__ U.S. __, 16-784, Merit Management Group, LP v. FTI Consulting, Inc.

Docket Nº16-784
Citation__ U.S. __, 138 S.Ct. 883, 200 L.Ed.2d 183, 86 U.S.L.W. 4088, 65 Bankr.Ct.Dec. 92, 27 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 73
Opinion JudgeSOTOMAYOR, Justice.
Party NameMERIT MANAGEMENT GROUP, LP, Petitioner v. FTI CONSULTING, INC.
AttorneyBrian C. Walsh, St. Louis, MO, for Petitioner. Paul D. Clement, Washington, DC, for Respondent. Jason J. DeJonker, Leslie A. Bayles, Justin A. Morgan, Bryan Cave LLP, Chicago, IL, Brian C. Walsh, John J. Schoemehl, Laura Uberti Hughes, Bryan Cave LLP, St. Louis, MO, for Petitioner. William T. Rei...
Judge PanelSOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
Case DateFebruary 27, 2018
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page __

__ U.S. __

138 S.Ct. 883, 200 L.Ed.2d 183, 86 U.S.L.W. 4088, 65 Bankr.Ct.Dec. 92, 27 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 73

MERIT MANAGEMENT GROUP, LP, Petitioner

v.

FTI CONSULTING, INC.

No. 16-784

United States Supreme Court

February 27, 2018

Argued Nov. 6, 2017.

[138 S.Ct. 885] Syllabus [*]

The Bankruptcy Code allows trustees to set aside and recover certain transfers for the benefit of the bankruptcy estate, including, as relevant here, certain fraudulent transfers " of an interest of the debtor in property." 11 U.S.C. § 548(a). It also sets out a number of limits on the exercise of these avoiding powers. Central here is the securities safe harbor, which, inter alia, provides that " the trustee may not avoid a transfer that is a ... settlement payment ... made by or to (or for the benefit of) a ... financial institution ... or that is a transfer made by or to (or for the benefit of) a ... financial institution ... in connection with a securities contract." § 546(e).

Valley View Downs, LP, and Bedford Downs Management Corp. entered into an agreement under which Valley View, if it got the last harness-racing license in Pennsylvania, would purchase all of Bedford Downs’ stock for $55 million. Valley View was granted the license and arranged for the Cayman Islands branch of Credit Suisse to wire $55 million to third-party escrow agent Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania. The Bedford Downs shareholders, including petitioner Merit Management Group, LP, deposited their stock certificates into escrow. Citizens Bank disbursed the $55 million over two installments according to the agreement, of which petitioner Merit received $16.5 million.

Although Valley View secured the harness-racing license, it was unable to achieve its goal of opening a racetrack casino. Valley View and its parent company, Centaur, LLC, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Respondent FTI Consulting, Inc., was appointed to serve as trustee of the Centaur litigation trust. FTI then sought to avoid the transfer from Valley View to Merit for the sale of Bedford Downs’ stock, arguing that it was constructively fraudulent under § 548(a)(1)(B). Merit contended that the § 546(e) safe harbor barred FTI from avoiding the transfer because it was a " settlement payment ... made by or to (or for the benefit of)" two " financial institutions," Credit Suisse and Citizens Bank. The District Court agreed with Merit, but the Seventh [138 S.Ct. 886] Circuit reversed, holding that § 546(e) did not protect transfers in which financial institutions served as mere conduits.

Held : The only relevant transfer for purposes of the § 546(e) safe harbor is the transfer that the trustee seeks to avoid. Pp. 891 - 897.

(a) Before a court can determine whether a transfer was " made by or to (or for the benefit of)" a covered entity, it must first identify the relevant transfer to test in that inquiry. Merit posits that the relevant transfer should include not only the Valley-View-to-Merit end-to-end transfer, but also all of its component parts, i.e., the Credit-Suisse-to-Citizens-Bank and the Citizens-Bank-to-Merit transfers. FTI maintains that the only relevant transfer is the transfer that it sought to avoid, specifically, the overarching transfer between Valley View and Merit. Pp. 891 - 895.

(1) The language of § 546(e) and the specific context in which that language is used support the conclusion that the relevant transfer for purposes of the safe-harbor inquiry is the transfer the trustee seeks to avoid. The first clause of the provision— " Notwithstanding sections 544, 545, 547, 548(a)(1)(B), and 548(b) of this title" — indicates that § 546(e) operates as an exception to trustees’ avoiding powers granted elsewhere in the Code. The text makes clear that the starting point for the § 546(e) inquiry is the expressly listed avoiding powers and, consequently, the transfer that the trustee seeks to avoid in exercising those powers. The last clause— " except under section 548(a)(1)(A) of this title" — also focuses on the transfer that the trustee seeks to avoid. Creating an exception to the exception for § 548(a)(1)(A) transfers, the text refers back to a specific type of transfer that falls within the avoiding powers, signaling that the exception applies to the overarching transfer that the trustee seeks to avoid, not any component part of that transfer. This reading is reinforced by the § 546 section heading, " Limitations on avoiding powers," and is confirmed by the rest of the statutory text: The provision provides that " the trustee may not avoid" certain transfers, which naturally invites scrutiny of the transfers that " the trustee ... may avoid," the parallel language used in the avoiding powers provisions. The text further provides that the transfer that is saved from avoidance is one " that is " (not one that involves) a securities transaction covered under § 546(e). In other words, to qualify for protection under the securities safe harbor, § 546(e) provides that the otherwise avoidable transfer itself be a transfer that meets the safe-harbor criteria. Pp. 893 - 894.

