PEM Entities LLC v. Eric M. Levin


UNPUBLISHED PER CURIAM OPINION filed. Originating case number: 5:14-cv-00889-D,8:13-01563,8:13-00122. Copies to all parties and the district court. [999909153]. [15-1669]

Download PDF
Appeal: 15-1669 Doc: 36 Filed: 08/12/2016 Pg: 1 of 12 UNPUBLISHED UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT No. 15-1669 In Re: PROVINCE GRANDE OLDE LIBERTY, Deer Olde Liberty AA Lots, LLC, LLC, a/k/a Silver Debtor. -----------------------------PEM ENTITIES LLC, Appellant, v. PROVINCE GRANDE OLDE LIBERTY, LLC, Defendant, and ERIC M. LEVIN; HOWARD SHAREFF, Creditors - Appellees. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Raleigh. James C. Dever III, Chief District Judge. (5:14-cv-00889-D; 8:13-01563; 8:13-00122) Argued: May 10, 2016 Decided: August 12, 2016 Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, TRAXLER, Circuit Judge, and Joseph F. ANDERSON, Jr., Senior United States District Judge for the District of South Carolina, sitting by designation. Appeal: 15-1669 Doc: 36 Filed: 08/12/2016 Pg: 2 of 12 Affirmed by unpublished per curiam opinion. ARGUED: John Arlington Northen, NORTHEN BLUE, LLP, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for Appellant. James C. White, LAW OFFICE OF JAMES C. WHITE, P.C., Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Vicki L. Parrott, John Paul H. Cournoyer, NORTHEN BLUE, LLP, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for Appellant. Michelle M. Walker, LAW OFFICE OF JAMES C. WHITE, P.C., Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for Appellees. Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit. 2 Appeal: 15-1669 Doc: 36 Filed: 08/12/2016 Pg: 3 of 12 PER CURIAM: PEM Entities, LLC (“PEM”) appeals the district court’s order affirming the bankruptcy court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Eric Specifically, M. Levin PEM recharacterization and Howard contests of Shareff the certain (“Appellees”). bankruptcy debt into equity. court’s For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the district court. I. This case arises out of several North Carolina real estate investments Fixed involving Return Fund, Howard LLC Jacobsen (“Lakebound”) (“Howard”). is a company Lakebound formed to invest in real estate and provide a fixed, high-yield return to its investors. Lakebound is managed by Howard. Appellees invested $500,000.00 each into Lakebound. Province Grande Olde Liberty, LLC (“Debtor”) is an entity formed by Howard for the purpose of acquiring the Olde Liberty Golf and Country Club (“Golf Club”), a golf and residential real estate development in Franklin County, North Carolina. Debtor’s membership included Howard, his parents—Stanley and Rhonda Jacobsen—and Robert B. Conaty. To finance the acquisition of the Golf Club, Debtor obtained $188,000.00 from Lakebound and borrowed $6,465,000.00 from Paragon Commercial Bank (“Paragon”). The transfer of $188,000.00 from Lakebound to Debtor is the subject of ongoing 3 Appeal: 15-1669 Doc: 36 Filed: 08/12/2016 Pg: 4 of 12 litigation in North Carolina state court and provides a basis for Appellees claims in the underlying bankruptcy proceeding. Specifically, Appellees misappropriation from Paragon of was contend Lakebound’s an that this funds. arms-length The transfer was $6,465,000.00 transaction evidenced a loan by a promissory note and secured by a deed of trust on the Golf Club property. In 2010, Debtor defaulted on the Paragon loan. The following year, Paragon initiated foreclosure proceedings on the real estate security. In an effort to resolve the loans to Debtor and other entities, Howard, Debtor, and several other related entities Paragon. Under entered that into agreement, a settlement Paragon agreement agreed to with sell its $6,465,000.00 loan to a new company, PEM, for the discounted price of $1,242,000.00. PEM is a Delaware company, owned by Stanley Jacobsen – Howard’s father, Robert B. Conaty, and an entity owned by trusts established by Stanley Jacobsen for the benefit of his grandchildren (“the Trust”). Importantly, PEM’s members did not negotiate the settlement agreement. Jacobsen, Rather, negotiated settlement of principals had the the Debtor’s the principals, agreement Loan.” Paragon authority to that including purported understood bind PEM. to that Howard be “in Debtor’s Further, the settlement agreement bound Paragon to sell the loan to PEM for a 4 Appeal: 15-1669 Doc: 36 Filed: 08/12/2016 Pg: 5 of 12 fixed price and even included an outline of the financing of the loan’s purchase. PEM, however, was not a signor of the settlement agreement. To fund the loan purchase provision of the settlement agreement, PEM used both equity contributions from its members as well as $130,000.00, contributed outside Conaty debt. Stanley contributed $70,000.00. Jacobsen $100,000.00, Together, these contributed and three the Trust contributions totaled $300,000.00. PEM relied on financing purchase price. Two Simone (collectively to