Fifth Circuit's German Pellets Opinion: Risks of Nonparticipation in Bankruptcy for Creditors

A significant recent decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Raymond James & Assocs. V. Jalbert (In re German Pellets La., L.L.C.), 91 F.4th 802 (5th Cir. 2024) (German Pellets), underscores the potential risks and consequences of choosing to observe from the sidelines but not to engage in bankruptcy proceedings, particularly concerning the enforcement of indemnification defenses in suits brought by trustees of liquidation trusts post-confirmation.

This decision acts as a warning and may spur creditors and contractual parties to carefully seek counsel from bankruptcy attorneys. This is crucial for determining whether to partake in bankruptcy processes to prevent unforeseen consequences.

Background of the Case

In the German Pellets case, the Fifth Circuit addressed a situation where Raymond James & Associates (RJA), a creditor to German Pellets Louisiana LLC (LAP), chose not to participate in LAP’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, despite having actual knowledge of the case. Prior to the bankruptcy filing, RJA bought certain bonds from LAP and then resold them to other investors, providing bond-offering memoranda that described the financial prospects of the project. To safeguard against potential misrepresentations in these memoranda, RJA secured indemnification agreements with LAP, which obligated LAP to compensate RJA for any losses due to false or misleading statements of significant fact contained in the memoranda.

During the bankruptcy process, RJA monitored the Chapter 11 proceedings from a distance, regularly checking the court docket and maintaining communication with LAP’s legal representatives. Despite being aware of the bankruptcy process, RJA did not actively engage or participate in LAP's bankruptcy proceedings.

After the confirmation of the bankruptcy plan, certain third-party bondholders assigned their legal claims to the liquidation trust formed under the plan. Craig Jalbert, trustee of the liquidation trust, then initiated a suit against RJA based on the assigned legal claims. RJA sought to assert affirmative defenses based on indemnity agreements made with LAP pre-bankruptcy. In affirming the bankruptcy court’s decision, the Fifth Circuit held that the confirmed plan did apply to RJA, emphasizing that actual knowledge of the bankruptcy case suffices for the plan to bind creditors and contract parties, and the express language of the confirmed plan permanently enjoined RJA from exercising certain rights, such as setoff and recoupment (i.e., the indemnification claims) against the obligations due to LAP.

Key Takeaways From the Fifth Circuit's German Pellets Decision

  1. Application of Confirmed Plan to Non-Participating Creditors: The Fifth Circuit Court affirmed that actual notice of a bankruptcy case is sufficient for a confirmed plan to bind creditors and other contract parties, emphasizing the necessity for these parties to come forward and protect their rights during the bankruptcy process.
  2. Discharge of Defenses by the Confirmed Plan: The Fifth Circuit Court held that the confirmed plan's express terms precluded RJA from asserting its indemnity-based defenses against the trustee, demonstrating the broad and binding effect of plan provisions on all parties with notice of the bankruptcy.
  3. Implications of Nonparticipation: The German Pellets decision serves as a cautionary reminder that nonparticipation in bankruptcy proceedings can lead to unanticipated and unfavorable outcomes, including the loss of rights and defenses that might have been preserved through active engagement.

Pointers for Creditors and Contract Parties

This ruling is a stark reminder of the importance of proactive involvement in bankruptcy cases, even when a party believes its interests may not be directly affected. The potential for post-confirmation challenges and assignments of claims to a liquidation trust highlights the unpredictability of bankruptcy outcomes and the necessity of safeguarding one's rights through participation. To mitigate the risks identified in the German Pellets decision:

  • Vigilance in Monitoring Bankruptcy Filings: Even if not directly involved, parties will want to closely monitor bankruptcy proceedings of their debtors or contract counterparts to stay informed about potential impacts on their rights and interests.
  • Consultation With Bankruptcy Counsel: Early and ongoing consultation with experienced bankruptcy counsel is crucial to understanding the implications of a bankruptcy case and to developing a strategic approach for participation and protection of rights.
  • Active Participation When Necessary: When faced with a bankruptcy filing by a debtor or contractual counterparty, consider the benefits of active participation to assert or defend your interests effectively within the proceedings.


The German Pellets decision underscores the Fifth Circuit's stance on the binding nature of confirmed bankruptcy plans and the potential perils of nonparticipation.

ArentFox Schiff is committed to providing the guidance and representation needed to navigate the complexities of bankruptcy proceedings and to ensure business interests are adequately protected.


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