ING v Banco Santander. Deferring to extensive discussion of national law on the insolvency exception, and a bit too rich a pudding on privity of choice of court.

The critical point in Monday’s judgment in  ING Bank N.V. & Anor v Banco Santander S.A. [2020] EWHC 3561 (Comm), an application for lack of jurisdiction, is whether this is a case about claims which a syndicate of eight lenders, including ING, had against Marme Inversiones 2007 S.L.U (“Marme”) under a loan agreement and related swap agreements (together “the Marme Agreements”) which were entered into between the lenders and Marme in September 2008, or whether it is about the effect of the ongoing liquidation of Marme in Spain on those claims. The Defendant Applicant says the latter, the Claimant Respondents say the former.

Of note is that on 2 January 2020, Sorlinda, whose agreements are at issue, merged into Santander. As a consequence of the merger, Santander assumed all of Sorlinda’s rights and liabilities.

At 4 Cockerill J summarises ‘the field of battle’ (at 4) as follows:

Santander contends that the court should refuse to exercise jurisdiction or order a stay because:

i) The claim falls within the EU Insolvency Regulation on insolvency proceedings (the “Insolvency Regulation”) and is excluded from the scope of the recast Regulation (EU) No. 1215/2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (the “Brussels Regulation”) pursuant to Article 1(2)(b) of the Brussels Regulation.

ii) Even if the Claim does not fall within the exception under Article 1(2)(b), ING cannot rely upon Article 25 of the Brussels Regulation.

iii) As a matter of Spanish law, ING has not established that Sorlinda became liable to ING for Marme’s liabilities.

iv) There are in any event grounds for the Court to refuse to exercise its jurisdiction and/or to order a stay.

ING contends that:

i) The bankruptcy/winding up exclusion in Article 1(2)(b) of the Brussels Regulation does not apply. The Claim is between two solvent entities in relation to contractual payment obligations under the Marme Agreements, and has no effect on Marme or any of its other creditors. The Claim does not derive directly from Marme’s winding up nor is it closely connected with that winding up.

ii) The question of whether or not Santander is bound by the Marme Agreements is a question of English law having appropriate regard to the effect of the relevant “assumption” of Marme’s obligations by Sorlinda (now Santander) as a matter of Spanish law.

iii) There is (at least) a good arguable case that as a consequence of the “assumption” Santander has a direct liability to ING under the Marme Agreements which are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts.

iv) There are no grounds for the Court to refuse to exercise its jurisdiction and/or to order a stay. (GAVC underlining)

She holds that the jurisdictional challenge succeeds on the A25 BIa point, and also on the Insolvency Regulation point. The other grounds (assumption in Spanish Law and case management stay) would have failed.

Arguments in essence concern Brussels Ia’s insolvency exception. Per CJEU Gourdain, an action is related to bankruptcy only if it derives directly from the bankruptcy and is closely linked to proceedings for realising the assets or judicial supervision. Valach and F-Tex is CJEU authority also discussed.

In general, it is the closeness of the link between a court action and the insolvency proceedings that is decisive for the purposes of deciding whether the insolvency exclusion is applicable (CJEU German Graphics). In the absence of substantive EU insolvency law, the CJEU does not push an autonomous interpretation of the concept and defers largely to national insolvency law.

Whether the action is within the scope of BIa therefore requires examination of the national laws at issue, and that is done at length (featuring ia prof Virgós,  whose expert report clearly impressed Mrs Justice Cockerill).

Core of the decision on the insolvency exception, is at 197:

..the nature of the claim is one which is defined by something which took place in the liquidation, and the dispute effectively cannot be expressed without reference to the conduct of the liquidation. Although there is no challenge to the validity of the liquidator’s actions, the proceedings do necessarily require a consideration of the ambit of those powers and the ambit of actions done as part of those powers. The question of to what extent Sorlinda assumed the relevant liability can only be answered by looking at the deal which was struck in the context of the Liquidation Plan (governed by Spanish insolvency law) and the statutory insolvency framework.

The claim is not covered by BIa. English courts do not have jurisdiction over it.

Article 25 BIa is discussed first in fact, at 113 ff. However I would have thought (although Cockerill J suggest quite the reverse) that the A25 arguments must be obiter, with the insolvency exception findings logically coming first. This may be at issue when this judgment is appealed and /or referred to later.

On A25, ING must demonstrate a good arguable case either as to succession to choice of court, or as to specific consent. It was clear that the latter was not established hence discussion focused on novation /succession.  Authority discussed was of course Refcomp, Coreck Maritime, Tilly Russ etc.

This section of the judgment does not have the same clarity as the discussion on insolvency. Much reference is made to the relevance of either Spanish or English law on the issue of privity of choice of court, however this seems to be mostly done with reference to those laws being potential lex contractus (of the underlying contract). Even if the issue is not completely dealt with autonomously by EU law (which is arguable; and would have ended reference to any national laws), discussion of national law arguably should be to lex fori prorogati per the new rule in Brussels Ia (even a putative lex fori prorogati). At any rate, no succession or novation is established.

