The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a blow to secured creditors in a recent opinion affirming a successful “cramdown” reorganization plan in a commercial real estate (“CRE”) case. See In re Village at Camp Bowie I, L.P., — F.3d — (5th Cir. Feb. 26, 2013), 2013 WL 690497. The panel opinion in Bowie allowed a debtor in CRE bankruptcy case to intentionally delay paying trade debt that it had cash available to pay and to classify those trade creditors as “impaired” under Chapter 11 – thus giving a class of friendly creditors the ability to vote for the debtor’s plan of reorganization. The court expressly rejected the argument that “artificially impaired” creditors that a debtor could pay in full, like the trade creditors in Bowie, should not be allowed to vote on a Chapter 11 plan. The result in Bowie was a confirmed plan based on the vote of unsecured creditors owed $60,000 over the objection of the fully secured creditor owed $32 million.
In Bowie, the debtor financed the acquisition and development of land in Fort Worth (the “Property”) with equity capital and short-term promissory notes (the “Notes”). The Notes were secured by a first mortgage on the Property. The debtor’s development of offices and retail did not do as well as planned. After a series of modification agreements and forbearance agreements to extend the due dates for the Notes, the then-current holder of the Notes initiated foreclosure proceedings on the Property. The debtor filed its petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code one day before the scheduled foreclosure sale, which stayed the foreclosure proceedings.