Posts Tagged Article 22(2)

Wathelet AG in Dědouch: Interpretation of the exlusive jurisdictional rule for corporate issues in the case of squeeze-out.

This is effectively my second posting today on Article 24(2) Brussels I Recast.

In C-560/16 Dědouch, Wathelet AG Opined last week, on the scope of the exclusive jurisdictional rule of (now) Article 24(2) of Regulation 1215/2012. The issue arose in proceedings between Michael Dědouch et al, a group of minority shareholders on the one hand, and Jihočeská plynárenská a.s. (established in the Czech Republic) and E.ON Czech Holding AG (‘E.ON’) [established in Germany] on  the other, concerning the reasonableness of the sum which, in a procedure for removing minority shareholders (‘squeeze-out’), E.ON was required to pay Mr Dědouch et al following the compulsory transfer of their shares in Jihočeská plynárenská.

Mr Dědouch et al are suing both companies and are asking the Regional Court, České Budějovice, Czech Republic to review the reasonableness of the sum. In those proceedings E.ON raised an objection that the Czech courts lacked jurisdiction. E.ON argue that, in view of the location of its seat /domicile, only the German courts had international jurisdiction per (now) Article 4.

The regional court initially accepted jurisdiction on the basis of (now) Article 8(1): the anchor defendant mechanism (one of the two defendant companies being a Czech company). Eventually the High Court, Prague found that the Czech courts had jurisdiction under (old) Article 5(1)(a) of the Brussels I Regulation: the special jurisdictional rules for contracts.

Wathelet AG suggests the case raises the complex issue of litigation in intra-company disputes. At 21 he writes that the facts highlight a structural problem in the Regulation, namely ‘the absence of a basis of jurisdiction dedicated to the resolution of internal disputes within companies, such as disputes between shareholders or between shareholders and directors or between the company and its directors.’ That is not quite correct: it is not because the Regulation has no tailor-made regime for this type of dispute that is has no jurisdictional basis for it. That a subject-matter is not verbatim included in the Regulation does not mean it is not regulated by it.

The AG then (at 23) considers that the issue under consideration is complicated by the difficulty of applying (now) Articles 7(1) and (2), ‘since the removal of the minority shareholders and the consideration decided by a resolution of the general meeting are neither a contract nor a tort, delict or quasi-delict.’ I am not so sure. Is there no ‘obligation freely assumed’ between minority and other shareholders of the same company? Are they not bound by some kind of ‘contract’ (in the broad, Jakob Handte sense) when becoming shareholders of one and the same company? That (at 24) ‘The principle of a procedure for squeezing out the minority shareholders is that the principal shareholder can start it without their consent‘ I do not find convincing in this respect. Plenty of contractual arrangements do not limit contracting parties’ freedom to act: except, their actions may have contractual consequences. The AG in my view focuses too much on the squeeze out being one-sided. An alternative view may see a wrongful deployment of squeeze-out a breach of an earlier contractual, indeed fiduciary duty between /among shareholders.

Unlike the AG (at 26), neither do I see great obstacle in the difficulty in determination of a specific place of performance of such contractual duties between shareholders in the company law context. They may not fit within the default categories of Article 7(1), however I can see many a national judge not finding it impossible to determine a place of performance.

On the basis of these perceived difficulties the AG dismisses application of Articles 7(1) and (2) and then considers, and rejects, a strict application of Article 24(2). In other words in the AG’s view Article 24(2) is engaged here.

This is a tricky call. Justified reference is made by the AG to C‑372/07 Hassett, in which (then) Article 22(2) was held no to apply to a decision made by the Board of the Health Organisation not to indemnify two of their members in cases of medical negligence: this was found by the CJEU to be an action relating to the way in which a company organ exercises its functions – not covered by Article 24(2). In Dědouch, the action relates to the amount which the General Meeting of the company fixed as the compensation E.ON was required to pay the minority shareholders following the transfer of the shares. Notwithstanding Czech company law being the lex causae in assisting the GM in that decision, I am not convinced this engages Article 24(2) (hence reserving jurisdiction to the Czech courts).

In summary, I believe the Court should reject application of Article 24(2), and instruct the national courts to get on with the determination of jurisdiction per Article 7, or indeed 8.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.5, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.12.1.

 

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Sabbagh v Khoury. The Court of Appeal struggles on merits review for anchor defendants.

