Friday, December 17, 2021
Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon (S.D.N.Y.) issued a decision vacating the bankruptcy judge’s earlier order (covered here) that had given individual members of the Sackler Family immunity from civil lawsuits relating to the opioid epidemic. Here are some excerpts from the opinion’s introduction:
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. ***
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 abused, they should be granted sparingly and only in “unique” cases. ***
Aided by superb briefing and argument on both sides of the question, and by extended ruminations on the subject by several esteemed bankruptcy judges of our own District – Judge Drain not the least – this Court concludes that the Bankruptcy Code does not authorize such nonconsensual non-debtor releases: not in its express text (which is conceded); not in its silence (which is disputed); and not in any section or sections of the Bankruptcy Code that, read singly or together, purport to confer generalized or “residual” powers on a court sitting in bankruptcy.