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Judge Hyman's recent decision in In re Sawran, __ B.R. ___, 2007 WL 101841 (Bkrtcy. S.D. Fla.) presents an analysis of the common fact pattern. If a debtor made a prepetition preferential payment to an initial transferee, but the initial transferee or immediate transferee repays the involved amount to the debtor prepetition, may the trustee in bankruptcy still recover the preference?
The Sawran case presented a situation where the trustee obtained a judgment to avoid a preferential transfer under section 547. The trustee then filed an action under section 550 to recover the amount of the avoided transfer from an immediate transferee of the initial transferee.
The Court began its analysis with a review of section 550(d) which provides that a trustee is only entitled to a single recovery under 550(a)--the single satisfaction rule. That is, the trustee cannot recover from the various transferees more than the actual amount avoided. The Court further pointed out that the avoidance of a voidable transfer and the recovery from the transferee are distinct from one another.
The Court held that a trustee is prohibited under section 550(d) from recovering the amount avoided from a transferee who has already returned to the estate that which was avoided. To allow the trustee to collect the amount would result in a windfall to the trustee that violates the single satisfaction rule of section 550(d).
The Court found an alternative basis for its holding pursuant to the use of the Court's equitable powers under section 105(a) by finding that it had the power to grant the initial transferees an "equitable credit" even if there was no defense available under the provisions of the Code. The initial transferees were innocent of wrongdoing and deserved protection to the extent that they repaid the involved amount. The equitable credit prevented the estate from receiving a windfall.
The Court noted that the Court's equitable powers under section 105(a) are also used in other contexts to prevent a trustee from being able to recover from a party who is innocent of wrongdoing and deserves protection, such as when the initial recipient is a "mere conduit" of funds and therefore not an "initial transferee" under section 550(a)(1).