Posts Tagged COMI

International Bank of Azerbaijan: Principle or practice of ‘modified universalism’ in (cram-down resulting from) insolvency proceedings.

[2018] EWHC 59 (Ch) International Bank of Azerbaijan is an excellent illustration of the practicality v the doctrine of modified universalism in international insolvency law, as well as of the binding force of precedent even in a changing world. Hildyard J first summarises at 2 the question raised as ‘whether the Court has power to grant a permanent moratorium or stay to prevent a creditor exercising its rights under a contract governed by English law in order to prevent that creditor enforcing its rights contrary to the terms of the foreign insolvency proceeding by which all creditors were, under the relevant foreign law, intended to be bound. If it does, the second question is whether in its discretion the Court should exercise that power.’

IBA has fallen into financial difficulties, obliging it to enter into a restructuring proceeding under Azeri law. The Foreign Representative, Ms Gunel Bakhshiyeva (hence also giving her name to the official case-name) had the High Court issue an order  recognising the Restructuring Proceeding as a foreign main proceeding. That recognition order imposes a wide-ranging moratorium preventing creditors from commencing or continuing any action against IBA or its property without the permission of the Court.  The plan proposed by IBA pursuant to the restructuring proceeding has been approved by a substantial majority at a meeting of creditors in Azerbaijan, sanctioned by the relevant Azeri court, and as a matter of Azeri law, the plan is now binding on all affected creditors, including those who did not vote and those who voted against the Plan: a classic cram-down.

Respondents in the case contend that the plan cannot bind them. In each case their relationship as creditor with IBA is governed by English law. They rely on the (1890) rule in Gibbs, which states that a debt governed by English law cannot be discharged by a foreign insolvency proceeding. Reformulating the essential issues at 19, Hildyard J summarises them as

(1) Whether the Court has jurisdiction to extend a moratorium imposed under the CBIR without limit as to time, and in particular, beyond the date on which the foreign proceeding will terminate; and

(2) If so, whether the Court should refuse to lift the continuing moratorium in favour of a creditor whose debt is governed by English law, so as to prevent that creditor from achieving a better return than that enjoyed by all of the company’s other creditors under a restructuring plan promulgated in the jurisdiction in which the company is registered and has its centre of main interests (“COMI”).

At 44 ff Hildyard J excellently summarises the rule, and the critical reception of it in recent scholarship, the latter suggesting it is not just out of touch with a less anglo-centric view of the world, but also inconsistent with the English courts themselves expecting foreign recognition of schemes of arrangement (SAs being of a corporate, not lex concursus nature but nevertheless fishing in the same waters as insolvency proceedings) conducted in the English courts with English law as the lex causae.

Having summed up all the arguments against the rule and yet recent continued application of it, Hildyard J at 58 dryly notes that his place in the hierarchy means that he cannot simply swipe the rule aside: he must apply it and simply assess whether it applies in the current circumstances. More particularly, whether at one and the same time the ‘rule’ may formally be observed by accepting the continuation of the rights which English law confers, and yet also the principles of modified universalism which the UNCITRAL Model Law gives effect to.

Lengthy discussion then follows of the pros and contras, with the High Court eventually finding no persuasive argument to set aside the rule, particularly not by the English application of the UNCITRAL model law. Counsel had argued that qualifying the model law as procedural as opposed to substantive law, would enable the Court effectively to sidestep Gibbs as precedent. However Hildyard J prefered to accept the full force of precedent rather than sweeping it aside by the procedural pretext.

The substantive rule clearly is ripe for reconsideration by the Court of Appeal.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.1.

 

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COMI in NIKI.

Thank you Bob Wessels for again alerting us (with follow-up here [update 15 January 2018 and here ; looks like regular revisits of prof Wessels’ blog are in order) and also reporting by Lukas Schmidt here) timely to a decision this time by the German courts in Niki, applying the Insolvency Regulation 2015, on the determination of COMI – Centre of Main Interests. Bob’s review is excellent per usual hence I am happy to refer for complete background.

