Kaupthing: the High Court interprets (and rejects) Lugano insolvency exception viz the Icelandic Banking crisis.
Thank you Eiríkur Thorláksson (whose expert report fed substantially into the Court’s findings) for flagging and for additional insight: In Tchenguiz v Kaupthing, the High Court had to review the insolvency exception to the Lugano Convention, combined with Directive 2001/24 on the reorganisation and winding-up of credit institutions. Directive 2001/24 applies to UK /Iceland relations following the EFTA Agreement. See my earlier post on Sabena, for Lugano context. Mr Tchenguiz is a London-based property developer. He claims against Kaupthing; Johannes Johannsson, a member of Kaupthing’s winding-up committee; accountants Grant Thornton; and two of its partners.
While Directive 2001/24 evidently is lex specialis vis-a-vis the Insolvency Regulation, much of the ECJ’s case-law under the Regulation is of relevance to the Directive, too. That is because, as Carr J notes, much of the substantial content of the Regulation has been carried over into the Directive. Carr J does emphasise (at 76) that the dovetailing between the Lugano Convention /the Judgments Regulation, and the Insolvency Regulation, carried over into the 2001 Directive does not extend to matters of choice of law. [A bit of explanation: insolvency was excluded from the Judgments Regulation (and from the Convention before it) because it was envisaged to be included in what eventually became the Insolvency Regulation. Consequently the Judgments Regulation and the Insolvency Regulation clearly dovetail when it comes to their respective scope of application]. That is because neither Lugano nor the Judgments Regulation consider choice of law: they are limited to jurisdiction.
On the substance of jurisdiction, the High Court found, applying relevant precedent (German Graphics, Gourdain, etc.), that the claims against both Kaupthing and Mr Johansson are within the Lugano Convention and not excluded by Article 1(2)(b) of that Convention. That meant that Icelandic law became applicable law by virtue of Directive 2001/24, and under Icelandic law proceedings against credit institutions being wound up come not be brought before the courts in ordinary (rather, a specific procedure before the winding-up committee of the bank applies). No jurisdiction in the UK therefore for the claim aganst the bank. The claim against Mr Johansson can go ahead.
[For the purpose of this blog, the jurisdictional issues are of most relevance. For Kaupthing it was even more important that the Bankruptcy Act in Iceland was found to have extra-territorial effect. The Act on Financial Undertakings implemented the winding-up directive and the Icelandic legislator intented it to have extra-territorial effect].
A complex set of arguments was raised and the judgment consequentially is not an easy or quick read. However the above should be the gist of it. I would suggest the findings are especially crucial with respect to the relation between Lugano /Brussels I, Directive 2001/24, and the Insolvency Regulation.
This post has been some time in the making, notwithstanding my promise to have it up soon. Let’s just say I got distracted. The wide interest in Lutz, Case C-557/13, illustrates the increasing relevance of the actio pauliana in protecting creditors from their debtor’s insolvency. The core underlying issue for Lutz is that, in the absence of considerable capital in companies (arguably a direct result indeed of the regulatory competition in Member States’ corporate law following the ECJ’s case-law on freedom of establishment), civil law mechanisms have become more relevant than classic recourse to companies’ liability. If one relies on more classic modes of securitisation, one may want to have more predictability in what law will apply to those securitised agreements. That is where the Insolvency Regulation comes in, in providing for a mechanism which allows parties to indeed give parties the freedom to choose applicable law for the relevant agreements. Article 4(2)m of the Insolvency Regulation (in the new Regulation this is Article 7(m) – unchanged) makes the lex concursus applicable in principle: lex concursus applies to ‘(m) the rules relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of legal acts detrimental to all the creditors.’ However Article 13 (16 new – unchanged) insulates a set of agreements from the pauliana: ‘Article 4(2)(m) shall not apply where the person who benefited from an act detrimental to all the creditors provides proof that: – the said act is subject to the law of a Member State other than that of the State of the opening of proceedings, and – that law does not allow any means of challenging that act in the relevant case.’ The crucial consideration in Lutz was whether the absence of means of challenge in the lex causae, relates to substantive law only, or also to procedural law. Randi summarise the time-line and relevant distinction in German and Austrian law as follows:
