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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Judge Lifland Comment on the Manville Bankruptcy

LAW360 (paywall) published a memorial to Bankruptcy Judge Burton R. Lifland by some prominent bankruptcy lawyers. Among many other things, Judge Lifland handled the Manville asbestos bankruptcy. The following excerpt is especially interesting in hindsight:


Law360, New York (February 19, 2014, 12:37 PM ET) —

On Feb. 20, the legal community, and the restructuring bar especially, will remember a legend. On that date, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York will host a memorial service and courtroom dedication ceremony in honor of Judge Burton R. Lifland, who passed away last month after 34 years of distinctly notable service on the bench.


Quite poignantly, on the occasion of receiving the Distinguished Service Award from the American College of Bankruptcy in 2013, Lifland told an anecdote that captured the reasons for his dedication to restructuring law:

Johns Manville, the first mass torts case seeking a bankruptcy solution, was like the proverbial camel that gets its nose in the tent. The first look at that nose never lets you size up the rest of it as it squeezes its way inside. On the first day of the case, in 1982, [debtors’ counsel] emphasized that this is a simple matter of some $50 million measured by a tobacco-use causation, to be dealt with with a one-size-fits-all claims adjudication process ….

Well, scores of years later, we bear witness to the effects of an evergreen, ongoing trust that has distributed more than $4 billion and thus far with more to come; to adoption by Congress of a statute, 11 U.S.C. § 524(g), which is modeled on the Manville confirmation order; and to a perpetual litigation pingpong through the courts, including several trips to the Supreme Court, and which is continuing to the present day without an end in sight.

I find that this genre of cases is sufficiently interesting and challenging to foster my desire to remain on the bench ….

All of us who care about the future of restructuring are grateful that Lifland was interested and challenged for more than three decades of exceptional public service. We practice in the shadow of his accomplishments — and we are confident the next generation of restructuring professionals will continue to honor the breadth and depth of Lifland’s innovative jurisprudence for years to come.

—By James H.M. Sprayregen, Edward O. Sassower, Stephen E. Hessler and Aaron R. Slavutin, Kirkland & Ellis LLP

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