Spizz v Goldfarb. Applying the US presumption against extraterritoriality in bankruptcy cases.

Charles Oellermann has excellent analysis of Spizz v. Goldfarb Seligman & Co. (In re Ampal-Am. Israel Corp. 562 B.R. 601 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. 2017). The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the avoidance provisions of the Bankruptcy Code do not apply outside the U.S. because, on the basis of the language and context of the provisions, Congress did not intend for them to apply extraterritorially. In so holding, it applied the Morrison test which was central to the United States’ Supreme Court ruling in Kiobel, which of course has been the subject of repeated analysis on this blog.

Whether an avoidance action (which in civil law jurisdictions would be tackled by an actio pauliana) is extraterritorial in and of itself, is not easily ascertained. In his review, Charles has superb overview of case-law applying a centre of gravity test: depending on the facts of the case, parties’ action does or does not take place outside the US in relation to the parties’ domicile, the subject of the transaction, etc.  He also rightfully highlights that courts are aware that even if one were to apply the provisions extraterritorially, a US judgment might not be easily enforced against foreign debtors.

Case-law is evidently not settled and one imagines that the extraterritoriality of bankruptcy laws will in some form further end up at the USSC.

Geert.

 

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Turkish Supreme Court rejects choice of court agreement on basis of ‘good faith’. Accepts asymmetric clauses.

Koray Söğüt and Suha Yılmaz reported recently on Turkish Supreme Court case-law in the area of choice of court. The report is very much worth a read. On choice of court agreements, what the Supreme Court seems to say is that when choice of court is made away from Turkey,  Turkish law will make that choice subject to a de facto forum conveniens assessment: if Turkey is a suitable forum especially when the eventual judgment will be easily enforced against Turkish assets, a defendant’s insistence on exercising the clause must be seen as violating Turkey’s general provision on bad faith (a form of fraus omnia corrumpit).

It is also reported that the Supreme Court accepted a unilateral /asymmetric jurisdiction clause – the issues surrounding these clauses are a regular feature on this blog.

More cases for the comparative law class! (At least if and when I get hold of an English translation).

Geert.

 

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Asymmetric clauses, exclusivity, torpedoes and lis alibi pendens: The High Court in Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers.

Many of the issues in [2017] EWHC 161 (Comm) Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers were also raised in Perella v Codere,  albeit there, as I reported, obiter. In current case, they were very much dicta, and they amount to the English courts viewing (properly constructed) asymmetric clauses as being exclusive. As such they fall under the new anti-torpedo provisions of Article 31(2).

Applications of defendants Liquimar Tankers (registered in Liberia but with head office in Athens) are being made in the course of proceedings in London by Commerzbank  in two separate actions in relation to the repayment of loans which the Bank extended for the building of a number of ships. There are ongoing proceedings taken by the defendants against the Bank in Piraeus, Greece concerning the same and/or related issues.

The Liquimar guarantee contained a governing law and an asymmetric jurisdiction clause, which was essentially similar in the other loan agreements. It provided:

“16 Law and Jurisdiction

16.1 This Guarantee and Indemnity shall in all respects be governed by and interpreted in accordance with English law.

16.2 For the exclusive benefit of the Lender, the Guarantor irrevocably agrees that the courts of England are to have jurisdiction to settle any disputes which may arise out of or in connection with this Guarantee and Indemnity and that any proceedings may be brought in those courts.

16.3 Nothing contained in this Clause shall limit the right of the Lender to commence any proceedings against the Guarantor in any other court of competent jurisdiction nor shall the commencement of any proceedings against the Guarantor in one or more jurisdictions preclude the commencement of any proceedings in any other jurisdiction, whether concurrently or not.

16.4 The Guarantor irrevocably waives any objection which it may now or in the future have to the laying of the venue of any proceedings in any court referred to in this Clause and any claim that those proceedings have been brought in an inconvenient or inappropriate forum, and irrevocably agrees that a judgment in any proceedings commenced in any such court shall be conclusive and binding on it and may be enforced in the courts of any jurisdiction …”.

 

Article 31(2) of the Brussels I Recast reads:

‘where a court of a Member State on which an agreement as referred to in Article 25 confers exclusive jurisdiction is seized, any court of another Member State shall stay the proceedings until such time as the court seized on the basis of the agreement declares that it has no jurisdiction under the agreement.’

Cranston J held that the concept of ‘exclusivity’ should be autonomously interpreted under the Brussels I (Recast) regime. He did not however refer for preliminary reference to the CJEU: as such, the High Court’s finding continues to be vulnerable until we have precedent from Luxembourg. The judgment as a whole is worth a read – readers in for concise summary, please refer to Herbert Smith’s analysis.

