Lopesan Touristik v Apollo Principal Finance. Importance of choice of court in lis alibi pendens applications testifies to English courts’ strong support for party autonomy..

Another day and another application for a stay on the basis of Article 30 Brussels Ia. Lopesan Touristik SA v Apollo European Principal Finance Fund III (Dollar A) L.P. & Ors [2020] EWHC 2642 (Comm) engages a Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA) between Lopesan as seller and Spanish company Oldavia as buyer, for Lopesan’s interest in the Buenaventura hotel in Spain. The Hotel is owned by Creative Hotel Buenaventura SAU.

Oldavia is a special purpose vehicle through which Apollo, who are private equity interests, acquired the Hotel for c.€93 million. That funding commitment was reflected in the terms of an Equity Commitment Letter (ECL), under which Apollo promised Oldavia, on the terms and conditions set out in the ECL, to provide it with the funding required to complete the SPA, which obligation was expressly made enforceable by Lopesan under the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999.

The SPA is governed by Spanish law and contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the Spanish courts. The ECL is governed by English law and contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the English courts.

Completion did not take place, and there are disputes between Lopesan and Oldavia as to whether Oldavia was or is obliged to complete under the SPA.

On 12 August 2020, Lopesan commenced proceedings against Oldavia in Madrid seeking specific performance of Oldavia’s obligation to complete under the SPA. Parties agree that those proceedings will not be determined for at least 12 months. On 20 August 2020, Lopesan wrote to Apollo seeking confirmations and undertakings intended to ensure that, if the specific performance claim against Oldavia succeeded, Apollo would provide the funds to Oldavia to allow completion to occur. Apollo disputed that Oldavia was under any obligation to complete, and as a result that it was under any corresponding obligation to put Oldavia in funds to enable it to complete.

On 15 September 2020 Lopesan then issued proceedings seeking to enforce its rights as a third party beneficiary under the ECL by way of an order for specific performance of Apollo’s obligation to put Oldavia in funds. Lopesan also issued an application for a speedy trial of that action to ensure judgment was delivered before 1 January 2021: there is a potential argument that Apollo’s obligations will lapse on 1 January 2021, even if, before that date, Oldavia came under a legal obligation to complete the SPA.

Apollo seek a stay of the proceedings under A30(1) BIa.

At 47 Foxton J refers to the Privatbank /EuroEco discussion which he summarises as ‘whether actions are related for the purposes of A30 only when the actions can in fact be heard and determined together, or whether actions are related where they would be heard and determined together but for some external factor (such as exclusive jurisdiction agreements or subject-matter limits on the jurisdiction of a particular court) which prevents this.’ Effective v theoretical hearing together, in other words. He sides with Privatbank but also accepts, with reference to Privatbank, that a practical inability to achieve an outcome where both cases are heard and determined together will be a factor which weighs against granting a stay as a matter of the discretion which Article 30 grants the judge, and that “absent some strong, countervailing factor, the fact that proceedings cannot be consolidated and heard together will be a compelling reason for refusing a stay”.

Further, and with reference to The Alexandros and to Generali v Pelagic Fisheries, where the factor which prevents the two actions being heard together is an exclusive jurisdiction clause, that of itself will constitute a powerful (although not insuperable) factor against staying proceedings which have been brought in the parties’ chosen jurisdiction pending the determination of proceedings elsewhere. At 50 he holds that this is a factor even when the other proceedings have themselves not been commenced in breach of contract.

At 57 Foxton J points that neither the relatedness of the actions nor that the Spanish court is first seised, are disputed. Relatedness exists given that any issue arising in the English proceedings which concerns the issue of whether Oldavia was obliged to complete the SPA necessarily arises in Spain. He then holds that the degree of relatedness is high and that the Spanish courts have much closer proximity to the subject matter of the case, involving, as it does, issues as to the effect of Covid-19 and the Spanish government’s response to it on a Spanish hotel, and the legal effects of those and other matters on a contract governed by Spanish law. However, at 58, if the English proceedings are stayed, it will not be possible to hear and determine the claims in the English and Spanish proceedings together, given the conflicting exclusive jurisdiction clauses in the ECL and the SPA. The decision (whether on issues of law or fact) in the Spanish proceedings would not be binding in the English proceedings, although if Lopesan fails in the Spanish proceedings, that will in practice be determinative of the English proceedings. Findings of law in the Spanish proceedings will also have a strong evidential value in the English proceedings.

