Galapagos Bidco v DE. The CJEU fails to clarify whether move of COMI by mere market notice, may be effective.

Krzysztof Pacula reported end of March on CJEU C-723/20 Galapagos Bidco v DE and justifiably highlighted the Brexit issue. The case concerns a move of COMI – centre of main interest within the context of the Insolvency Regulation 2015/848 and it is on the element of impromptu move that my post will focus.

Galapagos SA is a Luxembourg holding company whose centre of administration (‘effective place of management‘ according to the former directors) was moved in June 2019, at least so contend previous directors, to England. At the end of August 2019, they apply to the High Court in England and Wales to have insolvency proceedings opened.

Echos of the tussle are here and of course also in Galapagos Bidco SARL v Kebekus & ors [2021] EWHC 68 (Ch). The day after the move of centre of administration, the former directors were replaced with one other, who moved centre of administration to Dusseldorf and issued relevant market regulation statements to that effect. This move was subsequently recognised  by the Courts at Dusseldorf as having established COMI there. The High Court action in London was never withdrawn and would seem to have been dormant since.

Applicant in the proceedings is Galapagos BIDCO Sarl, a creditor of Galapagos SA. It is I understand (but I am happy to be corrected by those in the know) Luxembourg based. As Krzysztof reports, it contests that the German move has effected move of COMI which it argues lies in England (although I fail to see how its reasoning should not also apply to the earlier instant move from presumably Luxembourg to England).

The question that arises is whether, in the determination of the centre of a debtor company’s main interests, specific requirements must be imposed to prevent abusive conduct. Specifically, in the light of the Regulation’s stated aim of preventing forum shopping, whether ‘on a regular basis’ in the second sentence of the first subparagraph of Article 3(1) Insolvency Regulation 2015, presupposes an adequate degree of permanence and is not present if the establishment of a centre of administration is pursued at the same time as a request to have insolvency proceedings opened. Respondents in the appeal, which include the insolvency administrator (trustee) contend that the requirement of administration ‘on a regular basis’ is fulfilled if the administration is permanent.

The CJEU unfortunately fails to answer that question, choosing to reply instead with a hierarchical answer which encourages race to court: [36]

the court of a Member State with which a request to open main insolvency proceedings has been lodged retains exclusive jurisdiction to open such proceedings where the centre of the debtor’s main interests is moved to another Member State after that request is lodged, but before that court has delivered a decision on that request, and that, consequently, where a request is lodged subsequently for the same purpose before a court of another Member State, that court cannot, in principle, declare that it has jurisdiction to open such proceedings until the first court has delivered its decision and declined jurisdiction.

However in the case at issue, the Withdrawal Agreement has the effect that if the High Court has not, as it would seem, taken its decision on the opening of proceedings prior to the end of Brexit Implementation Day 1 January 2021 (CET), the German courts need no longer apply that consequence of mutual trust and are at liberty to determine the existence of COMI.

The CJEU ends by suggesting Q1 no longer needs answering. Yet I think it does. Perhaps not so much for the case at issue (which explains why the judicially economical CJEU does not offer a reply). The German courts, as Zacaroli J notes in his decision [14], held in October 2019 that COMI for GAS has successfully moved to Germany as from 25 August 2019, the day the capital market and bondholders were informed that the centre of administration had been moved to Düsseldorf. Yet the file does not suggest that COMI prior to the attempted move, existed in Germany: it was established there following the new director’s decision. In accordance with the Regulation’s presumptions, it would have previously existed in Luxembourg. The element of ‘on a regular basis’ therefore still matters. Is the CJEU suggesting that a mere information of the capital markets suffices to move COMI?

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 5.6.1.

 

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank v Shetty. Rome II applicable law for fraud, misrepresentation, instructs forum non conveniens stay.

