Propertize: Should creditors’ domicile and mutual consent on COMI be relevant for insolvency Regulation?

In Propertize, (held 10 April 2014; delayed reporting for exam reasons) the court at ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Netherlands) held that Propertise BV has COMI in The Netherlands (and the presumption in favour of COMI being the place of corporate domicile therefore not dismissed), paying particular attention to the fact that (1) during argument at court both parties in the meantime had agreed that COMI was in The Netherlands, and (2) that the main creditors were based in The Netherlands.

Prof Wessels was right to be pleased to be quoted in the judgment – even if as he also rightfully points out, the court in fact only refers to his Handbook to cite relevant case-law and not to apply the COMI test properly (as prof Wessels’ book does): recital 13 of the Insolvency Regulation suggests COMI as being the place where the debtor conducts the administration of his interests on a regular basis and is therefore ascertainable by third parties. The ECJ has repeatedly emphasised the combination of both: administration of the interests elsewhere,  and this as such being recognisable to third parties (e.g. at 49 in Interedil). Neither location of the creditors nor agreement between creditors on the debtors’ COMI have any relevance.

Textbook inadequate application of COMI: hence very appropriate for an exam question. Geert.

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The Alexandros resurfaces – Greek proceedings may turn out to be an expensive torpedo!

I have reported before on the lis alibi pendens issue in the Alexandros litigation. (The left-over claims as identified in my previous post were, I understand, dropped, and hence the need for ECJ referral subsided – Hill Dickinson have a good summary of the various proceedings here). The Court of Appeal on the 18th of July held on the now (following the Supreme Court’s intervention) remaining issue of declarations, damages and indemnities in respect of the owners’ proceedings in Greece seeking damages from the insurers, despite proceedings for sums due under the relevant insurance policies having been settled in England pursuant to a choice of forum clause. (Apologies for this all being a bit dense – reading my previous post helps). (Greek courts in fact rejected the claims in April).

The left-over issue essentially boils down to the question whether despite the ECJ’s prohibition of anti-suit injunctions for subject-matter falling within the Brussel I-Regulation, Member States courts are free to award damages to the party suing elsewhere in the EU in spite of a choice of court agreement between parties. The Court of Appeal held that they are. It justifiably, in my view, distinguished Turner v Grovit . In Turner v Grovit, the ECJ is concerned with mutual trust and allowing (and indeed trusting) the courts in the other Member States to make their own, proper application of the Regulation. Turner and Grovit does not uphold jurisdiction for the other court: it upholds the opportunity for that other court properly to apply the Regulation, which may or may not lead it to uphold jurisdiction.

The judgment of the Court of Appeal re-enforces the attraction of English courts as a destination of choice: parties wishing to torpedo (a prospect less likely in the Brussels I-bis Regulation) may or may not succeed in convincing alternative courts of their jurisdiction. English courts since Turner cannot issue anti-suit. However they may still hold party liable for having breached the choice of court agreement.

Geert.

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Yukos v Tomskneft: Ireland rejects ‘parochial’ jurisdiction in enforcement of arbitral awards

When should a court being asked to apply the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York, 1958)  – the ‘New York Convention‘, look mercifully on forum shopping with a view to the smooth enforcement of such award? That, in essence, was the issue in Yukos v Tomskneft at the Irish High Court. Both Yukos Capital and Tomskneft were originally part of the Yukos group – of PCIA Yukos arbitral award fame. Tomskneft was later transferred to Rosneft. Arbitral proceedings had taken place in Switzerland, Yukos’ attempts at enforcement in Russia failed, as they did in France. Singapore attempts are underway.

The Irish courts involvement at first view looks odd. There are no Tomskneft assets in Ireland, neither corporate domicile of any Tomskneft affiliates. As Kelly J noted, the Irish proceedings effectively would serve as a jack for proceedings in other jurisdictions where Tomskneft does hold assets. Waving a successful enforcement order (even if it were in practice nugatory, given the lack of assets) obtained in a ‘respectable’ jurisdiction, would assist with enforcement proceedings elsewhere.