Sabbagh v Khoury at the High Court was the subject of a lengthy review in an earlier post. The Court of Appeal has now considered the issues at stake, in no lesser detail.

In line with my previous post (readers unfamiliar with it may want to refer to it; and to very good Hill Dickinson summary of the case), of particular consideration here is the jurisdictional test under (old) Article 6(1) Brussels I, now Article 8(1) in the Recast, in particular the extent of merits review; and whether the subject matter of the claim comes within the succession exception of Article 1(2)(a) of the Brussels I Regulation.

As for the latter, the Court, after reviewing relevant precedent and counsel argument (but not, surprisingly, the very language on this issue in the Jenard report, as I mention in my previous post) holds in my view justifiably that ‘(t)he source of the ownership is irrelevant to the nature of the claim. ..The subject matter of the dispute is not whether Sana is an heir, but whether the defendants have misappropriated her property.‘ (at 161).

With respect to the application of Article 6(1) – now 8(1), the majority held in favour of a far-reaching merits review. Lady Justice Gloster (at 166 ff) has a minority opinion on the issue and I am minded to agree with her. As she notes (at 178) the operation of a merits test within Article 6(1) does give rise to risk of irreconcilable judgments, which can be demonstrated by reference to the present facts. She successfully, in my view, distinguishes the CJEU’s findings in Kolassa and in CDC, and the discussion at any rate one would have thought, merits CJEU review.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

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Winkler v Shamoon. Another High Court look at the ‘wills and succession’ exception.

In Winkler v Shamoon [2016] EWHC 2017 Ch Mr Justice Henry Carr broadly follows Mrs Justice Susan Carr in Sabbagh v Khoury (which I have reviewed earlier) on the interpretation of the ‘wills and succession’ exception in the Brussels I Recast (and the Lugano convention). [The Justices themselves, incidentally, are neither related nor married, I understand]. In so doing, Sir Henry follows Dame Susan’s approach vis-a-vis the exclusions in the Brussels I Recast.

Ms Alexandra Shamoon accepts that she is domiciled in the UK for the purposes of the Brussels Regulation.  However, she applies for an order on essentially the same basis as that set out above, contending, in particular, that the claim relates to succession and therefore falls outside the scope of the Brussels Regulation. Brick Court have summary of the case and hopefully do not mind me borrowing their heads-up of the facts:

the case concerns the estate of the late Israeli businessman, Sami Shamoon.  Mr Shamoon owned and controlled the Yakhin Hakal Group of Israeli companies and was known in his lifetime as one of the wealthiest men in Israel.  The claim was brought by Mr Peretz Winkler, formerly the Chief Financial Officer and manager of Yakhin Hakal, against Mrs Angela Shamoon and Ms Alexandra Shamoon, the widow and daughter respectively of Mr Shamoon and the residuary legatees under his will.  In his claim Mr Winkler alleged that prior to his death Mr Shamoon had orally promised to transfer to him certain shares worth tens of millions of dollars.  On the basis of the alleged promise Mr Winkler claimed declarations against Angela and Alexandra Shamoon as to his entitlement to the shares (which they are due to receive under Mr Shamoon’s will).  Angela and Alexandra challenged the jurisdiction of the English Court to hear the claim on the basis that it was a matter relating to “succession” within article 1(2)(a) of the Brussels Regulation and therefore fell outside its scope (and that England was not the natural or appropriate forum for the dispute).

If the claim does fall within the scope of the Regulation, jurisdiction is quite easily established on the basis of the defendant’s domicile – albeit with contestation of such domicile in the UK by Mr Shamoon’s widow and daughter.

Carr J held that the claim was one relating to succession and therefore fell outside of the Brussels I Recast (at 53 ff). While I may concur in the resulting conclusion, I do not believe the route taken is the right one. Sir Henry follows Mrs Justice Carr’s approach in applying the excluded matters of the Brussels I Recast restrictively. I disagree. Exclusions are not the same as exceptions: Article 24’s exclusive rules of jurisdictions are an exception to the main rule of Article 4; hence they need to be applied restrictively. Article 1(2)’s exclusions on the other hand need to be applied solely within the limits as intended. Lead is also taken from Sabbagh v Koury with respect to the role of the EU’s Succession Regulation. Even if the UK is not party to that Regulation, both justices suggest it may still be relevant in particular in assisting with the Brussels I Recast ‘Succession’ exception. If the approach taken in Winkler v Shamoon is followed it leads to a dovetailing of the two Regulations’ respective scope of application. Not a conclusion I think which is necessarily uncontested.