individuals, “D&S”), assemble Joseph the remainder Deglomini loaned PEM and of Joseph $650,000.00. Additionally, Paragon agreed to loan PEM the final $292,000.00, interest free, needed to complete the settlement. Both loans were secured by Golf Club real estate owned not by PEM, but by Debtor. Finally, PEM agreed to subordinate its position in the security to the loans from both D&S and Paragon. After the completion of the settlement agreement, Debtor sold some of its property for $462,146.15. From those funds, Debtor paid $240,120.00 directly to Paragon and D&S in partial payment of transferred advanced” the loans those $202,087.71 $50,000.00 to to entities PEM. Debtor made Shortly for to PEM. thereafter, miscellaneous Debtor PEM “re- operating expenses. At no time did PEM or Debtor maintain any ledger or 5 Appeal: 15-1669 Doc: 36 Filed: 08/12/2016 Pg: 6 of 12 account of the Paragon loan. Several other cash transfers went between Debtor and PEM and Howard sometimes called “loans” and other times “readvances.” Debtor filed its bankruptcy petition on March 11, 2013. In that filing, it listed PEM’s claim at $7,000,000, including the principal from the Paragon loan and accrued interest. Additionally, it listed Appellees as creditors with unknown and disputed claims. Appellees filed claims in the Debtor’s bankruptcy proceeding in the amount of $500,000.00 each. They made claims for equitable subordination and recharacterization and also statutory claims for avoidance and recovery of allegedly fraudulent transfers. The parties moved for summary judgment on all claims. The bankruptcy court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellees on their equitable claim of recharacterization. Specifically, the bankruptcy court concluded that the PEM’s loan purchase was, in effect, a settlement and satisfaction of the Paragon loan. The court recharacterized the $300,000.00 portion of the $1,242,000.00 agreement investment from in a paid debt Debtor. by owed PEM pursuant it by Debtor the court Thus, to the into settlement an equity rendered PEM’s $7,000,000.00 claim void. PEM appealed the bankruptcy court’s order to the United States District Court for the 6 Eastern District of North Appeal: 15-1669 Doc: 36 Filed: 08/12/2016 Pg: 7 of 12 Carolina. In its de novo review, the district court found the bankruptcy court correctly applied the law and affirmed its judgment. PEM timely filed its Notice of Appeal to this Court. II. A. Recharacterization is well within the broad powers afforded a bankruptcy court. In re: Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors for Dornier Aviation (North America), Inc., 453 F.3d 225 (2006). The Bankruptcy Code establishes a scheme in which contributions to capital receive a lower priority than loans because their nature is that of a fund contributed to meet the obligations of a business and which should be repaid only after all other obligations have been satisfied. Id. at 231. Thus, adjudication under determination of the whether Bankruptcy a Code particular often obligation requires is debt a or equity. Id. When that question is in dispute, the bankruptcy court must make this determination in order to effectuate the priority scheme. Id. In determining whether or not to recharacterize a claim, a bankruptcy court should apply the eleven factors adopted by this Court in Dornier: (1) the names given to the instruments, if any, evidencing the indebtedness; (2) the presence or absence of a fixed maturity date and schedule of payments; (3) the presence or absence of a fixed rate of interest and interest payments; (4) the source of 7 Appeal: 15-1669 Doc: 36 Filed: 08/12/2016 Pg: 8 of 12 repayments; (5) the adequacy or inadequacy of capitalization; (6) the identity of interest between the creditor and the stockholder; (7) the security, if any, for the advances; (8) the corporation’s ability to obtain financing from outside lending institutions; (9) the extent to which the advances were subordinated to the claims of outside creditors; (10) the extent to which the advances were used to acquire capital assets; and (11) the presence or absence of a sinking fund to provide repayments. Id. at 233 (quoting Bayer Corp. v. Masco Tech, Inc. (In re AutoStyle Plastics, Inc.), 269 F.3d 726, 747-48 (6th Cir. 2001)). None of these eleven factors are themselves dipositive. Id. at 234. Rather, their significance varies depending upon the circumstance. Id. B. In this case, the bankruptcy court weighed each of the Dornier factors in analyzing the settlement agreement. The court found that all of them weighed in favor of recharacterization. The court emphasized several facts in drawing its conclusion: (1) the naming of the settlement agreement and the fact that it was entered into “in settlement of the loan”; (2) the fact that Debtor’s principals negotiated the settlement agreement and note purchase on behalf of PEM; (3) the failure of both Debtor and PEM to observe any formalities such as payment schedules, actual