What is an “impaired” bankruptcy claim?

The Bankruptcy Code requires that a plan receive a favorable vote from “at least one class of claims that is impaired under the plan.”  11 U.S.C. § 1129(a)(10).  In Western Real Estate Equities LLC v. Village at Camp Bowie I, LP, thirty-eight unsecured trade creditors of a real estate venture voted to approve the debtor’s plan, while the secured creditor voted against it.  No. 12-10271 (Feb. 26, 2013).  The secured creditor complained that the consent was not valid because the plan “artificially” impaired the unsecured claims, paying them over a three-month period when the debtor had enough cash to pay them in full upon confirmation.  Recognizing a circuit split, the Fifth Circuit held that section 1129 “does not distinguish between discretionary and economically driven impairment.”  The Court conceded that the Code imposes an overall “good faith” requirement on the proponent of a plan, but held that the secured creditor’s argument here went too far by “shoehorning a motive inquiry and materiality requirement” into the statute without support in its text.

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