Whose crytpo is it? With the multiple cryptocurrency companies that have recently filed for bankruptcy (FTX, Voyager Digital, BlockFi), and more likely on the way, that simple sounding question is taking on huge significance. Last week, the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York (Chief Judge Martin Glenn) attempted to answer that question in the Celsius Network LLC bankruptcy case.
The Facts of the Case
Celsius and its affiliated debtors (collectively, “Debtors”) ran a cryptocurrency finance platform. Faced with extreme turbulence in the cryptocurrency markets, the Debtors filed Chapter 11 petitions on July 13, 2022. As part of their regular business, the Debtors had allowed customers to both deposit cryptocurrency digital assets on their platform and earn a percentage yield, as well as take out loans by pledging their cryptocurrencies as security. One specific program offered by the Debtors was the “Earn” program, under which customers could transfer certain cryptocurrencies to the Debtors and earn “rewards” in the form of payment of in-kind interest or tokens. On the petition date, the Earn program accounts (the “Earn Accounts”) held cryptocurrency assets with a market value of approximately $4.2 billion. Included within the Earn Accounts were stablecoins valued at approximately $23 million in September 2022. A stablecoin is a type of cryptocurrency designed to be tied or pegged to another currency, commodity or financial instrument.
Recognizing their emerging need for liquidity, on November 11, 2022, the Debtors filed a motion seeking entry of an order (a) establishing a rebuttable presumption that the Debtors owned the assets in the Earn Accounts and (b) permitting the sale of the stablecoins held in the Earn Accounts under either section 363(c)(1) (sale in the ordinary course of business) or section 363(b)(1) (sale outside the ordinary course of business) of the Bankruptcy Code. The motion generated opposition from the U.S. Trustee, various States and State securities regulators and multiple creditors and creditor groups. The Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors objected to the sale of the stablecoins under section 363(c)(1) but argued that the sale should be approved under section 363(b)(1) because the Debtors had shown a good business reason for the sale (namely to pay ongoing administrative expenses of the bankruptcy cases). On January 4, 2023, the court issued its forty-five (45) page memorandum opinion granting the Debtors’ motion.
The Court’s Decision
In consideration for the Rewards payable to you on the Eligible Digital Assets using the Earn Service … and the use of our Services, you grant Celsius … all right and title to such Eligible Digital Assets, including ownership rights, and the right, without further notice to you, to hold such Digital Assets in Celsius’ own Virtual Wallet or elsewhere, and to pledge, re-pledge, hypothecate, rehypothecate, sell, lend or otherwise transfer or use any amount of such Digital Assets, separately or together with other property, with all the attendant rights of ownership, and for any period of time, and without retaining in Celsius’ possession and/or control a like amount of Digital Assets or any other monies or assets, and use or invest such Digital Assets in Celsius’ full discretion. You acknowledge that with respect Digital Assets used by Celsius pursuant to this paragraph:
- You will not be able to exercise rights of ownership;
- Celsius may receive compensation in connection with lender or otherwise using Digital Assets in its business to which you have no claim or entitlement; and
- In the event that Celsius becomes bankrupt, enters liquidation or is otherwise unable to repay its obligations, any Eligible Digital Assets used in the Earn Service or as collateral under the Borrow Service may not be recoverable, and you may not have any legal remedies or rights in connection with Celsius’ obligations to you other than your rights as a creditor of Celsius under any applicable laws.
Finally, the court found that the Debtors had shown that they needed to generate liquidity to fund the bankruptcy cases, and that additional liquidity would be needed early this year. Accordingly, the court held that the Debtors had shown sufficient cause to permit the sale of the stablecoins outside of the ordinary course of business in accordance with section 363(b)(1).