Summing up is done in para 70, with justifiable emphasis on parties’ and the Regulation’s intentions (but as noted with considerable reference to precedent and principles of statutory interpretation): Thus with the asymmetric jurisdiction clauses in the present case, the defendants agreed to sue only in the courts of one EU Member State, England. Instead, they have enabled another court, the Greek court, to be seized of the matter. It would undermine the agreements of the parties, and foster abusive tactics, if the jurisdiction clauses in these agreements were to be treated not as exclusive, but as non-exclusive.’ 

Of note is also the discussion on the role of recitals (eg. at 69; also at 77 ff). Justice Cranston’s arguments are supported by reference to a number of recitals. Defendant in my view has a valid point in principle where they argue at 77 that ‘a recital cannot constitute a rule when it is not reflected in the words of Article 31(2).‘ (Although they were wrong on substance).

A subsidiary argument in the case also merits further attention. Defendants argue that Article 25 requires the parties to have designated the courts of a Member State to enable the law applicable to the substantive validity of a jurisdiction clause to be identified and to provide certainty as to the forum in which a putative defendant can expect to be sued. That, they submit, is not achieved by a clause which designates the courts of all other competent states, including those of non-Member States, outside the territorial competence of the EU, which could mean suits in multiple jurisdictions. Although the argument could be phrased more precisely, I do agree with it: in the absence of a nominatim lex contractus for the choice of court clause specifically, the new lex fori prorogati rule in Article 25 Brussels I Recast, combined with recital 20 (yet again the troublesome habit of EU private international law to include substantive rules in recitals only) does create a vacuum in the case of hybrid, asymmetric or even non-exclusive choice of court.

An important case. Not the last we have heard of the issues.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Ch.2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.1, Heading 2.2.9.5.

 

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From well to wheel. But not for Australia’s mines and their climate impact.

In Coast and Country Association of Queensland Inc v Smith & Ors [2016] QCA 242, the Queensland Court of Appeal held among others that the Land Court was correct not to include emissions from the burning of coal ex Australia, in the environmental impact assessment part of permitting decisions relating to Queensland coal mines: ‘It is outside the Land Court’s jurisdiction under s 269(4)(j) Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) to consider the impact of activities beyond those carried on under the authority of the proposed mining lease, such as the impact of what the Land Court described as “scope 3 emissions.” These include environmentally harmful global greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the transportation and burning of coal after its removal from the proposed mines.’

As BakerMcKenzie note (a good summary of the issues which I happily refer to),  this does not mean that such impact may not be taken into account at all:  It can be considered when weighing up whether “the public right and interest is prejudiced”, and as to whether “any other good reason has been shown for a refusal”. However the Land Court tends not to have much sympathy for that view: contrary to eg the Dutch approach in the Urgenda case, the Land Court views the coal market as essentially demand driven: if no Australian coal is used, other coal will be – so one might as well make it Australian.

The High Court of Australia, Baker report, have now confirmed (without formally endorsing the approach), that Land Courts decisions wil not be subject to further appeal on these grounds. (So far I have only found the reference to the case on the Court’s ledger).

Not much prospect for well to wheel considerations in Queensland /Australia therefore. Interesting material for a comparative environmental law class.

Geert.

 

 

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AMT v Marzillier: UK Supreme Court sides with relucant Court of Appeal on inducement to breach choice of court agreement.

I reported on AMT V Marzillier at the High Court, failed to flag its overturn in the Court of Appeal (it’s the Easter period: I am in a confessionary mood), and now report swiftly on the Supreme Court confirming the Court of Appeal’s view early April ([2017] UKSC 13).

MMGR is a company incorporated under the laws of Germany and carries on business as a firm of lawyers in Germany. AMTF alleges that MMGR induced its former clients to issue proceedings against it in Germany and to advance causes of action under German law.  AMTF’s clients were referred to it by ‘introducing brokers’; AMTF in turn is referred to as a non-advisory, “execution only”, derivatives broker. AMTF charged its clients commission for its service and paid commission to the introducing brokers. About 70 former clients, who were dissatisfied with the financial results of their transactions, commenced legal proceedings in Germany against both the introducing brokers and AMTF seeking damages under the German law of delict. The claim against the introducing brokers was that they had given bad investment advice or had failed to warn of the risks of the investments. The claim against AMTF was based on a liability which was accessory to that of the brokers: it was alleged that AMTF had encouraged the brokers to behave as they did by paying them commission from the transaction accounts which it operated for its clients and that it owed and had breached a duty in delict (tort) to the clients to prevent any transactions being undertaken contrary to their interests. AMTF challenged the jurisdiction of the German court. Many of the former clients have recovered damages from AMTF by way of settlement.

