Derivative Complaints by Creditors Against Chapter 7 Trustees – They...


In a decision signed July 17, 2017 in the Our Alchemy, LLC bankruptcy (case 16-11596), Judge Gross of the Delaware Bankruptcy Court granted a trustee’s partial motion to dismiss a complaint, holding that a creditor cannot assert general claims against a Chapter 7 Trustee in his official capacity (essentially a derivative action meant to enrich the creditor body) . Judge Gross’s opinion is available here (the “Opinion”).  In the adversary proceeding in which this Opinion was issued, Nu Image, Inc (“NI”) sought to recover from the chapter 7 trustee, George L. Miller (the “Trustee”), alleging that he breached his fiduciary duty by “(i) failing to exploit the Agreements, (ii) delaying the request for permission to sell the estate’s interests and assets, (iii) letting the time to assume or reject the Agreements lapse, and (iv) establishing an utter indifference to the effect of his actions on the estate’s creditors, particularly Nu Image.”  Opinion at *6.

The Debtor’s business model involved distributing, or “exploiting”, movies for filmmakers.  The Debtor entered into agreements to distribute 163 films owned by NI.  Opinion at *2.  In its agreement with NI, as with other film owners, the Debtor contracted to share the profits of film distribution.  The first claim of the Complaint  asserts that the Trustee failed to take action for the benefit of all the Debtor’s creditors. Opinion at *9

Unfortunately for NI, suing a trustee in its professional capacity is, by definition, a general claim that would be paid out of the estate’s corpus.  “In the Third Circuit individual creditors may not assert general claims because they belong to all creditors.”    Opinion at *7 (quoting PHP Liquidating, LLC v. Robbins (In re PHP Healthcare Corp.), 128 Fed. Appx. 839, 844-45 (3d Cir. 2005)).  Further, in the Third Circuit, a creditor does not have standing to assert claims for damages alleged to have been caused to the creditor body at large without prior permission of the bankruptcy court.  Opinion at *9.  In the instant case, NI had not requested court approval to assert a claim against the Trustee for breach of his duty, and accordingly had no standing to assert the first cause of action contained in its complaint.

With no further ado, the Court granted the motion to dismiss the fiduciary duties claim of the complaint.  Judge Gross then extended the Trustee’s deadline to respond to the other counts in the complaint and to assert any compulsory counterclaims.

John Bird practices with the law firm Fox Rothschild LLP in Wilmington, Delaware. You can reach John at 302-622-4263, or [email protected].