IN RE ARNOLD AND BAKER FARMS BAP No. AZ-93-1577-AsRMe. Bankruptcy No. 86-1195-PHX-RTB.
177 B.R. 648 (1994)
In re ARNOLD AND BAKER FARMS, Debtor. UNITED STATES of America, on Behalf of the FARMERS HOME ADMINISTRATION, Appellant, v. ARNOLD AND BAKER FARMS and Western Cotton Services Corp., Appellees.
United States Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Ninth Circuit.
Decided December 30, 1994.
Frederick K. Steiner, Jr., Phoenix, AZ, for Western Cotton Services Corp.
Before ASHLAND, RUSSELL and MEYERS, Bankruptcy Judges.
ASHLAND, Bankruptcy Judge:
The debtor's plan proposed a "dirt for debt" transfer to two lienholders encumbering the primary asset of the estate. The first position lienholder objected to the plan on the grounds that: (1) the plan erroneously estimated the value of the land to be exchanged; (2) the plan was not proposed in "good faith;" (3) the plan violated the "best interests of creditors" test; and (4) the plan was not "fair and equitable." The bankruptcy court confirmed the plan over the largest secured creditor's objections. We reverse
STATEMENT OF FACTS
The debtor Arnold and Baker Farms is an Arizona general partnership. The partnership was formed in 1975 by Walter H. and Nancy E. Arnold, Maurice F. and Maurine H. Arnold, and Charles M. and Wanda J. Baker for the purpose of farming and the sale and lease of farmland. Arnold and Baker purchased 1120 acres from Philip and Dorothy Ladra in 1975 and an additional 320 acres in 1979. The Ladras were given a first deed of trust on the property. In 1977, the farm began to experience financial difficulties.
The Farmers Home Administration ("FmHA") and Western Cotton Services Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Anderson Clayton Company, financed certain crops for the years 1978 through 1981. Additionally, FmHA lent Arnold and Baker sufficient funds to make the annual payments on the installments due to the Ladras in the years 1979, 1980, and 1983. In return, FmHA held a second deed of trust on Arnold and Baker's real property, a perfected security interest in the farm equipment, and a first deed of trust on the Arnolds' personal residence. Western Cotton held a third deed of trust on Arnold and Baker's real property.
The Ladras ultimately instituted a judicial foreclosure proceeding against Arnold and Baker's real property. Subsequently, in April 1984, the Bakers individually filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. The Ladras obtained relief from the automatic stay and continued their judicial foreclosure proceedings. Arnold and Baker, the partnership, filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in April 1986.
In May 1986, the bankruptcy court approved the sale of two pieces of real property free and clear of liens: 360 acres of real property to Cardon Oil Company and 480 acres to the entity known as the Corks. From the net proceeds of the sale and the payment of annual installments, Arnold and Baker satisfied the secured claim of the Ladras in the amount of $1,650,000. FmHA thereafter held a first priority and Western Cotton held a second priority lien in the property.
Arnold and Baker subsequently formulated two plans based on the income generated from the Cardon and Cork sales which proposed to pay in full the allowed claims of all creditors. The first plan was withdrawn when the Corks defaulted on their note and the other, a revised plan, was withdrawn when Cardon Oil defaulted on its note. With respect to the Corks' default, Arnold and Baker negotiated a settlement pursuant to which the Corks tendered 360 acres to Arnold and Baker in lieu of foreclosure.
In January 1991, Arnold and Baker filed a second amended plan and disclosure statement. The second amended plan proposed to pay FmHA's $3,837,618 note and Western Cotton's $565,044 note in full. The plan proposed to transfer a proportionate fee simple interest in the 635 acre parcel of real property to FmHA and Western Cotton. FmHA was earmarked to receive 515 acres of real property and Western Cotton was earmarked to receive 77 acres. Arnold and Baker was earmarked to retain ownership of 48 of the 640 acres scheduled for distribution. Arnold and Baker proposed to sell the adjoining 360 acre parcel of real property in order to pay the administrative claims, United States Trustee's fees, attorney fees, accountant fees, postpetition taxes, the real estate commission due and owing to Walter Arnold, and use the remainder to pay the unsecured creditors. Arnold and Baker retained an interest in the
Both FmHA and Western Cotton initially objected to confirmation of Arnold and Baker's second amended plan. However, during the course of the confirmation hearing, Western Cotton reached a settlement with Arnold and Baker pursuant to which Western Cotton agreed to accept 130 acres of real property in full satisfaction of its debt. Western subsequently withdrew its objection to confirmation and voted to accept the plan.
