What law applies to the piercing of the corporate veil? The Supreme Court (not) in VTB.

Postscript 1 March 2016 I already refered in my initial posting to similar issues being sub judice in Shell. In the appeals judgment on the jurisdiction issue, the Gerechtshof Den Haag, without being definitive on the issue, suggested that applicable law for considering whether merger operations inserting a new mother company were abusive (merely carried out to make Royal Dutch Shell escape its liability), had to be addressed using ‘among others’ the lex incorporationis (at 3.2).

In VTB [[2013] UKSC 5] , the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom revisits in signature erudite fashion a number of extremely relevant conflicts issues.  Quite a few of them are tantalizingly held out to the reader, without an answer to them being given.

VTB’s case is that it was induced in London to enter into a Facility Agreement, and an accompanying interest rate swap agreement, by misrepresentations made by one of the defendants, for which it claims the other respondents are jointly and severally liable. Parties are of suitably diverse domicile (appellant incorporated in England however controlled by a State-owned bank in Moscow; defendants two British Virgin Island-based companies owned and controlled by a Moscow-based Russian businessman. Defendants not being EU-based , the Brussels-I Regulation does not apply.

The issues involved were essentially

1. Jurisdiction. Lord Neuberger made the point that settling the presence (or not) of jurisdiction, is an early procedural incident in a trial and ought not to lead to protracted legal argument, costs and time, lest the discussions centre around whether the potential other jurisdiction can guarantee a fair trial or not. In contrast with other in recent high-profile cases before the UK courts, the alternative, Russian forum, would by common agreement have also offered a fair trial. Lord Neuberger also emphasises, with reference to Lord Bingham in Lubbe v Cape, that in forum non conveniens considerations, appeal judges should defer in principle to the trial judge, and that this should be no different in proceedings concerning service out of jurisdiction. The majority therefore opted to defer to Arnold J (at the High Court) and the Court of Appeal in their finding of jurisdiction, in the absence of any error which ought to have made the former change their conclusion.

2. Applicable law for tortious misrepresentation. This the law of the jurisdiction in which they are ultimately received and relied upon (the forum connogati if you like). In the case at issue, this was held to be England.

3. Applicable law for piercing the corporate veil. The Court emphasises the foundation of individual personality of a company established in Salomon and A Salomon and Co Ltd (1897). The presumption must be against piercing. The Supreme Court did not however set out a definitive test for it was not necessary for its resolving of the case, neither did it decide what law should apply to the issue. In theory, Lord Neuberger suggested, the proper law governing the piercing of the corporate veil (may be) the lex incorporationis, the lex fori, or some other law (for example, the lex contractus, where the issue concerns who is considered to be party to a contract entered into by the company in question). However common ground among parties in the case thus far had been to apply English law.

Piercing the corporate veil was also reviewed by the (Dutch) court in Shell. Lord Neuberger’s succinct analysis of the issue in VTB makes one hungry for more.

Geert.

 

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