Bankruptcy and Insolvency: Discretionary Authority of Supervising Judge; Litigation Funding

9354-9186 Québec inc. v. Callidus Capital Corp., 2020 SCC 10 (38594)

“The debtor companies filed a petition for the issuance of an initial order under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act  (“CCAA ”) in November 2015. The petition succeeded, and the initial order was issued by a supervising judge, who became responsible for overseeing the proceedings. Since then, substantially all of the assets of the debtor companies have been liquidated, with the notable exception of retained claims for damages against the companies’ only secured creditor. In September 2017, the secured creditor proposed a plan of arrangement, which later failed to receive sufficient creditor support. In February 2018, the secured creditor proposed another, virtually identical, plan of arrangement. It also sought the supervising judge’s permission to vote on this new plan in the same class as the debtor companies’ unsecured creditors, on the basis that its security was worth nil. Around the same time, the debtor companies sought interim financing in the form of a proposed third party litigation funding agreement, which would permit them to pursue litigation of the retained claims. They also sought the approval of a related super‑priority litigation financing charge.
The supervising judge determined that the secured creditor should not be permitted to vote on the new plan because it was acting with an improper purpose. As a result, the new plan had no reasonable prospect of success and was not put to a creditors’ vote. The supervising judge allowed the debtor companies’ application, authorizing them to enter into a third party litigation funding agreement. On appeal by the secured creditor and certain of the unsecured creditors, the Court of Appeal set aside the supervising judge’s order, holding that he had erred in reaching the foregoing conclusions.”The S.C.C. (7:0) allowed the appeal, and reinstated the supervising judge’s order.

The Chief Justice and Justice Moldaver wrote as follows (at paras. 1-3, 107-116):

“These appeals arise in the context of an ongoing proceeding instituted under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-36  (“CCAA ”), in which substantially all of the assets of the debtor companies have been liquidated. The proceeding was commenced well over four years ago. Since then, a single supervising judge has been responsible for its oversight. In this capacity, he has made numerous discretionary decisions.
Two of the supervising judge’s decisions are in issue before us. Each raises a question requiring this Court to clarify the nature and scope of judicial discretion in CCAA  proceedings. The first is whether a supervising judge has the discretion to bar a creditor from voting on a plan of arrangement where they determine that the creditor is acting for an improper purpose. The second is whether a supervising judge can approve third party litigation funding as interim financing, pursuant to s. 11.2  of the CCAA.For the reasons that follow, we would answer both questions in the affirmative, as did the supervising judge. To the extent the Court of Appeal disagreed and went on to interfere with the supervising judge’s discretionary decisions, we conclude that it was not justified in doing so. In our respectful view, the Court of Appeal failed to treat the supervising judge’s decisions with the appropriate degree of deference. In the result, as we ordered at the conclusion of the hearing, these appeals are allowed and the supervising judge’s order reinstated.


In our view, it is apparent that the supervising judge was focussed on the fairness at stake to all parties, the specific objectives of the CCAA , and the particular circumstances of this case when he approved the LFA as interim financing. We cannot say that he erred in the exercise of his discretion. Although we are unsure whether the LFA was as favourable to Bluberi’s creditors as it might have been — to some extent, it does prioritize Bentham’s (now known as Omni Bridgeway) recovery over theirs — we nonetheless defer to the supervising judge’s exercise of discretion.

To the extent the Court of Appeal held otherwise, we respectfully do not agree. Generally speaking, our view is that the Court of Appeal again failed to afford the supervising judge the necessary deference. More specifically, we wish to comment on three of the purported errors in the supervising judge’s decision that the Court of Appeal identified.

First, it follows from our conclusion that LFAs can constitute interim financing that the Court of Appeal was incorrect to hold that approving the LFA as interim financing “transcended the nature of such financing” (para. 78).On January 23, 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada allowed the appeal (below) with reasons to follow. Here are those reasons:

Second, in our view, the Court of Appeal was wrong to conclude that the LFA was a plan of arrangement, and that Crystallex was distinguishable on its facts. The Court of Appeal held that the LFA and associated super-priority Litigation Financing Charge formed a plan because they subordinated the rights of Bluberi’s creditors to those of Bentham.

