In re Purdue Pharma, 19-23649 (RDD)

CourtUnited States Bankruptcy Courts. Second Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Southern District of New York
PartiesIn re: PURDUE PHARMA L.P., et al., Debtors.
Docket Number19-23649 (RDD)
Decision Date17 September 2021

In re: PURDUE PHARMA L.P., et al., Debtors.

No. 19-23649 (RDD)

United States Bankruptcy Court, S.D. New York

September 17, 2021

Chapter 11

(Jointly Administered)


Hon. Robert D. Drain, United States Bankruptcy Judge

The wrongful use, including marketing and distribution, of opioid products has contributed to a massive public health crisis in this country. The role of the debtors before me (the "Debtors" or "Purdue") and their owners in that crisis makes these bankruptcy cases highly unusual and complex.

This is so primarily because of the nature of the creditor body, given the extraordinarily harmful effects of the Debtors' primary product, the prescription drug OxyContin, and other synthetic opioids on ordinary people as well as on the local governments, Indian tribes, hospitals and other first responders, states and territories, and the United States that confront these effects every day. In a very real sense, every person in the range of the Debtors' opioid products, sold throughout the United States, was a potential creditor.

Bankruptcy cases present a unique and perhaps the only means to resolve the collective problem presented by an insolvent debtor and a large body of creditors competing for its insufficient assets, including especially when there are mass claims premised on products to which, as here, massive harm is attributed.

Bankruptcy cases focus the solution away from individual litigations to a fair collective result subject to the unique ability under bankruptcy law to bind holdouts under well-defined circumstances who could not otherwise be bound under non-bankruptcy law.

Over the years courts and the parties to bankruptcy cases have refined and improved on such solutions, which clearly have been brought to bear in these cases involving likely the largest creditor body ever. And I'm not speaking solely of the roughly 618, 000 claims that were filed, although I believe that is a record, but also, as noted, the people who could arguably be said to be represented by their local and state governments and by the United States.

Here, too, the parties have worked in unique and trailblazing ways to address the public health catastrophe that underlies those claims.

These cases are complex also because the Debtors' assets include enormous claims against their controlling shareholders, and in some instances directors and officers, who are members of the Sackler family, whose aggregate net worth, though greater than the Debtors', also may well be insufficient to satisfy the Debtors' claims against them and other very closely related claims that are separately asserted by third parties who are also creditors of the Debtors.

Since the start, then, key issues for these cases have been (a) how can such claims be resolved to best effect for the claimants and (b) is such a resolution authorized under the Bankruptcy Code and law? The primary questions for me now, focusing on the Chapter 11 plan before the Court, are can these issues be resolved by confirmation of the plan, and should they?

It is clear after a lengthy evidentiary hearing that there is now no other reasonably conceivable means to achieve the result that would be accomplished by the Chapter 11 plan in addressing the problems presented by the Debtors' Chapter 11 cases. I believe it is also clear under well-established precedent that, with a sufficient factual record, Congress in the Bankruptcy Code and the courts interpreting it provide the authority for such a resolution. That leaves the question whether the proposed resolution should be implemented.

This ruling explains my findings and conclusions regarding these issues, informed by the record of these cases, the parties' votes on the plan, the parties' briefing, and the record of a six-day trial involving 41 witnesses and a courtroom full of exhibits and two full days of oral argument.


The notice of the Debtors' request for confirmation of the plan was described by Jeanne C. Finegan in her declarations and live testimony, primarily in her third supplemental declaration, which, under my order setting procedures for the confirmation hearing, served as her direct testimony but also referred to prior declarations that she had provided in these cases regarding the notice to claimants and potential claimants.

As established by her testimony, the Debtors' notice of (a) these cases, (b) the right to assert a claim against the Debtors, (c) the Debtors' request for confirmation of the plan, and (d) the proposed release of third parties' claims against the released parties in the plan, primarily of such claims against the Sacklers and their related entities (the "shareholder released parties"), was unprecedentedly broad.