Nevertheless, the significance of the English jurisdiction clause and the practical impossibility to hear the claims together in the Spanish courts, make him decide at 60 ff against a stay. His judgment displays the characteristic support of the English courts and English law for party autonomy: parties have deliberately structured the transaction so that claims under the ECL would be heard in a different jurisdiction to claims under the SPA. Consider his reasoning at 61:

That choice having been made, no doubt for good commercial reasons, and the events which have transpired being a scenario which must have been squarely within the parties’ contemplation, it would take a very strong case to justify staying proceedings brought as of right here pending the outcome of proceedings in another jurisdiction. The closer proximity of the Spanish courts to the dispute, nor its status as the natural forum to determine issues of Spanish law, are not sufficient to justify a stay, both because this must have been obvious to the parties when they put this arrangement in place, and because the parties expressly agreed not to raise any objections to proceedings in England on the ground that proceedings have been brought in an inconvenient forum. I do not suggest that this last factor is determinative or that it precludes an Article 30(1) stay. There is a public, as well as a purely private, interest in avoiding irreconcilable judgments within the Brussels Recast regime. However, the factor that the parties wanted the dispute to be determined in their chosen forum regardless of whether another court might be a more convenient forum is a factor which weighs in the balance against a stay.

A relevant judgment.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5.
Third edition forthcoming February 2021

 

Philips v TCL. On lis alibi pendens /res judicata, and FRAND proceedings.

In Koninklijke Philips NV v Tinno Mobile Technology Corporation & Ors [2020] EWHC 2553 (Ch) Mann J considers the English side of a licence on  ‘FRAND’ (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms.  In these English proceedings Philips seek inter alia, a declaration that the terms it has offered are FRAND, or alternatively that FRAND terms be determined. Its injunction claim accepts that the injunction will only come into force if a worldwide FRAND licence is not accepted by TCL, one of the defendants who is seeking the licence. TCL have commenced proceedings in France which, inter alia, seem to seek to have FRAND terms determined. Philips attempted to have those proceedings stayed pursuant to Article 29 Brussels Ia, but that attempt failed, as did an application for a stay under Article 30 BIa. In turn, not surprisingly, TCL seek a stay of the English proceedings, including, crucially, the vacation of a trial date in November which is intended to determine FRAND issues, in favour of its French proceedings pursuant to the same Articles 29 and/or 30 Brussels Ia.

Philips’ claim form says it is for infringement of two of its European patents, corresponding injunction (prohibiting further infringement) and damages or an account of profits, and other ancillary relief.

At 49 in assessing the impact of the French judgment and the scope of its res judicata, Mann J justifiable refers to C-456/11 Gothaer, that it is not just the ‘dispositif’ of a judgment which has res judicata, but also the core reasoning: at 40 of the CJEU judgment: ‘the concept of res judicata under European Union law does not attach only to the operative part of the judgment in question, but also attaches to the ratio decidendi of that judgment, which provides the necessary underpinning for the operative part and is inseparable from it …’

His enquiry of the dispositif and the French judge’s reasoning as well as, to a certain extent, the submissions of the parties, leads Mann J to conclude that the French judge did not hold that the French court was first seized of FRAND proceedings. Instead, she held that the proceedings in England and the proceedings in France did not (for the purposes of A29) have the same subject matter. That means that the question of first seised became irrelevant.

Mann J then holds himself that the English court was first seized of the FRAND issue and consequently has no power under A30 BIa to stay its proceedings. It was suggested in vain by counsel for the defendants that Articles 29 and 30 are not acte clair on the point of new actions arising in an existing action, given a distinction between the word “proceedings” in Article 29 and “actions” in Article 30 at least in the English version of those Articles.

The jurisdictional challenge was rejected and the relief granted.
Geert.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5.
Third edition forthcoming February 2021.

