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Court upholds preliminary injunction

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Hoosier Energy Rural Electric Cooperative has until the end of the year to find a replacement holder for its credit-default swap or an insurance company will be able to collect on the security. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals made the ruling today in the financial contract involving the co-op, insurance company, and credit-default swap holder, in addition to upholding the District Court's preliminary injunction on the payout.

In Hoosier Energy v. John Hancock Life Insurance Co., et al., and Ambac Assurance Corp., et al., No. 08-4030, John Hancock agreed to pay Hoosier Energy $300 million for a 63-year lease for part-interest in a Hoosier Energy generation plant. Hoosier Energy agreed to lease it back to John Hancock for 30 years, making payments with the present value of $279 million.

Hoosier Energy entered into the credit-default swap agreement with Ambac to provide John Hancock additional security should Hoosier Energy fall into bankruptcy. As part of the agreement, if Ambac's credit rating dipped below a certain threshold, Hoosier Energy had 60 days to find a replacement that satisfied the contractual standards.

John Hancock tried to collect on the approximately $120 million in security from Ambac because its credit rating slipped and Hoosier Energy couldn't find a replacement after 120 days. The co-op was in negotiations with another company, but John Hancock wanted Ambac to pay up; Hoosier Energy then filed this suit. The District Court eventually issued a preliminary injunction. The District Court ruled that if Ambac pays, Hoosier Energy will go bankrupt covering the outlay, which the District Court called an irreparable injury. It directed Hoosier Energy to post a bond to make sure John Hancock would be made whole should it prevail.

The Circuit Court found there is uncertainty about how this suit will come out under New York law, which the parties agreed supplies the rule of decision. It's not certain whether Hoosier Energy had a duty to replace Ambac or whether this is merely an option, wrote Chief Judge Easterbrook, and the impossibility defense is unavailable if the option characterization is correct. It's uncertain whether the extent of the 2008 credit crunch was foreseeable and whether Hoosier Energy could have replaced Ambac by offering more, or better, security to another intermediary, the chief judge continued.

"All of these uncertainties collectively support the district court's conclusion that Hoosier Energy has some prospect of prevailing on the merits. Because appellate review is deferential, the district court's understanding must prevail at the interlocutory stage," he wrote.

The chief judge noted the longer the impasse continues, the more the balance of equities tilts in favor of John Hancock.

"If, as Hoosier Energy asserts, meeting Ambac's demands under the swap contract will drive it into bankruptcy, then Hoosier Energy must be skating close to the edge, and the longer it skates there the greater the cumulative risk that it will fall over. Similarly Ambac may become less desirable as a swap partner; while this appeal has been under advisement, Ambac's credit rating has been reduced twice," he wrote.

John Hancock is entitled to the security it negotiated against these possible outcomes and the injunction bonds, at only $22 million in liquid security, don't cover the company's exposure. The change in Ambac's credit rating requires the District Court to take a new look at the adequacy of the Rule 65(c) security after receiving the Circuit Court's mandate, wrote Chief Judge Easterbrook. If Hoosier Energy hasn't produced a replacement for Ambac by the end of 2009, the District Court must let John Hancock realize its security.

"The district court itself stressed the word 'temporary' in 'temporary commercial impracticability'; we are confident that the court will not allow 'temporary' to drag out in the direction of permanence," he wrote.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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