We agree with the supervising judge that the LFA is not a plan of arrangement because it does not propose any compromise of the creditors’ rights. To borrow from the Court of Appeal in Crystallex, Bluberi’s litigation claim is akin to a “pot of gold” (para. 4). Plans of arrangement determine how to distribute that pot. They do not generally determine what a debtor company should do to fill it. The fact that the creditors may walk away with more or less money at the end of the day does not change the nature or existence of their rights to access the pot once it is filled, nor can it be said to “compromise” those rights. When the “pot of gold” is secure — that is, in the event of any litigation or settlement — the net funds will be distributed to the creditors. Here, if the Retained Claims generate funds in excess of Bluberi’s total liabilities, the creditors will be paid in full; if there is a shortfall, a plan of arrangement or compromise will determine how the funds are distributed. Bluberi has committed to proposing such a plan (see supervising judge’s reasons, at para. 68, distinguishing Cliffs Over Maple Bay Investments Ltd. v. Fisgard Capital Corp., 2008 BCCA 327, 296 D.L.R. (4th) 577).

This is the very same conclusion that was reached in Crystallex in similar circumstances:

  • The facts of this case are unusual: there is a single “pot of gold” asset which, if realized, will provide significantly more than required to repay the creditors. The supervising judge was in the best position to balance the interests of all stakeholders. I am of the view that the supervising judge’s exercise of discretion in approving the Tenor DIP Loan was reasonable and appropriate, despite having the effect of constraining the negotiating position of the creditors….
  • . . . While the approval of the Tenor DIP Loan affected the Noteholders’ leverage in negotiating a plan, and has made the negotiation of a plan more complex, it did not compromise the terms of their indebtedness or take away any of their legal rights. It is accordingly not an arrangement, and a creditor vote was not required. [paras. 82 and 93]

We disagree with the Court of Appeal that Crystallex should be distinguished on the basis that it involved a single option for creditor recovery (i.e., the arbitration) while this case involves two (i.e., litigation of the Retained Claims and Callidus’s New Plan). Given the supervising judge’s conclusion that Callidus could not vote on the New Plan, that plan was not a viable alternative to the LFA. This left the LFA and litigation of the Retained Claims as the “only potential recovery” for Bluberi’s creditors (supervising judge’s reasons, at para. 91). Perhaps more significantly, even if there were multiple options for creditor recovery in either Crystallex or this case, the mere presence of those options would not necessarily have changed the character of the third party litigation funding agreements at issue or converted them into plans of arrangement. The question for the supervising judge in each case is whether the agreement before them ought to be approved as interim financing. While other options for creditor recovery may be relevant to that discretionary decision, they are not determinative.

We add that the Litigation Financing Charge does not convert the LFA into a plan of arrangement by “subordinat[ing]” creditors’ rights (C.A. reasons, at para. 90). We accept that this charge would have the effect of placing secured creditors like Callidus behind in priority to Bentham. However, this result is expressly provided for in s. 11.2  of the CCAA . This “subordination” does not convert statutorily authorized interim financing into a plan of arrangement. Accepting this interpretation would effectively extinguish the supervising judge’s authority to approve these charges without a creditors’ vote pursuant to s. 11.2(2) .

Third, we are of the view that the Court of Appeal was wrong to decide that the supervising judge should have submitted the LFA together with a plan to the creditors for their approval (para. 89). As we have indicated, whether to insist that a debtor package their third party litigation funding agreement with a plan is a discretionary decision for the supervising judge to make.

Finally, at the appellants’ insistence, we point out that the Court of Appeal’s suggestion that the LFA is somehow “akin to an equity investment” was unhelpful and potentially confusing (para. 90). That said, this characterization was clearly obiter dictum. To the extent that the Court of Appeal relied on it as support for the conclusion that the LFA was a plan of arrangement, we have already explained why we believe the Court of Appeal was mistaken on this point.”

 

Full Decision