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Finding Nemo: Rediscovering the Virtues of Negotiability in the Wake of Enron

Adam J. Levitin

Georgetown University Law Center

August 28, 2006

Creditors have long understood that any claims they submit for repayment in a bankruptcy might be valid, but subject to subordination in the order of payment of the bankruptcy estate's limited funds if the creditor behaved inequitably as the debtor failed. A groundbreaking opinion in Enron's on-going bankruptcy has expanded the practice of equitable subordination far beyond its traditional reach. According to the court, buyers of bankruptcy claims are now subject to subordination, not just for their own conduct, but also for conduct of previous owners of the claims, regardless of whether the conduct related to the claims.

In a world of active bankruptcy claims trading, Enron raises powerful policy questions about the legal rules governing property transfers that affect the doctrinal development of bankruptcy law and the survival of a secondary market that provides important liquidity to other capital markets. This article shows how Enron was erroneous from both doctrinal and policy perspectives and examines the problems Enron has created for several distinct markets.

Enron is a reminder of the continuing value of negotiability in commercial contexts, for if the claims involved had been negotiable, they could not have been subordinated. Thus, this article considers what factors have traditionally determined when the law adopts a negotiability regime for property transfers and whether these factors make sense in today's financial markets. The article argues that in the bankruptcy claims context, the liquidity benefits of negotiability outweigh its costs. Accordingly, the article proposes a federal law of negotiability for bankruptcy claims to protect the liquidity of this vital market.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 82

Keywords: Bankruptcy, nemo dat, negotiability, bankruptcy claims, Enron, equitable subordination, equity, liquidity, credit default swap, loan participation, Refco, market manipulation, justified reliance, UCC Article 3, UCC Article 9, security interest, reification, merger doctrine

JEL Classification: G33, K11, K12, K20, K22

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Date posted: June 25, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Levitin, Adam J., Finding Nemo: Rediscovering the Virtues of Negotiability in the Wake of Enron (August 28, 2006). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=910571 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.910571

Contact Information

Adam J. Levitin (Contact Author)
Georgetown University Law Center ( email )
600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
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