Something to clear out in my head over the end of year break.

This was most probably my last posting for the year.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and Guten Rutsch. Be safe, and remember this nice thought.

 

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed., 2021, Heading 2.2.3.1 (2.73 ff) and Heading 2.2.10.7 (2.355 ff).

 

The CJEU in Weil: assessment of the scope of application of Brussels Ia at the A53 certificate stage; and a narrow reading of the matrimonial exception.

The CJEU this morning held (without AG Opinion) in C-361/18 Ágnes Weil v Géza Gulácsi.

Overall context is that Brussels Ia does not apply to ‘the status or legal capacity of natural persons, rights in property arising out of a matrimonial relationship, wills and succession’.

Ms Weil and Mr Gulácsi were unregistered partners. Mr Gulácsi was ordered by Hungarian court order to pay Ms Weil approximately EUR 2 060, together with interest for late payment, by virtue of the settlement of rights in property arising out of their de facto (unregistered) non-martial partnership. Ms Weil later applied to the same court to have it issue the Article 53 certificate which would facilitate her enforcement in the UK (where Mr Gulácsi lives and has a regular income). Questions raised, were

‘(1)      Is Article 53 of Regulation … No 1215/2012 to be interpreted as meaning that, if requested by one of the parties, the court of the Member State that delivered the decision must issue the certificate relating to the decision automatically, without examining if [the case] falls within the scope of Regulation … No 1215/2012?

(2)      If the answer to the first question is in the negative, is Article 1(2)(a) of Regulation … No 1215/2012 to be interpreted as meaning that a repayment action between members of an unregistered non-marital [de facto] partnership falls within the scope of the rights in property arising out of a relationship deemed … to have comparable (legal) effects to marriage?’

The  Court answers the first question in the negative: at the recognition and enforcement stage, things must go very swift indeed. The mutual trust required of courts must be backed up by proper consideration of the Regulation by the courts of the Member State of initial adjudication: at 33:

‘the need to ensure the swift enforcement of judgments, while preserving the legal certainty on which the mutual trust in the administration of justice in the European Union is based, justifies, in particular in a situation such as that of the main proceedings — where the court which gave the judgment to be enforced did not adjudicate, when giving that judgment, on whether [Brussels I and Ia] was applicable — that the court hearing the application for the certificate ascertains, at that stage, whether the dispute falls within that regulation.’

It adds at 35 that

the enforcement procedure, under Regulation No 44/2001, precludes, like enforcement under Regulation No 1215/2012, any subsequent review on the part of a court of the Member State addressed of whether the action giving rise to the judgment for which enforcement is sought falls within the scope of Regulation No 44/2001, the grounds for challenging the declaration that a judgment is enforceable being exhaustively laid down by that regulation.

This I find interesting for unless I missed it, there has not yet been a CJEU decision holding this much and as I discuss on pp 191-192 of the Handbook, there is scholarly discussion on same.

With respect to the matrimonial property exception, the CJEU after of course emphasising the need for a restrictive interpretation of the exceptions, acknowledges that Brussels Ia has extended this but only to relationships deemed comparable to marriage (at 44). Unregistered partnerships do not qualify.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.1.2, Heading 2.2.16.1.2 .

BUAK. The concept of ‘court’ (Article 267 TFEU), ‘civil and commercial’, and the social security exception in the Brussels I Recast.

Update 28 October 2020 as reported by Jorg Sladič here, the Slovenian Supreme Court has now held, applying the CJEU judgment, that the employer’s obligation to pay wage supplements regarding annual leave claimed by BUAK before the Austrian forum is inextricably linked to the employees’ right to annual leave paid under civil law, so the nature of BUAK’s claim is also that of a right under civil law. Covered by BIa therefore. An ordre public argument against enforcement failed.

I reported on Bot AG’s Opinion in Case C-579/17 BUAK (Bauarbeiter-Urlaubs- u. Abfertigungskasse v Gradbeništvo Korana d.o.o.) here. He focussed on admissibility viz the preliminary review procedure. He left the questions on ‘civil and commercial’, and the social security exception unanswered, suggesting these are now acte claire. The Court (2nd chamber) at the end of February did answer all questions. (For completeness sake I already note that for the latter, the CJEU referred to secondary EU law to find the payment not to be one in social security).

First, on the issue of admissibility under Article 267 TFEU. In the absence of discussion by the original court on the applicability of Brussels Ia, by determining whether it is competent to issue the certificate under Article 53 Brussels Ia (replacing exequatur), the court of origin implicitly confirms that the judgment given in default which must be recognised and enforced in another Member State falls within the scope of application of that Regulation: for evidently the issue of the certificate is possible only on that condition. That procedure in those circumstances is judicial in character, with the result that a national court ruling in the context of such a procedure is entitled to refer questions to the Court for a preliminary ruling. (But only in those circumstances: for otherwise the issuing of the certificate becomes a potential anchor for stalling quick enforcement, via preliminary review to Luxembourg).