(2) The statutory structure also supports this reading of § 546(e). The Code establishes a system for avoiding transfers as well as a safe harbor from avoidance. It is thus only logical to view the pertinent transfer under § 546(e) as the same transfer that the trustee seeks to avoid pursuant to one of its avoiding powers. In an avoidance action, the trustee must establish that the transfer it seeks to set aside meets the carefully set out criteria under the substantive avoidance provisions of the Code. The defendant in that avoidance action is free to argue that the trustee failed to properly identify an avoidable transfer under the Code, including any available arguments concerning the role of component parts of the transfer. If a trustee properly identifies an avoidable transfer, however, the court has no reason to examine the relevance of component parts when considering a limit to the avoiding power, where that limit is defined by reference to an otherwise avoidable transfer, as is the case with § 546(e). Pp. 894 - 895.

[138 S.Ct. 887] (b) The primary argument Merit advances that is moored in the statutory text— concerning Congress’ 2006 addition of the parenthetical " (or for the benefit of)" to § 546(e)— is unavailing. Merit contends that Congress meant to abrogate the Eleventh Circuit decision in In re Munford, Inc., 98 F.3d 604, which held that § 546(e) was inapplicable to transfers in which a financial institution acted only as an intermediary. However, Merit points to nothing in the text or legislative history to corroborate its argument. A simpler explanation rooted in the text of the statute and consistent with the interpretation of § 546(e) adopted here is that Congress added the " or for the benefit of" language that is common in other substantive avoidance provisions to the § 546(e) safe harbor to ensure that the scope of the safe harbor and scope of the avoiding powers matched.

That reading would not, contrary to what Merit contends, render other provisions ineffectual or superfluous. Rather, it gives full effect to the text of § 546(e). If the transfer the trustee seeks to avoid was made " by" or " to" a covered entity, then § 546(e) will bar avoidance without regard to whether the entity acted only as an intermediary. It will also bar avoidance if the transfer was made " for the benefit of" that entity, even if it was not made " by" or " to" that entity.

Finally, Merit argues that reading the safe harbor so that its application depends on the identity of the investor and the manner in which its investment is held rather than on the general nature of the transaction is incongruous with Congress’ purportedly " prophylactic" approach to § 546(e). But this argument is nothing more than an attack on the text of the statute, which protects only certain transactions " made by or to (or for the benefit of)" certain covered entities. Pp. 894 - 896.

(c) Applying this reading of the § 546(e) safe harbor to this case yields a straightforward result. FTI sought to avoid the Valley-View-to-Merit transfer. When determining whether the § 546(e) safe harbor saves that transfer from avoidance liability, the Court must look to that overarching transfer to evaluate whether it meets the safe-harbor criteria. Because the parties do not contend that either Valley View or Merit is a covered entity, the transfer falls outside of the § 546(e) safe harbor. Pp. 896 - 897.

830 F.3d 690, affirmed and remanded.

SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Brian C. Walsh, St. Louis, MO, for Petitioner.

Paul D. Clement, Washington, DC, for Respondent.

Jason J. DeJonker, Leslie A. Bayles, Justin A. Morgan, Bryan Cave LLP, Chicago, IL, Brian C. Walsh, John J. Schoemehl, Laura Uberti Hughes, Bryan Cave LLP, St. Louis, MO, for Petitioner.

William T. Reid, IV, Gregory S. Schwegmann, Joshua J. Bruckerhoff, Reid Collins & Tsai LLP, Austin, TX, Paul D. Clement, H. Christopher Bartolomucci, George W. Hicks, Jr., Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Washington, DC, for Respondent.

OPINION

SOTOMAYOR, Justice.

To maximize the funds available for, and ensure equity in, the distribution to creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding, the Bankruptcy Code gives a trustee the power to invalidate a limited category of [138 S.Ct. 888] transfers by the debtor or transfers of an interest of the debtor in property. Those powers, referred to as " avoiding powers," are not without limits, however, as the Code sets out a number of exceptions. The operation of one such exception, the securities safe harbor, 11 U.S.C. § 546(e), is at issue in this case. Specifically, this Court is asked to determine how the safe harbor operates...

