January 22, 2019
Michigan-based Maremont Corporation, a subsidiary of publicly-traded non-debtor automobile component manufacturer Meritor Inc. ($MTOR), has filed for bankruptcy along with three affiliates in the District of Delaware. The company was a manufacturer, distributor and seller of aftermarket auto products — many of which contained asbestos; currently, it has no ongoing operations and its only assets are an intercompany receivable, a rent-producing commercial property with Dollar General as a tenant, a few bank accounts, and some insurance assets. In contrast, the company has significant liabilities — notably asbestos-related liabilities including defense and other costs associated with defending 13k pending personal injury and wrongful death claims.
The company, in consultation with its parent and committees of Future Claimants and current Asbestos Claimants, arrived at a prepackaged plan under section 524(g) of the Bankruptcy Code. The plan envisions a personal injury trust to be funded, in large part, by Meritor (via the repayment of a remaining receivable, a contribution of intercompany payables and a $28mm settlement payment) and a channeling injunction that protects the company (and Meritor) from future suit and liability arising out of the company’s asbestos legacy. Instead, any and all asbestos-related personal injury claims may only be pursued against, and paid from, the personal injury trust.
Meritor, like most of the stock market, got beaten up yesterday. There’s no telling whether the multi-million dollar payout here had anything to do with that.
For the uninitiated, this (horrifically boring) bankruptcy filing presents us with a good opportunity to highlight a potential structure (and its limitations) for any imminent Pacific Gas & Electric Company (“PG&E”) chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. PG&E’s issues — as have, by this point, been extensively documented — largely emanate out of (i) some oppressive California state liability laws (inverse-condemnation — definitely), (ii) man-made global warming and resultant mudslides and wildfires (probably), and (iii) at least a glint of negligence (probably). While the company has $18.4b of (mostly unsecured) debt, the catalyst to bankruptcy may be its multi-billion dollar liability from the aforementioned CA-state laws and years of environmental disaster.
Similar to Maremont, PG&E is likely to end up with some kind of plan of reorganization that features a litigation trust (for affected claimants) and a channeling injunction. Except, as John Rapisardi and Daniel Shamah of O’Melveny & Myers point out, there are limitations to that structure. They write:
There is one significant obstacle to any PG&E bankruptcy: the likely inability to discharge liabilities associated with wildfires that have not yet occurred. There have been numerous mass tort bankruptcies in the past that have been resolved through the formation of a litigation trust and channeling injunction, forcing litigants into a single forum where claims are satisfied through trust assets. See, e.g., 11 U.S.C. §524(g) (channeling injunction for asbestos debtors); In re TK Holdings, Doc. No. 2120, Case No. 17-11375 (Bankr D. Del.) (confirmation order with channeling injunction for debtor that manufactured airbags with defective components). But that structure only works for claims based on prior conduct or acts. PG&E, in contrast, faces perennial liability associated with wildfires and inverse condemnation. It may be challenging to discharge the inverse-condemnation liabilities associated with a post-petition wildfire. See 28 U.S.C. §959(a) (debtors-in-possession may be sued “with respect to any of their acts or transactions in carrying on business connected with such property.”).
Prior conduct or acts, huh? A discontinued product that happened to contain asbestos fits that bill. Likewise, a remedied airbag (the TK Holdings referenced above refers to Takata Airbags). Sadly — especially for Californians, there is nothing prior about environmental issues. Those are very much a present and future thing.
Jurisdiction: D. of Delaware (Judge Carey)
Legal: Sidley Austin LLP (James Conlan, Andrew O’Neill, Alison Ross Stromberg, Blair Warner, Alex Rovira) & (local) Cole Schotz PC (Norman Pernick, J. Kate Stickles)
Claims Estimation Advisor: Alvarez & Marsal Disputes and Investigations LLC
Claims Agent: Donlin Recano (*click on company name above for free docket access)
Other Parties in Interest:
Future Claimants Representative: James L. Patton Jr.
Legal: Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor LLP
Claims Estimation Advisor: Ankura Consulting Group LLC