.
This litigation arose out of a contract between the parties in which PDNED agreed to transfer its rights to LHC to purchase shopping mall property from a third party. LHC alleged that, based on representations made by PDNED, LHC expected to lease the property to Lowe's Home Improvement. PDNED subsequently appealed a judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of LHC. As a preliminary matter, the court held that it need not resolve the choice-of-law question where the parties agreed that, with a few exceptions, no material differences existed between New Hampshire and Texas law with regard to the case and the court's conclusions would be the same under either state's law. The court held that the purchase and sale agreement (P&S Agreement) precluded LHC's promissory estoppel claim because the agreement itself controlled the extent of PDNED's binding promises with regard to the purchase and sale of the property. The court also held that the district court did not err when it denied PDNED's motion to dismiss LHC's negligent and fraudulent misrepresentations claims as a matter of law where the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support finding PDNED liable for negligent and fraudulent misrepresentations. The court also held that the jury's out-of-pocket award was the appropriate measure to compensate LHC for reliance costs but that lost profits were not an appropriate measure of damages for the fraudulent misrepresentations in this case. The court finally held that PDNED could not be considered the prevailing party in this litigation for purposes of the P&S Agreement's attorneys' fees provision. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's judgment against PDNED on LHC's promissory estoppel claim and the jury's award in lost profits. The court affirmed the district court's judgment and the jury's award of out-of-pocket damages and the denial of PDNED's motion for attorney's fees.
ASARCO, Inc., et al. v. Elliot Mgmt., et al.
The bankruptcy court issued an order that authorized the debtor to reimburse qualified bidders for expenses incurred in connection with the sale of a substantial asset of the debtor's estate. Debtor and debtor's parent companies subsequently appealed the bankruptcy court's reimbursement order. As a preliminary matter, the court held that it had jurisdiction over the appeal where, in settling this "discrete dispute," the reimbursement order was sufficiently separable from the rest of the bankruptcy proceeding to be appealable as a "final" order under 28 U.S.C. 158(a) and (d). The court also held that, based on the record, the bankruptcy court did not err in issuing the reimbursement order under the business judgment standard in section 363(b) of the Bankruptcy Code. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court was affirmed.
United States v. Brown
This appeal arose from an earlier trial relating to the Enron scandal. The government alleged that Enron loaned out the stake in the barges that it owned off the Nigerian coast to Merill Lynch, risk-free and with a guaranteed return, but made it seem like a sale so that it could book a pretend profit. Defendant, a managing director at Merrill Lynch and the head of its Strategic Asset and Lease Finance group at the time of the transaction, challenged his convictions related to the sale on the grounds that the government violated his right to due process by withholding materially favorable evidence that it possessed pre-trial. The court affirmed and held that the district court did not clearly err in holding that the evidence at issue was not material.
DK Joint Venture 1, et al. v. Weyand, et al.
Defendants appealed from a district court's order confirming an arbitration award where plaintiffs, six business entities, claimed to have been defrauded by defendants. At issue was whether the arbitration panel had exceeded its jurisdiction by rendering an award against defendants because they had never consented to arbitration. The court reversed the district court's order because under ordinary principles of contract and agency law, defendants, as the CEO and CFO of the defendant corporations, were not personally bound by the arbitration agreements their corporations entered into. Therefore, the court held that the arbitration panel lacked jurisdiction to render an award against defendants.
Janvey v. Alguire, et al.
This case arose when the SEC brought suit against Stanford Group Company (SGC), along with various other Stanford entities, including Stanford International Bank (SIB), for allegedly perpetrating a massive Ponzi scheme. In this interlocutory appeal, defendants appealed the preliminary injunction that the receiver subsequently obtained against numerous former financial advisors and employees of SGC, freezing the accounts of those individuals pending the outcome of trial. The court held that the district court had the power to decide the motion for preliminary injunction before deciding the motion to compel arbitration; the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting a preliminary injunction; the preliminary injunction was not overbroad; and the district court acted within its power to grant a Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (TUFTA), Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Ann. 24.005(a)(1), injunction rather than an attachment; and that the court did not have jurisdiction to rule on the motion to compel arbitration. Accordingly, the court affirmed and remanded the motion to compel arbitration for a ruling in the first instance.
Spicer v. Laguna Madre Oil & Gas II LLC, et al.
Texas Wyoming Drilling, Inc. (TWD) filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 and filed its disclosure statement and plan, which eliminated all of TWD's shareholders' stock interests in TWD. Central to this dispute were the terms of the plan and statement; namely, whether the terms preserved TWD's claims against Laguna Madre Oil & Gas II, LLC et al. A few months after confirmation of the plan, TWD sued 32 of its former shareholders, including appellants here, for pre-petition dividend payments that were allegedly fraudulent transfers under 11 U.S.C. 544, 548, and 550, and the Texas Business and Commerce Code, alleging that the former shareholders had received dividends and other transfers equaling millions of dollars while TWD was insolvent (Avoidance Actions). Laguna subsequently appealed the bankruptcy court's denial of its motion for summary judgment. The court held that the bankruptcy court properly denied Laguna's motion for summary judgment because the plan adequately preserved the Avoidance Actions and the claims were not barred by judicial estoppel or res judicata. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment.
Conway v. United States
This case stemmed from the transportation excise tax that National Airlines (National) owed the government. Plaintiff appealed the district court's summary judgment determination that, pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 6672, he was personally liable for the excise taxes that National collected from its passengers but failed to pay over to the United States during his tenure as National's CEO. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court and held that the district court properly found that plaintiff was a "responsible person" and that his failure to pay taxes was willful as defined by this circuit's precedents.