5th Circuit orders plaintiff to pay outstanding loan
On August 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court decision to require the plaintiff CEO of several petrochemical companies, who defaulted on a revolving line of credit that he guaranteed, to repay national lenders (defendants) an outstanding amount, rejecting the CEO’s argument that the agreements were fraudulently induced. The plaintiff allegedly withdrew a $90 million revolving line of credit from the defendants. His personal liability arose after his companies began breaching some of the loans’ financial covenants. To avoid acceleration, the CEO himself guaranteed the companies’ outstanding debt. Because his companies continued breaching their loan obligations and the defendants were “concerned about the borrowers’ cash burn, ‘collateral deterioration,’ and ‘poor accounting controls,’” the parties modified the total debt to $72 million. In addition, the defendants and the companies amended their credit agreement and the plaintiff “executed a personal guaranty of the debt his companies assumed.” At the defendants’ recommendation—or, as the CEO maintains—“the borrowers also brought on a chief restructuring officer (CRO) to help turn the companies around.” When the companies continued to default on the loan obligations, the CEO and the borrowers entered into two forbearance agreements with the defendants that imposed financial, operational, and reporting obligations on the borrowers. After the second agreement expired and the borrowers' defaults remained, the company sued the defendants for over $1.5 billion in damages for negligence, fraud, conversion, among other things, in which the defendants “counterclaimed and impleaded [the CEO] and the remaining borrowers and guarantors, alleging breach of contract and breach of guaranty.” According to the opinion, “[t]hose third-party defendants then counterclaimed against the lenders, asserting the same tort claims initially lodged by the company.” Furthermore, the CEO asserted the following four defenses: fraudulent inducement, duress, unclean hands, and equitable estoppel. The district court rejected each of the plaintiff’s arguments, ordering him to pay the defendants, plus interest and attorney fees, noting “that the underlying breach of guaranty was ‘not contested.’” The district court held that the waivers and releases the plaintiff signed as part of the two forbearance agreements “foreclosed any claim that he was fraudulently induced into signing the earlier Guaranty,” and determined that his allegations of intense business pressure fell short of establishing duress.
On appeal, the 5th Circuit agreed with the district court, affirming that the plaintiff failed to prove that he signed onto the agreements under duress. According to the 5th Circuit, “[t]he district court detected a glaring problem with this theory: the timeline of events refutes it,” and the plaintiff “learned of the purported fraud—the supposed scheme to replace him with the CRO—before he ratified the Guaranty.”