Posts Tagged comparative

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.

Geert.

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Menon CJ of Singapore’s Supreme Court on cross-border insolvency.

Many thanks to Filbert Lam for alerting me to Menon CJ’s most exquisite 2018 speech on cross-border insolvency law. His honour’s talk addresses forum shopping (including for cram down reasons), the Model Law, a most enlightening comparison between international commercial arbitration (particularly: the New York Convention’s role) and insolvency, and of course modified universalism (on which see also this recent post by Bob Wessels, with ia analysis of the EU position). A delightfully sharp observation of key elements of international insolvency practice and policy.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 5.

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Heller v Uber at the Ontario Court of Appeal: arbitration clause requiring arbitration in the Netherlands of disputes between drivers and Uber invalid.

Thank you Christopher Burkett for alerting me to Heller v. Uber Technologies Inc., 2019 ONCA 1.  The case is reminiscent of California’s Senate Bill 1241 (review here) and of an article that I co-authored with Jutta Gangsted [‘Protected parties in European and American conflict of laws: a comparative analysis of individual employment contracts]. The starting point of the California, the EU rules, and the Canadian judgment is the same: employees cannot be considered to really consent to either choice of law or choice of court /dispute resolution hence any clause doing same will be subject to mandatory limitations.

Here, an arbitration clause requiring arbitration in the Netherlands of disputes between drivers and Uber was held to be invalid and unenforceable, because it deprives an employee of the benefit of making a complaint to the Ministry of Labour under relevant Ontarian law.

Of note is that the judgment applies assuming the contract is one of employment – which remains to be determined under Ontarian law. Of note is also that the Court of appeal rejected Uber’s position that the validity is an issue for the arbitrator to determine because it is an issue going to the jurisdiction of the arbitrator. Uber invoked the “competence-competence” /kompetenz kompetenz principle in support of its position.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016. Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.3, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.

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The Hague Judgments project rolls on. And a quick note on [2018] FCA 549 Kraft Foods v Bega Cheese.

Kraft Foods v Bega Cheese [2018] FCA 549 was signalled to me by Michael Mitchell back in early May – now seems a good opportunity briefly to report on it. The Federal Court of Australia issued an anti-arbitration injunction to restrain a multinational food conglomerate from pursuing arbitration in New York. Kraft had pursued litigation in Australia which not only sought to restrain the respondent from certain radio and television advertising, but also sought final relief including damages.

Parties had agreed to mediate and arbitrate under the dispute resolution provisions of a Master Agreement for licensing of IP. Bega had acquired certain rights from Mondelez (a company in the Kraft group), including certain trademark rights that Kraft had licensed to Mondelez pursuant to the Master Agreement.

Of interest to the blog is the myriad number of issues that led the Court to issue the injunction, among others the fact that what was sought included interim relief, the position of which when it comes to enforcement is not entirely clear in the New York Convention. Throw intellectual property, mediation as well as arbitration, common law doctrine principles such as the Aldi rule in the mix, and the jurisdictional soup becomes quite attractive as well as complex. Precisely why intellectual property is hotly debated in the Hague Judgments project and likely to be excluded from it.

That latter brings me to the second part of the blog title: the HCCH have issued a Revised Draft Explanatory Report, and a document on the possible exclusion of anti-trust matters from the Convention as reflected in Article 2(1)(p) of the 2018 draft Convention. Both signal the continuing difficulty of the roll-out of the Hague Process, as well as continued intent to let the train roll into its end destination; although one wonders how many wagons will have been left behind en route.

Geert.

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

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Floating/Invalid Choice of Law Clauses. The Singapore High Court in Shanghai Turbo.

Marcus Teo has excellent analysis of Shanghai Turbo Enterprises Ltd v Liu Ming [2018] SGHC 172. The issue is well-known in contract law as such and takes one or two special forms in conflicts: what is the fate of a contract as a whole, and /or of contractual clauses individually, when part of a clause is defective.

In the case at issue, the relevant contractual clause read

This Agreement shall be governed by the laws of Singapore/or People’s Republic of China and each of the parties hereto submits to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of Singapore/or People’s Republic of China.”

As far as the choice of court part of this clause is concerned, non-exclusive choice of court comes with strings attached, depending on the laws of the States concerned: under the editorship of Mary Keyes, Michiel Poesen and I have contributed to an extensive comparative volume on same wich is forthcoming. However for choice of law one need not look at the specific laws of a State to appreciate that this clause thus formulated is simply a lame duck. No clear choice of law is made at all. The pragmatic solution is to ignore the useless clause and determine the proper law of the contract in the absence of a valid expression of parties’ autonomy. Yet conceptually an argument can, and has been made that to do so ignores the very high relevance of the lex contractus in the very contract formation – a conceptual quagmire which in EU law is addressed by Rome I’s ‘bootstrap’ principle.

In the case at issue, the High Court follows a pro-validation approach (favor contractus): the invalidity of the choice of law clause does not affect the formation of the main contract. A commercially sensible solution which Marcus analysis critically in excellent detail.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.7.

 

 

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Liu v Ma. NSW (Australian) PIL happy to enforce foreign judgments where jurisdiction is based simply on nationality.

Another case in my backlog for some time, and thank you Sarah McKibbing for flagging, some time back, [2017] VSC 810 Liu v Ma,

 

At 6 Mukhtar AJS notes ‘There is sufficient authority for the view that Australian Courts will enforce a foreign judgment where the defendant is a subject of the foreign country in which the judgment was obtained.  That view has its critics (footnote omitted, GAVC) and it may have its difficulties especially if the citizenship is inactive.  Nevertheless, it is founded on a line of English authority exemplified by the statement of Buckley LJ in Emanuel v Symon‘.

Many would argue that at the very jurisdictional level nationality as a ground is parochial /exorbitant. At the same time that at the level of recognition, one should show restraint in refusing to recognise judgments based on such flimsy jurisdictional grounds.

For those wanting to dig deeper, prof Andrew Dickinson has critical review of the relevant case-law in (2018) 134(July) LQR 426-449 (‘Schibsby v Westenholz and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in England’).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.4. for a discussion of ‘parochial’ jurisdiction in the EU context).

 

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Li Shengwu, Singapore: Serving out of jurisdiction in contempt of court cases.

Many thanks to Filbert Lam, a former student of mine, for alerting me to another interesting case in comparative conflict of laws: the story of Li Shengwu is recalled here.

The Singapore Prime Minister’s nephew made remarks in a Facebook post, which were allegedly contemptuous of the judiciary. When he made those remarks, he was located in the US, where he intends to stay (and work). The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) wants to serve the summons on him in the US. Under what circumstances can this be done and what is the impact of a procedural law seemingly assisting the AGC in serving the summons, but which would have to be applied retroactively in the case at issue?

The Court of Appeal proceeding will be one to look out for.

Geert.

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