X v PayPal. Questionable Dutch compulsory settlement jurisdiction reignites discussion similar to English scheme of arrangement tourism. Also raises the question whether compulsory settlements are ‘contracts’ under Rome I.

The Dutch first instance judgment in Groningen  earlier this month, in X v PayPal (Europe) S.a.r.l. & Cie S.C.A., sees claimant debtor essentially seeking a compulsory settlement – CS. PayPal (established in Luxembourg) is the only debtor refusing the settlement proposed by claimant’s bank.

The CS is not listed in Annex I to the Insolvency Regulation 2015/848 (always check for the consolidated version, for the Annex is frequently updated by the Member States’ communication of proceedings to be included). This is where the discussion of scope of application could and should end.

Instead, the judge tests the CS against A1(1)’s abstract criteria. She decides there is neither divestment of assets, nor a temporary stay of individual enforcement proceedings.

This then raises the applicability of Brussels Ia. Seeing as the judge finds the action does not meet with the CJEU F-Tex criteria (Brussels Ia’s insolvency exception only applies to actions which derive directly from insolvency proceedings and are closely connected with them), she holds that Brussels Ia’s ‘insolvency’ exception is not triggered and that BIa applies.

The judge then cuts the corner which English courts in schemes of arrangement have often cut, namely to consider the willing debtors, domiciled in The Netherlands, as ‘defendants’ per Brussels Ia, hereby triggering Article 8(1) BIa’s anchor defendant mechanism. The judge justifies this by stating that the other creditors are interested parties and that it is in the interest of the sound administration of justice that the CS be discussed viz the interested parties as a whole. That may well be so, however in my view that is insufficient reason for A8(1) to be triggered. A8(1) requires ‘defendants’ in the forum state, not just ‘interested parties’. The suggestion that a co-ordinated approach with an eye for all interested parties, justifies jurisdiction, puts A8(1)‘s expediency cart before the A4 ‘defendant’-horse.

The judge then also cuts corners (at least in her stated reasons) on the applicable law issue, cataloguing this firmly in Rome I. She argues that even if the CS is a forced arrangement, replacing a proposed contract which party refused to enter into, it is still a contractual arrangement. That is far from convincing.

Equally not obvious is as the judge holds, that  per A4(2) Rome I, the party required to effect the ‘characteristic performance’ of a compulsory settlement, is the claimant-debtor of the underlying debt, leading to Dutch law being the lex causae.

The judgment at the very least highlights the continuing elephant in the restructuring tourism room, namely the exact nature of these proceedings under Brussels Ia, EIR and Rome I.

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.

Owen v Galgey. Applying A4(2) Rome II to multiparty claims (following Marshall), and a rare, if in my view uncertain, reversal using A4(3)’s ‘manifestly more closely connected’ escape clause.

Update 29 January 2021 today posted additional critical analysis here.

In Owen v Galgey & Ors [2020] EWHC 3546 (QB), Linden J yesterday dealt with the application of Rome II’s common habitual residence exception to A4(1) lex loci damni rule, and with the general escape clause of A4(3).

These cases often involve tragic accidents and injuries and the sec conflict of laws analysis below in no way of course mean any disrespect to claimant and his loved ones.

Claimant is a British citizen who is domiciled and habitually resident in England. He brings a claim for damages for personal injury sustained by him as result of an accident in France (3 April 2018), when he fell into an empty swimming pool which was undergoing works at a villa in France, a holiday home owned by the First Defendant, whose wife is the Second Defendant. They are also British citizens who are domiciled and habitually resident in England, Third Defendant is a company domiciled in France, and the public liability insurer of the First and Second Defendants. Fourth Defendant is a contractor which was carrying out renovation works on the swimming pool at the time of the accident. Fifth Defendant is the public liability insurer of the Fourth Defendant. Fourth and Fifth Defendants are both companies which are domiciled in France.

That French law applies to the claims against Fourth and Fifth Defendant is undisputed. There is however a dispute as to the applicable law in relation to his claims against the First to Third Defendants. These Defendants contend that, by operation of A4(2) Rome II, English law applies because the Claimant and the First and Second Defendants are habitually resident in England. Claimant contends that French law applies by operation of A4(3) Rome II: the ‘manifestly more closely connected’ rule.

Textual argument suggest that on the basis of the text of Recital 18 and A4(2) itself, A4(2) only applies to two party cases and does not apply in multi-party cases. Linden J at 29 notes that this would also correspond with the narrow reading required of A4(2). However he follows of course the authority of Marshall, which I approved of at the time (if only because, if multi-party claims were outside the scope of A42(), it would suffice for either claimant artificially to add a defendant to the claim, or for a defendant similarly to manoeuvre in a second defendant, for A4(2) to become inoperable). A4(2) also applies if more than one party is involved.

On A4(3), then, Marshall, too, is authority and Winrow v Hemphill another rare case that seriously engaged with the issue. In the latter case, Slade J held that the balance was in favour of not applying the escape clause, particularly in view of the period of time of habitual residence in Germany, and subsequent continuing residence in that country (inter alia for follow-up treatment). In the former, Dingemans J did reach a conclusion of applying A4(3) hence lex causae being French law on the grounds I discuss in my post on the case. Here, Linden J discusses the various factors at issue in Winrow v Hemphill and in Marhsall and reaches a conclusion of French law:

In my view it is clear that the tort/delict in the present case is manifestly more closely connected with France. France is where the centre of gravity of the situation is located and the preponderance of factors clearly points to this conclusion. This conclusion also accords with the legitimate expectations of the parties.

