Emerald Pasture. The High Court on on actions ‘related to’ insolvency (Gourdain; vis attractiva concursus) and jurisdiction for E&W courts post Brexit.

In Emerald Pasture Designated Activity Company & Ors v Cassini SAS & Anor [2021] EWHC 2010 (Ch) there is an interesting split between pre and post Brexit applicable EU rules, with BIa not engaged yet the EU insolvency rules firmly in the picture.

Claimants Emerald are lenders, and first defendant Cassini is the borrower, under a senior facilities agreement dated 28 March 2019 (the SFA). The SFA is governed by English law and has an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the English courts. Cassini is subject a French ‘Sauvegarde’) opened on 22 September 2020. This is a form of debtor-in-possession safeguard proceeding for a company in financial difficulties that wishes to propose a restructuring plan to its creditors. Sauvegarde is included in the proceedings that are subject to the Recast European Insolvency Regulation 2015/848. Parties are seemingly in agreement that the EIR 2015 continues to apply in the UK in respect of the Sauvegarde, because it was commenced prior to 31 December 2020, Brexit date.

Cassini contest jurisdiction, arguing that the claim derives from and is closely linked to the Sauvegarde and thus falls within A6(1) EIR, the so-called vis attractiva concursus which reads

“The courts of the Member State within the territory of which insolvency proceedings have been opened in accordance with Article 3 shall have jurisdiction for any action which derives directly from the insolvency proceedings and is closely linked with them, such as avoidance actions.”

This Article is the result of CJEU case-law such as Gourdain , Seagon , German Graphics , F -Tex.

Zacaroli J unfortunately repeats the suggested dovetail between BIa and the EIR, referring to CJEU Nickel & Goeldner.

As the judge notes [24] the application of A6(1) has not been made easier by the CJEU blurring the distinction between the conditions – with reference to Bobek AG in NK v BNP Paribas Fortis NV (on the Peeters /Gatzen suit).

Emerald argue that the question is whether the action itself derives from the insolvency proceeding. They contend that since the action is for declaratory relief in respect of a contract, its source is the common rules of civil and commercial law. Cassini focus on the issue raised by the action. They contend that since the only matter in issue in the action is whether the rights to information under the SFA are overridden by the Sauvegarde – and the principles of French insolvency law that govern the Sauvegarde – the real matter in issue concerns the effects of the insolvency proceedings so that the action falls within A6(1).

The judge [45] after discussion and assessment of the authorities (incl   ING Bank NV v Banco Santander SA ) discussed by both parties, decides against vis attractiva concursus. He holds that the legal basis for the declarations sought remains the SFA, and thus the rules of civil and commercial law, notwithstanding that the only issue which the court would be required to determine is the impact of French insolvency law on the obligations under the SFA. The question which the declarations are designed to answer, it is held, is the enforceability of the contractual rights.

On that basis, the exclusive choice of court clause grants E&W courts jurisdiction, under English common law (as it would have done under BIa, given the judge’s finding on vis attractiva).

If the claim goes ahead (one images appeal may be sought), the French insolvency proceedings will not have lost their relevance. Cassini argue on that issue [12 ff] that since the characteristic performance of the SFA is the loan of funds, which has already occurred, the SFA is not a “current contract” and as a result of French law, is no longer enforceable. Only the underlying debt subsists, they argue, which must be paid by way of dividends in the French insolvency proceedings. That argument, one assumes, will bump into further obstacles.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed, 2021, para 5.76 ff.

 

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