The French Supreme Court confirms English law denial of adopted’s right to confirm simultaneous descent from adopted parents and biological father.

A quick note for archival purposes on the French Supreme Court judgment earlier this month in which it upheld the lower courts’ decision (which had been reversed upon appeal) that European Convention rights do not trump the impossibility under English law, which is the law under which the claimant had been adopted, for the adopted to confirm descent from both the adopted parents and the biological father.

It is important to keep in mind the specific circumstances of the case in which the Supreme Court let the stability of family relations prevail over ECHR rights. The adoption went back to 1966 (the UK birth to 1958). The true identity of the father seemingly had always been known to the applicant. The mother (1963) and the suspected biological father (2011)  have passed away, the real issue would seem to be inheritance related.

Geert.

 

No instant forum coffee. Selecta: Some more substantial reflection on jurisdiction for schemes of arrangement.

In Selecta Finance UK Ltd, Re [2020] EWHC 2689 (Ch) Johnson J considered the jurisdictional issues for schemes of arrangement in a touch more detail than recently has been the regular method in both convening and sanctioning hearings.

Selecta Finance UK Limited is a most recent addition to the ‘Selecta’ group , having been established only on 13 August 2020. (Selecta is said to be the leading provider of unattended self-service coffee and convenience food in Europe).  The Scheme concerns three series of senior secured Notes (“the Existing SSNs“), which have an aggregate principal amount of €1.24 billion plus CHF 250 million. The Existing SSNs were issued originally not by the Company but by Selecta Group BV, its parent company incorporated in the Netherlands. They were issued pursuant to a Trust Deed dated 2 February 2018 , and were originally governed by New York law and subject to a provision for the New York Courts to have exclusive jurisdiction.

With reference to authority, Johnson J accepts that the relevant parties in interest who qualify as the Scheme Creditors are the ultimate beneficial owners of the Existing SSNs. By 14 September 2020, the Existing SSN Holders holding a majority by value of the Existing SSNs had provided their consent to (among others) the following key changes to the terms of the SSNs:  i) Amendment of the governing law provisions of the Trust Deed so that the Existing SSNs are governed by English rather than New York law. ii) Amendment of the jurisdiction provisions of the Trust Deed so that the Existing SSNs are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English Court in relation to any proceedings commenced by an obligor of the Existing SSNs, and the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the English Court in relation to other proceedings; iii) Accession of the Company to the Trust Deed as a co-issuer of the Existing SSNs.

At 18 it is said that an expert report on US and New York law confirms that the amendments to the governing law and jurisdiction clauses of the Trust Deed are valid under New York law and would be regarded as effective in any United States court applying that law.

The relevance of that finding for unwilling SSNs beneficiaries, I would argue, is not undisputedly established under Article 10 and Article 3(2) Rome I.

 

The Company then entered into a Supplemental Trust Deed on 14 September 2020 and thereby became a co-issuer of the Existing SSNs under the Trust Deed. As Johnson J notes at 44: it is only by means of the Supplemental Trust Deed that the Company became co-issuer of the Existing SSNs, and that the governing law and jurisdiction provisions were changed so as to refer to English law and jurisdiction.

It is clear that a jurisdictional link with England & Wales has been established specifically for the purpose of a company taking advantage of the scheme provisions in English law. With reference to Newey J in Re Codere Finance (UK) Ltd [2015] EWHC 3778 (Ch) which I reviewed here, this is held to be ‘good forum shopping’.

Article 25 Brussels Ia jurisdiction is only possible by means of the amendments to the Trust Deed effected via the Supplemental Trust Deed, as I also noted above. As I suggest there, had there been recalcitrant minority Note holders objecting to the change in court and law clause, I think the Scheme would not have been jurisdictionally home and dry on A25 choice of court grounds.

The next classic consideration is under Article 8(1)’s anchor defendant mechanism seeing as jurisdiction against the company is established per Article 4.

At 53 reference is made to Snowden J. who in Van Gansewinkel has suggested that in determining whether A8(1) applies, the Court is required to consider whether the “numbers and size of the scheme creditors domiciled in [the UK]” are “sufficiently large“: the result of that instruction is that applicants tend to point out the (debt) size of the creditors so domiciled, even if in DTEK Newey J held that size and number are irrelevant, ditto in Lecta Paper and Swissport Fuelling.