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank Pjsc v Shetty & Ors [2022] EWHC 529 (Comm) engages Rome II by way of the applicable law to the claim playing a role in the forum non conveniens challenge. (Compare BRG Noal v Kowski for a similar discussion under Rome I). The case confirms the importance of retained Rome I and II discussion. The stage is set at [7]

at the heart of the jurisdiction challenge is an assertion that England is manifestly not the most suitable forum for the resolution of this dispute which all defendants maintain should be resolved by the UAE courts. Unsurprisingly, ADCB places significant reliance for its case that England is the most suitable forum for resolution of this dispute on the fact that Plc was a FTSE 100 quoted company, that the contracts by which the two most important of the Core Facilities were given contractual effect (the Syndicated Facility Agreement and the Club Facility Agreement) were drafted and completed in London by a prominent London law firm and were subject to London arbitration clauses and on its contention that England is the governing law of the dispute. Equally unsurprisingly the defendants emphasise that Plc was a holding company that carried on no active business activity, that the activity in London was essentially administrative in nature, that the lending which it is alleged lies at the heart of the scheme was lending by ADCB (a UAE registered entity trading in the UAE) to entities within the Group including principally Healthcare, all of which were based elsewhere than England and Wales. They maintain that if what is alleged is true then this was from first to last a conspiracy that was conceived and carried into effect in the UAE. They maintain that the governing law is beyond argument UAE law.

I shall limit the post to the Rome II element: Pelling J discusses this [64] ff, with the core element [68-69]:

the damage occurred when a UAE based company drew down against or otherwise benefitted from the Core Facilities offered by a UAE based bank. …ADCB … ultimately acted upon the representations in Abu Dhabi, from where the relevant loan funds were drawn down by NMC Healthcare“.

In the case of a misrepresentation or fraud, the locus damni is held to be the place where that misrepresentation is acted upon. UAE law as lex causae is in fact also and primarily confirmed by A4(2) Rome II: joint place of habitual residence, held [71] to be the UAE. Application of the A4(3) escape clause is dismissed [77], and a passing reference to a potential for A12 Rome II’s culpa in contrahendo leading to English law as the lex contractus, is summarily dismissed [78].

A stay is granted.

Geert.

Chep Equipment. Brussels Ia’s forum prorogati (with renvoi) rule once again does not make the cut.

In Chep Equipment Pooling BV v ITS Ltd & Ors [2022] EWHC 741 (Comm), Salter DJ untangles a myriad of jurisdictional gateways, partially tortious (with reference to UKSC Brownlie, and to CJEU Bier etc where relevant), partially contractual and subject to choice of court. A forum non challenge is rejected.

The choice of court discussion is interesting in particular for at 48 the judge mixes the forum prorogati rule of Article 25 BIa juncto its recital 20. One of the defendants claims the privilege of an A25 choice of court to establish compulsory Belgian jurisdiction. The judge notes that the agreement of which the clause is part, is governed by Belgian law and

The Audit Agreement, although in the English language, is governed by Belgian law. Rightly, neither party had tendered evidence of the principles of interpretation of jurisdiction clauses under Belgian law. At this stage of the proceedings, reliance on the presumption of similarity with English law is sufficient: see Brownlie (supra) at [157], per Lord Leggatt. In those circumstances, I must simply apply to this provision the principles of interpretation articulated in Fiona Trust and Holding Corpn v Privalov [2007] UKHL 40[2007] Bus LR 1719.

This is a touch incorrectly formulated. Per BIa, the existence of consent and its expression are governed by A25, not by reference to any national law. The validity of consent by contrast does rely on national law however it is not the lex contractus of the underlying agreement which is relevant but rather the lex fori prorogati (also Belgian law), with renvoi. The judge in my view cannot rely on English law to judge the validity of choice of court at good arguable case level: once jurisdiction settled, it will not be allowed to be revisited. Even at this stage, therefore, per BIa the enquiry arguably must be made under Belgian law. Whether there was actually any suggestion that under Belgian (and subject to renvoi) law consent may not have been given, is not clear from the judgment.

Claimants tried to argue that the claim does not arise ‘out of or in connection with’ the Audit Agreement that contains choice of court however the judge disagrees. This part of the claim therefore must be litigated in Belgium (and an A8(1) anchor would of course not assist to keep the proceedings in England).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.10.4.

Samsung Electronics. A forum non conveniens assessment of claims re the settlement of follow-on competition law damages, closes with a PS on transparency in EU antitrust findings..