The High Court concludes (at 72) ‘this claim is excluded from the Brussels Regulation and the Lugano II Regulation as its principal subject matter is “succession” within the meaning of Article 1(2)(a).  In particular, it is a claim whose object is “succession to the estate of a deceased person” which includes “all forms of transfer of assets, rights and obligations by reason of death”. It is a succession claim which concerns “sharing out of the estate”; and it is a claim within the definition of “succession as a whole” in Article 23 of the Succession Regulation, as a claim whose principal subject matter concerns  “the disposable part of the estate, the reserved shares and other restrictions on the disposal of property upon death”: Article 23(h); and an “obligation to …account for gifts, …when determining the shares of the different beneficiaries”: Article 23(i).

Intriguingly, of course, had the UK be bound by the Succession Regulation, and given the dovetailing which the judgment suggest, the next step after rejection of jurisdiction on the basis of the Brussels I Recast, would have been consideration of jurisdiction following the Succesion Regulation. It is ironic therefore to see the Regulation feature as a phantom piece of legislation. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Geert.

(Handbook EU Private international law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.10).

 

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Sabbagh v Khoury. The High Court considers the ‘wills and succession’ exception, (reflexive application of) the exclusive jurisdictional rule for company matters, and anchor defendants under the Jurisdiction Regulation.

Sabbagh v Khoury is great for oral exam purposes. Hand the student a copy of the case and ipso presto, there is plenty to talk about for at least half an hour.

Sana Sabbagh, who lives in New York, claims that the Defendants have variously, since her father’s stroke, conspired against both him and her to misappropriate his assets (“the asset misappropriation claim”) and, since her father’s death, to work together to deprive her of her entitlement to shares in the group of companies which her father ran (“the share deprivation claim”). Wael, first defendant, is the anchor defendant for jurisdictional purposes. He resides and has at all material times resided in London. The other Defendants live or are based abroad.

Defendants contend in essence  (at 83):

a) that the claims against Wael (as noted, the anchor defendant) are so weak that there is no risk of irreconcilable judgments from separate proceedings and so no basis for joinder under Article 6(1) of the Brussels I Regulation (“the merits issue”);

b) that the claims fall outside the Brussels Regulation because the Regulation does not apply to “wills and succession” within the scope of Article 1(2)(a) (“the succession issue”), or challenges to the validity of CCG’s organs within the scope of Article 22(2) (“the Article 22 issue”), and the natural and appropriate forum for determining them is Lebanon (“the forum issue”);

c) that the claims are subject to an arbitration clause (or several arbitration clauses) such that a stay is required by s. 9(4) of the Arbitration Act 1996 (“the stay issue”). Any disputes against parties not bound by the arbitration clause should be stayed as a matter of discretion.

(Point c falls outside the scope of current posting).

Logically looking at point b) first (the exclusion of ‘wills and succession’, the High Court first of all considered the proposition that exceptions to the scope of application need to be applied restrictively.

To my knowledge this has not as such been held by the ECJ. Carr J expresses sympathy with the view that the findings of the ECJ in C-292/08 German Graphics in particular (that the insolvency exception not be given an interpretation broader than is required by its objective), could be given broader application, for all exceptions. I am more convinced by defendants’ argument that one needs to be careful to extend the reasoning of German Graphics outside the insolvency context, given that its ruling is inevitably influenced by the existence of the Insolvency Regulation.

However Mrs Justice Carr suggested that whether or not restrictive interpretation ought to be followed, is not quite the determinant issue: rather, that the exceptions should be applied in similar fashion as the exclusive jurisdictional rules of Article 22 (Article 24 in the recast).  Those jurisidictional rules, which are an exception to the general rule of Article 2 (4 in the recast), Carr J notes, only apply where the action is ‘principally concerned with’ the legal issue identified in the Article. ‘Have as their object’ is the term used in the Regulation, for 3 out of 5 of the Article 22 exceptions. (For the other two, including those with respect to intellectual property, the term is ‘concerned with’. In fact in other language versions the term is ‘concerned with’ throughout – which has not helped interpretation). ‘Have as their object’ was indeed applied by the ECJ as meaning ‘whose principal subject-matter comprises’ in BVG, viz the Article 22(2) exception. (Not in fact as Carr J notes, ‘principally concerned with’ , which the ECJ only referred to because it is the language used in Article 25’s rule on examination of jurisdiction).

