Posts Tagged Insolvency exception

Nortel. CJEU confirms Nickel & Goeldner, and extends Seagon to secondary proceedings.

Update 16 June 2017. See [2017] EWHC 1429 Nortel for not just cost orders in the UK COMI proceeding but also the strategy in trying to discourage opening of secondary proceedings.

I need to give a bit of a factual background before I can get to the implications of the ECJ’s (or CJEU, I still haven’t decided) finding in C-469/13 Nortel.

Nortel Networks SA is established in Yvelines (France). The Nortel group was a provider of technical solutions for telecommunications networks. Nortel Networks Limited (‘NNL’), established in Mississauga (Canada), held the majority of the Nortel group’s worldwide subsidiaries, including NNSA.  In 2008 insolvency proceedings were initiated simultaneously in Canada, the US and the EU. In January 2009, the High Court opened main insolvency proceedings under English law in respect of all the companies in the Nortel group established in the EU, including NNSA, pursuant to Article 3(1) of the Insolvency Regulation.

Following a joint application lodged by NNSA and the joint administrators, by judgment of May 2009 the court at Versailles opened secondary proceedings in respect of NNSA. In July 2009, industrial action at NNSA was brought to an end by a memorandum of agreement settling the action. It provided for the making of a severance payment, of which one part was payable immediately and another part, known as the ‘deferred severance payment’, was to be paid, once operations had ceased, out of the available funds arising from the sale of assets. That memorandum was approved by the court at Versailles. NNSA’s positive balance was subsequently however caught up in the global settlement for Nortel, including transfers of funds to escrow accounts in the US, to be distributed following global settlement, and new debt following the continuation of Nortel’s activities as well as costs related to the global winding-up of the company. The deferred severance payment therefore could no longer be paid.

The works council of NNSA and former NNSA employees brought an action before the court at Versailles seeking, first, a declaration that the secondary proceedings give them an exclusive and direct right over the share of the overall proceeds from the sale of the Nortel group’s assets that falls to NNSA and, second, an order requiring the liquidator to make immediate disbursement, in particular, of the deferred severance payment, to the extent of the funds available to NNSA. the French liquidator then summoned the joint administrators as third parties before the referring court. However, these then suggested the court at Versailles decline international jurisdiction, in favour of the High Court at London, and in the alternative, to decline jurisdiction to rule on the assets and rights which were not situated in France for the purposes of Article 2(g) of the Insolvency Regulation when the judgment opening the secondary proceedings was delivered. That Article reads

(g) “the Member State in which assets are situated” shall mean, in the case of: – tangible property, the Member State within the territory of which the property is situated, – property and rights ownership of or entitlement to which must be entered in a public register, the Member State under the authority of which the register is kept, – claims, the Member State within the territory of which the third party required to meet them has the centre of his main interests, as determined in Article 3(1);

There are essentially two parts to the referring court’s questions: (i) the allocation of international jurisdiction between the court hearing the main proceedings and the court hearing the secondary proceedings; and (ii) identification of the law applicable to determine the debtor’s assets that fall within the scope of the effects of the secondary proceedings.

On the (i) first question, the Court first reviewed whether the Insolvency Regulation applied at all – an issue seemingly which did not feature in the national proceedings nor in the written procedure before the CJEU, however which came up at the hearing. The issue being that what the Works Council was after was that an agreement to pay a debt be honoured: one that looks just like a fairly standard agreement were it not to arise out of insolvency. Per Nickel and Goeldner the Court reviewed whether the right or the obligation which respects the basis of the action finds its source in the common rules of civil and commercial law or in the derogating rules specific to insolvency proceedings. Here, the basis of the action, as was pointed out by Mengozzi AG, was relevant French insolvency law (for the determination of the order of creditors’ rights) and the Insolvency Regulation (for the determination of the hierarchy between main and secondary insolvency proceedings). The Insolvency Regulation therefore applies. The AG’s review in fact was clearer than the Court’s summary. More generally, the ECJ does seem to go out of its way to re-emphasise the Nickel and Goeldner formula, even if the separation of the Brussels I and the Insolvency Regulation was not particularly controversial in the case at issue.

