In re Purdue Pharma, L.P.

Decision Date16 December 2021
Docket Number 21 cv 8557 (CM), 21 cv 8034 (CM), 21 cv 8271 (CM), 21 cv 7966 (CM), 21 cv 8049 (CM), 21 cv 8055 (CM),21 cv 7961 (CM), 21 cv 7962 (CM), 21 cv 7969 (CM), 21 cv 8042 (CM), 21 cv 8566 (CM), 21 cv 8548 (CM), 21 cv 8258 (CM), 21 cv 8139 (CM)
Citation635 B.R. 26
Parties IN RE: PURDUE PHARMA, L.P. This Filing Relates to All Matters
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York

Timothy E. Graulich, Marshall Scott Huebner, Benjamin S. Kaminetzky, Christopher Scott Robertson, Eli James Vonnegut, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, New York, NY, for In re: Purdue Pharma, L.P.


McMahon, J.:

This is an appeal from an order of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York ("Bankruptcy Court") (Drain, B.J.), announced from the bench on September 1, 2021, and filed on September 17, 2021, confirming the Plan of Reorganization proposed by Debtors Purdue Pharma L.P. ("Purdue Pharma") and certain associated companies1 (the "Confirmation Order"). Appeal is also taken from two merged and related orders of the Bankruptcy Court: the June 3, 2021, order approving Purdue's disclosure statement and solicitation materials (the "Disclosure Order") and the September 15, 2021, order authorizing the implementation of certain preliminary aspects of the Plan (the "Advance Order").

Purdue's bankruptcy was occasioned by a health crisis that was, in significant part, of its own making: an explosion of opioid addiction in the United States over the past two decades, which can be traced largely to the over-prescription of highly addictive medications, including, specifically and principally, Purdue's proprietary, OxyContin.

Despite a 2007 Plea Agreement with the United States – in which Purdue admitted that it had falsely marketed OxyContin as non-addictive and had submitted false claims to the federal government for reimbursement of medically unnecessary opioid prescriptions ("2007 Plea Agreement") – Purdue's profits after 2007 were driven almost exclusively by its aggressive marketing of OxyContin. (See JX-2094.0047-88; JX-2481). But by 2019, Purdue was facing thousands of lawsuits brought by persons who had become addicted to OxyContin and by the estates of addicts who had overdosed – either on OxyContin itself or on the street drugs (heroin, fentanyl) for which Purdue's product served as a feeder. It also faced new federal, state and local Medicare reimbursement claims and a number of new false marketing claims brought under various state consumer protection laws. Finally, in November 2020, Purdue pled guilty to a criminal Information filed by the Department of Justice ("DOJ") in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey; in its plea agreement, the company (though not the people through whom the company acted) admitted to substantial deliberate wrongful conduct ("2020 Plea Agreement"). See USA v. Purdue Pharma L.P. , No. 2:20-cr-01028.

Engulfed in a veritable tsunami of litigation, Purdue filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2019. The intent was for a "Manville -style" bankruptcy that would resolve both existing and future claims against the company arising from the prescription of OxyContin. The automatic stay brought a stop to civil litigation against Purdue; and a court-ordered stay halted litigation against certain non-debtors affiliated with the company – principally members of the Sackler family (the "Sacklers" or "Sackler family"),2 which had long owned the privately-held company – to buy time to craft a resolution. For two years, committees of various classes of creditors – individuals, state and local governments, indigenous North American tribes, even representatives of unborn children who were destined to suffer from opioid addiction – negotiated with Purdue and the Sacklers under the watchful eye of the experienced Bankruptcy Judge, with the assistance of two of this country's finest and most experienced mediators (Layn Phillips and Kenneth Feinberg), as well as a second Bankruptcy Judge (The Hon. Shelley Chapman).

Eventually, the parties crafted a plan of reorganization for Purdue that would, if implemented, afford billions of dollars for the resolution of both private and public claims, while funding opioid relief and education programs that could provide tremendous benefit to the consuming public at large (the "Plan").3 That Plan was approved by supermajority of the votes cast by the members of each class of creditors.4 It was confirmed by Judge Drain, who had invested so much of himself in the effort to find a workable solution to a seemingly intractable problem.

But not everyone voted yes. Eight states and the District of Columbia ("D.C."), as well as certain Canadian municipalities and Canadian indigenous tribes, the City of Seattle (alone among all voting municipalities in the United States), as well as some 2,683 individual personal injury claimants, voted against the adoption of the Plan. The same states, municipalities and tribes, together with three of those individual claimants (representing themselves), filed formal objections to the Plan and have appealed from its confirmation.5 The United States Trustee (the "U.S. Trustee") in Bankruptcy6 and the U.S. Attorney's Office for this District on behalf of the United States of America join in their objections.

