Posts Tagged Comity
Cuzco v Tera (Chapter 11). Respect for Korean exclusive jurisdictional rule (shareholder derivative claims) does not trump US subject-matter jurisdiction.
Thank you Dechert for flagging Case No. 16-00636 Cuzco v Tera (Chapter 11), in which Faris J with great clarity wades in on a motion to dismiss US Chapter 11 jurisdiction in favour of exclusive jurisdiction for the Seoul courts with respect to a Korean company shareholder derivative action.
The case is relevant to insolvency practitioners. More generally however it highlights the need for a court to keep a level heading when wading through to and fro litigation in various States.
A bit of factual detail is required to appreciate the ruling.
Cuzco USA filed a chapter 11 in Hawaii with its sole asset real property in Hawaii. Tera Resources Co., Ltd. (“Tera”), one of Cuzco Korea’s shareholders asserted that the Debtor and its insiders conspired to deprive Cuzco Korea of the value of the real property. Tera commenced an action for fraud, breach of fiduciary duties, piercing the corporate veil, unjust enrichment and imposition of constructive trust.
The defendants moved to dismiss, in favour of the Korean courts – and failed, both on arguments of forum non conveniens and on arguments of there being exclusive jurisdiction for the courts at Seoul. Defendant Mr Lee is purportedly the manager of Cuzco USA and the representative director of Cuzco Korea. Defendant Ms Yang is shareholder and creditor of Cuzco Korea and an ally of Mr. Lee.
Cuzco USA had proposed, and the court confirmed, a Third Amended Plan of Reorganization. Briefly summarized, the Third Amended Plan provided that Cuzco USA would transfer the Keeaumoku (Hawaii) Property to Newco, a Hawaii limited liability company of which Mr. Lee is the sole member, that Newco would attempt to raise enough money through a refinancing to repay all of Cuzco USA’s creditors in full, and that if the refinancing did not occur by a date certain, Newco would sell the Keeaumoku Property at auction and distribute the proceeds to Cuzco USA’s creditors.
Tera and others filed motions for reconsideration of the order confirming the Third Amended Plan. Tera is a shareholder of Cuzco Korea. It also holds a judgment, entered by a Korean court, against Ms. Yang, and orders from a Korean court that, according to Tera, resulted in the seizure of Ms. Yang’s interests in and claims against Cuzco Korea.
Cuzco USA then moved to modify the Third Amended Plan and replaced it with a Fourth Amended Plan. Briefly summarized, this Plan eliminates the transfer of the Keeaumoku Property to Newco; instead, Cuzco USA will retain the property and either refinance it or sell it at auction. Tera and others vigorously objected to plan confirmation on multiple grounds. The court confirmed the Fourth Amended Plan.
Tera argued (among other things) that the Third Amended Plan was the product of a fraudulent scheme by Mr. Lee, Ms. Yang, and others to divert the equity in Cuzco USA from Cuzco Korea to themselves and to render Tera’s interests in Cuzco Korea worthless.
That Korean law covers governs the right to bring derivative claims on behalf of a Korean corporation is not under dispute between the parties. (It is therefore considered part of the rules on internal organisation which are subject to lex societatis). However Faris J dismissed defendants’ suggestion that the US court should also respect Korea’s jurisdictional rules that such suits be brought in Seoul only.
At B, p.10: US statutes confer subject matter jurisdiction on US courts. Statutes of another nation, such as the South Korean statute on which the moving defendants rely, cannot change the subject matter jurisdiction of a United States bankruptcy court under a United States statute.
Forum non conveniens was dismissed for there is a strong policy that favors centralization of claims against the debtor in the bankruptcy court that outweighs any other interest (at C, p.12). One would have to have strong arguments to push that aside and clearly these were not present here.
In Platinum Partners, Chapman J held that foreign discovery laws should be considered for comity concerns, yet they are not determinative of whether discovery should be permitted under United States law.
Foreign Representatives sought access to documents from US audit firms concerning investment funds that were debtors in Cayman Islands liquidation proceedings recognized under Chapter 15 as foreign main proceedings. Jacob Frumkin has excellent insight and I am happy to refer.