Next, the Court essentially extended its Seagon/Deko Marty case-law to secondary proceedings. In Seagon, the Court held that Article 3(1) must be interpreted as meaning that it also confers international jurisdiction on the courts of the Member State within the territory of which insolvency proceedings were opened to hear an action which derives directly from the initial insolvency proceedings and which is ‘closely connected’ with them, within the meaning of recital 6 in the preamble to the Regulation. In Nortel the Court holds that Article 3(2) of that regulation must be interpreted analogously. Here, the related action seeks a declaration that specified assets fall within secondary insolvency proceedings. It is designed specifically to protect the local interests which justify the very establishment of jurisdiction for the secondary proceedings.

However, such action quite obviously has a direct effect on the interests administered in the main insolvency proceedings. The jurisdiction for the court of the secondary proceedings therefore cannot be exclusive. It is jurisdiction concurrently with the Member State of COMI. This is an altogether sec appreciation of the Court which, as Bob Wessels notes, in reality will create serious co-ordination headaches (one for which I do not think even the provisions for co-ordination in the new insolvency Regulation provide sufficient answer).

Finally, in reply to question (ii), the ECJ is fairly brief: Article 2(g) ought to suffice to give the referring court the guidance it seeks. Granted, the ECJ says, it will not be easy. But it ought to suffice. The one extra guidance the CJEU gives is that that provision is also applicable if the property, right or claim in question must be regarded as situated in a third State (such as here: in the escrow accounts).

All in all, quite an important judgment, indeed. Unlike Nortel’s sad demise, this judgment has quite a life ahead of it.

Geert.

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Nickel & Goeldner: Not the procedural context but the legal basis of the action determines the insolvency exception.

It is always useful to have the Court of Justice remind us of (some might say: fine-tune) what it has decided in precedent. This is no different in Nickel & Goeldner– Case C-157/13. (Which also deals with Article 71’s rule on the relation between Brussels I and the Convention for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMRT)).

This blog has reported earlier on the difficulties in applying the ‘insolvency exception’. (E.g. in Sabena and Enascarco). In Nickel & Goeldner, the insolvency administrator of Kintra applied to the relevant Lithuaian courts for an order that Nickel & Goeldner Spedition, which has its registered office in Germany, pay its debt in respect of services comprising the international carriage of goods provided by Kintra for Nickel & Goeldner Spedition, inter alia in France and in Germany. According to the insolvency administrator of Kintra, the jurisdiction of the Lithuanian courts was based on Article 14(3) of the Lithuanian Law on the insolvency of undertakings. Nickel & Goeldner Spedition disputed that jurisdiction claiming that the dispute fell within the scope of Article 31 of the CMR and of the Brussels I Regulation.

The Courts instructs how its earlier case-law (Gourdain; Seagon; German Graphics; F-Tex) needs to be applied (at 26-27):

It is apparent from that case-law that it is true that, in its assessment, the Court has taken into account the fact that the various types of actions which it heard were brought in connection with insolvency proceedings. However, it has mainly concerned itself with determining on each occasion whether the action at issue derived from insolvency law or from other rules.

It follows that the decisive criterion adopted by the Court to identify the area within which an action falls is not the procedural context of which that action is part, but the legal basis thereof. According to that approach, it must be determined whether the right or the obligation which respects the basis of the action finds its source in the common rules of civil and commercial law or in the derogating rules specific to insolvency proceedings.

The action at issue is an action for the payment of a debt arising out of the provision of services in implementation of a contract for carriage. That action could have been brought by the creditor itself before its divestment by the opening of insolvency proceedings relating to it and, in that situation, the action would have been governed by the rules concerning jurisdiction applicable in civil and commercial matters.  The fact that, after the opening of insolvency proceedings against a service provider, the action for payment is taken by the insolvency administrator appointed in the course of those proceedings and that the latter acts in the interest of the creditors does not substantially amend the nature of the debt relied on which continues to be subject, in terms of the substance of the matter, to the rules of law which remain unchanged.

Hence, there is no direct link with the insolvency proceedings and the Brussels-I Regulation continues to apply.

(On the application of Article 71, the Court holds that, in a situation where a dispute falls within the scope of both the regulation and the CMR, a Member State may, in accordance with Article 71(1) of the Regulation, apply the rules concerning jurisdiction laid down in Article 31(1) of the CMR.).