For purposes of the confirmation hearing, the parties stipulated that the second amended plan met all the requirements of § 1129(a)(1-13) with the exception of subsections (a)(3), (7), and (8). Additionally, FmHA objected to being crammed down pursuant to § 1129(b)(2). The principal factual issue concentrated on the fair market value of Arnold and Baker's 1320 acres of land. Arnold and Baker estimated the per acre value to be $7,322 for the 640 acre lot, $8,300 for the 360 acre lot, and $8,631 for the 320 acre lot. FmHA estimated the per acre value for the entire 1320 acres at $1,381.
On May 5, 1993, the bankruptcy court confirmed the plan finding that the property had an estimated value of $7,300 per acre. However, the bankruptcy court modified the transfer to FmHA in the plan by ordering an additional 10% transfer to FmHA in order to compensate it for the costs associated with a sale.
On May 14, 1993, FmHA timely filed its notice of appeal, and on May 17, 1993, filed a motion for stay pending appeal. The bankruptcy court denied the motion for stay by minute order on September 30, 1993. FmHA then filed an emergency motion for stay pending appeal to the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel. On October 19, 1993, the panel granted the emergency motion for a stay of the plan confirmation order pending appeal.
STATEMENT OF THE ISSUES
Whether the bankruptcy court erred when estimating the per acre value of the real property.
Whether the second amended plan was proposed in "good faith" pursuant to § 1129(a)(3).
Whether the second amended plan satisfied the "best interests of creditors" test pursuant to § 1129(a)(7).
Whether the second amended plan treated the largest secured creditor's claim "fairly and equitably" pursuant to § 1129(b)(1).
Whether the second amended plan provided the largest secured creditor with the "indubitable equivalent" of its claim pursuant to § 1129(b)(2)(A)(iii).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A bankruptcy court's property valuation, the "good faith determination," and "best interests of creditors" determination are all findings of fact. In re Tuma,
The issue of "fair and equitable" treatment pursuant to § 1129(b) is a question of fact that we review under the clearly erroneous standard. In re Acequia, Inc.,
The debtor carries the burden of proving that a Chapter 11 plan complies with the statutory requirements for confirmation under §§ 1129(a) & (b). See, e.g., In re B.W. Alpha, Inc.,
Proof by the preponderance of the evidence means that it is sufficient to persuade the finder of fact that the proposition is more likely true than not. See, e.g., In re Winship,
Some courts have applied the clear and convincing standard to plan confirmation. See, e.g., In re Briscoe Enters., Ltd., II,
The Supreme Court recently applied the preponderance of the evidence standard to nondischargeability proceedings under § 523(a). Grogan v. Garner,
Heartland Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass'n v. Briscoe Enters., Ltd. (In re Briscoe Enters., Ltd.),
Although the holdings in Grogan and Serafini could arguably be limited in its application to creditors, we find no sufficient justification for imposing a heightened burden of proof on the debtor in plan confirmation. Accordingly, we follow the Fifth Circuit's analysis concluding that the preponderance of the evidence is the appropriate standard of proof in confirming a plan under §§ 1129(a) & (b).
1. The Highest and Best Use of the Land
The bankruptcy court found the highest and best use of the property was for land development. FmHA maintains that the "highest and best use" of the property is for an irrigated farm. The determination of the highest and best use of the property is a factual finding that will be upheld unless clearly erroneous. See, FRBP Rule 8013; Tuma, 916 F.2d at 491.
