The Bankruptcy Abuse, Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, which was signed into law in the United States on April 20, 2005 and went into effect, for the most part, on October 17, 2005, created a new chapter of the United States Bankruptcy Code (11 U.S.C. 101, et seq., as amended) (the “Bankruptcy Code”) – Chapter 15. Chapter 15 replaces and modifies the earlier Bankruptcy Code sections that dealt with multi-national insolvency proceedings. Chapter 15 is entitled “Ancillary and Other Cross Border Cases,” and replaces existing Bankruptcy Code section 304 in dealing with cross border cases.
Chapter 15 is based on the Model Law on Cross Border Insolvency which had been prepared by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), with significant input from insolvency practitioners all over the world. It was designed to create procedures for cooperation among foreign courts where insolvency proceedings are pending in more than one country and establish guidelines for the protection of assets internationally, while being sensitive to the political issues and differing legal systems of the countries involved.
Chapter 15 establishes more detailed procedures and, in certain instances, expands the rights of the foreign representative from those previously provided under section 304. Chapter 15 follows the UNCITRAL model law by expressly encouraging cooperation and communication between courts handling cross border cases. 11 U.S.C. § 1525. While most courts in the U.S. and other countries have effectively utilized cross border protocols and cooperation agreements, some have been reluctant to do so without express statutory authority. Chapter 15 further establishes procedures and recommendations for communication and cooperation between U.S. case trustees and examiners, their foreign counterparts and the foreign court. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1526 and 1527.
A Chapter 15 case is commenced by the filing of a petition seeking recognition of a foreign proceeding by a foreign representative. 11 U.S.C. § 1504. Some of the highlights of new Chapter 15 are summarized below.
Chapter 15 is designed so that the recognition procedure is the gateway to a foreign representative’s access to state and federal courts in the United States on behalf of a foreign debtor. Venue is limited to the district in which the debtor has its principal place of business in the United States. With the exception of foreign insurance companies, the limitations on who may be a debtor, as set forth in 11 U.S.C. § 109, still apply. 11 U.S.C. § 1501(c). Both foreign and domestic creditors have the same rights regarding commencement and participation in a Chapter 15 case. However, Chapter 15 does contain special notification procedures for foreign creditors and enables the court to provide additional time for foreign creditors to file proofs of claim. 11 U.S.C. § 1514.
Any “foreign representative” appointed in a “foreign proceeding” who is authorized to either administer the financial restructuring, liquidation or reorganization of a debtor’s assets, or is authorized to act as a representative in a foreign proceeding, is authorized to file a petition seeking recognition of the foreign proceeding in the United States. The minimal requirements for recognition of a foreign proceeding are some type of documentation or certification from the foreign court confirming the existence of the foreign insolvency proceeding and the authority of the foreign representative to act. This is a less exacting standard than that which existed under prior section 304, which required some investigation into the nature and purpose of the foreign proceeding. While the definition of “foreign representative” has been modified somewhat in Chapter 15, the prior statute was interpreted broadly, and it is unlikely that the definitional changes will have much practical impact on who is a foreign representative.
DEFINITION OF FOREIGN PROCEEDING
While the definition of “foreign proceeding” has been expanded in Chapter 15, the expansion appears to be for purposes of clarification based on analysis of existing case law. A “foreign proceeding” is now a “collective judicial or administrative proceeding in a foreign country, including an interim proceeding, under a law relating to insolvency or adjustment of debt in which proceeding the assets and affairs of the debtor are subject to control or supervision by a foreign court, for the purposes of reorganization or liquidation.” 11 U.S.C. § 101(23). Most notable changes in this definition from section 304 is that some type of court supervision of the foreign proceeding is expressly required, the reference to insolvency laws is broader than prior references to liquidation and debt adjustment, and the venue requirements
of domicile, residence or principal place of business for the foreign proceeding are expanded to require only that the proceeding be filed in a foreign country. These latter factors, however, continue to remain viable concepts in regards to the new definitions of main and nonmain foreign proceedings.
MAIN AND NONMAIN FOREIGN PROCEEDINGS
One of the most significant provisions of Chapter 15 adopted from the European Insolvency Regulation promulgated by the European Union (“EU”) is the concept of determining whether a foreign proceeding is a “main” or “nonmain” proceeding, that is the proceeding with primary control over the debtor and its estate. It is anticipated that the U.S. bankruptcy courts will apply tests similar to the “center of main interest” (“COMI”) or “establishment” tests used in the EU in determining whether a foreign proceeding is main or nonmain. However, while not meant to be a venue concept, the definitions of main and nonmain contained in Chapter 15 may create disputes similar to the venue disputes that have plagued Chapter 11 cases in the U.S.
Section 1502(4) provides that a “foreign main proceeding” is a foreign proceeding “pending in the country where the debtor has the center of its main interests.” Section 1516 provides the rebuttable presumption that the location of the debtor’s registered office is the center of its main interests. Section 1502(5) defines a “foreign nonmain proceeding” as a foreign proceeding “pending in a country where the debtor has an establishment.” “Establishment” is defined in section 1502(2) as “any place of operations where the debtor carries out nontransitory economic activity.” How these definitions will be applied in cases where a parent corporation is registered in one country, but its operating subsidiaries are registered in different countries and have operations in several others, remains to be seen. One anticipates that courts will go through a similar factual analysis to that undertaken in venue disputes, looking at factors such as the extent of business operations in a given country, the number of employees, the location of most and/or major creditors, and the like.
The determination of whether a foreign proceeding is main or nonmain dictates the extent to which certain relief can be granted and the extent of the rights granted the foreign representative.
EFFECT OF RECOGNITION OF A FOREIGN MAIN PROCEEDING
The relief available to a foreign representative under Chapter 15 upon recognition of a main foreign proceeding by the U.S. bankruptcy court is significantly greater than that which had been available under section 304 in that, with certain exceptions, the panoply of rights available under Chapter 11 become immediately available to the foreign representative. Additionally, the foreign representative of a main foreign proceeding has the option of filing a full voluntary Chapter 11 case, while the foreign representative of a nonmain foreign proceeding is limited to filing an involuntary Chapter 11 case.
In emergency situations, interim temporary remedies are available where necessary to protect “the assets of the debtor or the interests of the creditors.” 11 U.S.C. § 1519(a). These temporary remedies may include stays of execution, entrusting U.S. assets to the foreign representative, prohibiting or restricting asset transfers or encumbrance by the debtor and discovery rights. A foreign representative is no longer required to meet the extensive test contained in former section 304(c) such as just treatment of creditors, distribution of the estate in accordance with the absolute priority rule, comity and the like. However, section 1506 does permit the court to deny any relief that would be “manifestly contrary to the public policy of the United States.”
Chapter 15 seems to give courts greater discretion in fashioning relief while making the recognition of a foreign proceeding easier. An order of recognition grants the following relief: (i) automatic stay of actions against the debtor (subject to the limitations contained in section 362 of the Bankruptcy Code); (ii) secured creditors will be entitled to receive adequate protection akin to section 361 of the Bankruptcy Code; (iii) the foreign representative will be able to sue and be sued in the United States; (iv) the court will be able to order the examination of witnesses akin to a Rule 2004 examination; (v) the foreign representative may be permitted to administer and realize on some or all of the debtor’s U.S. assets. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1520 and 1521. Additionally, any provisional relief granted under section 1519 prior to recognition automatically is extended upon entry of the order of recognition of the foreign proceeding.
Some limitations still exist. Most notably, the ability of the foreign representative to commence avoidance actions (actions for the recovery of preferences and fraudulent transfers) is limited to cases where a full Chapter 11 case is subsequently filed. Otherwise, avoidance actions are not within the powers granted a foreign representative under Chapter 15. Thus, one of the benefits of the determination that a foreign proceeding is a main proceeding is the ability to file for Chapter 11 and obtain avoidance powers.
Once a foreign proceeding is recognized in the United States, the foreign representative may file a case under Chapter 11 or Chapter 7 provided the debtor has assets in the United States. 11 U.S.C. § 1528. Subchapters IV and V of Chapter 15 provide somewhat detailed procedures for cooperation and coordination of the simultaneous proceedings, including determinations of insolvency, distribution of assets and coordination of rulings to prevent inconsistent rulings and results.
Chapter 15 expressly provides that in interpreting this chapter, the courts shall consider its international origin and the need to promote its application consistent with the application of similar statutes adopted by foreign jurisdictions. 11 U.S.C. § 1508. The international aspects of the new law have received little attention outside of legal circles. The changes codified in Chapter 15 could make cross border filings easier to accomplish and multi-national cases easier to administer. This would result in significant benefits to the global economy in terms of financial market stability, saved jobs and stronger global companies.