- “17 Mar 2008-Austrian court issues an enforceable payment order in favour of Mr Lutz against the debtor company
- 18 April 2008-debtor files application for German insolvency proceedings
- 20 May 2008-attachment of three Austrian bank accounts of the company
- 4 August 2008-German insolvency proceedings opened (as main proceedings) in respect of the company
- 17 Mar 2009-Austrian bank pays monies to Mr Lutz
Under German law, any enforcement of security over the debtor’s assets during the month preceding the lodging of the application to open proceedings is legally invalid once proceedings are opened. Under Austrian law, an action to set aside a transaction must be brought within one year after the opening of proceedings, failing which it becomes time-barred. By contrast, the limitation period under German law is three years. Although the attachment order was granted before the application to open main proceedings was filed, the actual attachment itself took place after that filing and the subsequent payment of monies by the bank took place after main proceedings were opened in Germany. Mr Lutz argued that art 13 applied and that the payment could no longer be challenged by the German liquidator under Austrian law as the one-year limitation period had expired.” (Randi also have good review of the questions in Lutz relating to rights in rem and Article 5, triggered in the case at issue by the attachments of bank accounts). Essentially, the Court expresses sympathy for the cover of procedural limits to fighting detrimental acts to be determined by the lex causae. (It dismissed any relevance of Article 12(1)d of Rome I Regulation, which provides that prescription and limitation of actions are governed by ‘the law applicable to a contract’: for the Insolvency Regulation is most definitely lex specialis). However leaving the matter up to the lex causae would cause differentiated application of the Insolvency Regulation across the Member States. Consequently the ECJ opts for autonomous interpretation, ruling (at 49) that Article 13 of Regulation No 1346/2000 must be interpreted as meaning that the defence which it establishes also applies to limitation periods or other time-bars relating to actions to set aside transactions under the lex causae.’ The ECJ’s judgment essentially confirms the EFTA Court’s views on the similar proviso in Directive 2001/24 on the winding-up of credit institutions (Lbi hf v Merrill Lynch). A pity the ECJ did not refer to that finding. Geert.
I need to give a bit of a factual background before I can get to the implications of the ECJ’s (or CJEU, I still haven’t decided) finding in C-469/13 Nortel.
Nortel Networks SA is established in Yvelines (France). The Nortel group was a provider of technical solutions for telecommunications networks. Nortel Networks Limited (‘NNL’), established in Mississauga (Canada), held the majority of the Nortel group’s worldwide subsidiaries, including NNSA. In 2008 insolvency proceedings were initiated simultaneously in Canada, the US and the EU. In January 2009, the High Court opened main insolvency proceedings under English law in respect of all the companies in the Nortel group established in the EU, including NNSA, pursuant to Article 3(1) of the Insolvency Regulation.
Following a joint application lodged by NNSA and the joint administrators, by judgment of May 2009 the court at Versailles opened secondary proceedings in respect of NNSA. In July 2009, industrial action at NNSA was brought to an end by a memorandum of agreement settling the action. It provided for the making of a severance payment, of which one part was payable immediately and another part, known as the ‘deferred severance payment’, was to be paid, once operations had ceased, out of the available funds arising from the sale of assets. That memorandum was approved by the court at Versailles. NNSA’s positive balance was subsequently however caught up in the global settlement for Nortel, including transfers of funds to escrow accounts in the US, to be distributed following global settlement, and new debt following the continuation of Nortel’s activities as well as costs related to the global winding-up of the company. The deferred severance payment therefore could no longer be paid.
