Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Roller Coaster Ride of Bankruptcy

When this news story popped into my feeder today, I knew Google understands me. Roller Coasters, Fixtures, Bankruptcy, Creditor priority challenges... Its all there.

Six Flags Inc., currently in chapter 11 Bankruptcy, has decided to close its Louisville Park -- Kentucky Kingdom. The dispute relates to the ownership of certain rides in the park. The creditors are Six Flags America and the State of Kentucky. The state of Kentucky (in what appears to be a futile argument) alleges that the rides are affixed to the realty and therefore belong to the state of Kentucky. (The park leased the real property from the State of Kentucky for a term of years). The state also argues that the lease provides that if Six Flags terminates the lease with the state, the landlord will accede to the ownership of the rides.

Taking these issues separately, its clear that the lease agreement between Six Flags and the State of Kentucky establishes certain privileges to personalty on behalf of Six Flags (the tenant). Under the common law trade fixtures doctrine, a tenant has the right to remove those things he attaches to the realty in furtherance of his trade. (I believe its pretty clear that amusement rides would be in furtherance of Six Flag's trade). The single caveat is if the fixtures cannot be removed without damage to the realty. Thus, the rides are not treated as realty, but rather as personalty.

Taking the state's argument that a provision in the lease grants it an interest in the rides if Six Flags terminates its contract with the state, there seems to me to be a question of what type of interest the state obtains. First, in theory the state could obtain such a right, at least in as much as lessees may grant an interest in its property to its lessor. The question is what kind of transaction does this grant create. It seems that when a creditor (in this case a landlord) reduces its claim to a debtor's (in this case a tenant's) property, that is a security interest, and therefore must comply with the provisions of Article 9 -- the problematic point being if there is another creditor in the picture. The state may very well have a security interest, but may lose out in the priority scheme if other creditors have a claim.

If the state's position is that it has a state possessory lien on the tenant's possessions for failure to pay rentals (which does not appear to be the state's theory), the case may be more clear cut -- particularly given the preference for liens under Article 9-333.

Whichever it is, we will keep an eye on this case to see what the bankruptcy court does with the various roller coasters. If the Court needs (after a safety evaluation) a thrill description of the roller coasters in Kentucky Kingdom park, I would be happy to offer my services; though I suspect I would need to include at least four other theme parks in my assessment in order for my report to be complete.

Image is of the Chang Roller Coaster, Courtesy of Coaster Gallery. Chang's statistics are:

Built: 1997

Composition: Steel

Height: 154 Feet

Drop: 144 Feet

Top Speed: 63 mph

Ride Time: 2 Minutes, 30 seconds

MLR (Marc )

Friday, February 12, 2010

Odel Initiative on Consumer Protection Legislation

Professor David Oedel over at Mercer University Law School is heading up a legislative proposal that some of you might be interested in signing onto:
Dear Senators and Congresspersons,

As law professors concerned about encouraging the most thoughtful, effective and flexible forms of financial reregulation, we urge that federal law should permit states also to protect financial consumers. In other words, any new financial regulation emerging from Congress this year should include a provision that would allow states the freedom to protect financial consumers with state rules that are stricter than (but consistent with) the minimum consumer protection standards established by federal law. This basic model of state regulatory freedom to protect state interests in ways that do not conflict with federal law has worked well in a number of other arenas, such as in some areas of environmental protection and insurance. Our sense is that many recent financial troubles could have been averted had the states been freer to regulate on behalf of their consumers on the main streets of their states.

We do not propose to alter the current law of federal preemption as it relates to national systemic safety and soundness. Our proposal is only to free up state innovation on matters of consumer financial protection.

Thank you for your consideration.

If you are interested in being a part of this initiative, contact Dave at with e-mail, including your name, title, and institution.


Monday, February 8, 2010

The CISG and the Vis International Moot: Twin Ideas for Effective Lawyering in a Globalized World

This year marks the 17th anniversary of the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot (The Moot.) The Moot takes place annually in the Spring in Vienna, Austria with participants from over 100 law schools hailing from civil and common law countries. The journey is not only a milestone for the student participants, but a bridge to international understanding through the rule of law. The Moot engages students in the art of effective advocacy, and conveys the important message that the adversarial process is not necessarily an arena for gladiators.

