Tag Archives: debt

Detroit Bankruptcy is Unconstitutional

As a follow up to the prior post reporting on the bankruptcy filing of Detroit, now a Michigan court has ruled that the bankruptcy filing is unconstitutional.  The decision can be accessed here.

The background of this legal battle raises a lot of legal questions.  The events are as follows.  First, Detroit announces it will be declaring bankruptcy.  Then, lawsuits are filed to block bankruptcy filings/proceedings.  An emergency hearing is scheduled on Thursday (last week) in front of a judge about blocking the bankruptcy proceedings.  Five (5) minutes before the Thursday hearing, Detroit files a petition for bankruptcy.  Afterwards, another hearing is set for Friday.

On Friday, the Ingham County Court ruled against the city.  The court relied on Michigan’s state constitution, which prohibits actions that diminish or impair pension benefits of public employees.  Because Detroit was aware that declaring bankruptcy would affect negatively the pension benefits of public employees, the court ruled that it acted unconstitutionally.

Michigan’s Attorney General Schuette stated that Detroit will be appealing the ruling.  The Attorney General also stated that they will be requesting a stay on the bankruptcy proceedings until the appeal is heard.

This background is so interesting because it raises a lot of legal questions.  Filing a Chapter 9 petition gives the bankruptcy court exclusive jurisdiction over the debtor’s (Detroit) assets.  The interesting predicament is that Detroit filed a petition for bankruptcy five (5) minutes before the Thursday hearing — before any order from the Ingham County Court.

Yet, the state court is ordering the Governor to “(1) direct the Emergency Manager to immediately withdraw the Chapter 9 petition filed on July 18, and (2) not authorize any further Chapter 9 filing which threatens to diminish or impair accrued pension benefits.”

Some of the questions include how to reconcile the state’s and the bankruptcy’s court jurisdictions.  For example, can the state court order state officials (like the Governor) to withdraw the petition? How can a bankruptcy proceeding reconcile itself with Michigan’s state constitution? Are the plaintiffs subject to sanctions for violating a stay in bankruptcy court?

The Huffington Post has an interesting tidbit:

Michigan is one of nine states that explicitly protects public employee pensions in its state constitution.  But the state of Michigan doesn’t guarantee the money to public employees if a city defaults or can’t pay those bills…

The law of bankruptcy is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.  And the limited case law of Chapter 9 bankruptcy, which applies to cities and municipalities, doesn’t say whether a judge can legally subvert Michigan’s constitution to lessen Detroit’s obligations to its pensioners.

You can read more about Michigan’s constitution protecting public employees’ pensions here.  Some other notable Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings nuclide Jefferson County, Alabama (2011) and Orange County, California (1994).

via Detroit bankruptcy unconstitutional, judge rules in pension case – ABA Journal.

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Filed under courts, District Court, ERISA, federal, legal decision

Sup. Ct. March Calendar

Next month, the Supreme Court will be hearing high profile cases – including the gay marriage debate (California’s Proposition 8 and DOMA), as well as voter registration laws.  In addition, the Supreme Court will hear a variety of important issues, such as class arbitration waivers, generic pharmaceutical regulations, and reimbursement or payment under the Takings Clause.

The following are the oral arguments scheduled for March.

Monday March 18

Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona:

  1. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in creating a new, heightened preemption test under Art. 1, Sec. 4, Cl. 1 of the U.S. Constitution (“the Elections Clause”) that is contrary to the Supreme Court’s authority and conflicts with other circuit court decisions; and
  2. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in holding that under that test the National Voter Registration Act preempts an Arizona law that requests persons who are registering to vote to show evidence that they are eligible to vote.

Bullock v. Bankchampaign

  1. What degree of misconduct by a trustee constitute “defalcation” under Sec. 523(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Code that disqualifies the errant trustee’s resulting debt from a bankruptcy discharge, and whether it includes actions that result in no loss of trust property.

Tuesday March 19

Sebelius v. Cloer

  1. Whether a person whose petition under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is dismissed as untimely may recover from the United States an award of attorney’s fees and costs.

Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett

  1. Whether the 1st Circuit erred when it created a circuit split and held – in clear conflict with this Court’s decisions in PLIVA v. Mensing, Riegel v. Medtronic, and Cipollone v. Ligget Group – that federal law does not preempt state law design-defect claims targeting generic pharmaceutical products because the conceded conflict between such claims and the federal laws governing generic pharmaceutical design allegedly can be avoided if the makers of generic pharmaceuticals simply stop making their products.

Wednesday March 20

Horne v. Dept. of Agriculture

  1. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in holding, contrary to the decisions of 5 other circuit courts of appeals, that a party may not raise the Takings Clause as a defense to a “direct transfer of funds mandated by the Government,” E. Enterp. v. Apfel, but instead must pay the money and then bring a separate, later claim requesting reimbursement of the money under the Tucker Act in the Court of Federal Claims; and
  2. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in holding, contrary to the decision of the Federal Circuit, that it lacked jurisdiction over petitioner’s takings defense, even though petitioners, as “handlers” of raisin under the Raisin Marketing Order, as statutory required under 7 USC 608c(15) to exhaust all claims and defenses in administrative proceedings before the United States Department of Agriculture, with exclusive jurisdiction for review in federal district court.

Dan’s City Used Cars v. Pelkey

  1. Whether state statutory, common law negligence, and consumer protection act enforcement actions against two-motor carrier based on state law regulating the sale and disposal of a towed vehicle are related to a transportation service provided by the carrier and thus preempted by 49 USC 14501-c-1.

Monday March 25

Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter

  1. Whether an arbitrator acts within his powers under the Federal Arbitration Act (as the 2nd and 3d Circuits have held) or exceeds those powers (as the 5th Circuit has held) by determining that parties affirmatively “agreed to authorize class arbitration,” Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp., based solely on their use of broad contractual language precluding litigation and requiring arbitration of any dispute arising under their contract.

Federal Trade Commission v. Actavis

  1. Whether reverse-payment agreements are per se lawful unless the underlying patent litigation was a sham or the patent was obtained by fraud (as the court below held), or instead are presumptively anticompetitive and unlawful (as the 3d Circuit has held).

Tuesday March 26

Hollingsworth v. Perry

  1. Whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman; and
  2. Whether petitioners have standing under Art. III, Sec. 2 of the Constitution in this case.

Wednesday March 27

United States v. Windsor

  1. Whether Section 3 of the Defense Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws as applied to persons of the same sex who are legally married under the laws of their State; 
  2. Whether the Executive Branch’s agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives this Court of jurisdiction to decide this case; and
  3. Whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives has Article III standing in this case.

via New March argument calendar : SCOTUSblog.

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Is a debt ceiling constitutional?

From ABA Journal Daily News:

On Friday, President Obama rejected the idea, the New York Times reports. “I have talked to my lawyers,” he said. “They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.”

At issue is this provision: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

The sentence was intended to ensure the payment of Union debt after the Civil War, though it was more broadly written, the Times says. The newspaper interviewed law professors about the implications. Some said the provision does, indeed, allow Obama to ignore the debt ceiling. Others said it bars Congress from an actual default on existing debts. Some said Obama has power to act in an emergency, no matter what the 14th Amendment says.

Many raised the issue of whether the courts would be willing to decide the issue, if Obama ignored the ceiling and a suit were filed. “This is largely a political question,” said Yale law professor Jack Balkin.

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