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.

Mahmood v The Big Bus Company. At cruise-speed getting to choice of law under the Rome Convention.

Mahmood v The Big Bus Company [2021] EWHC 3395 (QB) is a good illustration of the applicable law process under the 1980 Rome Convention and its inclusion on the blog is mostly for pedagogic /teaching purposes. It even might be a good illustration of the bootstrap principle (meaning an issue on the very existence of the contract needs to be determined by the putative lex contractus) except [94] parties agree that whatever the conclusion as to the applicable law, UAE law can be deemed to be the same as English law in relation to the validity, construction, and effect of the Heads of Terms.

On 27 July 2001, during discussions in London regarding a possible joint venture to operate tour buses in Dubai, the parties signed a document entitled “Heads of Terms”.

Claimant says the Heads of Terms gave rise to a binding contract between the parties, which the Defendant subsequently breached.  The claim is resisted by the Defendant, arguing that, whether assessed under the law of England and Wales or under the law of the UAE, the claim is time-barred.  In the alternative, the Defendant contends there was no binding contract between the parties, or, if there was, that it was superseded by events that took place in 2002, or that the Claimant acted in repudiatory breach of any such contract, whereas the Defendant itself did not breach a contractual obligation owed to the Claimant.  It further disputes that there is any basis for the damages claimed by the Claimant in these proceedings.

The blog’s interest in in the first Q only and this is where [65] ff Eady J does a good job at applying the Convention without verbosity. Reference is best made to the judgment itself.

Geert.

My (conflicts) heart leaps when I behold Canyon v GDF Suez at the High Court.

It does. It really does. (Warning: The next sentence drops all pretext of this posting having poetic qualities). Canyon v GDF Suez is an absolutely perfect illustration of the challenges of the special jurisdictional rule of Article 5(1) of the Brussels I Regulation (now Article 7(1) Brussels Ibis). Starting with the very discussion of whether there was at all a contract between parties (a prima facie case of which is required to trigger Article 5; put differently: there need not even be solid proof of such contract existing), into the discussion of ‘goods’ v ‘services’; back to the at first sight very very puzzling fall-back provision of the third indent of the Article (‘(c) if subparagraph (b) does not apply then subparagraph (a) applies.”; finally, to the determination of ‘the place of performance of the obligation in question’.

Claimant (“Canyon”) is a Scottish company with its registered office in Aberdeen. Defendant applicant (“GDF”), a Dutch company, is a large owner and operator of oil and gas fields. GDF contracted with Cecon NL BV for the transportation and installation of pipelines. Cecon subcontracted to Canyon. Cecon fell behind in payments and GDF committed to paying relevant sub-contractors directly. Canyon relies on that alleged contract and on that contract allegedly having its place of performance in the UK.

Mackie J, no doubt with very able assistance by counsel, does an absolutely perfect job of taking the case through Article 5’s cascade, with impeccable reference to relevant ECJ case-law. Readers are best directed to the (concise) judgment itself. Many thanks to Ryan Deane for alerting me for the case – he has an excellent summary here.

Fantastic class material. Geert.

 

*****

Brussels Ibis Article 7(1)

(a) in matters relating to a contract, in the courts for the place of performance of the obligation in question;

(b) for the purpose of this provision and unless otherwise agreed, the place of performance of the obligation in question shall be:

– in the case of the sale of good, the place in a Member State where, under the contract, the goods were delivered or should have been delivered,

in the case of the provision of services, the place in a Member State where, under the contract, the services were provided or should have been provided,

(c) if subparagraph (b) does not apply then subparagraph (a) applies.

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