The stated goal of the Moot is "to foster the study of international commercial law and arbitration for the resolution of international business disputes through its application to a concrete problem of a client and to train law leaders of tomorrow in methods of alternative dispute resolution." (

I was privileged to participate in the Ninth Moot in 2001-2002, while a student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. One year later, I served as coach to a group of students at the Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo, Japan. Both events galvanized the premise that law schools in the United States need to engage students in this level of competition to enhance legal education. Specifically, participation in the Moot will bolster legal writing and advocacy skills. The message is being heard as each year, more law schools are discovering the Moot. Some law schools in the United States and Europe have incorporated the Moot into the curriculum. For example, Touro Law School and the University of Pittsburgh have collaborated with schools in Central and Eastern Europe to offer a summer program structured around the Moot. (

In the area of advocacy, preparation for the Moot will be extremely beneficial, even to first year law students. In this critical area, the Moot provides students with skills in the art of persuasion. Not only do particpants learn to write persuasive arguments, but they develop, and hone the nuances of rhetoric on the international stage. The Moot is organized around a contractual problem, which asks students to analyze the articles of the United Nations Convention on the International Sale of Goods (CISG) ( As such, students are exposed to the work of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, and acquire the added bonus of exposure to comparative legal systems. Specifically, for U.S. law students comparing the rules of Article 2 of the UCC with the CISG is both challenging and exciting. As a result, participants in the Moot develop critical skills in international commercial law that even seasoned lawyers lack.

Moreover, the CISG is at the heart of the Moot. This treaty espouses the theory that economic rights are human rights. The treaty provides uniform rules governing certain aspects of the making and performance of everyday commercial contracts for the sale of goods. Article 7 of the CISG provides that "the adoption of uniform rules, which govern contracts for the international sale of goods should take into account the different social, economic and legal systems." The CISG was created to foster the development of international trade on the basis of equality and mutual benefit as an important element in promoting friendly relations among states. The CISG aims to promote international trade by removing legal barriers in international trade, and to unify the sales law of international trade.

Although the focus of the moot is commercial arbitration, the format of the Moot serves several pedagogical needs. Foremost among them is a focus on the representation of clients from diverse backgrounds and diverse legal systems. In this age of globalization and multiculturalism, the Moot provides ample opportunity for students' exposure to crucial interpersonal lawyering skills. Participation in the Moot exposes students to principles of fairness in international contracts, which will instill an awareness of multiculturalism and widen the lenses of their worldview. In addition, the Moot provides students with the opportunity for research and writing, oral adovacy and treaty interpretation.

Each year, the Moot problem focuses on issues of contract drafting, which helps students understand choice of law issues. In the practical context, students learn the importance of effective drafting. These issues allow students to grapple with civil and common law systems of procedure. Although the advocacy space is based primarily on arbitration principles, this forum provides participants with the rhetorical skills needed for effective advocacy, albeit in a non-confrontational and less adversarial manner. In addition, preparation for the Moot can bolster student confidence, and help prepare them for oral advocacy.

Finally, the tenets of multicultural lawyering form the bedrock of the CISG. As outlined in its preamble, the overarching goal of the CISG is to erase disparities in international trade. The CISG espouses the principles of effective lawyering through its emphasis on the use of simpler, clearer language in international contracts. According to Professor Harry Flechtner, the CISG seeks the "ommission of awesome relics through its push for a unified language in the drafting of international contracts." See John Honnold, Uniform Law for International Sales Under the 1980 United Nations Convention 30 (Harry Flechtner ed., 4th ed. 2009). This transformative capacity of the Vis Moot and the CISG to improve communication across cultures and transfer the rule of law around the globe will enhance the law school experience, and add value to the lawyering process for law students and practitioners.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Citibank's Promise of Free Checking

What does it mean to be free? When many of us open up a new checking account, it is with the intention of doing business with that bank for a period of time. After all, I've not got my online banking set up to send up bill payments. I've ordered printed checks for when I need them. I've got my debit card. It is a hassle to switch banks and have to redo all this. So, it is important that banks disclose account fees at the outset.

So might have believed customers over at Citibank who opened checking accounts advertised as free. Despite the free-hook, Citibank announced that it would begin imposing account fees on these same customers. Apparently about 1 million free accounts were included. The Truth In Savings Act requires banks to disclose account fees. So, free means free. Moreover, one might expect the free status to last for some time. Not surprisingly then, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office complained about the Citibank fee increase. Today, Citibank announced that free will remain free, putting aside overdraft and other fees, for the time being. (See Citibank to Keep Free Checking).