interest payments or even a ledger; (4) Debtor’s total reliance on money from PEM to meet expenses and its inability to obtain any other financing; (5) the identity 8 of interests between Appeal: 15-1669 Doc: 36 Filed: 08/12/2016 Pg: 9 of 12 Debtor and PEM; and (6) that approximately $900,000.00 of the $1,242,000.00 was funded by the pledge of security owned by Debtor. These facts adequately support the bankruptcy court’s decision. PEM contends that the bankruptcy court misapplied the Dornier factors by applying them to the wrong transaction. PEM argues that the bankruptcy court should have limited its analysis to the inception of the Paragon debt rather than to the later settlement agreement. Thus, according to PEM, we should apply the Dornier factors to the situation at the time Paragon made the loan to Debtor. We find this argument unpersuasive. The bankruptcy court’s broad recharacterization power is “integral to the consistent application of the Bankruptcy Code.” Dornier, 453 F.3d at 233. “A bankruptcy court’s equitable powers have long included the ability to look beyond form to substance.” Id. at 233. The recharacterization decision itself rests on the “substance of the transaction” involved. Id. at 232 (emphasis in original). Here, the settlement agreement is the “substance of the transaction” because it was the basis of the note purchase and gave rise the negotiated and PEM’s claims. executed by The Paragon settlement and agreement Debtor’s was principals. While PEM notes that it was neither a party to nor a signor of the settlement agreement, Paragon believed Debtor’s principals 9 Appeal: 15-1669 Doc: 36 Filed: 08/12/2016 Pg: 10 of 12 had the authority to bind PEM. Further, the settlement agreement specifically obligated Paragon to sell the loan to PEM. Indeed, the settlement agreement specifically outlined the sources of PEM’s funding. $292,000.00. It even Clearly, obligated PEM knew Paragon of, to loan participated PEM in, and consented to those terms. While PEM itself may not have been obligated by the settlement agreement, the settlement agreement certainly obligated Paragon towards PEM. Thus, the bankruptcy court properly “looked beyond form” to determine that the “substance of the transaction” was in fact the settlement extension of satisfaction agreement itself of the to in which complete Paragon loan. Debtor what used was, Moreover, PEM as an in effect, a the bankruptcy court’s application of the Dornier factors adequately supported its recharacterization decision. C. PEM challenges several of the bankruptcy court’s factual findings. Findings of fact by a bankruptcy court in proceedings within its full jurisdiction are reviewable only for clear error. In re Johnson, 960 F.2d 396, 399 (4th Cir. 1992). Under this standard, we will not reverse a bankruptcy court’s factual finding that is supported by the evidence unless that finding is clearly wrong. In re ESA Envtl. Specialists, Inc., 709 F.3d 388, 399 (4th Cir. 2013). We will conclude that a finding is clearly 10 Appeal: 15-1669 Doc: 36 Filed: 08/12/2016 Pg: 11 of 12 erroneous only if, after reviewing the record, we are left with “a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Klein v. PepsiCo, Inc., 845 F.2d 76, 79 (4th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). Of the six errors claimed by PEM, none rise to the level of clear error. First, PEM challenges the court’s alleged mischaracterization of both the $300,000.00 contribution by the members of PEM and the relief requested by Appellees. The bankruptcy court recharacterized the $300,000.00 portion of the $1,242,000.00 settlement of the $7,000,000.00 claim or in other words, exactly the relief sought by Appellees. The court made a detailed explanation of all the intricate moving parts of this complex dispute. To the extent the court failed to clearly explain each moving piece, it was not due to any mistaken fact, but rather to the unwieldy jargon associated with this type of litigation. Next, PEM contends the court was in error by stating that Stanley Jacobsen was the sole member of PEM at the time of the settlement agreement. This fact appears to be incorrect as the evidence, discussed above, is that the members of PEM were Stanley Jacobsen, Robert B. Conaty, and the Trust. However, this minor mistake does not rise to the level of clear error. First, the court facts. made Secondly, this the mistake court in its recitation obviously 11 of understood undisputed that PEM’s Appeal: 15-1669 Doc: 36 Filed: 08/12/2016 Pg: 12 of 12 membership included all three members at all relevant times. In its analysis of the first Dornier factor, the court specifically noted that these three members were responsible for the $300,000.00. PEM’s four other claims of errors merely reargue the proper application of the Dornier factors. None constitute clear error. III. For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED. AFFIRMED 12

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?