Szpunar AG in Schlömp on the concept of ‘court’ (and lis alibi pendens) in the Lugano Convention. Caution: tongue-twister (Schlichtungsbehörde).
I was delighted to learn something I had not been aware of in Szpunar AG’s Opinion in C-467/16 Brigitte Schlömp: namely the slightly diverging approach to the notion of ‘court’ in Brussels cq Lugano.
The AG also opines on the question of lis alibi pendens, suggesting (at 48) that since the conciliation procedure before the Behörd constitutes an integral part of proceedings before a(n) (ordinary) court, the moment of seizure of the Schlichtungsbehörde is the determining moment under the lis alibi pendens provisions of Articles 27 and 30 of the Lugano II Convention. [He also refers to  EWHC 2782 (Ch) Lehman Brothers Finance AG v Klaus Tschira Stiftung GmbH & Anor which followed the same approach].
Is the Swiss ‘Schlichtungsbehörde’ or conciliation authority, intervening in disputes between local councils and relatives with respect to maintenance and social care payments, a ‘court’ under Lugano?
Ms Schlömp, who resides in Switzerland, is the daughter of Ms H.S., who receives supplementary social assistance from the Landratsamt Schwäbisch Hall (administrative authority of the district of Schwäbisch Hall) in Germany because of her care requirements. Under German law (indeed similarly in many a Member State), benefits handed out by social welfare bodies, are claim back from children of recipients, subject to ability to pay. To assert its claim for recovery, the German welfare body lodged an application for conciliation in regard to Ms Schlömp with the conciliation authority (‘Schlichtungsbehörde’), competent under Swiss law. What follows is a series of procedures left, right, even centre. Their exact order is outlined by the AG, they matter less for this post: what is relevant to my own insight, is whether a Schlichtungsbehörde under Swiss law is covered by the term ‘court’ within the scope of Articles 27 and 30 of the Lugano II Convention.
Here comes my moment of surprise: at 58: ‘the concept of ‘court’ in the Lugano II Convention differs from that in Regulations No 44/2001 and No 1215/2012, as that Convention contains an article which has no parallel in the latter two instruments: Article 62 of the Lugano II Convention states that the expression ‘court’ is to include any authorities designated by a State bound by that convention as having jurisdiction in the matters falling within the scope of that convention.’ Like in recent case-law under the Brussels I Recast, bodies which prima facie are outside the judicial system, may be considered ‘courts’. A confirmation of the functional as opposed to the formal classification approach.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124.1.
Thank you Tom Whitton and Helen Kavanagh for flagging Algeco Scotsman PIK SA  EWHC 2236 (Ch). Algeco has COMI in Luxembourg. This was clear when the relevant scheme of arrangement (‘SAR’) was being discussed. To manage potential problems at the jurisdictional stage, Hildyard J at 22 lists the precautions the company and the majority of the lenders took:
‘Accepted by the relevant 75 per cent or more, was first, the amendment of the governing law clause in the PIK Loan Agreement to change the governing law from New York law to English law; secondly, the amendment of the jurisdiction clause to submit the parties to the non-exclusive jurisdiction to the courts of England; and thirdly, a waiver of any restrictions under the PIK loan agreement so as to permit the company to take all steps necessary to confirm or establish sufficient connection with England including, if appropriate, to take steps to ensure that its COMI is in England.’
When the unsuspected reader sees ‘COMI’ of course (s)he is forgiven for immediately pondering application of the EU’s Insolvency Regulation – quod certe non: for it is clear (ia as a result of schemes of arrangement not being included in relevant Annex) that SARs fall under company law. Hildyard J’s jurisdictional kick-off at 43 is telling: ‘Dealing first with jurisdiction, the primary question is whether this Luxembourg company, the subject of the scheme, is a qualifying company so to be subject to section 895 of the Companies Act’. Idem at 45.
At 47 the High Court then applies the jurisdictional test viz the Brussels I Recast Regulation arguendo: if it were to apply (which the English Courts have taken no definitive stance on), would an English court have jurisdiction? Yes, it is held: under Article 8 (anchor defendants) and under Article 25 (choice of court).
Yet this in my view is where recourse to SARS in the English courts continues to be exposed: loan agreements and facilities agreements now routinely adopt choice of court and law in favour of English courts and ditto law. Yet where they do not, or did not, the ‘willing’ creditors consent to a change in the agreement in favour of the English courts, with the unwilling creditors left behind. Whether this holds scrutiny under Rome I is far from certain. As for Article 8, its use here may be seen as a form of abuse, disciplined under the Regulation.
Hildyard J considers the case one of ‘good forum shopping’ (at 57-58), with reference to Apcoa which I review here. The concerns above continue in my view to highlight weaknesses in the construction, which so far have not led to any collapse of this restructuring tourism. At 58 the High Court emphasises that there are cases of inappropriate forum shopping in this context (one of that includes haste) yet the role of Rome I in this context has so far played little of a role.
