Bob Eisenbach at the Business Bankruptcy Blog discusses the recent 9th Circuit case of In re El Toro Materials Company, wherein the Court held that the cap on a landlord’s damages for lease rejection does not apply to the landlord’s tort claims. Bob summarizes the facts – "the debtor was a mining company that leased property from the Saddleback Community Church, paying $28,000 per month in rent. After the lease was rejected, Saddleback brought an adversary proceeding against El Toro for $23 million in damages alleging that El Toro left a million tons of wet clay "goo," mining equipment, and other materials on the property. "
The Court commented –
The cap applies to damages “resulting from” the rejection of the lease. 11 U.S.C. § 502(b)(6). Saddleback’s claims for waste, nuisance and trespass do not result from the rejection of the lease—they result from the pile of dirt allegedly left on the property. Rejection of the lease may or may not have triggered Saddleback’s ability to sue for the alleged damages.But the harm to Saddleback’s property existed whether or not the lease was rejected. A simple test reveals whether the damages result from the rejection of the lease: Assuming all other conditions remain constant, would the landlord have the same claim against the tenant if the tenant were to assume the lease rather than rejecting it? Here, Saddleback would still have the same claim it brings today had El Toro accepted the lease and committed to finish its term: The pile of dirt would still be allegedly trespassing on Saddleback’s land and Saddleback still would have the same basis for its theories of nuisance, waste and breach of contract. The million-ton heap of dirt was not put there by the rejection of the lease—it was put there by the actions and inactions of El Toro in preparing to turn over the site.
Head over to Bob’s post for a thorough discussion of the case, and a copy of the opinion, that he believes changes the landscape of landlord/tenant relations in Bankruptcy in the 9th Circuit.
As an aside, the landlord in the case, Saddleback Community Church, is the home church of Rick Warren, author of the popular best-seller, "The Purpose Driven Life."