Next, on the issue of ‘civil and commercial’, some usual suspects are discussed including in particular Pula Parking. flyLAL, and Sapir (but not Fahnenbrock or Kuhn). What needs to be examined, is firstly the legal relationship between the parties to the dispute and secondly the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of the action.

As to the former, BUAK may be governed by public law however its calculations of wage supplements and annual leave, the formula for which is determined by decree, are superimposed upon wage negotiations which employers either negotiate entirely freely with employees or agree so on the basis of collective agreements between employers and employees to which employers freely consent. And at 54: ‘in so far as the employer’s obligation to pay the wage supplements is intrinsically linked with the rights, which are of a civil nature, of workers to annual leave pay, …BUAK’s claim and, therefore, an action for payment of that claim, is also of a civil nature.’ (Note that Eurocontrol, not too dissimilar in context (here too the root cause of the debt incurred is one of free will: whether to use certain airspace and airports or not), did lead to a finding of non-civil and commercial matters). I do not find this application straightforward at all; ‘the parties’ are the employer (Korana, a Slovenian company which had posted workers to Austria) and BUAK. Their legal relationship is removed from the contract and /or collective agreements negotiations.

As for the second criterion, the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of the action, unlike purely internal situations, in which BUAK may itself issue an execution title in the form of a statement of arrears, with respect to arrears relating to posted workers who do not have their habitual place of work in Austria it must initiate legal proceedings for the payment of unpaid wage supplements. However there is divergence of views between the referring court and Austria and the EC before the CJEU: the former maintains that its hands are tied and that it cannot pursue a de novo review of the application by BUAC; the latter suggest the court seized does carry out a full review of all of the elements of the application. The CJEU at 60 would seem to lean on the side of the referring court but leaves it to take the final decision.

I will turn to this again when I work on the third edition of the handbook this summer yet it is clear that the formula for deciding civil and commercial is still not entirely settled. The First chamber issued Fahnenbrock (Tizzano (Rapporteur), Rodin, Levits, Berger and Biltgen), and Kuhn (Silva de Lapuerta (Rapporteur), Bonichot, Regan, Fernlund and Rodin; the latter the only common denominator in both), which are arguably more like the Lechoritou formula, which in turn applies Eurcontrol: exclusion of certain legal actions and judicial decisions from the scope of Regulation No 1215/2012, by reason either of the legal relationships between the parties to the action or of the subject matter of the action.

The Second chamber (K. Lenaerts, A. Prechal, Toader, Rosas and Ilešič; quite a few conflicts scholars indeed including the President of the CJEU) such as here in Buak, now focuses on Sapir which was issued by the third Chamber, comprising at the time Toader (Rapporteur), Ilešič, Jarašiūnas, Ó Caoimh,  Fernlund. Toader and Ilešič are the common denominator with current judment in BUAK). Sapir has focus also firstly on the legal relationship between the parties to the dispute, but secondly the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of the action (not: the to my knowledge never applied criterion of ‘subject matter’ of the action).

To ponder over the summer.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1.

 

BUAK. Bot AG on the concept of ‘court’.

In Case C-579/17 BUAK (Bauarbeiter-Urlaubs- u. Abfertigungskasse v Gradbeništvo Korana d.o.o.) Bot AG opined end October – the English version is not yet (if ever) available. The case was formulated by the referring court as one on the scope of application of the Recast – in particular the social security exception, and the ‘civil and commercial’ charachter. However the AG suggests this is a question which the referring court by now ought to be able to answer itself, given the extensive case-law of the Court. Instead, the question is turned into one on admissibility, namely whether the issuiing of a Brussels Ia cetificate with a view to enforcement, qualifies as a ‘judicial’ function required to uphold admissiability for the preliminary review procedure under Article 267 TFEU.

Under Brussels Ia, ‘The court of origin shall, at the request of any interested party, issue the certificate using the form set out in Annex I.’ The equivalent provision in Brussels I (Article 54) read ‘The court or competent authority of a Member State where a judgment was given shall issue, at the request of any interested party, a certificate using the standard form in Annex V to this Regulation.’ – emphasis added.

The Advocate General suggests that where issues relevant to Brussels I Recast (particularly: whether the issue falls at all within its scope) have not yet been discussed prior to the authority being asked to complete the Brussels I Recast form, such authority ought to be able to issue preliminary review requests to the CJEU. However (at 54) such authority qualifying as such (where it is a different authority from the court having taken the decision), ought to be exceptional: the whole point of the enforcement Title of the Regulation being speed and swiftness.

All in all an interesting turn of events.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1.