In the mid to late 1980s, property values in the Rainbow Valley area appreciated rapidly. The rapid appreciation was due in large part to the acquisition of thousands of acres of land by American Continental Corporation, a subsidiary of Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. However, in 1989 American filed for bankruptcy and Lincoln was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The Resolution Trust Corporation currently holds 19,000 acres that must be liquidated by December 31, 1996. See, 12 U.S.C. § 1441a(o). The rapid appreciation in property values due to the speculative development of the area transformed the "highest and best use" of the land from farm land into land held for investment. Although the RTC's substantial holdings in the Rainbow Valley area may have ultimately depreciated the market value of the property, this depreciation did not necessarily require a recharacterization of the highest and best use of the property. Accordingly, we find the bankruptcy court did not commit clear error in finding the highest and best use of the land.
2. Valuation under 11 U.S.C. § 506(a)
Arnold and Baker proposed to satisfy the FmHA claim by performing a partial "dirt for debt" transfer under the cram down provisions in § 1129(b)(2)(A)(iii). A dirt for debt transfer requires the debtor to transfer to a secured creditor the asset securing the original loan obligation. Conceivably, the transfer may be either a full transfer or a partial transfer of the collateral. See generally, In re Sandy Ridge Dev. Corp. ("Sandy Ridge I"),
Section 506(a) permits a bankruptcy court to establish the value of property in a bankruptcy case. The first sentence of § 506(a) requires the bankruptcy court to bifurcate a claim into separate and independent secured claim and unsecured claim components. In re Case,
11 U.S.C. § 506(a).
The legislative history from the House and Senate Reports provides guidance in formulating two general propositions for valuations under § 506(a). First, a bankruptcy court should determine value under § 506(a) on a case-by-case basis. See, S.Rep. No. 989, 95th Cong., 2d Sess. 68 (1978), reprinted in 1978 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5787, 5854; H.R.Rep. No. 595, 95th Cong. 1st Sess. 356 (1977), reprinted in 1978 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5787, 6312. The House Report provides:
H.R.Rep. No. 595, 95th Cong. 1st Sess. 356 (1977), reprinted in 1978 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5787, 6312. Second, a valuation under § 506(a) should be made in light of the Code section that is relevant at the time the valuation is made. See, S.Rep. No. 989, 95th Cong., 2d Sess. 68 (1978), reprinted in 1978 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5787, 5854; H.R.Rep. No. 595, 95th Cong. 1st Sess. 356 (1977), reprinted in 1978 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5787, 6312. For example, a bankruptcy court may approach a valuation in the context of a relief from the stay hearing under § 362 differently than it would in the context of "cram down" under § 1129(b). See, In re Sherman,
The valuation in this case was performed in light of confirmation of a plan pursuant to § 1129. The Arnold and Baker plan proposed to transfer 515 acres to FmHA and 130 acres to Western Cotton in full satisfaction of their debts. The distribution was premised on an appraisal estimating the 640 acre parcel to be worth $7,322 per acre. FmHA's appraisal, on the other hand, estimated the land to be worth $1,381 per acre. Both appraisals used the market data approach to estimate the value of the land. The market data approach compares the subject property to similar properties that were recently sold in the same or general area.
The comparison properties in Arnold and Baker's appraisal included 5 properties sold in 1987, 3 properties sold in 1988 and one property sold in 1989.
The bankruptcy court agreed with Arnold and Baker's appraisal finding the property to be worth $7,300 per acre. However, the bankruptcy court modified the transfer to FmHA by transferring an additional 10% to FmHA in order to compensate for the costs associated with the sale. FmHA maintains that the bankruptcy court erred by adopting Arnold and Baker's appraisal because the appraisal ignores the current market conditions by assessing the property value two years into the future and then applying a 15% discount rate to determine the present value.