At 54 comes Johnson J’s obiter, useful finding:

Speaking for myself, I incline to the view that the presence of a single creditor is a necessary, but not of itself a sufficient, condition to the operation of Art. 8. I say that because in terms the power conferred by Art. 8 is engaged where “any one of” a number of defendants is domiciled in England & Wales, but even then the power is to be exercised only in cases where the language of the proviso in Art. 8 is satisfied – i.e., where the claims against the various defendants are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings. I did not hear detailed argument on the meaning of this language, and in any event the application before me was uncontested, and so I express my view on it somewhat tentatively; but tentatively it seems to me that the question of expediency posed by the proviso is rather less about the geographical distribution in terms of number and size of the prospective defendants, and is rather more about the expediency in case management terms of connected claims being resolved in one place, even if only one anchor defendant is domiciled there. The argument in this case is that it is expedient for the claims against all EU domiciled Scheme Creditors to be resolved in one place, i.e. in England & Wales, because such claims all relate to the reorganisation of their indebtedness vis-à-vis the Company, and these Courts are best placed to resolve such questions given the separate jurisdiction they exercise over the Company under CA Part 26. Indeed, they may be uniquely placed to do so.

Opposition to the Scheme’s jurisdiction tends to evaporate once it gets to the convening and hearing stage. This is typically because the opposing creditors tend to by that stage be converted to the necessity of restructuring and the unattractiveness of having to pursue debt collection against a corporation in serious financial difficulty. As a result nearly all precedent is first instance only.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 2, Chapter 5. Third edition forthcoming February 2021.

Lange v Lange. The Trans-Tasman Proceedings Act 2010’s equivalent of CJEU’s Webb v Webb, Schmidt v Schmidt etc.

Update 15 October 2020 many thanks Jack Wass for providing link to judgment, here.

As I seem to be in a comparative mood today, thank you Jan Jakob Bornheim for flagging [2020] NZHC 2560 Lange v Lange. The case is further discussed by Jack Wass here – at the time of writing I only have Jack’s review to go on for the actual decision appears to be as yet unpublished.

TTPA 2010 follows the model of the more recent Hague Judgments Convention: recognition and enforcement of a judgment may be refused if it infringes jurisdictional rules detailed in the Act. For the case at issue, s 61(2)(c) of the TTPA is engaged. It requires the court to set aside registration of a judgment if it was “given in a proceeding the subject matter of which was immovable property” located outside Australia.

The determining concern is whether the New Zealand property was “in issue” (the words which Jack uses and which presumably Gault J employed; the Act itself uses ‘proceeding subject matter of which is’; compare with Brussels Ia’s ‘proceedings which have as their object’) in the proceedings. Gault J, citing authority, finds that a judgment setting aside a fraudulent disposition is not rendered unenforceable simply because the debt concerned the sale of New Zealand land. (A further appeal to ordre public was refused; for that to be successful, the result of recognition must, Jack notes, “shock the conscience” of the ordinary New Zealander” (Reeves v OneWorld Challenge LLC [2006] 2 NZLR 184 (CA) at [67].

Obvious comparative pointers with EU conflicts law are Webb v Webb, Weber v Weber, Schmidt v Schmidt, Komu v Komu etc.: readers will know that Article 24(1) Brussels Ia typically involves feuding family members.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6 . Third edition forthcoming February 2021.

Travelport. This one’s for comparative lawyers: Covid19, Pandemics and Material Adverse Effect, the LVMH /Tiffany acquisition and English cq Delaware law.

A short note for the benefit of comparative contract lawyers who may find some interesting material when looking into the failed LVMH /Tiffany acquisition. That acquisition agreement (see SEC filing here)  is subject to the laws of Delaware other than claims against the financiers which are subject to the laws of New York (s.10.5). As readers might be aware, LVMH would seem to argue not that the Pandemic is a Material Adverse Effect which invalidates the merger. Rather, that Tiffany’s handling of its business in the pandemic is a MAE.