The works council of NNSA and former NNSA employees brought an action before the court at Versailles seeking, first, a declaration that the secondary proceedings give them an exclusive and direct right over the share of the overall proceeds from the sale of the Nortel group’s assets that falls to NNSA and, second, an order requiring the liquidator to make immediate disbursement, in particular, of the deferred severance payment, to the extent of the funds available to NNSA. the French liquidator then summoned the joint administrators as third parties before the referring court. However, these then suggested the court at Versailles decline international jurisdiction, in favour of the High Court at London, and in the alternative, to decline jurisdiction to rule on the assets and rights which were not situated in France for the purposes of Article 2(g) of the Insolvency Regulation when the judgment opening the secondary proceedings was delivered. That Article reads
(g) “the Member State in which assets are situated” shall mean, in the case of: – tangible property, the Member State within the territory of which the property is situated, – property and rights ownership of or entitlement to which must be entered in a public register, the Member State under the authority of which the register is kept, – claims, the Member State within the territory of which the third party required to meet them has the centre of his main interests, as determined in Article 3(1);
There are essentially two parts to the referring court’s questions: (i) the allocation of international jurisdiction between the court hearing the main proceedings and the court hearing the secondary proceedings; and (ii) identification of the law applicable to determine the debtor’s assets that fall within the scope of the effects of the secondary proceedings.
On the (i) first question, the Court first reviewed whether the Insolvency Regulation applied at all – an issue seemingly which did not feature in the national proceedings nor in the written procedure before the CJEU, however which came up at the hearing. The issue being that what the Works Council was after was that an agreement to pay a debt be honoured: one that looks just like a fairly standard agreement were it not to arise out of insolvency. Per Nickel and Goeldner the Court reviewed whether the right or the obligation which respects the basis of the action finds its source in the common rules of civil and commercial law or in the derogating rules specific to insolvency proceedings. Here, the basis of the action, as was pointed out by Mengozzi AG, was relevant French insolvency law (for the determination of the order of creditors’ rights) and the Insolvency Regulation (for the determination of the hierarchy between main and secondary insolvency proceedings). The Insolvency Regulation therefore applies. The AG’s review in fact was clearer than the Court’s summary. More generally, the ECJ does seem to go out of its way to re-emphasise the Nickel and Goeldner formula, even if the separation of the Brussels I and the Insolvency Regulation was not particularly controversial in the case at issue.
Next, the Court essentially extended its Seagon/Deko Marty case-law to secondary proceedings. In Seagon, the Court held that Article 3(1) must be interpreted as meaning that it also confers international jurisdiction on the courts of the Member State within the territory of which insolvency proceedings were opened to hear an action which derives directly from the initial insolvency proceedings and which is ‘closely connected’ with them, within the meaning of recital 6 in the preamble to the Regulation. In Nortel the Court holds that Article 3(2) of that regulation must be interpreted analogously. Here, the related action seeks a declaration that specified assets fall within secondary insolvency proceedings. It is designed specifically to protect the local interests which justify the very establishment of jurisdiction for the secondary proceedings.
However, such action quite obviously has a direct effect on the interests administered in the main insolvency proceedings. The jurisdiction for the court of the secondary proceedings therefore cannot be exclusive. It is jurisdiction concurrently with the Member State of COMI. This is an altogether sec appreciation of the Court which, as Bob Wessels notes, in reality will create serious co-ordination headaches (one for which I do not think even the provisions for co-ordination in the new insolvency Regulation provide sufficient answer).
Finally, in reply to question (ii), the ECJ is fairly brief: Article 2(g) ought to suffice to give the referring court the guidance it seeks. Granted, the ECJ says, it will not be easy. But it ought to suffice. The one extra guidance the CJEU gives is that that provision is also applicable if the property, right or claim in question must be regarded as situated in a third State (such as here: in the escrow accounts).
All in all, quite an important judgment, indeed. Unlike Nortel’s sad demise, this judgment has quite a life ahead of it.
ECJ broadly confirms Szpunar AG in Diageo: narrow window for refusal of recognition and enforcement.