The stronger argument for siding with the High Court’s conclusion lies in my view not in the perceived symmetry between Article 22 (exclusive jurisdictional rules) and Article 1 (scope), but rather in the High Court’s reference in passing to the Jenard report. At C/59/10: ‘matters falling outside the scope of the Convention do so only if they constitute the principal subject-matter of the proceedings. They are thus not excluded when they come before the court as a subsidiary matter either in the main proceedings or in preliminary proceedings.’ Granted, the result is the same, however the interpretative route is neater. Like other things in life (it’s single Malt, not so much general tidiness I am referring to), I like my statutory interpretation neat.

Eventually Carr J held that Ms Sabbagh’s action is principally concerned with assets and share misappropriation, in short, with conspiracy to defraud. If successful, the action will of course impact on Ms Sabbagh’s inheritance. However that does not justify the exclusion of Brussels I to her claim.

[The court was also taken on a short comparative tour of the Succession Regulation, with a view to interpreting the succession exception in Brussels I. Interestingly, Carr J noted that indeed that Regulation may serve as a supplementary means of interpretation of the Jurisdiction Regulation, even though the UK is not bound by the Succession Regulation.]

 

Next came the potential application of Article 22(2). This issue not only raised the question of whether the action would at all fall within the Article 22(2) remit; but also, whether in that case that Article needs to be applied reflexively, given that the companies concerned are incorporated in Lebanon. Here inevitably reference was made to Ferrexpo. The High Court however held that no question of reflexive application arises, under the same reasoning as above, with respect to the succession exception: the challenge to the corporate decisions was not one of ultra vires or other ‘corporate’ validity: rather, one of their proper characterisation or correctness. They are not therefore substantially concerned with the Article 22(2) exceptions.

 

The High Court preceded its application of Article 6(1) (joinders /use of an anchor defendant: first defendant is domiciled in London) with a very thorough review of the merits of each of the cases. (At 5, the Court notes that the other defendants live ‘abroad’, most of them seemingly in Greece. However the relevant companies at least seem to be domiciled in Lebanon. Article 6 can only be used against defendants already domiciled in another Member State. For those outside, national conflicts law decides the possibility of joinder).

Article 6 requires that “the claims 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.”  ECJ Case-law (in particular Roche Nederland, C-539/03) has it that it is not sufficient that there be a divergence in the outcome of the dispute: that divergence must also arise in the context of the same situation of law and fact (Case C‑539/03 Roche Nederland and Others [2006] ECR I‑6535, paragraph 26). In Freeport, Case C-98/09, the ECJ added that It is for the national court to assess whether there is a connection between the different claims brought before it, that is to say, a risk of irreconcilable judgments if those claims were determined separately and, in that regard, to take account of all the necessary factors in the case-file, which may, if appropriate yet without its being necessary for the assessment, lead it to take into consideration the legal bases of the actions brought before that court. (at 41). It added that where claims brought against different defendants are connected when the proceedings are instituted, (which implies that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings), there is no further need to establish separately that the claims were not brought with the sole object of ousting the jurisdiction of the courts of the Member State where one of the defendants is domiciled (Freeport, at 54).

Whether the likelihood of success of an action against a party before the courts of the State where he is domiciled is relevant in the determination of whether there is a risk of irreconcilable judgments for the purposes of Article 6(1), was raised in Freeport but not answered by the ECJ for such answer was eventually not necessary for the preliminary review at issue. In Sabbagh, with reference to precedent in the English courts, the High Court does carry out a rather thorough merits review, effectively to review whether the claim against Wael might not be abusive: ie invented simply to allow him to be used as anchor defendant. Carr J’s extensive merits review hinges on ‘to take account of all the necessary factors in the case-file‘ per Freeport. Whether such detailed review might exceed what is required under Article 6(1) is simply not easily ascertained. (The High Court eventually did decide that Article 6(1) applied on account of one of the pursued claims).

Did I say ‘half an hour’ in the opening line of this posting? An exam using this judgment might take a bit longer…

Geert.

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