On November 26, 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held in Ultra Petroleum Corp. v. Ad Hoc Committee of Unsecured Creditors of Ultra Resources1 that the US Bankruptcy Code limits in certain respects the right of creditors to enforce contractual claims for a “make-whole” premium owed under a note agreement as the result of the debtor’s prepayment of the notes. The Ultra Petroleum case may ultimately lead to a decision addressing the unresolved questions of whether, and in what circumstances, a claim for a make-whole premium must be disallowed as “unmatured interest” under Section 502(b)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code.

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Prepayment premiums (also referred to as make-whole premiums) are a common feature in loan documents, allowing lenders to recover a lump-sum amount if a borrower pays off loan obligations prior to maturity, effectively compensating lenders for yield that they would have otherwise received absent prepayment.  As a result of the widespread use of such provisions, three circuit courts of appeal – the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Second, Third and Fifth Circuit – have recently had to address the enforceability of prepayment provisions in bankruptcy.  A quick review of these cases reveals a central theme: the enforceability of such a premium will likely turn on contract-specific language, and, in particular, whether the governing agreements specifically address payment following bankruptcy, including the effects of acceleration caused by bankruptcy.

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