Read about this costly law firm mistake.
(This case makes my stomach hurt because a developer client of mine once declared bankruptcy. Everything I had done for that client for the prior three years was scrutinized, and I spent some sleepless nights!)
On January 21, 2015, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan decided a direct appeal from a U.S. Bankruptcy Court involving a mistaken UCC-3 termination statement.* This case involves the General Motors bankruptcy.
The facts concern a 2008 payoff by GM to JP Morgan Chase of a $300 million synthetic lease. GM contacted its outside counsel to prepare the necessary documents. A partner assigned the work to an associate and instructed him to prepare a closing checklist and drafts of the necessary documents. The associate asked a paralegal who was unfamiliar with the transaction to perform a UCC search that search identified three UCC-1s. Two of the UCC-1s related to the subject loan. The third, however, was related to a term loan between the same parties. The law firm prepared UCC-3 terminations for all three financing statements.
No one at GM, its law firm, JP Morgan or its law firm noticed the error. When the loan was paid, all three
UCC-3s were filed.
The mistake was not noticed until GM filed bankruptcy in 2009.
In litigation with the unsecured creditors, JP Morgan argued that the third UCC-3 was unauthorized and ineffective because it intended to terminate only the liens that related to the synthetic lease. The Bankruptcy Court agreed on the grounds that no one at JP Morgan or its law firm intended to terminate the third UCC-1.
The Second Circuit certified a question to the Delaware Supreme Court, asking, basically, whether a termination is effective when a lender reviews and knowingly approves a termination statement for filing or whether the lender must intend to terminate the particular security interest. The Delaware Court replied that intent is not necessary, stating, “If parties could be relieved from the legal consequences of their mistaken filings, they would have little incentive to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in their UCC filings.”
The Second Circuit agreed, indicating JP Morgan authorized the termination even though it never intended to.
Lawyers and paralegals: be careful, be careful, be careful! And now try to get a good night’s sleep!
* Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors of Motors Liquidation Company v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A.,U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Docket No. 13-2187, January 21, 2015.