The Inherent Rationality of Judgment Proofing
Steven L. Schwarcz
Duke University School of Law
Stanford Law Review, Vol. 52, pp. 1-53, November 1999
In recent articles in the Yale Law Journal and the Stanford Law Review, Professor Lynn M. LoPucki has sparked much academic discussion arguing that recent developments in corporate law have led to an erosion in the system of corporate liability, such that it might one day prove impotent. LoPucki has argued that transactions such as asset securitizations, sale-leasebacks, and corporate structures in which liabilities are placed in asset-poor subsidiaries are driving this change. One early critic to the LoPucki thesis, Professor James J. White, has argued that empirical data show no evidence of increasing use of judgement proofing techniques. In this Article, Professor Steven L. Schwarcz joins this debate, arguing that an economic analysis of these transactions suggests that widespread use of these judgement proofing techniques is unlikely. A key distinction in the analysis, Schwarcz argues, is between arm's length and non-arm's length transactions. Arm's length transactions are unlikely to lead to judgement proofing because corporations will receive value - often cash - for the assets they sell. It is only by paying out this value in dividends that a corporation begins to judgement-proof itself. The theoretical possibility to take value away from future involuntary creditors through such transactions will rarely be realized because of the costs - taxes, negative publicity, personal and criminal liability - of entering into such agreements. By contrast, in non-arm's length transactions, corporate owners do have the incentive to create judgement-proof structures. However, these structures are not innovative, and they will continue to be well-regulated ex post by existing legal doctrines in bankruptcy, corporate law, tort law, and criminal law. Following this article are a response from Professor Lynn LoPucki, a comment by Professor Charles Mooney, and a breif rejoinder from Professor Schwarcz.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 54
JEL Classification: K13
Date posted: November 18, 2005