By Ryan C. Wood
For the record many successful and rich people make the decision to file for bankruptcy protection under various chapters of the Bankruptcy Code. Curtis James Jackson, III, aka 50 Cent, is no different. Like many things in our society ignorance of the law rules the day. Hopefully this article and future articles about 50 Cent’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case will help you understand bankruptcy law and why 50 Cent filed. That said, on July 13, 2015, 50 Cent filed a personal bankruptcy petition for protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code, Bankruptcy Case No. 15-21233, in the District of Connecticut, Hartford Division, to reorganize his debts.
Why Did 50 Cent File Bankruptcy?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines being insolvent as: (1) unable to pay debts as they fall due in the usual course of business; (2) having liabilities in excess of a reasonable market value of assets held. 50 Cent became unable to pay his debts as they came due in the usual course of business resulting from judgments entered against him and the cost of litigating with Sleek Audio and Lastonia Leviston lawsuits.
Sleek Audio, LLC Litigation
According to court documents back in 2011n 50 Cent entered into business with Sleek Audio, LLC to develop headphones and market the headphones under 50 Cent’s professional name. Sleek entered into a licensing brand agreement with G-Unit Brands, 50 Cent’s brand licensing company and allowed Sleek to use 50 Cent’s trademarks in the marketing of the headphones. For whatever reason Sleek did not follow through on making the headphone commercially viable by the February 15, 2011, deadline. As a result G-Unit Brands terminated the licensing agreement with Sleek and 50 Cent then created SMS Audio to develop his headphones on his own instead. Like most divorces Sleek did not go away quietly. Sometime in August 2011 Sleek filed an arbitration case against 50 Cent alleging he stole their designs for his new headphones and owed Sleek some money. Long story short Sleek won. Eventually a judgment was entered in Sleek’s favor totaling $17,247,426.11 plus post-judgment interest rate of 4.75%. 50 Cent’s list of 20 largest unsecured creditors provides the judgment has grown to $18,428,257.00 as of July 13, 2015.
Lastonia Leviston Sex Tape Litigation
Another reason for the personal Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing is a sex tape 50 Cent allegedly released of Lastonia Leviston without her consent. 50 Cent was in a rap war with William Leonard Roberts, aka Rick Ross. Ms. Leviston used to date Rick Ross and they have a child together. In 2008 Ms. Leviston was in a relationship with Maurice Murray. Leviston and Murray made a sex tape and Murray retained possession of the sex tape. At some point Murray gave the sex tape to 50 Cent and allegedly told 50 Cent he could do whatever he wanted with the sex tape. 50 Cent allegedly created a copy of the sex tape and then narrated the sex tape saying negative things about Ms. Leviston and mocking Rick Ross. 50 Cent alleged the edited version of the sex tape was leaked by someone other than himself and that he never released the edited sex tape on any of his websites. Ms. Leviston sued 50 Cent in state court and eventually she won a judgment for about $5 million (Leviston v Jackson, Index No. 102449-2010, pending before New York State Supreme Court, New York County).
July 13, 2015 Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Filing and Leviston Lawsuit
The jury in the Leviston lawsuit was then tasked with determining how much the punitive damages to punish 50 Cent for the alleged release of the edited sex tape should be. Before the punishment faze began 50 Cent filed for personal bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. As soon as a bankruptcy petition is filed the automatic stay takes effect stopping any and all collection activity including lawsuits. So the day the punishment part of the state court lawsuit was supposed to start 50 Cent’s attorneys walked in with the notice of the bankruptcy filing and that ended the punishment faze for the time being. But, a creditor or party-in-interest, like Ms. Leviston, can request the bankruptcy court to allow a state court lawsuit to continue despite the filing of a bankruptcy case. This is what happened in 50 Cent’s bankruptcy case. Ms. Leviston’s Bankruptcy Attorneys filed what is called a motion for relief from the automatic stay on July 13, 2015, the exact same day 50 Cent filed for bankruptcy protection. Ms. Leviston asked the bankruptcy court to allow the state court punishment faze to continue despite the filing of the bankruptcy case. Ms. Leviston’s attorneys also requested and received an expedited hearing date to speed up the process.
Of course 50 Cent’s Bankruptcy Lawyers filed an opposition to the motion for relief from stay advocating why the stay should not be lifted. In my opinion the two most compelling reasons to not lift the automatic stay is that punitive or punishment damages are normally calculated based upon the wealth of the allegedly guilty party and that punitive damages claims are/can be subordinated or disallowed in bankruptcy pursuant to Section 510(c). When a person files for bankruptcy protection what the bankruptcy filer’s assets are worth is often a litigated issue because it matters a lot in the outcome of what creditors should receive through the Chapter 11 plan of reorganization. So how can a jury in the state court case determine the amount of punitive damages to award against 50 Cent if a determination of the value of his assets has not been made in the now pending bankruptcy case? Arguably punitive damages cannot be determined so why proceed? The other compelling argument in my opinion is how punitive damages are treated in bankruptcy. Generally punitive damages are disallowed or subordinated to other claims so that the other people who are owed money get paid more. The goal of bankruptcy is distribute the assets of the debtor to creditors fairly according to the Bankruptcy Code. The goal is not to punish the debtor like punitive damages seek to do. Therefore punitive damages are generally disallowed or paid after other types of claims are paid first. I will have more to day about this issue in future articles.
July 17, 2015, a hearing was held before the Honorable Ann M. Nevins regarding the motion for relief from stay and the motion was granted. As a result the punitive damages part of the Leviston lawsuit could continue. On July 20, 2015, the jury in the New York State Court lawsuit regarding the alleged release of the sex tape awarded an additional $2 million in punitive damages to Ms. Leviston for a total judgment against 50 Cent of $7 million. I am sure 50 Cent was not banking on the filing of his bankruptcy case to stop the punishment part of the lawsuit by Ms. Leviston. Nevertheless, there are still benefits to seeking bankruptcy protection and reorganizing his debts in Chapter 11.
So, 50 Cent found himself with a $17 million judgment against him owed to Sleek and then another judgment of $5 million owed to Ms. Leviston prior to filing for bankruptcy protection. Even if someone has significant assets and significant income can they write a $22 million check to satisfy their debts? That is why 50 Cent filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. What will result in 50 Cent’s Chapter 11 reorganization case is still to be determined. Additional articles will be posted to discuss 50 Cent’s current financial circumstances and current status of the case in the future.