Section 1521(a) of the Bankruptcy Code provides that, upon recognition of a foreign main proceeding, a bankruptcy court may, “at the request of a foreign representative, grant any appropriate relief” … “where necessary to effectuate the purpose of [chapter 15] and to protect the assets of the debtor or the interests of the creditors.” The first main argument of the auditors was that Cayman law does not permit the discovery of audit work papers or materials that are not a debtor’s property and, if the Court were to grant the motion, its interests and the interests of comity would not be protected.
The Court dismissed this argument, noting that
“it is well-established that comity does not require that the relief available in the United States be identical to the relief sought in the foreign bankruptcy proceeding; it is sufficient if the result is comparable and that the foreign laws are not repugnant to our laws and policies.” and that
“requiring this Court to ensure compliance with foreign law prior to granting relief sought pursuant to chapter 15 would require the Court to engage in a full-blown analysis of foreign law each and every time a foreign representative seeks additional relief in the United States, which may result in differing interpretations of U.S. law depending on where the foreign main proceeding was pending.”
Comity considerations surface in the most technical of corners.
Update 3 April 2018 Recently, the so-called “CLOUD Act” was passed by Congress and signed into law. This new law amends the Stored Communications Act to give it a potentially extraterritorial reach. Following this development, the U.S. Government has moved to have the Microsoft case dismissed as moot, and to have the Second Circuit’s decision vacated. [Technically, Congress has enacted, and the President has signed,
the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, H.R. 1625, 115th Cong., 2d Sess. (2018). Division V of that Act is called the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act, or the CLOUD Act. TheCLOUD Act amends the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2701-2712, by adding 18 U.S.C. 2713, which now states:
A provider of electronic communication service or remote computing service shall
comply with the obligations of this chapter to preserve, backup, or disclose the contents
of a wire or electronic communication and any record or other information pertaining to a customer or subscriber within such provider’s possession, custody, or control, regardless of whether such communication, record, or other information is located within or outside of the United States.]
For background to the Microsoft Ireland case under the Stored Communications Act (SCA), see here. The issue is essentially whether the US Justice Department may force Microsoft to grant access to e-mails stored on Irish servers.
With a group of EU data protection and conflicts lawyers, we have filed an amicus curiae brief in the case at the United States Supreme Court last week, arguing that the Court should interpret the SCA to apply only to data stored within the United States, leaving to Congress the decision whether and under what circumstances to authorize the collection of data stored in other countries.
There is not much point in me rehashing the arguments here: happy reading.
Interestingly enough the issue of inclusion of foreign victims in class action suits came up in conversation around our dining room the other day. (Our youngest daughter, 15, is showing encouraging signs of an interest in a legal career). In 2017 ONCA 792 Airia Brands Inc v Air Canada is reviewed excellently by Dentons here and I am happy to refer. (See also here for Norton Rose reporting on related cases – prior to the CA’s decision in Airia Brands).
The jurisdiction and ‘real and substantial connection’ analysis referred to Van Breda (which recently also featured mutatis mutandis in the forum necessitatis analysis in Cook).
Certification of global classes was part of the classic analysis of developments in international class action suits, which hit us a few years back when many EU states started introducing it. Airia Brands shows that the concerns are far from settled.
Expect a series of blog postings in the next few weeks on developments which occurred a few weeks or even months back. I have been squirreling away a series of judgments and other developments, with a view to exam season. Some of them I did use in my exam papers – some of them I did not.
Update 24 January 2018 Imamura et al. v General Electric Company and ‘Does 1-100’ employs the same jurisdictioal opening to forum shop in the US. See here for background.
nCooper v. Tokyo Electric Power [plaintiffs in the case are a group of service members in the U.S. Navy who were deployed to Operation Tomodachi, a relief effort in the immediate aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami; they allege they were exposed to radiation during the deployment] by the US Court of Appeals, ninth circuit, is a direct (and rare in its directness) example of how jurisdictional rules are used to help co-ordinate a country’s diplomatic efforts. In this particular case, the Court gives direct support to the State Department’s view that in order for others to be encouraged to accede to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (“CSC”), its main jurisdictional rule (granting exclusive jurisdiction to the country of the locus delicti commissi) must not be achievable via an application of comity in the US courts. For further background and overview see Elina Teplinsky, and Meghan Claire Hammond here.
That plaintiffs are US citisens plays a major role in the court ruling out forum non conveniens.
In some of the corporate social responsibility /alien tort statute cases that I have reported on in the blog (particularly, Rio Tinto), foreign policy openly plays a role, too, and in Kiobel itself, in the lower courts, the impact of jurisdiction on US foreign policy was debated, too. It is always refreshing to see courts highlight the issue openly. For in many jurisdictions, such obvious impacts are brushed under the carpet.