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd & Ors v LG Display Co Ltd & Anor [2022] EWCA Civ 423 concerns follow-on damages claimed against non-EU based defendants. The European Commission had earlier found the existence of a cartel. The Court of Appeal confirms the refusal of service out of the jurisdiction on forum non conveniens grounds, holding, like the first instance judge, that England & Wales are clearly not the appropriate forum (Taiwan and /or South Korea are).

I report the case for it contains an interesting Ps on the confidentiality of the EC finding: Males LJ:

The parties were united in urging upon us that the Commission Decision is confidential and that reference to its recitals should not be made in open court. I have to say that, as a general proposition, this seems paradoxical. I find it hard to see how a Decision can at the same time be both confidential and binding in public follow-on proceedings. To that extent it appears that any requirement of confidentiality may be in tension with the fundamental constitutional principle of open justice. Moreover, this particular Commission Decision deals with events which are now in the distant past and has been extensively litigated in the years since it was made. It is hard to think that there is any real confidentiality left.

Nevertheless I have been careful to confine my citation from the Decision to what is necessary to explain the submissions made to us and the conclusions which I have reached. I have referred only to recitals which were alleged to explain and support the operative part of the Decision (cf. Emerald Supplies Ltd v British Airways Plc [2015] EWCA Civ, [2016] Bus LR 145 at [68]) and have omitted any reference to other participants in the cartel who were not represented before us.

This invites interesting reflections on the principles of open justice in EU competition law findings – a discussion I shall leave to others.

Geert.

CJEU holds EU flight Regulation abides by customary international law in extending its reach to flights partially carried out outside the EU.

A brief post on the judgment of the CJEU in C-561/20 United Airlines. The CJEU held that the EU flight delay compensation rules of Regulation 261/2004 apply to a flight operated by non-EU airline on behalf of EU airline, even when  the delay relates to flight segment outside the EU. On the issue of international jurisdiction, the Court engages with customary international law questions, referring ia to its C-366/10 ATAA judgment which I discussed here.

The CJEU firstly [51] repeats that since

a principle of customary international law does not have the same degree of precision as a provision of an international agreement, judicial review must necessarily be limited to the question whether, in adopting the act in question, the institutions of the European Union made manifest errors of assessment concerning the conditions for applying such a principle

I do not think its poor view on the lucidity of customary international law is justified, however its finding that only manifest errors may lead to illegality does of course mean the CJEU does not have to worry about all the nuts and bolts of territorial jurisdiction. It suffices [52] that there is a close connection with the territory of the EU since the Regulation specifies that connecting flights fall within the scope of that regulation on the ground that the passengers have started their journey from an airport located in a Member State. [53]:

The regulation applies to a long delay caused in a leg of a flight operated in a third country only in limited and clearly defined circumstances in which the flight concerned, taken as a whole, is operated from an airport located in the territory of a Member State. Such a flight and its passengers thus retain a close connection with the territory of the European Union, including for the leg of the flight operated outside the European Union.

Flights which are wholly operated in a third country or between two third countries, without any connection with EU territory [55].

Geert.

BRG NOAL v Kowski. A debatable applicable law consideration under A4 Rome I decides a forum non stay.

BRG NOAL GP SARL & Anor v Kowski & Anor [2022] EWHC 867 (Ch) continues the current trend of forum non conveniens applications galore, following Brexit. In the case at issue, with Luxembourg suggested as the appropriate forum, applicable law determination, under (retained) Rome I’s ‘characteristic performance’ rule plays a core role.

Applicable law needs to be determined essentially viz an undertaking as I understand it, by a, validly removed, investment fund General Partner, not to torpedo the subsequent orderly continuation of the fund. The core commitment reads

“I, [name], hereby acknowledge that [NOAL GP] is the managing general partner (“General partner”) of [the Fund] with effect from 27 August 2021 and unconditionally and irrevocably undertake (a) not to assert otherwise, or to induce or procure an assertion to the contrary or otherwise challenge or question the validity of its appointment or induce or produce such challenge or question, in any applicable forum and (b) to cooperate with and assist the General Partner in completing a full, orderly and timely transfer of the control of the Partnership and all of its assets and any obligations to the General Partner”.