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110 practice notes
  • In re Fairfield Sentry Ltd., 121420 NYSBC, 10-13164 SMB
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Second Circuit
    • 14 de Dezembro de 2020
    ...306-14, but declined to rule on the merits because the Supreme Court had issued Merit Mgmt. Grp. LP v. FTI Consulting, Inc., 138 S.Ct. 883 (2018) shortly after the parties' submissions. In Merit, the Supreme Court concluded that "the relevant transfer for purposes&#......
  • Mere Conduit.
    • United States
    • American Bankruptcy Law Journal Vol. 93 Nbr. 3, September 2019
    • 22 de Setembro de 2019
    ...and in fact may be rendered obsolete by the Supreme Court's recent decision in Merit Management Group v. FTI Consulting, Inc., 138 S. Ct. 883 (2018). Furthermore, a large majority of leading cases in this area muddle fraudulent transfer law with the law on corporate theft, depriving financi......
  • In re Tribune Company Fraudulent Conveyance Litigation, 042319 NYSDC, 11md2296 (DLC)
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    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 2nd Circuit Southern District of New York
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    ...has defined the transfer it seeks to avoid as Tribune's payment of cash to its Shareholders. See, Merit Management, 138 S.Ct. at 894. That transaction is a securities transaction and the Trustee “is not free to define the transfer it seeks to avoid in any way it cho......
  • In re Martin, 011221 OHNBC, 19-30310
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    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Sixth Circuit
    • 12 de Janeiro de 2021
    ...Section 548(a)(1)(B) addresses "constructively" fraudulent transfers. Merit Mgmt. Grp., LP v. FTI Consulting, Inc., 138 S.Ct. 883, 889, 200 L.Ed.2d 183 (2018)(citing BFP v. Resol. Tr. Corp., 511 U.S. 531, 535, 114 S.Ct. 1757, 1760, 128 L.Ed.2d 556 (1994));......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
64 cases
  • In re Fairfield Sentry Ltd., 121420 NYSBC, 10-13164 SMB
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Second Circuit
    • 14 de Dezembro de 2020
    ...306-14, but declined to rule on the merits because the Supreme Court had issued Merit Mgmt. Grp. LP v. FTI Consulting, Inc., 138 S.Ct. 883 (2018) shortly after the parties' submissions. In Merit, the Supreme Court concluded that "the relevant transfer for purposes&#......
  • In re Martin, 011221 OHNBC, 19-30310
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Sixth Circuit
    • 12 de Janeiro de 2021
    ...Section 548(a)(1)(B) addresses "constructively" fraudulent transfers. Merit Mgmt. Grp., LP v. FTI Consulting, Inc., 138 S.Ct. 883, 889, 200 L.Ed.2d 183 (2018)(citing BFP v. Resol. Tr. Corp., 511 U.S. 531, 535, 114 S.Ct. 1757, 1760, 128 L.Ed.2d 556 (1994));......
  • Luster v. McKean, 041320 PAWDC, 1:18-cv-339
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit
    • 13 de Abril de 2020
    ...Holding Co., LLC, 544 F.3d 493, 507 (3d Cir. 2008)). See also Merit Mgmt. Grp., LP v. FTI Consulting, ___ U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct. 883, 893, 200 L.Ed.2d 183 (2018) (stating that "section headings cannot limit the plain meaning of a statutory text"). Rather, &qu......
  • 581 S.W.3d 900 (Tex.App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2019), 01-18-00811-CV, Houston NFL Holding L.P. v. Ryans
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals of Texas
    • 1 de Agosto de 2019
    ...they "cannot limit the plain meaning of a statutory text," Merit Mgmt. Group, LP v. FTI Consulting, Inc., __ U.S. __, 138 S.Ct. 883, 893, 200 L.Ed.2d 183 (2018), they "can inform the inquiry into the Legislature’s intent," TIC Energy & Chem., Inc.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
44 firm's commentaries
2 books & journal articles
  • Mere Conduit.
    • United States
    • American Bankruptcy Law Journal Vol. 93 Nbr. 3, September 2019
    • 22 de Setembro de 2019
    ...and in fact may be rendered obsolete by the Supreme Court's recent decision in Merit Management Group v. FTI Consulting, Inc., 138 S. Ct. 883 (2018). Furthermore, a large majority of leading cases in this area muddle fraudulent transfer law with the law on corporate theft, depriving financi......
  • TAKING CONTROL RIGHTS SERIOUSLY.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 166 Nbr. 7, June 2018
    • 1 de Junho de 2018
    ...of the Bankruptcy Code, is likely to cause an increase in such attempts to recover funds. See Merit Mgmt. Grp. v. FTI Consulting, Inc., 138 S. Ct. 883, 887 (2018); Plaintiffs-Appellants-Cross-Appellees' Motion to Recall Mandate at 1, In re Tribune Co. Fraudulent Conveyance Litig., 818 F.3d.......