Mandatory Aggregation of Mass Tort Litigation in Bankruptcy
The Yale Law Journal Forum, Volume 131, 960 (2022)
52 Pages Posted: 10 Nov 2021 Last revised: 12 Oct 2022
Date Written: February 28, 2022
This response to Professor Lindsey Simon’s "Bankruptcy Grifters" article challenges the controversial practice at the epicenter of the bankruptcy grifter phenomenon that Simon critiques: so-called nonconsensual nondebtor (or third-party) “releases” and “channeling” injunctions that discharge the mass tort obligations of solvent nondebtor entities who have not themselves filed bankruptcy. These nondebtor releases are an illegitimate and unconstitutional exercise of substantive lawmaking powers by the federal courts that contravenes the separation-of-powers limitations embedded in both the Bankruptcy Clause and Erie’s constitutional holding. The federal courts have manufactured out of whole cloth the unique, extraordinary power to impose mandatory non-opt-out settlement of a nondebtor’s mass tort liability on unconsenting tort victims through the bankruptcy proceedings of a co-defendant. The bankruptcy “necessity” that supposedly justifies this astounding and unique settlement power—to mandate nonconsensual non-opt-out “settlements” that are otherwise impermissible and unconstitutional—is (at best) naive credulity or (at worst) specious sophistry.
Nonconsensual nondebtor releases are not “necessary” for the bankruptcy process to facilitate efficient aggregate settlements of the mass tort liability of both bankruptcy debtors and nondebtor co-defendants. The bankruptcy jurisdiction, removal, and venue provisions of the Judicial Code already contain the essential architecture for mandatory, universal consolidation of tort victims’ claims against both bankruptcy debtors and nondebtor co-defendants. Bankruptcy can be an extremely powerful aggregation process that facilitates efficient (and fair) settlements of the mass tort liability of nondebtors, even (and especially) without nonconsensual nondebtor releases, particularly if the Supreme Court elucidates the full expanse of federal bankruptcy jurisdiction. Nondebtor releases are an illicit and unconstitutional means of forcing mandatory settlement of unconsenting tort victims’ claims against solvent nondebtors, and the Supreme Court should finally resolve the longstanding circuit split over the permissibility of nonconsensual nondebtor releases by categorically renouncing them.
Keywords: nondebtor releases, third-party releases, channeling injunctions, nondebtor discharge, Erie, Bankruptcy Power, Bankruptcy Clause, federalism, separation of powers, Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations, mass tort bankruptcies, mandatory settlement, multi-district litigation, nonclass aggregation
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