Of interesting comparative note therefore is Travelport Ltd & Ors v WEX Inc [2020] EWHC 2670 (Comm) where Cockerill J preliminarily discusses  the proper construction of, and burden of proof in relation to, the MAE definition contained in a Share Purchase Agreement (SPA) dated 24 January 2020. The substantive issues will be dealt with before her at a later stage.

Geert.

PJSC Tatneft v Bogolyubov. Privilege under English law as lex fori.

PJSC Tatneft v Bogolyubov & Ors [2020] EWHC 2437 (Comm) is another example of a case where privilege is firmly considered to be subject to lex fori, like in the New York courts but unlike the approach of the Dutch courts. Moulder J did discuss the extent to which the rule applies to foreign unregistered, in-house lawyers. However she does this purely from the English point of view and without any consideration of either Rome I or Rome II. That is not very satisfactory in my view. As I have signalled before, one can discuss whether privilege is covered by the evidence and procedure exception in the Rome Regulations, however it must be discussed and cannot be just brushed under the carpet.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Chapter 4.

(3rd ed forthcoming February 2021).

 

First analysis of the European Parliament’s draft proposal to amend Brussels Ia and Rome II with a view to corporate human rights due diligence.

Update 22 October 2020  see for comparative purposes Jan von Hein’s critical comments on the EP draft work for a Regulation on the civil liability for artificial intelligence. There is a clear tendency in the institutions to draft tailor-made regimes for the PIL aspects of whatever hot topic hits them – it is generally neither a wise nor a necessary move.

Update 12 October 2020 Jan von Hein has weighed in on the debate here. Update 9 October 2020 Giesela Ruhl has further review of the Rome II elements here.

Thank you Irene Pietropaoli for alerting me to the European Parliament’s draft proposal for a mandatory human rights due diligence Directive. The official title proposed is a Directive on Corporate Due Diligence and Corporate  Accountability). Parliament also proposes insertions in both Brussels Ia and Rome II. For the related issues see a study I co-authored on the Belgian context, with links to developments in many jurisdictions.

I do not in this post go into all issues and challenges relating to such legislation, focusing instead on a first, preliminary analysis of the conflicts elements of the proposal.

A first issue of note in the newly proposed Directive is the definitional one.  The proposal’s full title as noted uses ‘corporate due diligence and corporate accountability’. However in its substantive provisions it uses ‘duty to respect human rights, the environment and good governance’ and it defines each (but then with the denoter ‘risk’) in Article 3. For human rights risks and for governance risks these definitions link to a non-exhaustive list of international instruments while for the environment no such list is provided.

The proposed Directive points out the existence of sectoral EU due diligence legislation e.g. re timber products and precious metals, and suggests ‘(i)n case of insurmountable incompatibility, the sector-specific legislation shall apply.’ This is an odd way to formulate lex specialis, if alone for the use of the qualifier ‘insurmountable’. One assumes the judge seized will eventually be the arbitrator of insurmountability however from a compliance point of view this is far from ideal.

As for the proposed amendment to Brussels Ia, this would take the form of a forum necessitatis as follows:

Article 26a
Regarding business-related civil claims on human rights violations within the value chain of a company domiciled in the Union or operating in the Union within the scope of Directive xxx/xxxx on Corporate Due Diligence and Corporate Accountability, where no court of a Member State has jurisdiction under this Regulation, the  courts of a Member State may, on an exceptional basis, hear the case if the right to a fair trial or the right to access to justice so requires, in particular: (a) if proceedings cannot reasonably be brought or conducted or would be impossible in a third State with which the dispute is closely related; or (b) if a judgment given on the claim in a third State would not be entitled to recognition and enforcement in the Member State of the court seised under the law of that State and such recognition and enforcement is necessary to ensure that the rights of the claimant are satisfied; and the dispute has a sufficient connection with the Member State of the court seised.

This proposal is a direct copy paste (with only the reference to the newly proposed Directive added) of the European Commission’s proposed forum necessitatis rule (proposed Article 26) at the time Brussels I was amended to Brussels Ia (COM (2010) 748). I discussed the difficulty of such a forum provision eg here (for other related posts use the search string ‘necessitatis’). The application of such a rule also provokes the kinds of difficulty one sees with A33-34 BIa (including the implications of an Anerkennungsprognose).