Claimant [57] suggests the specific Undertaking in and of itself meets the CJEU Handte definition of a stand alone contractual obligation, however Smith J does not specifically hold on this for in her view even if this were correct, the overall contractual construction would have an impact on the applicable law consideration, seeing as in her view:

no choice of law was made; no default ‘passe partout’ contract as listed in A4(1) Rome I applies; A4(2) Rome I’s ‘characteristic performance’ test does not lead to an answer ([61]: there is no ‘characteristic performance’] and at any rate even if there were, the judge would have applied A4(3)’s escape clause to lead to Luxembourg law; and the ‘proper law of the contract’ per A4(4) Rome I ‘clearly’ [63-64] leads to Luxembourgish law.

In conclusion, a stay is ordered and the forum non application is successful. In my view the judge jumped too easily to Articles 4(3) and (4), denying Article 4(2)’s or even Article 3 choice of law’s effet utile. It is not unusual for judges to let their predetermination to apply A4(3) and /or (4) determine their A4(2) search for a lex contractus. Yet that frequency does not make the judgment right.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed, 2021, Heading 3.2.6.2.

Court of Appeal overturns and confirms, in principle though technologically not in practice, mosaic blocking order jurisdiction in Mincione.

When CJEU Bolagsupplysningen was held, I flagged immediately (I was not alone) that the judgment would necessarily create follow-up litigation.

At the level of the CJEU itself, Mittelbayerischer Verlag somewhat reigned in the consequences of Bier and Shevill, albeit not directly related to the discussions in Bolagsupplysningen. In Gtflix, the Court confirmed that each Member State where damage has occurred, will continue to have locus damni jurisdiction even if the claimant requests rectification of the information and the removal of the content placed online in another jurisdiction: one with full jurisdiction as either the Handlungsort or the place of the claimant’s centre of interests.

In England and Wales, Saïd v L’Express (a first instance case) held that it follows from Bolagsupplysningen that so far as internet publications are concerned, a claimant who is seeking injunctive relief (removal, correction in particular) may do so only in the places with full jurisdiction. This was implicitly confirmed in Napag, also a first instance case.

This conclusion has now been overturned by the Court of Appeal in Mincione v Gedi Gruppo Editoriale SPA [2022] EWCA Civ 557. This is a libel case brought by an Italian national with acquired British citizenship who is resident in Switzerland. He sues the Italian-domiciled publisher of a daily newspaper and weekly magazine, both of which are published predominantly in Italy and in the Italian language.

The first instance judge, Mincione v Gedi Gruppo Editoriale SpA [2021] EWHC 2006 (QB) had followed Said and Napag. The Court of Appeal notes that as a result of the Withdrawal Agreement it is bound by Bolagsupplysningen, it having been held before Brexit, and that it  ‘can have regard to’ ([65]) Gtlfix.

Warby J, seeking support in Gtflix, holds injunctive jurisdiction to restrain a harmful internet publication that has either occurred or “may occur”, does exist for the locus damni court yet only in respect of publication that may occur within the territorial jurisdiction of the court concerned. It can justify a domestic internet injunction, even for a ‘mosaic’ (locus damni) court, yet not to grant an injunctive remedy that would inevitably take effect extraterritorially.

The first instance judgment therefore is overturned on legal substance but  largely confirmed in practical reality: [72]. Current proceedings are largely held in substance, albeit not in form, to be a claim for a single and indivisible remedy. That is because a domestic internet injunction, prohibiting further publication, in this case however limited it might be in form, would, on the undisputed evidence, inevitably have extraterritorial effect. In future, technology might mean that an order framed as a domestic internet injunction would or could take territorial effect only. Yet in current technological reality, it is said that ordering removal would immediately have extraterritorial substantive effect. Those with knowledge of the technology may have more to say about this. Update 29 04 4:50 PM: the first instance judgment suggests this is related to the limited E&W jurisdiction, while the order would impact other parts of the UK, too: [98]: geo-blocking can only be done at a UK level, and the removal of a YouTube video can also be only done at a UK level (not: the E&W level).

