Posts Tagged Exclusive jurisdictional rules

Kokott AG in Kerr v Postnov(a): How house association meetings turn into a jurisdictional and applicable law potpourri.

Advocate General Kokott opined end of January in C-25/18 Brian Andrew Kerr v Pavlo Postnov and Natalia Postnova (let’s call the case Kerr v Postnov(a)). The case concerns the application of Brussels I Recast’s Articles 24(1) and (2) exclusive jurisdictional rules, cq the application of Article 7(1) jurisdictional rules on contracts, and applicable law consequences of same.

Incidentally, Ms Kokott’s use of ‘Brussels Ia’ instead of the Brussels I Recast Regulation adds to the growing chorus to employ Brussels Ia (lower case, no space between I and a) instead of Brussels I Recast, Brussels bis, or as recently seen at the High Court, BIR (BrusselsIRecast).

The Advocate General’s Opinion is a useful and succinct reminder of CJEU authority, suggesting the issue is acte clair really, except there are one or two specific issues (e.g. the enforcement issue, discussed below) which justify clarification.

The case concerns proceedings concerning claims for payment arising from resolutions made by an association of property owners without legal personality in connection with the management of the property in question. Mr Kerr, appellant in the proceedings before the referring court, is a manager of an association of owners of a property situated in the town of Bansko (Bulgaria). He brought proceedings before the Razlog District Court, Bulgaria against two property owners, Mr Postnov and Ms Postnova, concerning payment of contributions that were owed by them wholly or in part for the maintenance of communal parts of the building on the basis of resolutions made by the general meeting of the property owners in the period from 2013 to 2017. According to the appellant in the main proceedings, an action to secure enforcement of the claim pursued was brought with the application.

Address of the defendants used by the court at first instance is in the Republic of Ireland. (As the AG notes, whether service was properly given is relevant for the recognition of the eventual judgment; this however is not the subject of the current proceedings neither is it detailed in the file.)

Coming to the first issue: Article 24(1) requires strict and autonomous interpretation. The main proceedings have as their object the payment of outstanding contributions purportedly owed by two co-owners for the management and maintenance of the property concerned. At 34: It is thus a matter of obligations — to use the words of the referring court — arising from ownership of shares in the commonhold as rights in rem in immovable property. At 38: to be covered by 24(1) the right in question must have effect erga omnes and that the content or extent of that right is the object of the proceedings (reference ex multi to Schmidt and Komu).

Prima facie this would mean that Article 24(1) must be ruled out: at 39: in the main proceedings, the action brought by the manager is based on claims in personam of the association of owners for payment of contributions for the maintenance of communal areas of the property. The rights in rem of the defendant co-owners of the commonhold — in the form of intangible ownership shares — initially remain unaffected. However, at 40 Ms Kokott signals the enforcement issue: that action could affect the defendants’ rights in rem arising from their ownership shares, for example by restricting their powers of disposal – an assessment subject to the applicable law, which is for the referring court to make. In footnote the Advocate General suggests the potential involvement in that case of Article 8(4)’s combined actio in rem and in personam.

The case therefore illustrates the potential for engineering even in Article 24 cases: firstly, by varying the claim (the content or extent of the rights contained in Article 24 has to be the ‘object’ of the proceedings; claimant can manipulate the claim to that effect); second, the prospect of adding an enforcement claim to an otherwise contractual action. This engineering evidently clashes with the objective and forum-shopping averse interpretation of Article 24, however as I have repeatedly discussed on this blog, abusive forum shopping is a difficult call for the CJEU and indeed national courts to make.

The discussion of Article 24(2) does lead to a clear conclusion: the forum societatis is not engaged. Article 24(2) covers only proceedings which have as their object the legal validity of a decision, not proceedings which have as their object the enforcement of such decisions, like the action at issue seeking payment of contributions based on such a decision (at 44).

As for Article 7(1) forum contractus the usual Handte et al suspects feature in the Opinion as does Case 34/82 Peters Bauunternehmung.  The association is joined through voluntary acquisition of an apartment together with ownership shares of the communal areas of the property (at 54): there is a ‘contract’. [Advocate General Kokott already pre-empts similar discussion in Case C‑421/18, where the Court will have to clarify whether these considerations can also be applied to a case in which a bar association is taking legal acion to assert claims for payment of fees against one of its members].

The AG makes a brief outing into Rome I to point out that Rome I has a lex societatis exception. Under the conflict-of-law rules, claims for payment made by a legal association against its members are not to be assessed on the basis of the Rome I Regulation, even though such claims are to be regarded as ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) of the Brussels Ia Regulation (at 60).