Ms. Finegan's testimony was uncontroverted and credible that the Debtors' noticing program as implemented under her supervision reached roughly 98 percent of the adult population of the United States and approximately 86 percent of Canadian adults, with an average frequency of message exposure in each case of four times, and also was extended extensively throughout the world where the Debtors' products might have caused harm. As testified to by Ms. Finegan, the supplemental confirmation hearing notice plan reached an estimated 87 percent of all U.S. adults, with an average message frequency of five times, and an estimated 82 percent of all Canadian adults, with an average message frequency of six times. It also was expanded to 39 countries not included in the bar date notice, served over 3.6 billion online and social impressions, and resulted in over 3, 400 news mentions around the world.

The program was carefully tailored to reach not only known creditors but also the population at large, including through various types of media aimed especially at people who may have been harmed by the Debtors' products. Ms. Finegan's calculations reflect literally billions of hits on the internet and social media as well as reliable estimates of the very wide extent of the other means of notice by TV, radio, various types of publications, billboards, and outreach to victims' advocates and abatement-centered groups.

The only caveat that I have to the extraordinarily broad scope of the notice of the Debtors' request for confirmation of the plan pertains to notice to those in prison. The notice program was in large part effective in reaching prisons and groups known to work with people who are in prison and suffering from opioid use disorder or other adverse effects of opioids. But it is possible that because of prison regulations and at times the lack of access to TV, radio and other media, prisoners may not have received the same high level of notice of these cases, the bar date, and the Debtors' request to confirm the plan, including of the proposed third-party claim releases in the plan.

On the other hand, the Debtors, including in the plan's personal injury trust procedures, have shown a willingness to consider requests to assert and prove claims late based on evidence of prisoners' unique circumstances that may have restricted notice to them.

The United States Trustee has suggested that references in notices to the plan would have sent people to a lengthy and complex set of release provisions. This is true, as is the observation that it helps to have legal training to parse those provisions, although during the confirmation hearing they have been narrowed and simplified. And as reflected by the record of the parties' responses to my comments during the hearing, those provisions were subject to some potential for differing interpretations, although I believe that is not the case now that they have been revised.

Nevertheless, the most widespread notices of the plan's proposed third-party claims release were simple, in plain English that the plan contemplated a broad release of the Sacklers and their related entities of civil claims pertaining to the Debtors, including claims against them held by third parties. Finegan Decl. at paragraphs 19-22 (describing various ways this notice was disseminated). In addition, extensive media coverage of these cases also hammered home that point. Indeed, wide media coverage exaggerated the extent of the plan's proposed releases of claims against the Sacklers and further noted controversy over its basis in applicable law. And it is these aspects of the plan's third-party claims release -- that it is too broad and unfair and that it is not authorized under applicable law -- that primarily underly the objections to confirmation of the plan that have been filed, including by the U.S. Trustee, not that the releases are hard to read.

I therefore conclude that the Debtors' notice of the confirmation hearing and the proposed releases in the plan was sufficient and indeed unprecedentedly broad.

Voting on the Plan.

I should next note the vote on the plan by the classes of claimants entitled to vote. It is important to address this issue up front because if a plan is not accepted by the vote of an impaired class, the plan proponent must proceed with respect to that class under the so-called cramdown provision of the Bankruptcy Code, section 1129(b). On the other hand, if the impaired classes have voted in favor of the plan's confirmation, the Court analyzes only section 1129(a)'s requirements for confirmation and the incorporated provisions of the Bankruptcy Code related to it, such as sections 1122 and 1123 of the Code.

Based on the ballot declaration and testimony of Christina Pullo, an unprecedented number of votes were cast on the plan, over 120, 000. In contrast, votes on most Chapter 11 plans, even in large cases, number between a few and a few thousand.

And of the votes cast, the plan was in fact accepted by every voting class, thus obviating the need to proceed with the...

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