It is noteworthy that in my view (and I so testified in re Apcoa) even a wrong view of the English courts on Rome I’s impact, would not suffice for jurisdictions outside of the UK to refuse to recognise the scheme under Brussels I – all with the huge Brexit caveat evidently.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 5.
Appreciation of the title of this piece of course depends on how one as an individual likes Bauhaus, or not. A November 2017 European Parliament Study on looted works of art and cultural goods is something of a treasure trove for public and private international lawyers alike. The study looks at substantive law on the issue in the Member States (not the cup of tea for this blog) but kicks off with good overview of the challenges of sovereign immunity; applicable law (particularly with respect to choice of law; with inspiration being sought in the Belgian Private International Law Act, Article 90 (lex furti as a principle – the place from which the object was removed, but with corrections), and the issue of the application of foreign public international law by the courts.
Parliament is quite active on this issue. In May 2016 it had already published a study with more focus on the specific issue of art looted in times of conflict, and alternatives to court litigation but nevertheless with a short forray into conflict of laws (and reference to one or two interesting national cases).
Together the two studies are a good exercise for the conflicts mind.
Thank you Dan Svantesson for sharing preparatory work for a February 2018 conference on access to digital evidence in the cloud. The document, written by a group which comprises academia, relevant companies (including Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft) as well as regulators (including the EC and the USDJ), at this stage does not offer solutions. Rather, it sets out principles along which a future framework could be set out, including the concept of data control (not to be confused with data controller) and actual provision of service.
One of the issues to look out for is how a future international approach to access and jurisdiction in criminal matters may differ from courts’ and regulators’ approach in civil jurisdiction (including data protection and privacy).
I have reported before on the relevance of lex curia /curial law and other lex causae decisions to be made in the arbitration context. I have also reported on the qualification of ‘international‘ for conflict of law /private international law purposes. And finally of course privity of choice of court and -law is no stranger in my postings either. All these considerations apply in the arbitration context, too.
Thank you Herbert Smith for flagging CS(COMM) 447/2017 GMR Energy, in which all these issues featured in the arbitration context. The judgment would not seem to add anything new (mostly applying precedent) however it is a usual reminder of the principles. As reported by HS (and with further factual background there), GMR Energy argued
- on the plain reading of the arbitration clauses, Singapore was not the seat of arbitration but only the chosen place or venue for hearings; Not so, the High Court found: reference to SIAC rules and to Singapore points to Singapore as the curial seat;
- the parties being Indian, choice of a foreign seat for arbitration would be in contravention of Section 28 of the Indian Contract Act 1872 which provides that agreements which restrain parties’ rights to commence legal proceedings are void (save for those which do so by way of an arbitration agreement) – GMR Energy contended that an agreement between Indian parties to arbitrate offshore would fall foul of this provision. This, too, the High Court rejected: per precedent, offshore arbitration is compatible with the Act. (It is also particularly useful for Indian subsidiaries of foreign companies); and
- for two Indian parties to choose an overseas seat for their arbitration (thereby disapplying Part I of the Arbitration Act) would amount to a derogation from Indian substantive law, and therefore would not be permissible. This, the High Court ruled, is not a decision to make at the stage of jurisdictional disputes between the parties.
Further, on the issue of privity, Doosan India ‘contended that GMR Energy should be party to the SIAC Arbitration proceedings by virtue of common family ownership and governance, lack of corporate formalities between the companies, common directorships, logos and letterheads, and GMR Energy’s past conduct in making payments towards GCEL’s debts’ (I am quoting HS’s briefing here). This is referred to as the alter ego doctrine and the High Court upheld it. Liability for affiliated undertakings’ actions is to be discussed on the merits (here: by the arbitral tribunal). But a the level of jurisdiction (including reference to arbitration), Doosan India’s arguments were upheld: the common ownership between the entities; the non-observance of separate corporate formalities and co-mingling of corporate funds; and GMR Energy’s undertaking to discharge liabilities of GCEL (and the fact that it had made part payments towards the same) all conspire to the conclusion that GMR Energy is bound by the arbitration agreement.
An interesting confirmation of precedent and ditto application of the alter ego doctrine.
COMI in Powerstorm and in Bezuijen Holding v X: Dutch Courts warming up to the new Insolvency Regulation.
Thank you Bob Wessels for again alerting us timely to two recent decisions by the Dutch courts, applying the Insolvency Regulation 2015, on the determination of COMI – Centre of Main Interests. Bob’s review is excellent per usual hence I am happy to refer for complete background. In short, the decisions are
- in Powerstorm: textbook applications on the public expression (hence ascertainability by third parties, to use the CJEU’s phrase of words) of COMI, which third parties have to rely on. Here: to displace the presumption of COMI in the United States (place of incorporation; in re Powerstorm) in favour of Amsterdam.
- in Bezuijen BV against X, a natural person: with extensive reference to the recitals of the EIR 2015, that the Dutch courts have to consider jurisdiction proprio motu, evidently, and that they need serious evidence to uphold jurisdiction against a natural person who, both parties agree, no longer has his residence in The Netherlands (where it is, is in dispute but it is probably somewhere in the vicinity of Paris).
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.