However for the purposes of Article 7(1), where the CJEU to find that it is engaged, place of performance needs to be decided. If none of the default categories of Article 7(1) apply, the conflicts method kicks in and Rome I’s lex societatis exception is triggered (residual conflict of laws will determine the applicable law which in turn will determine place of obligation; see also at 74 and the reference to the Tessili rule).

Is the management activity itself is carried out for remuneration (as required per Falco Privatstiftung and also Granarolo) or at least an economic value per Cormans-Collins? The facts of the case do not clearly lay out that they are but even if that were the case (appointment of a specialist commercial party to carry out maintenance etc.), the contributions to be paid to the association by the co-owners are intended in no small part to cover taxes and duties, and not therefore to fulfil contractual obligations towards third parties which were entered into on behalf of and for the account of the association of owners (at 71). All in all, the AG opines, the non-uniform nature of these contributions leads to non-application of the service rule of Article 7(1)b and therefore a resurrection of the classic Tessili formula.

Not so acte clair perhaps after all.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6, 2.2.11.1

 

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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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Vik v Deutsche Bank. Court of Appeal confirms High Court’s view on Article 24(5) – jurisdiction for enforcement.

I have reported earlier on Deutsche Bank AG v Sebastian Holdings Inc & Alexander Vik [2017] EWHC 459 and Dennis v TAG Group [2017] EWHC 919 (Ch).

The Court of Appeal has now confirmed in [2018] EWCA Civ 2011 Vik v Deutsche Bank that permission for service out of jurisdiction is not required for committal proceedings since the (now) Article 24(5) rule applies regardless of domicile of the parties. See my posting on Dar Al Arkan and the one on Dennis .

Gross LJ in Section IV, which in subsidiary fashion discusses the Brussels issue, confirms applicability to non-EU domicileds however without referring to recital 14, which confirms verbatim that indeed non-EU domicile of the defendants is not relevant for the application of Article 24.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.8.

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E.ON v Dědouch. Squeeze-outs and the not-so restrictive application of Brussel I Recast’s corporate exception.

I promised a post on C-560/16 E.ON v Dědouch sooner than I have been able to deliver – I have reviewed Wathelet AG’s Opinion here. I do not evidently hold the magic key to the optimal interpretation of Article 24(2) Brussels I Recast’s. Yet regular readers of the blog indeed my students will know I  am not much of a fan of Article 24 full stop – let alone its extensive interpretation.

Briefly, the facts. By a resolution of 8 December 2006, the general meeting of the company incorporated under Czech law, Jihočeská plynárenská, established in the Czech Republic, decided on the compulsory transfer of all the participating securities in that company to its principal shareholder E.ON, established in Munich (Germany). A group of minority shareholders contest not the validity of the sale, but purely the price paid. Czech law moreover holds that any finding on the reasonableness of the price paid cannot have an impact on the very validity of the transfer.

Lower Czech courts consecutively entertained and accepted cq rejected jurisdiction on the basis of (now) Article 8(1) [no details are given but presumably with Jihočeská plynárenská as the anchor defendant, 24(2) and 7(1) [again no details given but presumably a consequence of the purchase of shares by the minority shareholders]. Both Wathelet AG suggests, and the CJEU holds that the action for review of the reasonableness of the consideration that the principal shareholder of a company is required to pay to the minority shareholders of that company in the event of the compulsory transfer of their shares to that principal shareholder, comes within the scope of application of (now) Article 24(2). Both refer extensively to C‑372/07 Hassett and Doherty, among others.

The general line of interpretation is: secure Article 24’s effet utile, but apply restrictively (like all other exceptions to the actor sequitur forum rei rule).  I do not think that the CJEU honours restrictive interpretation in E.ON. Readers best consult the (fairly succinct – ditto for the Opinion) judgment in full. A few observations.

In the majority (not quite all) of the cases of exclusive jurisdictional rules,  Gleichlauf is part of the intention. That generally is a proposition which goes against the very nature of private international law and should not in my view be encouraged. Particularly within the EU there is not much reason not to trust fellow courts with the application of one’s laws – indeed quite regularly these laws may be better applied by others.

Generally at least three of Article 24 Jurisdictional rules (rights in rem; the corporate exception; and IPR) refer at least in part to the issue of publicity (of public records) and their availability in the Member States whose courts haven been given exclusive jurisdiction. That argument in my view is sooo 1968 (which indeed it is). I see little reason to apply it in 2018.

Further, in accordance with the Jenard report, the principal reason for Article 24(2) is to avoid conflicting decisions of EU courts on the existence of the company or the validity of the decisions of its organs. This goal of course may be equally met by the lis alibi pendens rule – Article 24 does not play a unique role here.