AMTF argues that the actions in Germany were in breach of the exclusive jurisdiction and applicable law clauses in their contracts with AMTF. It commenced proceedings in the High Court in London against MMGR, based on the tort, in English law, of inducing breach of contract. It seeks both damages and injunctive relief to restrain MMGR from inducing clients to bring further claims in Germany asserting causes of action under German law. AMTF argues that the English courts have jurisdiction over its claim under article 5.3 of the Brussels I Regulation (Article 7(2) in the Brussels I Recast), which gives jurisdiction in tort claims to the courts for the place in which the harmful event occurred or may occur. MMGR challenges the jurisdiction of the English courts to entertain this action.

Popplewell J in the High Court sided with AMTF – I reviewed his judgment in 2014. He decided that the relevant harm which gives rise to jurisdiction under article 5.3 occurred in England as AMTF had in each case been deprived of the benefit of the exclusive jurisdiction clause, which, he held, created a positive obligation on a former client to bring proceedings in England.

Clarke LJ concluded upon Appeal that the English courts did not have jurisdiction as the relevant harm had occurred in Germany. At 57 he wrote ‘I do not reach this conclusion with any great enthusiasm since there is much to be said for the determination of what is in essence an ancillary claim in tort for inducement of breach of contract to be made in the court which the contract breaker agreed should have exclusive jurisdiction in respect of that contract, rather than in the courts of the country where the inducement and breach occurred. But the governing law of the relationship between the former clients and AMTF (which did not have to be that of England & Wales) is not a determining factor in the allocation of jurisdiction under the Regulation.‘ It is not entirely clear what the German courts’ view is on the matter – the unsettled claims were still pending at the time of the Supreme Court’s judgment.

Lord Hodge, after noting the CA’s reluctance, agrees with its conclusion and does so by once again, concisely yet completely, reviewing the CJEU’s case-law on Article 5(3) [7(2)]. For an even more condensed version, see Jake Hardy. At 24: ‘The task for the court is to identify where the relevant harm occurred. That is relatively straightforward in most circumstances, where there is no need for any special rule such as those which the CJEU has developed when it has not been possible readily to identify one place where that harm occurred. It is straightforward in this case.‘ : namely Germany. ‘It is clear that AMTF did not get the benefit of having any dispute with the former clients determined under English law by English courts. But the former clients were under no positive obligation to sue AMTF, which could have no objection if it was not sued.’ (at 25).

Of note is Lord Hoge’s important emphasis (at 29) that the benefits of connecting factors, which justify the ground of jurisdiction, are not in and of themselves connecting factors. Idem for his instruction at 30 that ‘the inconvenience, which the separation of the resolution of the contractual claims against the former clients from the pursuit of the claims against MMGR entails, (does not) carry much weight when one considers the aims of the Judgments Regulation‘: ‘the CJEU has recognised that the scheme of the Judgments Regulation creates the difficulty that one jurisdiction may not be able to deal with all the related points in a dispute (at 32).

Finally reference to the CJEU was refused on the grounds that the issue is acte claire (at 43, with preceding reference to CJEU precedent).

Delightful.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, 2.2.11.2.7).

 

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Jesner v Arab Bank. Corporate culpability, the substantive question ignored in Kiobel, makes certiorari.

Thank you, Ludo Veuchelen, for alerting me to Adam Liptak’s reporting on Jesner v Arab Bank, in which certiorari was granted by the United States Supreme Court early April. The case may finally have us hear SCOTUS’ view on the question which led to certiorari in Kiobel but was subsequently ignored by the Court: whether corporations can be culpable for violation of public international law. ‘May’ is probably the keyword in the previous sentence.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.2.

 

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Lernout & Hauspie: US opt-out class action settlement accepted by Belgian court.

Belgium’s Lernout & Hauspie case recently entered a further stage in its civil law chapter. The case is part of Belgium’s (and especially Flanders’) collective memory as an illustration of what can go wrong when markets and investors alike are fooled by corporate greed. Is it world-famous, in Belgium: for those outside, Wiki should help.

Of interest to this blog is the recent judgment of the Gent criminal court on the civil chapter of the case: see my colleague proximus Stefaan Voet’s analysis here. Stefaan has helpfully translated the most relevant sections of the judgment, in particular the court’s rejection of the argument that the US opt-out class action settlement were contrary to Belgium’s ordre public. The court, in my view entirely justifiably, holds that Belgium’s Private international law act does not oppose recognition and enforcement. Of note is the extensive comparative reference which the court makes not just to existing Belgian law on class actions (the Belgian legal order can hardly oppose what it tentatively has introduced itself), but also to a European Recommendation on comparative class action law in the EU (a sort of Ius Commune idea).

Recognition and enforcement rarely makes it to substantive review in Belgian case-law. This judgment is one of note.

Geert.

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