As reported when Szpunar AG issued his Opinion, key question in Diageo, Case C-681/13 is whether the fact that a judgment given in the State of origin is contrary to EU law (in the case at issue; trademark law) justifies that judgment’s not being recognised in the State in which recognition is sought, on the grounds that it infringes public policy (‘ordre public’) in that Member State. Precedent for Diageo did not look good and indeed the ECJ on Thursday confirmed the views of its AG.
Where the breach concerns infringement of EU law, the ECJ formulates the test as follows: ‘the public-policy clause would apply only where that error of law means that the recognition of the judgment concerned in the State in which recognition is sought would result in the manifest breach of an essential rule of law in the EU legal order and therefore in the legal order of that Member State’ (at 50). The relevant breach of EU trademark law is simply not in that league (at 51).
The Court does (at 54) seem to suggest – although one has to infer that a contrario – that if one were to show that Member State courts deliberately infringe EU law, even if that EU law is not in the ‘essential’ category, such pattern of national precedent (imposed by the higher courts), could lead to refusal of recognition. However this was not the suggestion made in the case at issue.
I have reported previously on this action, when it was launched. The Court at The Hague held late June. For good (and impressive) measure, it immediately released an English translation of the judgment. Jolene Lin has excellent overview here, I will simply add the one or two things which I thought were particularly striking.
Firstly, this judgment was not written by a bunch of maverick ‘environmental’ judges. It is the commercial court at The Hague which issued it (see the reference to ‘team handel’, ‘handel’ meaning commerce, or trade).
The judgment hinges on the State’s duty of care which the court established. Urgenda, applicant, had suggested that regardless of the individual behaviour of Dutch citisens and corporations, the Government carries overall or ‘systemic’ responsibility (‘systeemverantwoordelijkheid’), as the representative of the sovereign Dutch nation, to ensure that it controls emissions emanating from The Netherlands. Article 21 of the Dutch Constitution and the international no harm (sic utere tuo) principle featured heavily in the court’s acceptance of the State duty of care. That the Dutch action might only be a drop in the ocean, did not impress the judge: plenty of pennies make a pound, and at any rate, The Netherlands, as a developed nation, were found to have increased responsibility.
At 4.42 and 4.43, the Court then applies what in EU law is known as the Marleasing principle.
‘From an international-law perspective, the State is bound to UN Climate Change Convention, the Kyoto Protocol (with the associated Doha Amendment as soon as it enters into force) and the “no harm” principle. However, this international-law binding force only involves obligations towards other states. When the State fails one of its obligations towards one or more other states, it does not imply that the State is acting unlawfully towards Urgenda. It is different when the written or unwritten rule of international law concerns a decree that “connects one and all”. After all, Article 93 of the Dutch Constitution determines that citizens can derive a right from it if its contents can connect one and all. The court – and the Parties – states first and foremost that the stipulations included in the convention, the protocol and the “no harm” principle do not have a binding force towards citizens (private individuals and legal persons). Urgenda therefore cannot directly rely on this principle, the convention and the protocol. (….)
This does not affect the fact that a state can be supposed to want to meet its international-law obligations. From this it follows that an international-law standard – a statutory provision or an unwritten legal standard – may not be explained or applied in a manner which would mean that the state in question has violated an international-law obligation, unless no other interpretation or application is possible. This is a generally acknowledged rule in the legal system. This means that when applying and interpreting national-law open standards and concepts, including social proprietary, reasonableness and propriety, the general interest or certain legal principles, the court takes account of such international-law obligations. This way, these obligations have a “reflex effect” in national law.‘
In this respect the court also referred extensively to the European Court of Human Rights’ case-law on the duty of a State to put into place a legislative and administrative framework to address the challenges posed by dangerous activities.
The Court also, with reference to international scientific consensus, concluded that climate mitigation, rather than adaptation, is the more effective, efficient and least expensive way to address climate change.