The New York Convention has a pro-enforcement bias however the Irish (and other, especially common law countries’) arbitration act in enforcement of the Convention, runs alongside the application of Irish civil procedure rules ‘out of the jurisdiction’, being against a foreign defendant: Kelly J (at 59): In implementing the Convention as it did, the legislature did not attempt to dispense with the necessity to obtain leave to serve out of the jurisdiction in a case where the respondent is not normally resident within it.’

US law, too, requires that preliminary to recognising and enforcing a foreign award, in personam jurisdiction must be established. Decision on such remains subject to lex fori. A jurisdiction which all too happily entertains such cases is then said to employ ‘parochial’ or ‘exorbitant’ jurisdictional rules.

In the case at issue, after referencing prior case-law both in Ireland and elsewhere, Kelly J rejected applicant’s request (at 141):  It is a case with no connection with Ireland. There are no assets within this jurisdiction. There is no real likelihood of assets coming into this jurisdiction. This is the fourth attempt on the part of the applicant to enforce this award. There is little to demonstrate any “solid practical benefit” to be gained by the applicant. The desire or entitlement to obtain an award from a “respectable” court has already been exercised in the courts of France and is underway in the courts of Singapore.’

Note therefore that the court is not unsympathetic to the attempt at employing successful (even if hollow) enforcement in one jurisdiction as a lever in the real target jurisdiction (the one with the assets). Except, in the case at issue, similar attempts had already been or still were underway elsewhere.

The case is a very good illustration of the attraction (and uncertainty) of forum shopping, in particular at the enforcement stage. As well as a powerful reminder of the in personam jurisdictional rules of the common law.

Geert.

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The Clapham Omnibus, objective legal standards and EU procurement law. The UKSC in Healthcare at Home Ltd.

This case was not about the procurement of buses – of which there are well-known cases in EU procurement law. Rather, it is about the abstract nature of the many guises of the bonus pater familias, the ‘fair and reasonable man, an intellectual (legal) tradition of defining a legal standard by reference to a hypothetical person, stretching back to roman law. (Lord Reed, at 2). In English law, Greer LJ launched the concept in Hall v. Brooklands Auto-Racing Club, to determine the standard of care required to avoid being found negligent.

In Healthcare at Home Ltd, the UK Supreme Court was asked whether the criteria for the award of a public sector contract (‘public procurement’) had been sufficiently clear. Appellant had argued that whether the contract documents allowed all reasonably well informed tenderers of normal diligence to interpret them in the same way, was to be decided on the basis of factual evidence as to how the various tenderers had in fact understood the documents.

Lord Reed points out (at 4) that in recent times, additional passengers from the EU have boarded the Clapham omnibus, in the case at issue: the reasonably well-informed and normally diligent tenderer. Under EU law (reference is made in the judgment to relevant ECJ case-law) the criteria for a contract award must be formulated in such a manner as to allow all reasonably well informed and diligent tenderers to interpret them uniformly. However, the test is not whether all tenderers have actually interpreted the criteria in the same way. Rather, whether the criteria had been sufficiently clear to permit uniform interpretation by all reasonably well informed and diligent tenderers.

A great case, surely, to kick of one or two comparative law classes. (Thank you to the Times of London for alerting me to the judgment).

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Insolvency, Brussels I and Lugano: Enasarco v Lehman Brothers upholds strong defence of choice of court

In Enasarco v Lehman Brothers, the High Court was asked to stay English proceedings following jurisdictional issues of a derivative agreement between Enasarco and Lehman Brothers Finance (LBF). Swiss liquidators of LBF had already rejected a claim under the agreement, rejection which is being challenged in the Swiss courts. The derivative agreement is subject to English law and to choice of court exclusively in favour of the English courts.

Are the claims with respect to the derivative agreement so closely connected to the insolvency that they are covered by the insolvency exception to the Lugano Convention (identical to the exception in the Brussels I Regulation) consequently freeing the English courts from that Convention’s strict lis alibi pendens rule? (Similar questions were at issue recently in the Sabena recognition and enforcement issue – albeit evidently not re lis alibi pendens).