The bankruptcy courts that have performed valuations in circumstances similar to the instant case have recognized essentially three valuation procedures: (1) liquidation value; (2) market value; and (3) fair value. The bankruptcy court in In re Simons,
Two bankruptcy courts have applied the "market value" valuation. In re Stockbridge
Valuation through the "fair value" method essentially applies a market valuation and then discounts that value to present value in order to reflect the amount of time the property is scheduled to be held by the creditor in anticipation of sale. One bankruptcy court defined "fair value" by looking to Statement # 15 of the Financial Accounting Standards Board ("FASB"):
First American Bank v. Monica Rd. Assoc. (In re Monica Rd. Assocs.),
The bankruptcy court in this case essentially applied a "fair value" valuation method. Arnold and Baker's appraiser determined that the property was worth $10,500 per acre. However, the appraiser found the property needed to be held for two years in order to obtain that price at sale. Arnold and Baker accounted for the holding period by applying a 15% discount rate that reduced the property's per acre valuation to $7,322. The bankruptcy court subsequently determined the property to have a value of $7,300 per acre and then reduced that value by 10% to reflect the eventual costs associated with selling the property. FmHA was ultimately scheduled to receive 566.5 acres in satisfaction of its debt.
The "fair value" method of valuation is an acceptable valuation procedure. The method balances the interests of the debtor, by avoiding a liquidation valuation when there is no current market for the property, with the interests of a creditor, by realizing a present value for the property when the experts agree that the property is not marketable until two or three years into the future. See, H.R.Rep. No. 595, 95th Cong. 1st Sess. 356 (1977), reprinted in 1978 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5787, 6312 ("`Value' does not necessarily contemplate forced sale or liquidation value of the collateral; nor does it always imply a full going concern value."). A discount rate is appropriate because it attempts to value the collateral as though it were in the hands of the creditor. See, In re Mitchell,
Although we are troubled by the fact that the accepted appraisal ignored the effect on the market of the 19,000 acres held by the RTC, we nevertheless find that the bankruptcy court valued the property in light of
For purposes of the confirmation hearing, the parties stipulated that the seconded amended plan met all the requirements of § 1129(a)(1-13) with the exception of subsections (a)(3), (7), and (8). Additionally, FmHA objected to being crammed down under § 1129(b). FmHA maintains that the bankruptcy court erred in confirming the plan because the plan was not proposed in good faith, did not satisfy the best interests of creditors test, and did not satisfy the fair and equitable requirements.
1. Good Faith
Section 1129(a)(3) states that the bankruptcy court shall confirm a plan if the plan has been proposed in good faith and not by any means forbidden by law. The good faith that is required to confirm a plan requires the plan to achieve a result consistent with the objectives and purposes of the Bankruptcy Code. In re Mann Farms Inc.,
2. Best Interests of Creditors Test
FmHA maintains the plan did not contain a liquidation analysis pursuant to § 1129(a)(7), and therefore is not confirmable. Section 1129(a)(7) incorporates the former "best interests of creditors" test as found in the Bankruptcy Act. See, In re M. Long Arabians,
11 U.S.C. § 1129(a)(7).
Arnold and Baker maintain that this issue is not reviewable because FmHA raises this argument for the first time on appeal. It is a general rule that appellate courts will not consider arguments raised for the first time on appeal. Abex Corp. v. Ski's Enter., Inc.,
Section 1129(a) states that the court shall confirm a plan only if all of the requirements are met. See, In re Bonner Mall Partnership,
Arnold and Baker maintain that a liquidation analysis is not necessary because the plan paid FmHA's claim in full and therefore FmHA cannot receive less then it would in a Chapter 7 distribution. We agree. FmHA's original valuation, which was essentially a liquidation valuation, estimated the per acre value for the entire 1320 acres at $1,381 per acre. The Arnold and Baker plan, on the other hand, proposed to distribute land to FmHA assessed at $7,300 per acre. Although Arnold and Baker should have included a liquidation analysis in the plan and disclosure statement, the evidence establishes that FmHA will receive at least as much as it would have in a Chapter 7. See, Elm Creek Joint Venture, 93 B.R. at 109.