Finally the CJEU remarks at 34 ‘In the present case, while it is true that, under Czech law, proceedings such as those at issue in the main proceedings may not lead formally to a decision which has the effect of invalidating a resolution of the general assembly of a company concerning the compulsory transfer of the minority shareholders’ shares in that company to the majority shareholder, the fact nonetheless remains that, in accordance with the requirements of the autonomous interpretation and uniform application of the provisions of Regulation No 44/2001, the scope of Article 22(2) thereof cannot depend on the choices made in national law by Member States or vary depending on them.’ To cross-refer to the aforementioned Jenard Report: if Article 24(2)’s goal is to avoid conflicting decisions on life and death etc. And if that life and death of a national company depends on the applicable national law as the Court acknowledges here and ditto in Daily Mail and Cartesio/Polbud), then of course the lex causae must have an impact on the application of Article 24(2) .

The Court’s finding on 24(2) meant it did not get to the Article 7 analysis – which I did review in my post on the AG’s Opinion.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016. Heading 2.2.6.5.

 

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Wathelet AG in E.ON v Dědouch: Interpretation of the exlusive jurisdictional rule for corporate issues in the case of squeeze-out.

This is effectively my second posting today on Article 24(2) Brussels I Recast.

In C-560/16 E.ON v Dědouch, Wathelet AG Opined last week, on the scope of the exclusive jurisdictional rule of (now) Article 24(2) of Regulation 1215/2012. The issue arose in proceedings between Michael Dědouch et al, a group of minority shareholders on the one hand, and Jihočeská plynárenská a.s. (established in the Czech Republic) and E.ON Czech Holding AG (‘E.ON’) [established in Germany] on  the other, concerning the reasonableness of the sum which, in a procedure for removing minority shareholders (‘squeeze-out’), E.ON was required to pay Mr Dědouch et al following the compulsory transfer of their shares in Jihočeská plynárenská.

Mr Dědouch et al are suing both companies and are asking the Regional Court, České Budějovice, Czech Republic to review the reasonableness of the sum. In those proceedings E.ON raised an objection that the Czech courts lacked jurisdiction. E.ON argue that, in view of the location of its seat /domicile, only the German courts had international jurisdiction per (now) Article 4.

The regional court initially accepted jurisdiction on the basis of (now) Article 8(1): the anchor defendant mechanism (one of the two defendant companies being a Czech company). Eventually the High Court, Prague found that the Czech courts had jurisdiction under (old) Article 5(1)(a) of the Brussels I Regulation: the special jurisdictional rules for contracts.

Wathelet AG suggests the case raises the complex issue of litigation in intra-company disputes. At 21 he writes that the facts highlight a structural problem in the Regulation, namely ‘the absence of a basis of jurisdiction dedicated to the resolution of internal disputes within companies, such as disputes between shareholders or between shareholders and directors or between the company and its directors.’ That is not quite correct: it is not because the Regulation has no tailor-made regime for this type of dispute that is has no jurisdictional basis for it. That a subject-matter is not verbatim included in the Regulation does not mean it is not regulated by it.

The AG then (at 23) considers that the issue under consideration is complicated by the difficulty of applying (now) Articles 7(1) and (2), ‘since the removal of the minority shareholders and the consideration decided by a resolution of the general meeting are neither a contract nor a tort, delict or quasi-delict.’ I am not so sure. Is there no ‘obligation freely assumed’ between minority and other shareholders of the same company? Are they not bound by some kind of ‘contract’ (in the broad, Jakob Handte sense) when becoming shareholders of one and the same company? That (at 24) ‘The principle of a procedure for squeezing out the minority shareholders is that the principal shareholder can start it without their consent‘ I do not find convincing in this respect. Plenty of contractual arrangements do not limit contracting parties’ freedom to act: except, their actions may have contractual consequences. The AG in my view focuses too much on the squeeze out being one-sided. An alternative view may see a wrongful deployment of squeeze-out a breach of an earlier contractual, indeed fiduciary duty between /among shareholders.

Unlike the AG (at 26), neither do I see great obstacle in the difficulty in determination of a specific place of performance of such contractual duties between shareholders in the company law context. They may not fit within the default categories of Article 7(1), however I can see many a national judge not finding it impossible to determine a place of performance.

On the basis of these perceived difficulties the AG dismisses application of Articles 7(1) and (2) and then considers, and rejects, a strict application of Article 24(2). In other words in the AG’s view Article 24(2) is engaged here.

