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 The High Court action in London was never withdrawn and would seem to have been dormant since.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 either the UK or Germany: it was allegedly established in Germany following the new director’s decision, which reversed an earlier impromptu decision by the former directors to ostensibly at least move COMI to the UK. In accordance with the Regulation’s presumptions, COMI 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.

Abusive forum shopping in defamation suits. The Parliament study on SLAPPs.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – SLAPPs (I look at them comparatively in my Monash Strategic and Public Interest Litigation Unit, LAW5478) are a well-known tool to silence critics. Based on defamation, they (or the threat with them) aim to shut down the voice of opposition. Not many find the energy, financial resources and nerves to fight a protected libel suit in court.

The EP recently published the study led by Justin Borg-Barthet and carried out by him and fellow researchers at the University of Aberdeen. At the substantive level, distinguishing between SLAPPs and genuine defamation suits is not straightforward. As Justin et al point out, there is an important private international law element to the suits, too. Clearly, a claimant will wish to sue in a claimant-friendly libel environment. Moreover, where a deep-pocketed claimant can sue in various jurisdictions simultaneously, this compounds the threat.

The Brussels and Lugano regime is particularly suited to the use of SLAPPs as a result of the CJEU case-law on Article 7(2) forum delicti. The Handlungsort /Erfolgort distinction as such already tends to add jurisdictional gateways. In more recent years this has been compounded by the additional ‘centre of interests’ gateway per CJEU e-Date and Bolagsupplysningen – even if this was recently somewhat contained by the Court in Mittelbayerischer Verlag. As I have flagged before, Brussels Ia’s DNA is not supportive of disciplining abusive forum shopping, as illustrated ia in competition law and intellectual property law cases.

For these reasons, the report (Heading 4, p.33 ff) suggests dropping the availability of Article 7(2) and sticking to Article 4 domicile jurisdiction, supplemented with (unlikely) choice of court.

The European Parliament more than the European Commission has picked up the defamation issues both for BIa and for applicable law under Rome II (from which the issue is hitherto exempt; the report reviews the applicable law issues, too). It remains to be seen whether with this report in hand, Parliament will manage to encourage the EC to pick up the baton.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.431 ff, 4.24 ff.

 

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