Richards J held they were – allowing the contractual issues under the derivative agreement to be settled by the English courts, and the insolvency matters by the Swiss courts.

LBF submitted that the Lugano Convention applies to the present proceedings and also to the proceedings in Switzerland whereby Enasarco challenges the rejection of its claim and, accordingly, that article 27 (lis alibi pendens) required the court to stay the English proceedings in favour of the Swiss proceedings. It was common ground that, if article 27 applies, the Swiss court was the court first seised. Alternatively, LBF submitted that the court should exercise its discretion under article 28 (re related, but not identical actions) to stay the English proceedings. In the further alternative, it submitted that the High Court should have granted a stay, on case management grounds, of the English claim pursuant to section 49(3) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 (SCA 1981). (In other words, were Lugano found not to apply).

Richards J of course referred to Gourdain and German Graphics, and found that the Swiss proceedings could not exist, nor have any relevance, outside the Swiss litigation: (at 42):

First, they are proceedings which arise, and can only arise, under Swiss insolvency law. Secondly, they form an integral part of the liquidation proceedings, designed to achieve the primary purpose of such proceedings, which is the distribution of the assets available to the liquidators among those creditors whose claims are admitted. The proceedings must take place in the court dealing with the liquidation. Thirdly, the purpose of the proceedings is not simply to establish whether the claimant has a good contractual or other claim, but to determine the amount and the ranking of the claim for the purposes of the liquidation. The ranking of claims is a matter arising exclusively under the relevant insolvency law. (…). Fourthly, the self-contained and special character of the Swiss proceedings is well illustrated by the fact that it does not give rise to res judicata as between the parties in relation to the underlying contractual dispute.

As for the discretionary stay under English civil procedure, Richards J held against it, for the following reasons (at 56 ff):

First, the Derivative Agreement contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause, as regards states which are parties to the Lugano Convention, in favour of the English courts. (Here reference was made to the Supreme Court’s decision in The Alexandros).

Secondly, as noted by the Court of Appeal in the AWB (Geneva) case when refusing a stay of English proceedings in favour of insolvency proceedings in Canada, and also by Rimer J in UBS AG v Omni Holding AG when refusing a stay of English proceedings in favour of insolvency proceedings in Switzerland, it is likely that the Swiss court will be greatly assisted by having the judgment of the English court on the rights and liabilities of the parties under the Derivative Agreement, given that it is governed by English law.

Thirdly, the Swiss proceedings were, practically speaking, not as far advanced as to make concurrent English proceedings nugatory. (Given the governing law of the contract, for instance, the Swiss courts might well be tempted to await the outcome of the English proceedings and take relevant conclusions for their own proceedings).

Fourthly, the merits of having issues arising under the Derivative Agreement determined by the English court have in fact been recognised by the liquidators of LBF in the past.

Finally, Enasarco had not chosen to commence proceedings in Switzerland. The liquidators chose to deal with Enasarco’s claims only in the Swiss insolvency proceedings and not through further proceedings in the English courts. It was the liquidators’ choice in this respect that forced Enasarco to issue the Swiss proceedings.

 

In summary, where issues are of a mixed nature, to the degree the mix can be undone, that is what must be carried out. The case highlights once again the strong defence raised by the English courts for choice of court clauses.

Geert.

 

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Belgium’s origin labelling of products from Israeli – occupied territories. A lot of beating round the bush.

The Belgian Government has published its ‘notice to retailers concerning origin labelling of products from Israeli occupied territories’. The initiative got a lot of press, in Belgium at least, the past few days. It was announced as the culmination of lengthy preparation in light of the existing difficulties in particular with the EU-Israel and EU-Palestine association agreements. Good summary of those difficulties is provided here by DEFRA. (Compiled in 2009 but the issues have remained more or less the same. Note that the Belgian notice refers as far as the exiting origin obligations are concerned, essentially revisits the DEFRA compilation).

Generally, initiatives like these are problematic at three levels.