This is a tricky call. Justified reference is made by the AG to C‑372/07 Hassett, in which (then) Article 22(2) was held no to apply to a decision made by the Board of the Health Organisation not to indemnify two of their members in cases of medical negligence: this was found by the CJEU to be an action relating to the way in which a company organ exercises its functions – not covered by Article 24(2). In Dědouch, the action relates to the amount which the General Meeting of the company fixed as the compensation E.ON was required to pay the minority shareholders following the transfer of the shares. Notwithstanding Czech company law being the lex causae in assisting the GM in that decision, I am not convinced this engages Article 24(2) (hence reserving jurisdiction to the Czech courts).

In summary, I believe the Court should reject application of Article 24(2), and instruct the national courts to get on with the determination of jurisdiction per Article 7, or indeed 8.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.5, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.12.1.

 

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Koza v Akcil: The Court of Appeal on exclusive jurisdiction for company matters.

Thank you Angharad Parry for flagging  [2017] EWCA Civ 1609 Koza v Akcil – Angharad has excellent factual background. The case concerns the application of Article 24(2) of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, which assigns exclusive jurisdiction to the Courts of the Member State of the seat in matters relating to the life and death of companies and of the validity of decisions made by their organs:

in proceedings which have as their object the validity of the constitution, the nullity or the dissolution of companies or other legal persons or associations of natural or legal persons, or of the validity of the decisions of their organs, the courts of the Member State in which the company, legal person or association has its seat. In order to determine that seat, the court shall apply its rules of private international law;

Referring particularly to C-144/10 BVG and to C-372/07 Hassett, the Court of Appeal at 28 correctly suggests Article 24’s exclusive jurisdictional rules need to be interpreted with their limited purpose in mind: ‘when article 24(2) speaks of proceedings having an “object” it is not referring to the purpose of the proceedings. Rather that phrase is to be interpreted as “proceedings which are principally concerned with” one of the types of subject matter within the article.’ At 37: ‘The task for the court in each case is therefore to determine whether the proceedings relate principally to the validity of the decisions of an organ of the company. A mere link to a decision of the company, or an issue raised which is ancillary to the heart of a contractual or some other dispute, is insufficient to bring the proceedings within the exclusive jurisdiction.’

Floyd LJ at 46 summarises the direction for courts: ‘I do not take from the English or European authorities which were cited to us any suggestion that one is required in all cases to disentangle issues which are interlinked in this way and apply Article 24(2) to each issue separately. On the contrary, faced with such proceedings, the court is required to form an overall evaluative judgment as to what the proceedings are principally concerned with. The position is obviously different from a case where two quite independent claims are made in the same proceedings. Exclusive jurisdiction in relation to each claim would, in those circumstances, have to be determined separately.’ In the case at hand the case was found overall and fundamentally to concern one and the same issue of the validity of decisions of the organs of the company

Consequently the issue is one of looking beyond the particulars of form and into the true nature of the proceedings. Not a decision always made with ease.

Geert.

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

 

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Sabbagh v Khoury. The Court of Appeal struggles on merits review for anchor defendants.

Update 7 June 2018 on 31 May the High Court [2018] EWHC 1330 (Comm)] backed up the CA’s finding with an interim anti-suit (in arbitration) injunction.

Sabbagh v Khoury at the High Court was the subject of a lengthy review in an earlier post. The Court of Appeal has now considered the issues at stake, in no lesser detail.

In line with my previous post (readers unfamiliar with it may want to refer to it; and to very good Hill Dickinson summary of the case), of particular consideration here is the jurisdictional test under (old) Article 6(1) Brussels I, now Article 8(1) in the Recast, in particular the extent of merits review; and whether the subject matter of the claim comes within the succession exception of Article 1(2)(a) of the Brussels I Regulation.

As for the latter, the Court, after reviewing relevant precedent and counsel argument (but not, surprisingly, the very language on this issue in the Jenard report, as I mention in my previous post) holds in my view justifiably that ‘(t)he source of the ownership is irrelevant to the nature of the claim. ..The subject matter of the dispute is not whether Sana is an heir, but whether the defendants have misappropriated her property.‘ (at 161).

With respect to the application of Article 6(1) – now 8(1), the majority held in favour of a far-reaching merits review. Lady Justice Gloster (at 166 ff) has a minority opinion on the issue and I am minded to agree with her. As she notes (at 178) the operation of a merits test within Article 6(1) does give rise to risk of irreconcilable judgments, which can be demonstrated by reference to the present facts. She successfully, in my view, distinguishes the CJEU’s findings in Kolassa and in CDC, and the discussion at any rate one would have thought, merits CJEU review.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

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