Bankruptcy Court Holds That a Provision in a Derivative Contract Subordinating Payments to a Bankrupt Counterparty May Be an Unenforceable Ipso Facto Clause

On May 12, 2011, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, in its oversight of the jointly administered chapter 11 bankruptcy cases of Lehman Brothers Holding, Inc. (LBHI) and Lehman Brothers Special Financing, Inc. (LBSF), found that a provision in a derivative contract that would subordinate payments to a counterparty in the event of its bankruptcy or insolvency may constitute an unenforceable ipso facto clause, and that the termination payments provision of the relevant contract was not eligible for the Bankruptcy Code safe harbor for qualified financial contracts.  This decision reaffirmed the holding in a prior decision in the LBHI bankruptcy.  Although this decision largely follows the legal analysis in the prior decision rather than breaking new legal ground, this decision is likely to increase the negotiating leverage of the LBHI estate vis-à-vis swap and other counterparties.  More generally, the decision sheds additional light on the treatment of bankruptcy/insolvency-based termination provisions in derivatives contracts.  This article details the background of the adversary proceeding and the Court’s legal analysis.  For more on the operation of bankruptcy/insolvency-based termination provisions in qualified financial contracts under the Bankruptcy Code and Title II of the Dodd-Frank Act, see “Treatment of a Hedge Fund’s Claims Against and Other Exposures To a Covered Financial Company Under the Orderly Liquidation Authority Created by the Dodd-Frank Act,” Hedge Fund Law Report, Vol. 4, No. 15 (May 6, 2011).

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