Not the procedural context (in particular, whether the liquidator takes the action) but the legal basis of the action determines the insolvency exception. A useful alternative formulation of the Gourdain et al case-law.

Geert.

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Insolvency, Brussels I and Lugano: Enasarco v Lehman Brothers upholds strong defence of choice of court

In Enasarco v Lehman Brothers, the High Court was asked to stay English proceedings following jurisdictional issues of a derivative agreement between Enasarco and Lehman Brothers Finance (LBF). Swiss liquidators of LBF had already rejected a claim under the agreement, rejection which is being challenged in the Swiss courts. The derivative agreement is subject to English law and to choice of court exclusively in favour of the English courts.

Are the claims with respect to the derivative agreement so closely connected to the insolvency that they are covered by the insolvency exception to the Lugano Convention (identical to the exception in the Brussels I Regulation) consequently freeing the English courts from that Convention’s strict lis alibi pendens rule? (Similar questions were at issue recently in the Sabena recognition and enforcement issue – albeit evidently not re lis alibi pendens).

Richards J held they were – allowing the contractual issues under the derivative agreement to be settled by the English courts, and the insolvency matters by the Swiss courts.

LBF submitted that the Lugano Convention applies to the present proceedings and also to the proceedings in Switzerland whereby Enasarco challenges the rejection of its claim and, accordingly, that article 27 (lis alibi pendens) required the court to stay the English proceedings in favour of the Swiss proceedings. It was common ground that, if article 27 applies, the Swiss court was the court first seised. Alternatively, LBF submitted that the court should exercise its discretion under article 28 (re related, but not identical actions) to stay the English proceedings. In the further alternative, it submitted that the High Court should have granted a stay, on case management grounds, of the English claim pursuant to section 49(3) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 (SCA 1981). (In other words, were Lugano found not to apply).

Richards J of course referred to Gourdain and German Graphics, and found that the Swiss proceedings could not exist, nor have any relevance, outside the Swiss litigation: (at 42):

First, they are proceedings which arise, and can only arise, under Swiss insolvency law. Secondly, they form an integral part of the liquidation proceedings, designed to achieve the primary purpose of such proceedings, which is the distribution of the assets available to the liquidators among those creditors whose claims are admitted. The proceedings must take place in the court dealing with the liquidation. Thirdly, the purpose of the proceedings is not simply to establish whether the claimant has a good contractual or other claim, but to determine the amount and the ranking of the claim for the purposes of the liquidation. The ranking of claims is a matter arising exclusively under the relevant insolvency law. (…). Fourthly, the self-contained and special character of the Swiss proceedings is well illustrated by the fact that it does not give rise to res judicata as between the parties in relation to the underlying contractual dispute.

As for the discretionary stay under English civil procedure, Richards J held against it, for the following reasons (at 56 ff):

First, the Derivative Agreement contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause, as regards states which are parties to the Lugano Convention, in favour of the English courts. (Here reference was made to the Supreme Court’s decision in The Alexandros).

Secondly, as noted by the Court of Appeal in the AWB (Geneva) case when refusing a stay of English proceedings in favour of insolvency proceedings in Canada, and also by Rimer J in UBS AG v Omni Holding AG when refusing a stay of English proceedings in favour of insolvency proceedings in Switzerland, it is likely that the Swiss court will be greatly assisted by having the judgment of the English court on the rights and liabilities of the parties under the Derivative Agreement, given that it is governed by English law.

Thirdly, the Swiss proceedings were, practically speaking, not as far advanced as to make concurrent English proceedings nugatory. (Given the governing law of the contract, for instance, the Swiss courts might well be tempted to await the outcome of the English proceedings and take relevant conclusions for their own proceedings).

Fourthly, the merits of having issues arising under the Derivative Agreement determined by the English court have in fact been recognised by the liquidators of LBF in the past.

Finally, Enasarco had not chosen to commence proceedings in Switzerland. The liquidators chose to deal with Enasarco’s claims only in the Swiss insolvency proceedings and not through further proceedings in the English courts. It was the liquidators’ choice in this respect that forced Enasarco to issue the Swiss proceedings.

 

In summary, where issues are of a mixed nature, to the degree the mix can be undone, that is what must be carried out. The case highlights once again the strong defence raised by the English courts for choice of court clauses.

Geert.

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: