Monday, June 22, 2020

In re Sisk (9th Cir. - June 22, 2020)

It's a series of individual bankruptcy cases, and none of the unsecured creditors objected to the proposed bankruptcy plan, either below or on appeal.  That's not surprising.  They're never getting paid, regardless, so it'd likely be a waste of time and money to object.

The bankruptcy court refused to confirm the bankruptcy plans at issue because they had "estimated" times for various payments, a provision that adversely affects creditors in various ways, in a manner in which the San Jose Division of the Northern District of California thought wasn't appropriate and didn't comply with the bankruptcy code.  The debtors appealed.  But, again, the creditors didn't care, and didn't file anything.

The Ninth Circuit's right that the lack of an appellee doesn't preclude appellate jurisdiction, and that the debtors have standing regardless.  Some bankruptcy cases -- like this one -- work out that way.  The Ninth Circuit still gets to decide whether the district court got the legal issue right.

But the absence of an appellee still matters.  The Ninth Circuit holds that what the bankruptcy court did conflicted with the bankruptcy code.  The position articulated by the Ninth Circuit was opposed by . . . no one.  No one presented the arguments on the other side.  The lawyers for the parties who argued the case were both on the debtor's side (i.e., the ones who wanted their plan confirmed, and who argued in favor of the Ninth Circuit's ultimate decision), and while the lawyer for an amicus argued as well, she represented the trustee, who also thought (and argued) that the plans were totally fine to contain "estimated" times -- again, consistent with the Ninth Circuit's ultimate holding.

It doesn't determine constitutional standing, but as a prudential matter, I think it generally advisable to be presented with both sides of an argument when you're deciding an appeal.  Particularly one that, as here, potentially affects thousands (or tens of thousands) of bankruptcy plans.  The panel cites a case from the Supreme Court in which there wasn't an appellee (Toibb) to establish (correctly) that the absence of an appellee doesn't divest the appellate court of standing, an describes that case by stating:  "The Court found no jurisdictional issue with the lack of an adversary, but appointed an amicus to support the bankruptcy court’s position."

Yep.  And that's what should have happened here.  There's standing, but as a prudential matter, the panel should have asked for (or appointed) an amicus to present the arguments against the position that the Ninth Circuit ultimately adopted.

In general, that makes for a better opinion.  Not a foundational prerequisite for standing.  But a good idea -- and general practice -- regardless.