The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gerard E. Lynch, District Judge
Plaintiff Marc S. Kirschner, in his capacity as Trustee of the Refco Litigation Trust, originally filed this action in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, asserting claims under Illinois state law against certain Refco insiders, professionals, and advisors for, inter alia, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and malpractice. Certain defendants (the "Removing Defendants"*fn1 removed the action to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on the ground that the case is "related to" Refco's Chapter 11 bankruptcy, 28 U.S.C. 1334(b); see id. § 1452(a),*fn2 and concurrently petitioned the Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ("MDL Panel") to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, where the Refco bankruptcy is pending, see In re Refco, Inc., No. 05-60006 (RDD) (Bankr. S.D.N.Y.). The Trustee opposed the transfer petition and moved the Northern District of Illinois to remand the action to Illinois state court, or in the alternative, to abstain. Upon application by the Removing Defendants, the Northern District of Illinois stayed proceedings pending the MDL Panel's decision. The MDL Panel subsequently transferred the action to this Court for coordinated pretrial proceedings with the multitude of other Refco-related actions already pending on the Court's docket.
The MDL Panel's transfer of this action to this Court effectively lifts the stay imposed by the Northern District of Illinois. This Opinion addresses the Trustee's pending motion to remand for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, or in the alternative, to abstain under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1334(c)(1) and (c)(2). For the reasons stated below, the Trustee's motion will be denied.
I. Events Leading to Refco's Bankruptcy
Prior to its collapse in the fall of 2005, Refco was among the world's largest providers of brokerage and clearing services in the international derivatives, currency, and futures markets. (Compl. ¶ 56.*fn3 ) Beginning in the late 1990s, members of Refco's senior management, with the aid of certain of Refco's professionals and financial advisors (collectively, the "defendants"), allegedly orchestrated a fraudulent scheme to artificially boost Refco's performance and conceal Refco's true financial condition so that these senior executives, through the company's August 2004 leveraged-buy-out and August 2005 initial public offering ("IPO"), could cash out their interests in Refco on lucrative terms. (Id. ¶¶ 4-7, 32, 59-149.) Defendants allegedly carried out this scheme by "concealing substantial Refco trading losses and operating expenses, recording hundreds of millions in fictitious Refco income, and funding Refco's operating expenses and acquisitions with misappropriated customer assets." (P. Mem. 2-3, citing Compl. ¶¶ 59-149.)
On October 10, 2005, just two months after its IPO, Refco announced that it had discovered an undisclosed $430 million receivable due from an entity controlled by Refco's CEO, Philip R. Bennett. (Comp. ¶¶ 147-48.) As a result, the company announced that its financial statements for the preceding four years could no longer be relied upon. (Id. ¶ 148.) Following these disclosures, Refco's stock plummeted and was de-listed by the New York Stock Exchange, leading to over $1 billion in lost market capitalization. (Id. ¶¶ 148-49.) On October 17, 2005, Refco Inc. and over twenty of its subsidiaries filed for protection under Chapter 11 of Title 11 of the United States Code. (See id. ¶¶ 32, 34.)
II. The Refco Litigation Trust
On December 15, 2006, approximately fourteen months after Refco filed for bankruptcy, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York confirmed the Modified Joint Chapter 11 Plan of Refco Inc. and Certain of its Direct and Indirect Subsidiaries (the "Plan"). (See Kirschner Decl. Exs. B, C.) The Plan provided for the establishment of a Litigation Trust and the appointment of a Litigation Trustee to pursue such "claims, rights of action, suits, or proceedings, whether in law or in equity, whether known or unknown, that any [Refco] Debtor or RCM [(Refco Capital Markets Ltd.)] may hold against any Person." (Id. Ex. B § 1.112; see id. § 5.7(a)).
Pursuant to the Plan, all "Contributed Claims," defined as "any and all Litigation Claims of the Debtors, RCM or their estates," would be irrevocably transferred to the Litigation Trust on the effective date of the Plan. (Id. Ex. B §§ 1.48, 5.7(b).) In exchange, "the Litigation Trust Beneficiaries," who are the holders of allowed general unsecured claims against the Refco Debtors, would receive "Litigation Trust Interests," which would be allocated on the basis of the beneficiaries' allowed claims under the confirmed Plan.*fn4 (Id. Ex. B § 5.7(b); see id. ¶¶ 10-11, 13, 15.) The Plan expressly provided that "[u]pon transfer of the Contributed Claims to the Litigation Trust, the Debtors, RCM, and the Plan Administrator shall have no interest in or with respect to the Contributed Claims or the Litigation Trust."*fn5 (Id. Ex. B § 5.7(b).)
The establishment of the Litigation Trust, plaintiff Marc S. Kirschner's appointment as Trustee of the Litigation Trust, the transfer of Contributed Claims to the Litigation Trust, and the allocation of Litigation Trust Interests to the Litigation Trust Beneficiaries, became effective on December 26, 2006. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 9, 10.)
On August 21, 2007, nine months after the Plan was confirmed, the Trustee filed this action in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, asserting state-law claims against defendants for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty and fraud, malpractice, and negligent misrepresentation. As noted above, certain defendants removed the case to the federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois and simultaneously petitioned the MDL Panel to transfer the case to this Court. The Trustee opposed the transfer petition and moved to remand the case on the ground that the federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over its purely state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The Trustee also asserted that even if the court had subject matter jurisdiction, abstention was both mandatory and warranted in the exercise of discretion under 28 U.S.C. § 1334(c). Upon the Removing Defendants' motion, the Northern District of Illinois stayed the action pending the decision of the MDL panel. On December 28, 2007, the MDL Panel transferred the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407, thus effectively lifting the stay imposed by the Northern District of Illinois and bringing the Trustee's motion to remand and/or abstain, to this Court's consideration.*fn6
The Trustee contends that (1) the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the claims asserted in this case are not "related to" the Refco bankruptcy within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1334(b); and (2) even if jurisdiction exists, abstention is both mandatory and warranted in the exercise of discretion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1334(c). These arguments will be addressed in turn.
I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction
A. Removal and Jurisdiction in Bankruptcy Cases
The party seeking removal of an action from state to federal court bears the burden of proving federal jurisdiction. See In re WorldCom, Inc. Secs. Litig., 293 B.R. 308, 316 (S.D.N.Y. 2003), citing Linardos v. Fortuna, 157 F.3d 945, 947 (2d Cir. 1998). With regard to bankruptcy-related claims, 28 U.S.C. § 1452(a) provides that "[a] party may remove any claim or cause of action in a civil action . . . to the district court for the district where such civil action is pending, if such district court has jurisdiction of such claim or cause of action under section 1334 of this title." 28 U.S.C. § 1452(a); see Things Remembered, Inc. v. Petrarca, 516 U.S. 124, 131-32 (1995) (Ginsburg, J., concurring) (finding that § 1452 was "meant to enlarge, not to rein in, federal trial court removal/remand authority for claims related to bankruptcy cases").
The propriety of removal under § 1452(a) is predicated on the scope of federal jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1334, ...