The only part of the claim where jurisdiction for injunctive relief, if claimant is found at trial to have been libelled, will be possible, is for a so-called ‘section 12’ internet injunction: an order to publish a summary of the eventual judgment. That is because in the view of the the Court of Appeal, this relief can be targeted to the current subscriber basis of the publication outlets in England and Wales only.

Per Soriano, post Brexit a claimant will have to show that England and Wales is clearly the most appropriate place to bring an action, with locus damni per  SC Brownlie the tort gateway. Bolagsupplysningen will therefore not echo for much longer in E&W, and I doubt therefore that the SC will hear an appeal if it were sought.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.439 ff.

ValueLicensing v Microsoft. The High Court, in rejecting forum non conveniens, puts great emphasis on only English courts determining the course of English law post Brexit.

In JJH Enterprises Ltd (Trading As ValueLicensing) v Microsoft Corporation & Ors [2022] EWHC 929 (Comm) Picken J makes a debatable point in his discussion of a forum non conveniens application by defendants, Microsoft.

In the proceedings ValueLicensing claim damages arising from alleged breaches of competition law by Microsoft. The claim is a ‘stand alone’ one, not a ‘follow-on’ one. There is no underlying infringement decision of the European Commission (or any domestic competition regulator) on which ValueLicensing can rely to establish that an infringement of competition law has been committed.

Some of the Microsoft entities firstly seek summary dismissal of the case against them, arguing they cannot be held liable for an alleged infringement of either Article 101 or 102 TFEU as a result of an overall Microsoft ‘campaign’ in which they did not demonstrably take part. Here [31] ff there is interesting discussion ia of Provimi (Roche Products Ltd. & Ors v Provimi Ltd [2003] EWHC 961 (Comm)), which held that an entity that implements an agreement in breach of A101 to which a member of the same undertaking is a party can be held liable for the infringement even though the implementer itself does not know of the infringement. Specifically, whether Provimi was wrongly decided following from Cooper Tire Europe Ltd v Bayer Public Co Ltd [2010] EWCA Civ 864  – this is an issue for which CJEU referral is not possible post Brexit.

The judge however refers to the broader concept of ‘undertaking’ in the A101-102 sense following eg CJEU C-882/19 Sumal SL v Mercedes Benz Trucks Espana SL. Sumal, Picken J holds [44], is relevant authority both pre and post Brexit.

Quite how parties see a difference in the lex causae for the competition law infringement pre and post Brexit is not clear to me. Pre Brexit it is said to be ‘English law’ (held to include 101-102 TFEU prior to Brexit), full stop, while post Brexit that law is said to be determined by (retained) Article 6 Rome II, which for same of the claim will be English law as being one of the ‘affected markets’ per A6 Rome II.

It is in the forum non application that the judge posits [78] that an important consideration of England as the more appropriate forum, is

it is clear that Microsoft UK’s position at trial will be that in certain material respects English law has taken a divergent path from EU law. In such circumstances, it would be wholly inappropriate, and certainly undesirable, for a court in Ireland to be determining whether Microsoft UK is right about this. On the other hand, there would be no difficulty with the Court here applying EU competition law, either as part of English law (in respect of the pre-Brexit period and, if that is what the Court determines is the case, also in respect of the post-Brexit period) or as part of the laws of other EU/EEA member states, since the Court here is very experienced in doing just that.

If it is true that under forum non, only English courts can be held properly to determine the direction of English law post Brexit, the hand of many a claimant in forum non applications will surely be strengthened.

Geert.

Cryptoassets, non-fungible tokens and consumer protection. The High Court rejects jurisdiction in Soleymani v Nifty, re-igniting the opaqueness of the arbitration exception under Brussels Ia.

In Amir Soleymani v Nifty Gateway LLC [2022] EWHC 773 (Comm) Abrose J largely rejected jurisdiction for the English courts in a claim following auction brought by a UK-based digital artwork collector. Another part of the claim was stayed pending arbitration in New York.

Faced with a clause in Nifty’s general terms and conditions that provide for binding arbitration in New York and for New York law to be the governing law of the contract, claimant seeks a declaration that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable due to it being unfair under the UK Consumer Rights Act 2015. Alternatively, he argued the governing law clause is invalid on the same statutory ground, and that a contract arising from the auction is void for illegality pursuant to the UK Gambling Act 2005.

Of note is that the US based arbitrator, in the proceedings initiated by Nifty, is considering himself (with procedural and discovery orders having been issued) broadly similar issues under consumer protection provisions of the ADR provider.

At [34] the qualification of NFTs as ‘art’ or merely ‘technology’ [‘the nature of NFTs as assets, and whether they are artwork, with the Claimant’s position being that he was trading in digital art whereas the Defendant maintained that an NFT is merely a unique string of code stored on a blockchain ledger that makes a digital artwork accessible, and marks authenticity’] is announced as potentially relevant for substance but not for current application.

The discussion largely takes place under retained EU law (s15b of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 (as amended)). The judge holds [55] that the claim falls within the arbitration exception of (retained) Brussels Ia seeing as, as she qualifies it

The principal focus and subject matter of Mr Soleymani’s claim is whether he is legally obliged to arbitrate.

Recital 12 BIa is called upon in support. Claimant ([49]-[50] in particular are a good summary of the position) essentially argues such a view is incompatible with the effet utile of the consumer title. I believe that point has merit and one imagines it will be on this point that appeal will be sought (Bitar v Banque Libano-Francaise was offered in some support).

Whether the contract is a ‘consumer’ contract is still discussed [62] ff viz the claim for declaratory relief regarding the unfairness of the arbitration clause under the Gambling Act. The judge holds [79] that on the evidence put forward, Claimant has the better of the argument as to whether the Defendant was directing commercial activities to England (and the UK more generally). However she decides to grant the defendant a stay (which would not have been possible pre-Brexit) in favour of the unfairness issues being discussed in the New York arbitration. (These issues may later return to a UK court in the shape of an ordre public opposition to enforcement of the award in the UK).

I will of course notify if and when permission to appeal will have been granted.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.3.2, and 2.2.9.2.

J v H Limited. CJEU holds third country judgments may, under circumstances, be smuggled into Brussels Ia via the backdoor. Yet they will be vulnerable to ordre public exceptions.

I reviewed Pikamae AG’s Opinion in C-568/20 J v H Limited here. The issue is whether, exequatur having been abandoned in Brussels Ia, arguments as to whether the a judgment issued in a third, non EU Member, State of origin be at all covered by Brussels Ia may be raised by way of an Article 45 objection to recognition and enforcement.

The CJEU has now held and first of all clarifies its findings in C-129/92 Owens Bank. [36]: Owens Bank does not mean that a decision adopted on the basis of a judgment emanating from a third State, in accordance with the rules on jurisdiction and procedure of a Member State, may never fall within the scope of that regulation. [26] it is sufficient (but also necessary, GAVC) that they be judicial decisions which, before their recognition and enforcement are sought in a State other than the State of origin, have been, or have been capable of being, the subject, in that State of origin and under various procedures, of an inquiry in adversarial proceedings. This re-emphasises the audi alteram partem principle such as emphasised eg in CJEU Zulikarpašić. It also means that ‘exequatur sur exequatur ne vaut‘ is not quite dead, as has been suggested – a mere confirmative order of an ex-EU judgment without adversarial proceedings would not enjoy free movement.

At [29] the Court moreover instructs, with reference to the principle of mutual trust, that the courts in the State of recognition, must not apply the definition restrictively. In the case at issue [32] the High Court order at issue in the main proceedings was, at the very least, the subject of a summary hearing in the Member State of origin, hence it qualifies as a ‘judgment’.

While the Court effectively acknowledges that this amounts to Brussels Ia-sanctioned recognition and enforcement of non-EU judgments through the backdoor (‘on the substance, that [UK, GAVC] order was made so as to give effect to judgments delivered in a third State which are not, as such, enforceable in the Member States’: [33]), A45’s grounds of refusal, including infringement of ordre public, remain available: [45]

Such an infringement may, inter alia, lie in the fact that the party against whom enforcement is sought was not able to defend him or herself effectively before the court of origin and to challenge the decision sought to be enforced in the Member State of origin

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, 2.573.

%d bloggers like this: