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Que Certa, Certa: Supreme Court’s Review of Puerto Rico Recovery Act May Hinder Creditor Negotiations

It is said that muddy water is best cleared by leaving it be.  The Supreme Court’s December 4 decision to review the legality of Puerto Rico’s local bankruptcy law, the Recovery Act, despite a well-reasoned First Circuit Court of Appeals opinion affirming the U.S. District Court in San Juan’s decision voiding the Recovery Act on the grounds that it conflicts with Section 903 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, suggests, at a minimum, that at least four of the Justices deemed the questions raised too interesting to let the First Circuit have the last word. This discretionary granting of Puerto Rico’s certiorari petition further muddies the already roiling Puerto Rican waters.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s granting of the Commonwealth’s petition for a writ of certiorari, eight Justices will hear the case (Justice Alito has recused himself), with oral arguments likely in March, 2016.  A decision would then be expected in June, 2016, coinciding with the Commonwealth’s fiscal year end.  At first glance, the decision to grant “cert” appears to be a victory for the Commonwealth (according to SCOTUSblog, over the past three terms the Supreme Court has reversed approximately 72% of cases it has accepted for review).  Of course, the Supreme Court could weigh-in in a manner or on a topic that does not fully resolve the status of the Recovery Act.  At the very least, the review may hinder creditor negotiations and the chances of a consensual resolution.  And a consensual resolution may be Puerto Rico’s best hope.

Even as Puerto Rico legislators laud the Supreme Court’s decision, their pleas for alternate solutions—namely, Chapter 9 eligibility and/or a voluntary debt exchange—continue.  They argue that, absent these solutions, the territory will reach its breaking point before the Supreme Court rules.  The reappearance of the Recovery Act as an arguable solution to Puerto Rico’s quest for a debt restructuring process will likely only contribute to the gridlock in Congress regarding Puerto Rico’s campaign for Chapter 9 eligibility or for “Super Chapter 9” legislation that would enable it to restructure its general obligation debt.  Consensual creditor resolutions may be the Commonwealth’s most realistic option; indeed, the Commonwealth was hopeful it could implement a voluntary debt exchange by May, 2016.  But that was before cert was granted.

Creditors may now be even more wary of negotiating given the greater uncertainty the Supreme Court’s review engenders.  Parties striking deals with the Commonwealth and its entities are going to want to make sure the arrangements reached are “Recovery Act remote”, “Chapter 9 remote”, “Super Chapter 9 Remote” and “Whatever the heck Congress, the courts or the Puerto Rico legislators do remote”.  Given the uncertainties regarding Recovery Act implementation (if/when/how), creditors may be unwilling to bear these risks and may choose to leave the muddy water be, for now.  That could be disastrous for Puerto Rico.

Finally, even if the Supreme Court reinstates the Recovery Act, the Recovery Act may still be an ineffectual vehicle for debt restructuring.  Because it is not enacted by the federal government, any plan confirmed under its provisions will be subject to a variety of constitutional challenges under the contracts clause and the takings clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The future’s not ours to see.

©1994-2021 Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume V, Number 342
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About this Author

Leonard Weiser-Varon Coporate and Finance Law Attorney Mintz Law Firm
Member

Len specializes in municipal and corporate debt transactions,  represents state sponsors and private program managers of Section 529 college savings programs and Section 529A (ABLE) disability savings programs, and is often invited to speak on securities and constitutional law issues impacting finance. He also regularly writes on public finance matters and has been recognized as one of the top public finance lawyers in Massachusetts in a peer survey by Massachusetts Super Lawyers.

Len is active in both...

617-348-1758
William W. Kannel, Bankruptcy Attorney, Mintz Levin Law Firm, Bankruptcy & Restructuring Insolvency & Creditor Rights Litigation Directors & Officers Litigation Chapter 9 & Municipal Insolvency Litigation
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Bill is a nationally recognized bankruptcy attorney with extensive experience in corporate and municipal reorganizations and debt restructurings both in and out of court. He represents creditors and debtors across a wide range of industries throughout the country in all phases of distressed debt negotiations, bankruptcy litigation, and distressed asset acquisitions. Bill is also recognized as one of the leading attorneys in the nation for his work representing bond trustees and bondholders in Chapter 9 bankruptcies and other governmental and municipal insolvencies.

Bill is the chair...

617-348-1665
Eric Blythe, Bankruptcy, Restructuring, Commercial Law Group, Mintz Levin
Associate

Eric’s practice focuses primarily on commercial litigation and lending, debt restructuring and workouts, distressed debt advising and corporate and municipal reorganization. Past representations include a diverse mix of lenders, secured and unsecured creditors, corporate borrowers, bondholders, bond trustees and institutional investors.

Eric’s experience also extends to other disciplines, often in the distressed context, including director and officer representation, intellectual property licensing and sales, consignment, insurance and landlord/...

(617) 348-4913
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