Holland v. Westmoreland Coal Co., No. 19-20066 (5th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court's ruling that the Coal Act obligations may be modified by Section 1114 of the Bankruptcy Code, which requires a debtor to keep paying benefits unless those benefits are modified through either an agreement between the debtor and the retirees' representative or a court order. The court also held that a Section 1114 modification is allowed only if the debtor and the retirees’ representative agree or the bankruptcy court orders changes after finding that the equities favor modification. The court clarified that a court must find that the principal purpose of the transaction is not to avoid liability under the Act.
In this case, Westmoreland proposed modifying its obligations under the Coal Act pursuant to Section 1114. The Trustees of the Combined Plan and the 1992 Plan responded by filing a complaint for a declaratory judgment that Coal Act obligations are not "retiree benefits" and thus cannot be modified under Section 1114.