Coming to the proposed insertion into Rome II, this text reads

Article 6a
Business-related human rights claims
In the context of business-related civil claims for human rights violations within the value chain of an undertaking domiciled in a Member State of the Union or operating in the Union within the scope of Directive xxx/xxxx on Corporate Due Diligence and Corporate Accountability, the law applicable to a non-contractual obligation arising out of the damage sustained shall be the law determined pursuant to Article 4(1), unless the person seeking  compensation for damage chooses to base his or her claim on the law of the country in which the event giving rise to the  damage occurred or on the law of the country in which the parent company has its domicile or, where it does not have a domicile in a Member State, the law of the country where it operates.

I called this a choice between lex locus damni; locus delicti commissi; locus incorporationis; locus activitatis. Many of the associated points of enquiry of such a proposal are currently discussed in Begum v Maran (I should add I have been instructed in that case).

A first obvious issue is that the proposed Article 6a only applies to the human rights violations covered by the newly envisaged Directive. It does not cover the environmental rights. These presumably will continue to be covered by Rome II’s Article 7 for  environmental damage. This will require a delineation between environmental damage that is not also a human rights issue, and those that are both. Neither does the proposed rule apply to the ‘good governance’ elements of the Directive. These presumably will continue to be covered by the general rule of A4 Rome II, with scope for exception per A4(3).

My earlier description of the choice as including ‘locus incorporationis’ is not entirely correct, at least not if the ‘domicile’ criterion is the one of Brussels Ia. A corporation’s domicile is not necessarily that of its state of incorporation and indeed Brussels Ia’s definition of corporate domicile may lead to more than one such domicile. Does the intended rule imply claimant can chose among any of those potential domiciles?

Locus delicti commissi in cases of corporate due diligence (with the alleged impact having taken place abroad) in my view rarely is the same as locus damni, instead referring here to the place where the proper diligence ought to have taken place, such as at the jurisdictional level in CJEU C-147/12 OFAB, and for Rome II Arica Victims. This therefore will often co-incide with the locus incorporationis.

Adding ‘locus activitis’ as I called it or as the proposal does, the law of the country where the parent company operates, clearly will need refining. One presumes the intention is for that law to be one of the Member States (much like the proposed Directive includes in its scope ‘limited liability undertakings governed by the law of a non-Member State and not established in the territory of the Union when they operate in the internal market selling goods or providing services’). Therefore it would be be best to replace ‘country where it operates’ with ‘Member State’ where it operates. However clearly a non-EU domiciled corporation may operate in many Member States, thereby presumably again expanding the list of potential leges causae to pick from. Moreover, the very concept of ‘parent’ company is not defined in the proposal.

In short, the European Parliament with this initiative clearly hopes to gain ground quickly on the debate. As is often the case in such instances, the tent pegs have not yet been quite properly staked.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

(3rd ed forthcoming February 2021).

 

 

 

Restructuring tourism and Virgin Atlantic. The first application of England’s new Restructuring Plan leaves the jurisdictional issue hanging.

I flagged [2020] EWHC 2191 (Ch) Virgin Atlantic (the plan in the meantime has been sanctioned in [2020] EWHC 2376 (Ch)) in an update of my earlier post on the Colouroz Investment Scheme of Arrangement.

Restructuring practitioners have been justifiably excited by this new addition to England’s regulatory competition in restructuring tourism.

In my many posts on Schemes of Arrangements (see in particular Apcoa with the many references to later cases in that post; and Lecta Paper), I have summarised the modus operandi: no firm decision on jurisdiction under Brussels Ia is made (it is by no means certain but scheme creditors have so far not taken much of a swipe seeing as they tend to accept the attraction of the debtor company continuing as  a going concern following the use of an English scheme). If at least one of the creditors is domiciled in England, it is considered sued and a defendant per Article 4 Brussels Ia. Other, non-England domiciled creditors are then pulled into English jurisdiction using the one anchor defendant per Article 8(1). Trower J extends that assumption to Restructuring Plans at 58 ff:

