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In re Philadelphia Newspapers

July 2, 2009

IN RE: PHILADELPHIA NEWSPAPERS, LLC


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

BKY. No. 09-11204

MEMORANDUM

This is an appeal from the order of the Bankruptcy Court enjoining for sixty days a state court lawsuit against NonDebtors. The appeal presents three issues: (1) Did the Bankruptcy Court have jurisdiction to issue the injunction; (2) Did the Bankruptcy Court properly extend the 11 U.S.C. § 362(a) stay to Non-Debtors; and (3) Did the Bankruptcy Court properly issue an injunction, pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 105(a).

The Court holds the Bankruptcy Court did have jurisdiction to issue an injunction enjoining a pending state action against Non-Debtors, that under the circumstances, it was appropriate to extend the protection of the section 362(a) stay to the Non-Debtors, and that the Bankruptcy Court properly exercised its discretion in issuing the injunction. For the reasons that follow, the decision of the Bankruptcy Court will be affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

Philadelphia Newspapers, LLC and its related entities (the "Debtors")*fn1 filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 of Title 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code on February 22, 2009. At that time, Philadelphia Newspapers, LLC was a defendant in several non-bankruptcy litigation matters. By filing its bankruptcy petition, Philadelphia Newspapers triggered the automatic stay under section § 362(a), thereby halting the continuation of suits against Philadelphia Newspapers.

Several Non-Debtors (including the Debtors' holding company - Philadelphia Media Holdings, LCC ("PMH"),*fn2 Brian Tierney - the Debtors' CEO and publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer, and certain reporters - editors or other employees of the Debtors) were named as defendants in some of these suits.

One such suit was the civil action filed on or about January 6, 2009, by Vahan H. Gureghian, Danielle Gureghian, and Charter School Management, Inc. ("CSMI") (collectively, the "Appellants") against several Non-Debtors, including, Philadelphia Media Holdings, LLC, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Brian Tierney. In this action, the Appellants seek damages arising from a series of allegedly false and misleading newspaper and internet articles published by The Philadelphia Inquirer about the Appellants.*fn3

On March 23, 2009, the Debtors initiated an adversary proceeding, seeking an extension of the automatic stay under section 362(a), and filed a motion for injunctive relief under section 105(a) to enjoin Defendants, including the Appellants, named in the injunction complaint from asserting claims or otherwise attempting to exercise remedies in state court litigation against certain Non-Debtors, including: (i) PMH; (ii) Brian Tierney; and (iii) certain reporters, editors, or employees of the Debtors (collectively, the "Non-Debtors").

On May 8, 2009, following an evidentiary hearing on this motion, the Bankruptcy Court granted the Debtors' motion for a preliminary injunction and extended the protection of the section 362(a) stay to the Non-Debtors for sixty days. On May 18, 2009, the Appellants filed a notice of appeal of the May 8, 2009 Bankruptcy Court decision. The Court set an expedited briefing schedule and held a hearing on July 1, 2009. This decision follows.

II. DISCUSSION

The Bankruptcy Court's issuance of the preliminary injunction is reviewed for abuse of discretion. In re Pillowtex, Inc., 304 F.3d 246, 250 (3d Cir. 2002). "An abuse of discretion exists where the district court's decision rests upon a clearly erroneous finding of fact, an errant conclusion of law or an improper application of law to fact." In re Marvel Entm't, 140 F.3d 463, 470 (3d Cir. 1998).

In evaluating the issuance of the preliminary injunction extending the protection of section 362(a) to Non-Debtor third parties, the Court will undertake a three-step analysis.*fn4 The Court will determine, first, whether the Bankruptcy Court had jurisdiction to issue the injunction. Second, whether the Bankruptcy Court properly extended the section 362(a) stay to the Non-Debtors. Finally, whether the Bankruptcy Court properly exercised its discretion in issuing an injunction, pursuant to section 105(a), enjoining suit against Non-Debtors.

Courts have often conflated the analysis. This has led to confusion. See, e.g., A.H. Robins Co., Inc. v. Piccinin, 788 F.2d 994 (4th Cir. 1986) (using "stay" and "injunction" interchangeably and pointing out that the bankruptcy court may enjoin lawsuits under section 362(a), section 105(a) or its inherent power); Stanford v. Foamex L.P., No. 07-4225, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32045, at *8 n.7 (E.D. Pa. April 15, 2009) (concluding that "the practical effect" of the difference between extending the section 362(a) stay to non-debtors, or issuing a separate injunction pursuant to the bankruptcy court's power under section 105(a) is "academic"); In re Loewen Group, Inc., No. 98-6740, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6482 (E.D. Pa. May 16, 2001) (placing the case against the non-debtors in suspense without reliance on either section 362(a) or section 105(a)); Smith v. Dominion Bridge Corp., No. 96-7580, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2131, at *11 n.3 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 2, 1999) (pointing out there is no need to satisfy requests for injunctive relief in order to obtain stay); In re Monroe Well Service, Inc., 67 B.R. 746, 751 (Bankr. E.D. Pa. 1986) (granting an injunction under section 105(a), without discussion of section 362(a)).

Although the facts necessary to support the Court's determination at each step of the analysis may overlap, each step of the inquiry is distinct, independently necessary, and implicates different interests. Mere incantation to the power of the Court to issue injunctions under section 105(a) is insufficient. For, as the statute itself makes clear, section 105(a) is neither an independent source of federal subject matter jurisdiction, see In re Combustion Eng'g, Inc., 391 F.3d 190, 224-25 (3d Cir. 2004), nor the repository of any substantive rights. Section 105(a) permits a bankruptcy court to "issue an order, process, or judgment that is necessary or ...


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