Of particular note is the discussion on the extent of a court’s duty to review jurisdiction ex officio; the court’s correct assumption that in the event of foggy circumstances, the EIR’s presumption of COMI at the place of incorporation must have priority; and finally in my view the insufficient weight the court places on ascertainability by third parties.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.

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COMI in Powerstorm and in Bezuijen Holding v X: Dutch Courts warming up to the new Insolvency Regulation.

Thank you Bob Wessels for again alerting us timely to two recent decisions by the Dutch courts, applying the Insolvency Regulation 2015, on the determination of COMI – Centre of Main Interests. Bob’s review is excellent per usual hence I am happy to refer for complete background. In short, the decisions are

  • in Powerstorm: textbook applications on the public expression (hence ascertainability by third parties, to use the CJEU’s phrase of words) of COMI, which third parties have to rely on. Here: to displace the presumption of COMI in the United States (place of incorporation; in re Powerstorm) in favour of Amsterdam.
  • in Bezuijen BV against X, a natural person: with extensive reference to the recitals of the EIR 2015, that the Dutch courts have to consider jurisdiction proprio motu, evidently, and that they need serious evidence to uphold jurisdiction against a natural person who, both parties agree, no longer has his residence in The Netherlands (where it is, is in dispute but it is probably somewhere in the vicinity of Paris).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.

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Bank Leumi. No calling for the EU’s Insolvency Regulation in intra-UK scenarios.

Thank you Ben Zielinski for flagging Bank Leumi (UK) Plc v Screw Conveyor Ltd [2017] CSOH 129. I believe Ben is right in writing that this is the first formal acknowledgement that Scottish judicial authorities have no insolvency business in respect of an English registered company, and the same applies to English courts and Scottish companies,  in spite of the EU’s Insolvency Regulation.

Even if a company carries out its main activities in Scotland, internal UK jurisdictional rules will assign insolvency jurisdiction to the English judicial authorities. That is a result of, as Lord Doherty writes, the Insolvency Regulations designating the ‘Member State the courts of which may open insolvency proceedings’ however ‘territorial jurisdiction within that Member State is established by the Member State’s national law’ (at 9).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.

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OCEAN Rig: COMI shopping cautiously welcomed by US Bankruptcy Court.

I have often argued that the European Commission and by extension the EU’s Insolvency Regulation is wrong in taking as a starting point that forum shopping in insolvency matters as a rule needs to be discouraged. This aversion towards forum shopping is one of the main reasons for the UK and other Member States to keep Schemes of Arrangement and other restructuring devises well out off the reach of the Regulation. (The Brussels I recast for instance allows for much more strategic choice of court use).

Thank you Debra Dandeneau for flagging the US Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York’s decision in Ocean Rig. The Court essentially argues that to use forum shopping in a restructuring /insolvency case is absolutely acceptable provided it is done in good faith, particularly with a view to maximizing chances of survival and /or maximal recovery by the creditors. Note that the Court, in determining COMI for the various companies in the group, pays specific attention to the ascertainability, by third parties, of COMI.

A judgment to be applauded. And this posting, incidentally, is the 500th on this blog. To 1000 and beyond!

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.1, Heading 5.4.6.

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COMI for groups of companies. The Brussels commercial court in Parfip.

Thank you to both Patrick Wauthelet and Arie van Hoe for forwarding a copy of the judgment of the Brussels commercial court in Parfip. Please pop me an e-mail should you like a copy. The judgment is textbook application of CJEU precedent, including of course Eurofood and Interedil. Fully respecting the presumption of individual COMI in the case of a group of companies, the judgment refers to ia German and French precedent in rebuking the presumption. Not only were the companies effectively run from Brussels, notwithstanding non-Belgian seat for some of them; to third parties it was also clear that this was the case.

The judgment also confirms a narrow interpretation of the exception for ‘credit institutions’.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.2.Heading 5.6.1.2.4.