The reasons for that are essentially listed at (75  ff)

The tort/delict occurred in France, as I have noted. This is also where the injury or direct damage occurred. The dispute centres on a property in France and it concerns structural features of that property and how the First, Second and Fourth Defendants dealt with works on a swimming pool there. Although these defendants deny that there was fault on the part of any of them, the First and Second Defendants say that the Fourth Defendant was responsible if the pool presented a danger and the Fourth Defendant says that they were. The allegations of contributory negligence/fault also centre on the Claimant’s conduct whilst at the Villa in France.

The First and Second Defendants also had a significant and long-standing connection to France, the accident occurred on their property and the works were carried out by a French company pursuant to a contract with them which is governed by French law. Their insurer, the Third Defendant, is a French company and they are insured under a contract which is governed by French law. The contract was to insure a property in France albeit one which, I accept, applied to claims under English and French law. It is also common ground that the claim against the Fourth Defendant, and therefore against the Fifth Defendant, also a French company, is entirely governed by French law and will require the court to decide whether the Fourth Defendant or, at least by implication, the First and Second Defendants were “custodians” of the property for the purposes of French law.

Whilst it cannot be said at this stage that, by analogy with Marshall, the accident was entirely caused by the Fourth Defendant in particular, the situation in relation to the swimming pool which is said to have been the cause of the accident was firmly rooted in France and it resulted from works which were being carried out by the Fourth Defendant as a result of it being contracted to do so by the First and Second Defendants. The liability of the First and Second Defendants, if any, will be affected by how they dealt with that situation, including by evidence about their dealings with the Fourth Defendant. That situation had no significant connections with England other than the nationality and habitual place of residence of the First and Second Defendants.

The core counterarguments which were dismissed, are (78 ff)

I take the point that the Claimant and the First and Second Defendants were habitually resident in England at the relevant time, that there was a pre-existing relationship between them, and that the Claimant and his family came to be at the Villa as a result of an agreement which was made in England. But, applying an objective test (see Chitty on Contract Volume 1 at paragraph 2-171 in particular), I am not satisfied that this agreement, on the information available at this stage, was contractual in nature. Part of the difficulty in relation to this aspect of the First to Third Defendants’ argument is that there is very little information before the court as to what precisely happened. Looking at the agreed facts in the context of the statements of case and the other materials which I have been shown, however, it appears that the agreement resulted from a casual conversation between social acquaintances in the context of mutual favours having been done in the past. It was informal in nature and it appears that the Claimant offered to do the work as a favour and the First and Second Defendant invited him and his family to the Villa to return that favour.

If I had found that there was a contract, I would also likely have found that it was governed by French law. Although it was entered into in England between British parties, it related entirely to a property in France. Performance of the contract on both sides could only be effected at a particular property in France and was very strongly connected to France in that it involved work on a villa there and a family holiday there. This and the other features of the case would have led me to conclude that [A4(3) Rome I] indicated that there was a manifestly closer connection between the contract and France, although I acknowledge that there is a degree of circularity in this approach. ….

Mr Doherty understandably emphasised that, even if there was no contract with the Claimant, the relationship and the agreement which led to the Claimant and his family being in France were based and made in England. I was also initially attracted by his argument that in effect the Claimant’s complaint is about the way in which the First and Second Defendants fulfilled their side of that agreement. But that is not the claim which he makes, and, in any event, their performance of the agreement was in the form of allowing the Claimant and his family to occupy a villa in France. Nor is this a case in which, for example, the injury occurred whilst the Claimant was carrying out work on the Villa and potential tortious and contractual duties (if the relationship was contractual) therefore arose directly out of the relationship between the parties.

To my mind the tort/delict in this case is much more closely connected to the state of the swimming pool which, as I have said, was part of a property in France and resulted from the French law contract between the First and Second Defendants and the Fourth Defendant. If any of the Defendants is liable, that liability will be closely connected with this contract. This point, taken in combination with the other points to which I have referred, in my view clearly outweighs the existence of any contract with the Claimant relating to the Villa, even if I had found there to be a contractual relationship and even if it was governed by English law.

Similarly, although I have taken into account the nationality and habitual place of residence of the Claimant and the First and Second Defendants, these do not seem to me to alter the conclusion to which I have come. I have also taken into account the fact that the consequences of the accident have to a significant extent been suffered by the Claimant whilst he was in England, but in my view the other factors to which I have referred clearly outweigh this consideration.

Of particular note for future direction on Rome II, is the discussion on existing pre-contractual relations.

This is of course a fact-specific and to a certain extent, discretionary assessment. I also agree there is no limit to the kinds and amount of factors which a judge may take into account when applying the A4(3) exception.

I am minded to disagree with the conclusion reached here, however.  The judge’s assessment is one that echoes a proper law of the tort approach, starting from scratch. But that is not what A4(3) is about: it does not start from scratch; it starts from the clearly stated rule of A4(1) or A4(2), which require a lot of heavy lifting to be dislodged. The arguments pro upholding the A4(2) presumption listed in 78ff in my view give the finding for sustaining its consequence and hence English law as lex causae, strong foundations indeed which I believe, respectfully of course, the judge did not show enough deference to.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 4.5.

 

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