Posts Tagged Centrum van de voornaamste belangen

Buccament Bay: Is there room for forum non conveniens in the Insolvency Regulation?

In Buccament Bay, 2014 EWHC 3130 (Ch), Strauss QC (DJ) dealt with the preliminary jurisdictional issue of whether the court should exercise its jurisdiction to hear winding-up petitions, based on largely undisputed debts, when neither of the companies concerned is incorporated in England (they are incorporated in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, ‘SVG’).

[I have a copy of the judgment courtesy of Richard Clark, who with Patrick Cook authored this review of the judgment. Judgment was issued on 3 October but has not yet appeared in BAILII].

The judgment does not start with what logically it ought to have done, namely application of COMI per the EU’s Insolvency Regulation. Instead, Strauss DJ first considers the application of Section 221(1) of UK the Insolvency Act 1986, which i.a. gives the court jurisdiction to wind-up foreign  companies as ‘unregistered’ companies, provided, subject to relevant case-law, that there be sufficient connection with England. He decides there is not (in particular because the condition is not satisfied, required under relevant precedent, that the petitioners derive benefit from the winding up). It is only after having rejected application of Article 221(1) that the court summarily returns to COMI under the Insolvency Regulation. Arguments pro and contra (which also fed into the Section 221(1) analysis) are helpfully summarised by Anna Jeffrey here. They led, justifiably I believe (albeit that reference to ECJ precedent here, would have been helpful) to a finding on COMI being outside the EU.

This is then where the High Court comes to the most interesting part of the judgment, even if it was obiter (at 25). Namely that even had COMI being in the UK, the English court could still exercise constraints /room for manoeuvre, applying Section 221(1), including recourse to forum non conveniens. In the words of Strauss DJ, ‘the only effect of Article 3(1) [of the Insolvency Regulation] is to give the court jurisdiction, which it has anyhow under English domestic law, to open insolvency proceedings. Where a company’s COMI is in this country, it is highly likely that, by definition, the court will be satisfied that there is a substantial connection with this country, but otherwise the discretionary factors will be the same. In this case, even if I had been satisfied that the respondents’ COMI was here, it would still have made no sense to make winding up orders in a case which is obviously much more suitable for the SVG courts.

Respectfully, I disagree. Article 3(1) simply supersedes Section 221(1) in cases where COMI is in the UK. It generally supersedes national jurisdictional rules, again, provided COMI is in the EU. Article 221(1) being a jurisdictional rule and not one of substantive UK insolvency law (which applies as lex concursus), it cannot have calling had COMI been in England.

That leaves the overall question, whether the Insolvency Regulation accommodates forum non conveniens (it certainly does not have a formal rule on it, in contrast with the Brussels I recast). Although there is to my knowledge no ECJ case-law on this, it is quite likely that neither Regulation nor most definitely the ECJ have sympathy for FNC. (See my posting on Kemsley for the issue of anti-suit injunctions and the Regulation).

Geert.

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You name it! Dutch court adds to the criteria relevant in (not) rebutting COMI presumption for companies

Thank you Arie van Hoe for alerting me to this in some respect amusing judgment by the court at The Hague. Amusing, in that the court adds a curious consideration to the criteria for third parties’ perception of COMI.

Central Eastern European Real Estate Shareholdings BV is incorporated in The Netherlands. Per Article 3(1) of the Insolvency Regulation, The Netherlands is therefore presumed to be the Centre of Main Interests – COMI of the company. This presumption can be rebutted using the definition of COMI included in recital 13: COMI is the place where the debtor conducts the administration of his interests on a regular basis and is therefore ascertainable by third parties. The ECJ has repeatedly emphasised the combination of both: administration of the interests elsewhere,  and this as such being recognisable to third parties.

CEE itself suggests Romania as COMI. The court at The Hague correctly emphasises both elements of recital 13, paying particular attention to third party ascertainability. Consultation of the commercial register, the Court flags, reveals clearly to third parties that the company is being managed from the Netherlands, by Dutch directors. It is here that the Court adds the reference to the commercial register revealing the ‘typically Dutch names’ of the directors. That is amusing and was bound to attract attention – although to be fair it is not the core reasoning of the court. Of some relevance was the fact that the directors apparently, as was revealed at the hearing, regularly consult, in The Netherlands, with Netherlands based consultants.

It is of course difficult to read the entire mind of the court just from the succinctly written judgment, however what seemed to be crucial was the lack of convincing elements, provided by the company, that to third parties Romania clearly was the place of administration of the company’s interests. Indeed the judgment reveals no such factors at all. Aforementioned elements therefore acted in support of the presumption.

Reference to the directors’ names opens up an interesting prospect: that of first name shopping (or indeed change of name by deed poll) to impact on COMI. (Please just put that down as a silly suggestion rather than sound advice. For, again, the court itself also just made the comment in support ex multi).

Geert.

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Propertize: Should creditors’ domicile and mutual consent on COMI be relevant for insolvency Regulation?

In Propertize, (held 10 April 2014; delayed reporting for exam reasons) the court at ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Netherlands) held that Propertise BV has COMI in The Netherlands (and the presumption in favour of COMI being the place of corporate domicile therefore not dismissed), paying particular attention to the fact that (1) during argument at court both parties in the meantime had agreed that COMI was in The Netherlands, and (2) that the main creditors were based in The Netherlands.

Prof Wessels was right to be pleased to be quoted in the judgment – even if as he also rightfully points out, the court in fact only refers to his Handbook to cite relevant case-law and not to apply the COMI test properly (as prof Wessels’ book does): recital 13 of the Insolvency Regulation suggests COMI as being the place where the debtor conducts the administration of his interests on a regular basis and is therefore ascertainable by third parties. The ECJ has repeatedly emphasised the combination of both: administration of the interests elsewhere,  and this as such being recognisable to third parties (e.g. at 49 in Interedil). Neither location of the creditors nor agreement between creditors on the debtors’ COMI have any relevance.

Textbook inadequate application of COMI: hence very appropriate for an exam question. Geert.

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