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Not the Muppet show. FREP, FREP, FREP and Frogmore. Determination of COMI for groups and SPVs. The High Court pushes head office approach.

In [2017] EWHC 25 (Ch) the Frogmore Group,  there are three relevant companies: FREP (Knowle) Limited. FREP (Ellesmere Port) Limited and FREP (Belle Vale) Limited all of which were incorporated in and have their registered office in Jersey. The Companies form part of Frogmore group (of which the ultimate parent is Frogmore Property Company Limited). The Frogmore group specialises in real estate investment and management in the UK and each of the Companies owns a shopping centre located at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, Belle Vale in Liverpool and Knowle in Bristol respectively. Each of these shopping centres is managed by Frogmore Real Estate Investment Managers Limited (“FREPIM”), a company formed in England and Wales with its registered office and base for operations at London.

The Nationwide seeking enforcement of security, the group sought a declaration that COMI was at Jersey.

Marshall DJ held with reference to the familiar precedents of Eurofood and Interedil, both featuring heavily in my earlier postings on COMI, but also to Northsea Base Investments in which Birss J paid particular attention to the largest shareholders. Of note is that this reference to the largest shareholders does not entail (and indeed is not so constructed in either Northsea Base or Frogmore) that these get the pick of what COMI might entail. Rather, that the dealings with and experience of one place as being the place where the company’s interest are being managed from, is of particular interest for the Interedil emphasis on ascertainability by third parties. Marshall DJ also rekindles the discussion on whether Interedil’s emphasis is on identifying the ‘Head office’ of the companies: a conclusion which one needs to treat with caution for even in Interedil’s tacit support for the head office approach, the emphasis continues to lie with the combination of factors, all leading to transparency and publicity.

The High Court in the end held with reference to the following: (at 39; all wording as  the judgment but with one or two words left out)

(1) Day- to-day conduct of the business and activities of the Companies has been in the hands of an agent appointed in England, namely FREPIM. Under the Advisory Agreement (which was itself governed by English law and had an English exclusive jurisdiction clause) FREPIM was to take on full responsibility for providing a very large range of services to the Companies, including day-to-day management of the Shopping Centres and dealing with their financing, accounting, marketing and formulation of their business strategy. FREPIM  itself acknowledged that it worked on investment strategy and business plans for the Companies; instructed lawyers, surveyors and consultants for them; negotiated the purchase and sale of properties on their behalf; dealt with their borrowing requirements; and attended to the provision of accounting systems and the preparation of management and annual accounts. These actions were not just limited commercial activities but included the types of function that one would expect a head office to discharge.

(2) Day-to-day dealings with third parties are carried out from the offices of FREPIM at London. This is confirmed by the evidence of the activity of FREPIM described above but it is also supported by, for example, the Companies’ VAT returns where their business address is stated to be those offices. In their day-to-day dealings with third parties regarding expenditure these offices are given as the address for invoices.

(3) If one has regard to the point of view of the largest creditor, Nationwide, the Facility Agreement and the Nationwide Debentures are governed by English law and have an English jurisdiction clause. Under the Facility Agreement the Shareholder is the service agent for the Companies. In the case of the Nationwide Debentures, they have express reference to the power to appoint administrators under the 1986 Act. FREPIM took over the day-to-day contact with Nationwide as well as providing Nationwide with various pieces of information (such as quarterly compliance packs and accounts for borrowers) and did so from London. FREPIM also accepted that the management of the relationship between the Companies and Nationwide had been carried out by [the group treasurer] and the Chairman of the Frogmore group, who was also based in London.

(4) I also note that under the terms of the debentures securing the advances made by the Shareholder that the governing law is English, there is an English exclusive jurisdiction clause, that FREPIM is appointed the service agent of the Companies and there is express provision for the appointment of administrators under the 1986 Act.

The case is a good reminder that even intricate SPV structures should not detract from COMI finding on well-established principles. And that COMI determination always depends on a basket of criteria.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.2., Heading 5.6.1.2.4.

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