3. Cram Down
When proposing a plan, the debtor places the administrative claimants, the creditors, and the equity holders into classes based upon the similarity of their claims or interests. See, 11 U.S.C. § 1122. A bankruptcy court shall confirm the plan "if the plan does not discriminate unfairly, and is fair and equitable, with respect to each class of claims or interests that is impaired under, and has not accepted, the plan." See, 11 U.S.C. § 1129(b)(1); Bonner Mall, 2 F.3d at 906. This form of plan confirmation is colloquially referred to as "cram down." Bonner Mall, 2 F.3d at 906. FmHA does not argue that Arnold and Baker's plan discriminates unfairly.
Section 1129(b)(2)(A) identifies three explicit requirements of the fair and equitable standard with respect to a secured class. Section 1129(b)(2)(A) provides:
11 U.S.C. § 1129(b)(2)(A)(i)-(iii).
4. Providing the Indubitable Equivalent of the Secured Claim
The plan approved by the bankruptcy court proposed to transfer 566.5 acres to FmHA in full satisfaction of its liens. This type of transaction is colloquially referred to as a "dirt for debt" distribution. Arnold and Baker maintain the plan provided FmHA with the indubitable equivalent of its secured claim by transferring a portion of Arnold and Baker's real property. FmHA maintains
We must first decide whether a partial transfer of a secured creditor's collateral in satisfaction of its entire secured claim may be the indubitable equivalent of the original secured claim pursuant to § 1129(b)(2)(A)(iii). If we answer this question in the affirmative, we must then decide under what circumstances such a partial transfer will provide the indubitable equivalence.
The Fifth Circuit's opinion in Sandy Ridge I is regarded by many bankruptcy courts as the seminal case with respect to "dirt for debt" distributions. See, e.g., In re Pennave Properties Assoc.,
Sandy Ridge (Sandy Ridge I), 881 F.2d at 1354. FmHA maintains that Sandy Ridge I is distinguishable from the facts in this case. We agree.
First, when denying the petition for rehearing, the Sandy Ridge II court limited the scope of its prior opinion and therefore its persuasive influence. See, In re Sandy Ridge Devel. Corp. ("Sandy Ridge II"),
Sandy Ridge (Sandy Ridge II), 889 F.2d at 663-64 (emphasis added).
Second, Sandy Ridge I permitted the transfer of all of the secured creditor's collateral. The secured creditor in Sandy Ridge I was undersecured. The bankruptcy court determined the secured claim and the debtor proposed to give all of the secured collateral to the creditor in satisfaction of its secured lien. Sandy Ridge (Sandy Ridge I), 881 F.2d at 1354. The creditor was then able to pursue the guarantors for the remaining unsecured claim. The Arnold and Baker plan, on the other hand, does not propose to transfer all 1320 acres of FmHA's collateral in satisfaction of the entire claim, but rather 566.5 acres or approximately 43% of FmHA's collateral.
It is apparent that a secured creditor who receives all of its collateral in satisfaction of its claim has received the indubitable equivalence of its secured claim. See, 124 Cong. Rec. H11104 (daily ed. Sept. 28, 1978) (statement of Rep. Edwards) (abandonment of the collateral to the creditor would clearly satisfy indubitable equivalence).
However, where the creditor is earmarked to receive part of its collateral, it will be a rare case in which the creditor will have received the indubitable equivalent of its claim. Any such plan will be subject to extremely close scrutiny to insure that the creditor will actually receive the indubitable equivalent of its secured claim.
The legislative history to § 1129(b)(2)(A)(iii) clearly indicates that Congress intended the phrase "indubitable equivalent" to take on the meaning given it by Judge Learned Hand in In re Murel Holding Corp.,
Murel, 75 F.2d at 942. The Supreme Court analyzed the meaning of "indubitable equivalence" finding that "Murel used the words `indubitable equivalence' with specific reference not to interest (which was assured), but to the jeopardized principal of the loan." United Sav. Ass'n v. Timbers of Inwood Forest, Ltd.,
The finding of a trial court of a particular value of real property for the purpose of § 506 will not necessarily determine whether the creditor will receive the indubitable equivalent of its secured claim. Experience has taught us that determining the value of real property at any given time is not an exact science. Because each parcel of real property is unique, the precise value of land is difficult, if not impossible, to determine until it is actually sold. Nevertheless, bankruptcy courts have traditionally been requested, out of necessity, to determine the value of various types of property, including real property, and yet courts have recognized the difficulty of being able to determine accurately the value of land. For instance, in In re Walat Farms, Inc.,
Walat Farms, 70 B.R. at 334 (footnote omitted).