Eventually it settles for a finding of duty of care and ensuing responsibility to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by at least 25% viz 1990 levels, by 2020. This 25% is the floor of what the international scientific community suggests is needed properly to address the dangers of climate change. (The court, in deference to trias politica, therefore did not want to go higher than that floor).
Next up (other than appeal, one might imagine): the Belgian courts, which have been seised of a similar action.
Declaration of interest: I advice the Belgian litigation pro bono.
Travel is a wonderful opportunity to catch up on reading back issues of The Economist. Now I have made a valiant effort in recent years to reduce the pile. I am now only a few months behind. (I read the magazine diagonally when it comes out. Properly a little later). In the issue of 28 February of this year, there is a report on the town of Windsor, New York, along with 14 other towns along New York’s border with Pennsylvania, wanting to secede and join Penn. I have not been able to get an update on the state of affairs, and I am not sure whether the idea got much traction.
It is the ultimate answer to regulatory competition: to move an entire slice of territory into what is perceived as a preferable regulatory regime. The cause? New York’s strict (some might say: cautious) policy on fracking /shale gas. Penn State is fracking friendly. New York has banned it.
The Economist also flag that State secession in the US has only ever succeeded in 1777: when a chunk of New York became Vermont. Now, that’s a State where others pack and move to in upwards harmonisation fashion: for Vermont is arguably the top of the regulatory curve when it comes to environment and food regulation.
Much of the analysis in Swissmarine would have been redundant had Denmark been subject to the Insolvency Regulation. Please refer to the judgment for the many lines of arguments by applicants and defendants – Alexis Hogan has good summary over at the RPC blog.
SwissMarine Corporation Limited (“SwissMarine”) applied for an anti-suit injunction against O. W. Supply & Trading A/S (“OW Supply”), a Danish company that had filed for bankruptcy in the Bankruptcy Court of Aalborg, Denmark on 7 November 2014. SwissMarine sought an order restraining OW Supply (i) from proceeding with an action that it had brought in the District Court in Lyngby, Denmark (the “Lyngby action”) and (ii) from commencing any other or further proceedings in Denmark or elsewhere against SwissMarine directed to obtaining a “disputed” sum claimed under an ISDA Master Agreement (the “ISDA Agreement”) or any transaction thereunder. (For a related discussion of the ISDA Agreement, see Anchorage).
Brussels I recast does not apply for the dispute arguably falls under that Regulation’s insolvency exception. The Insolvency Regulation as noted does not apply for Denmark has opted out of it. The High Court held essentially that the Lygnby action is not covered by the jurisdiction agreement because it is not a suit, action or proceedings relating to a dispute arising out of or in connection with the ISDA Agreement or any non-contractual obligations arising out of or in relation to it. The Court followed the defendant’s argument that OW Supply is not seeking to have determined any dispute under the ISDA Agreement or about the parties’ rights and obligations under it, and there is no dispute about their contractual rights and obligations. The question for the Lyngby court will be how the Danish insolvency regime applies to them. In the words of Smith J: ‘The wording (of the choice of court clause in the ISDA Agreement – GAVC) does not bear on the question whether OW Supply can invoke the protection of Danish insolvency rules, or whether the jurisdiction agreement was intended to prevent this. I cannot accept that the parties evinced an intention in the schedule that OW Supply (or SwissMarine) should abandon the protection of its national insolvency regime.’ (at 26) In conclusion, SwissMarine have not shown a sufficient case that the jurisdiction agreement applies to the Lyngby action to justify its submission that it should be granted an anti-suit injunction on the grounds that in bringing and pursuing the action OW Supply is acting in breach of it. (at 29).
Smith J also discusses at length the impact of the Brussels I and Brussels I recast Regulation on the reference, in the choice of court provision of the ISDA Agreement, to ‘Convention’ (ie 1968 Brussels Convention) parties. Athough this discussion had no bearing on the eventual outcome, the Court’s (disputable) conclusion that reference to Convention States should be read as such (and not include ‘Regulation’ States), in my view would merit adaptation, by parties ad hoc or generally, of the relevant choice of court clause.