Update 31 August 2018 the merits of the case were subsequently held in August 2018,  EWHC 2264 (Pat).
End of exam season (sadly not yet of marking marathon). In the next few weeks I shall be posting on judgments issued a little or longer while ago, which I was pondering to use in exams. (I did for some of them).
In  EWHC 1216 (Pat) Chugai Pharmaceutical v UCB the issue at stake was to what degree a suit seeking to establish absence of liability under a patent license, in reality provokes argument on the validity of the patent. Carr J has excellent review of precedent, much of which has passed in one way or another on this blog. Please do refer to judgment for proper reading.
Claimant (“Chugai”) seeks a declaration against the Defendants (collectively “UCB”) that it is not obliged to continue to pay royalties under a patent licence (“the Licence”) granted by the First Defendant (“UCB Pharma”). UCB Pharma is a Belgian company with an English branch which entered into the Licence with Chugai in respect of a portfolio of patents. Chugai claims that its products, which are, in part, manufactured and sold in the USA, fall outside the scope of the claims of the Patent concerned. Accordingly, Chugai seeks a declaration that it owes no royalties for the manufacture and sale of these drugs manufactured after a certain date.
UCB alleges that, although framed as a claim for a declaration relating to a contract, a part of these proceedings, in substance, concerns not only the scope but also the validity of the Patent. UCB submits that the validity of a US patent is non-justiciable, since the English court has no power to determine the validity of a foreign patent. Accordingly, it submits that those parts of Chugai’s pleading which are said to raise issues of invalidity fall outside the subject matter jurisdiction of the English court.
European private international law as readers will know lays greats emphasis on exclusive jurisdiction in the case of validity of patents. The CJEU’s holding in C-4/03 Gat v Luk that nullity actions against a national part of a certain European patent can only be conducted in the jurisdiction for which that patent was registered, regardless of whether the nullity argument is raised in the suit or by way of defence, is now included verbatim in Article 24(4) Brussels I Recast. The EU’s take is rooted in the idea that the grant of a national patent is “an exercise of national sovereignty” (Jenard Report on the Brussels Convention (OJ 1979 C59, pp 1, 36)). The rule therefore engages the Act of State doctrine, and suggests that comity requires the courts of States other than the State of issue, to keep their hands off the case.
Particularly in cases where defendant is accused of having infringed a patent, this rule gives it a great possibility to stall proceedings. Where the action is ‘passive’, with plaintiff aiming to establish no infringement, the argument that the suit really involves validity of patent is less easily made.
The possibility of ‘torpedo’ abuse, coupled with less deference to the jurisdictional consequences of the Act of State doctrine [particularly its contested extension to intellectual property rights], means the English courts in particular are becoming less impressed with the exclusivity. (Albeit Carr J on balance decides per curiam (at 73-74) that direct challenges to the validity of foreign patents should not be justiciable in the English courts). Where the EU Regulation applies, they do not have much choice. Carr J refers to  EWHC 1722 (Pat) Anan where claimant sought to carve out issues of validity by seeking a declaration that the defendant’s acts infringed a German patent “if the German designation is invalid (which is to be determined by the German courts)“. EU law meant this attempt could not be honoured. Carr J however suggests that EU rules have no direct application in the present case because the Patent at stake is a United States patent. That is spot on, on the facts of the case: choice of court having been made in favour of the English courts, the case does not fall under the amended lis alibi pendens rule of the Brussels I Recast. In Article 33 juncto recital 24, reflexive effect is suggested for the Regulation’s exclusive jurisdictional rules, leaving a Member State court in a position (not: under an obligation) to give way to pending litigation in third countries, if its own jurisdiction is based on a non-exlusive jurisdictional rule (Articles 4, 7, 8 or 9) and not within the context of the protected categories.
Allow me to lean on 20 Essex Street’s conclusion in their review of the case: Carr J held that the case before him was not a direct challenge to validity. He accepted Chugai’s submissions that its claim was contractual. Disputed parts of the patent were incidental to the essential nature of its claim, which was a claim for determination of its royalty obligations. In his view, this claim fell within the exclusive jurisdiction clause, in favour of the English courts, which parties had agreed.
Essential reading for IP litigators.
(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124.