Martindale, 125 B.R. at 39.
Thus, the determination of whether a dirt for debt distribution provides a secured creditor with the indubitable equivalent of its secured claim must be made on a case-by-case basis, and we must decide whether the bankruptcy court's finding with respect to the value of the real property for the purpose of determining the amount of the creditor's secured claim provided the secured
Although we conclude that the bankruptcy court's valuation in this case is not clearly erroneous, we are not convinced that its finding regarding the value of the real property provided the indubitable equivalence of the particular secured claim in question, nor are we convinced that the partial distribution of 566.5 acres to FmHA will insure the safety of or prevent jeopardy to the principal. See, In re Pine Mountain, Ltd.,
The evidence at trial demonstrated that the value of the real property was far from certain. The Arnold and Baker appraisal admitted that due to unfavorable market conditions, including the fact that the RTC was holding 19,000 acres in the same area for liquidation, the normal one year marketing period for the property would be extended by another two years.
The bankruptcy court agreed with Arnold and Baker's valuation of $7,300 per acre. FmHA, however, proffered a valuation of $1,381 per acre. The large disparity in the parties' valuation of the same property illustrates the obvious uncertainty in attempting to forecast the price at which real property will sell at some uncertain future date.
The bankruptcy court found the value of each acre to be $7,300, and thus the value of the 566.5 acres to be transferred to FmHA to be $4,135,450 ($7,300 × 566.5). We must decide, therefore, whether a distribution of land with an estimated value of $4,135,450 constitutes the indubitable equivalent of a $3,837,618 claim secured by 1,320 acres. Under the circumstances of this case, we conclude that it does not.
The partial distribution of 566.5 acres to FmHA will not insure the safety of or prevent jeopardy to the principal. FmHA originally lent funds to Arnold and Baker secured by 1320 acres of land. If Arnold and Baker defaulted on the terms of the note, FmHA bargained for the right to foreclose on the entire 1320 acres of land in order to satisfy the outstanding obligation. In this situation, the principal is protected to the extent of the entire 1320 acres held as security. However, when there is a partial distribution of the collateral to a secured creditor in satisfaction of its secured claim, the substitute does not insure the safety of or prevent jeopardy to the principal.
If FmHA subsequently sells the property for less than the value calculated by the bankruptcy court, FmHA has no recourse to the remaining collateral to satisfy the deficiency. As a result, the distribution to FmHA may not be "completely compensatory." See, Murel Holding, 75 F.2d at 942. FmHA is forced to assume the risk of receiving less on the sale without being able to look to the remaining undistributed collateral for security. "To the extent a debtor seeks to alter the collateral securing a creditor's loan, providing the `indubitable equivalent' requires that the substitute collateral not increase the creditor's risk exposure." In re Keller,
The determination of whether a partial dirt for debt distribution will provide the creditor with the indubitable equivalence of its secured claim must be made on a case-by-case basis. Such a determination must be subject to extremely close scrutiny. For instance, such a case may exist where the parties generally agree upon the value of the land but for some reason an immediate sale of the property is not practical. In such a situation, the secured creditor's rights may be fully protected by the payment of appropriate interest payments for a reasonable period of time. The real issue in such a case is not indubitable equivalency but rather feasibility.
For example, in In re Fursman Ranch,
We hold that the Arnold and Baker plan, which proposes to transfer 566.5 acres or 43% of FmHA's collateral to FmHA in full satisfaction of its secured claim, does not provide FmHA with the indubitable equivalent of its secured claim. Accordingly, we reverse the bankruptcy court's order confirming the plan.
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