Firstly, purely legally, specifically international trade law. Countries introducing these types of regimes (including the UK, Denmark, and now also Belgium) allege that all that is envisaged is consumer information, without any signal or pressure from government to boycott said products. That is cosmetic at best. One cannot seriously argue that given the current context, the ‘informative notice’ is not related to a political signal by the Belgian Government. Any consequences of the notice therefore in my view without doubt are sponsored by the Government and hence fall under WTO discipline. (Note that Palestine is not a WTO Member but Israel is). That same context feeds the argument that the introduction of a label of origin for the occupied Palestine territories serves to make all Israeli produce suspicious in the eyes of the Belgian consumer. That is a highly relevant angle for international trade law.
Secondly, the practical angle. A label of origin requirement is not new. The very existence of different agreements between Palestine, Israel and the EU requires it. Yet controlling those labels has proved impossible so far. Suggestions of lengthy preparation made me curious about the regime the Belgian Government would have devised. The answer is simply that is has devised none. The notice simply says

In order to clarify that these products originate from an Israeli settlement, the following labels are recommended: – ‘Product from the Golan Heights (Israeli settlement)’ – ‘Product from the West Bank (Israeli settlement)’. For products from the West Bank that do not originate from settlements, the label ‘product from the West Bank (Palestinian product)’ is recommended.

There are no indications of who is supposed to attach the labels (‘the retail industry’), who will inspect them, what rules of origin percentages apply. etc.

I am not an economist and hence not in a position to advice whether boycotts such as these actually reach those against whom they are intended. (Which is the third level of problems). Neither am I a public international lawyer who sees clear in the myriad of territorial and other claims which sadly dog Israel-Palestine relations. I am however a litigator and in that capacity I have always preferred doing things with blazing guns once it comes down to boycotts, consumer driven or not: state your case and do not beat around the bush. This notice is disappointing in view of the noise created around it in recent days and it pussyfoots around the real Government intention.

Geert.

 

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Not on my soil! The Council of the EU compromise on national vetoes to GMO cultivation.

The Council has published its first-reading position on a draft directive granting member states more flexibility to decide whether or not they wish to cultivate genetically modified organisms(GMOs) on their territory – I had flagged it here before I had an opportunity chance to look at the text. My initial reaction is confirmed however.

Under the text, the possibility would be provided for a Member State to request the Commission to present to the notifier/applicant its demand to adjust the geographical scope of its notification/application to the effect that all or part of the territory of that Member State be excluded from cultivation. The Commission shall facilitate the procedure by presenting the request of the Member State to the notifier/applicant without delay and the notifier/applicant should respond to that request within an established time-limit. In the event of refusal, the Member State may block cultivation on its territory for reasons other than the scientific assessment which will have been carried out by the relevant authorities. (And note that the EC may after refusal also proceed to adjusting geographically the request for authorisation for scientific reasons).

The list of ‘compelling reasons’ which may lead a Member State to refuse cultivation, is non-exhaustively listed as

(a) environmental policy objectives distinct from the elements assessed according to the Directive and to Regulation 1829/2003;  (since those environmental objectives will have been considered in the scientific assessment);

(b) town and country planning;

(c) land use;

(d) socio-economic impacts;

(e) cross-contamination with other products;

(f) agricultural policy objectives; and

(g) public policy.

Those grounds may be invoked individually or in combination, with the exception of the public policy exception (which awkwardly needs to be coupled with one of the other grounds). An authorisation procedure will apply (with no need to apply the transparency Directive, 98/34, concurrently).

An important point to note is that the Directive only applies to growing (‘cultivation’) of GMOs in situ: not to the import, marketing etc. of GMO containing products, food, feed etc. I would not be surprised that in practice this will mean a continuation of industry practice to leave the EU altogether for growing GMOs, focusing its efforts instead on securing authorisation to market. (This regime does not feature the much wider leeway for non-science driven objections).

Today is the Saint’s Day of Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. A suitable day to ponder a proposal heavy with risk analysis, regulatory theory,  and trade law implications.

Geert.

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