All Appellants assign the same reason for their opposition: the Plan provides broad releases, not just of derivative, but of particularized or direct claims – including claims predicated on fraud, misrepresentation, and willful misconduct under various state consumer protection statutes – to the members of the Sackler family (none of whom is a debtor in the bankruptcy case) and to their affiliates and related entities. As the opioid crisis continued and worsened in the wake of Purdue's 2007 Plea Agreement, the Sacklers – or at least those members of the family who were actively involved in the day to day management of Purdue7 – were well aware that they were exposed to personal liability over OxyContin. Concerned about how their personal financial situation might be affected, the family began what one member described as an "aggressive[ ]" program of withdrawing money from Purdue almost as soon as the ink was dry on the 2007 papers. The Sacklers upstreaming some $10.4 billion out of the company between 2008 and 2017, which, according to their own expert, substantially reduced Purdue's "solvency cushion." Over half of that money was either invested in offshore companies owned by the Sacklers or deposited into spendthrift trusts that could not be reached in bankruptcy and off-shore entities located in places like the Bailiwick of Jersey.

When the family fortune was secure, the Sackler family members withdrew from Purdue's Board and management. Bankruptcy discussions commenced the following year. As part of those pre-filing discussions, the Sacklers offered to contribute toward a settlement, but if – and only if – every member of the family could "achieve global peace" from all civil (not criminal) litigation, including litigation by Purdue to claw back the money that had been taken out of the corporation. The Plan confirmed by the Bankruptcy Court extinguishes all civil claims against the Sacklers that relate in any way to the operations of Purdue – including claims on which certain members of the Sackler family could be held personally liable to entities other than Purdue (principally the various states). These claims could not be released if the Sacklers were themselves debtors in bankruptcy.

Appellants attack the legality of the Plan's non-consensual release of third-party claims against non-debtors on a number of grounds. They argue that the release (referred to in this opinion as the "Section 10.7 Shareholder Release") is both constitutionally defective and not statutorily authorized; that the Bankruptcy Court lacks constitutional authority and subject matter jurisdiction to approve the release or to carry out certain "gatekeeping" aspects of the Plan that relate to it; and that granting a release to the non-debtor Sacklers is unwarranted as a matter of fact and would constitute an abuse of the bankruptcy process.

Debtors and those who voted in favor of the Plan – buttressed by Judge Drain's comprehensive Confirmation Order – argue that the Bankruptcy Court had undoubted jurisdiction to impose these broad third-party releases; insist that they are a necessary feature of the Plan; point out the tremendous public benefit that will be realized by implementing the Plan's many forward-looking provisions; and urge that the alternative – Purdue's liquidation – will inevitably yield far less benefit to all creditors and victims, in light of the cost and extraordinary hurdles that would have to be surmounted in order to claw back the billions of dollars that the Sacklers have taken out of Purdue.

Two of the questions raised by appellants are easily answered. The Bankruptcy Court had undoubted subject matter jurisdiction to enter the challenged releases. And while it may have lacked constitutional authority to give them final approval under the rule of Stern v. Marshall , 564 U.S. 462 (2011), that matters little in the great scheme of things; it changes the level of deference this court should give to Judge Drain's findings of fact, but those findings are essentially unchallenged.

The great unsettled question in this case is whether the Bankruptcy Court – or any court – is statutorily authorized to grant such releases. This issue has split the federal Circuits for decades. While the Circuits that say no are united in their reasoning, the Circuits that say yes offer various justifications for their conclusions. And – crucially for this case – although the Second Circuit identified the question as open back in 2005, it has not yet had occasion to analyze the issue. Its only guidance to the lower courts, uttered in that 2005 opinion, is this: because statutory authority is questionable and such releases can be...

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    • U.S. District Court — District of Delaware
    • March 27, 2023
    ...that the Bankruptcy Court lacked statutory authority to approve the Channeling Injunction and Releases. The district court's decision in Purdue is currently on appeal before the Circuit, and that decision departs from existing Second Circuit precedent, which, like the Third Circuit, holds t......
  • In re Mallinckrodt PLC
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    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Delaware
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    ...Circuit that hold otherwise. See In re Purdue Pharma L.P. , 633 B.R. 53, 66 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. 2021) overruled on other grounds by 635 B.R. 26 (S.D.N.Y. 2021) (concluding that "the Bankruptcy Code does not authorize a bankruptcy court to order the nonconsensual release of third-party claims a......
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