      1. It is now well-established that an application for sanction of a Part 26 scheme is a civil or commercial matter and the reasoning seems to me to apply with equal force to a Part 26A restructuring plan. However, it has never been completely determined whether the rule laid down in Article 4(1) of the Regulation, that any person domiciled in an EU member state must (subject to any applicable exception) be sued in the courts of that member state, also applies to a Part 26 scheme, although the matter has been referred to and debated in a number of cases.
      1. In the present case, I shall adopt the usual practice of assuming without deciding that Chapter II and, therefore, Article 4 of the Recast Judgments Regulation applies to these proceedings on the basis that Plan Creditors are being sued by the company and that they are defendants, or to be treated as defendants, to the application to sanction the scheme. If, on the basis of that assumption, the court has jurisdiction because one of the exceptions to Article 4 applies, then there is no need to determine whether the assumption is correct and I will not do so.
      1. In the present case, the Company relies on the exception provided for by Article 8 of the Recast Judgments Regulation. By Article 8, a defendant who is domiciled outside a member state may be sued in that member state provided that another defendant in the same action is domiciled there and provided that it is expedient to hear the claims against both together to avoid risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting in separate proceedings. The consequence of this is that if sufficient scheme creditors are domiciled in England then Article 8(1) confers jurisdiction on the English court to sanction a scheme affecting the rights of creditors domiciled elsewhere in the EU, so long as it is expedient to do so, which it normally will be (see, for example, Re DTEK Finance Plc [2017] BCC 165 and [2016] EWHC 3563 (Ch) at the convening and sanctioning stages).
    1. and concluding at 61
      1. In the present case, the evidence is that at least one Plan Creditor from each class is domiciled in the jurisdiction. Perhaps most importantly, so far as in terms of Trade Plan Creditors, it is 90 out of 168. In my view, this is amply sufficient to ensure that the requirements of Article 8 are satisfied.’

Article 25 BIa jurisdiction is obiter dismissed at 62 for not all creditors have credit arrangements subject to English choice of court.

Restructuring Plans do have features which differ from Schemes of Arrangement and some of those do trigger different considerations at the recognition and enforcement level than have hitherto been the case for Schemes.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 2, Chapter 5. Note: 3rd of the Handbook is forthcoming (February 2021).

Marriott v Fresson. A finding on exclusive jurisdiction distinguishing Ferrexpo.

In Marriott v Fresson & Ors [2020] EWHC 2515 (Comm) at issue in the jurisdictional challenge is whether Articles 24(2) or (3) Brussels Ia are engaged in litigation essentially seeking to uphold commitments included in two contracts expressly governed by English law and with an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of England. The goal of the agreements being the transfer of shares in Spanish-domiciled corporation (PEV), the question is whether they ‘have as their object the validity of the constitution, the nullity or the dissolution of companies or other legal persons or associations of natural or legal persons, or the validity of the decisions of their organs’ (A24(2)) alternatively ‘have as their object the validity of entries in public registers’ (A24(3)).

Toledano DJ referred ia to Koza, Zavarco, and C-144/10 BVG and held that the principal object of the proceedings is the enforcement of shareholder agreements.

Even the defendants, in their jurisdictional challenge, do not suggest that the proceedings directly call into question the validity of any specific decision of PEV organs. Rather, they contend that the proceedings are principally concerned with a claim to the legal ownership of shares in PEV which impacts upon the composition of the shareholders of PEV and prospectively therefore upon the validity of decisions of the shareholders as an organ of that company.

That was a bit optimistic for Brussels Ia’s exclusive jurisdictional rules quite clearly do not aim at claims whose eventual effect might engage the heads of jurisdiction listed in them. The distinction however is not always easy to make. Claimants may creatively formulate their claims so as they do not fall within A24 (a tactic used particularly in A24(4) intellectual property rights cases, hence requiring the judge to decide what the true object of the proceedings might be; see e.g. Chugai v UCB).

Marriott v Fresson clearly differs from Ferrexpo, which is discussed in the judgment, where validity of the resolutions of the company’s general meeting of shareholders was the direct and specifically formulated claim engaged Article 24 which was applied reflexively.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6, Heading 2.2.6.5.