Posts Tagged Insolvency

Canadian recognition of Syncreon Group English Scheme of Arrangement underscores new markets for restructuring tourism.

An essentially Dutch group employs English restructuring law and has the resulting restructuring recognised in Canada. Need one say more to show that regulatory competition is alive and well and that the UK, England in particular need not fear a halt to restructuring forum shopping post Brexit.

Blakes first alerted me to the case, the Initial recognition order 2019 ONSC 5774 is here (I have not yet managed to locate the final order). Insolvency trustee PWC have a most informative document portal here. See also the Jones Day summary of the arrangements here. The main issue of contention was the so-called third party release in favour of Syncreon Canada which could have bumped into ordre public hurdles in Ontario as these clearly have an impact on the security of underlying debt. The way in which the proceeding are conducted (fair, transparent, with due consideration of minority holders etc.) clearly have an impact on this exercise.

Geert.

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

 

 

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Sabbagh v Khoury. The jurisdictional gift that keeps on giving. In today’s instalment: the possibility for qualified acknowledgment of service (prorogation) following claimant’s alleged concessions, and amended claim.

Sabbagh v Khoury [2019] EWHC 3004 (Comm) evidently builds upon the High Court and Court of Appeal previous judgments. Pro memoria: claimant established jurisdiction against all the defendants she wished to sue in relation to each element of her claim. Following judgment by the Court of Appeal and the refusal of permission to appeal further by the Supreme Court, the defendants had to decide whether to acknowledge service and accept the jurisdiction of the English Courts or to refuse to acknowledge service.

That jurisdiction should be debated at all was the result of claimant wanting to amend her claim, and having earlier been partially granted such permission. At 13: each defendant decided to acknowledge service and accept the jurisdiction of the English Courts but in each case they purported to qualify the terms on which they acknowledged service, hinging particularly on CPR Part 14: Admissions, and suggesting that a “concession” made on claimant’s behalf that certain Share Sale Agreements relied on by the defendants were “existent, valid and effective“, should have an impact on jurisdiction.

It is interesting to see the qualifications verbatim: at 13: ‘Thus in its letter of 26 March 2018, CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP on behalf of the Sabbagh defendants qualified their Acknowledgement of Service as being “… confined to the existing claims set out in the Claim Form, to the limited extent that the Court of Appeal accepted the English court’s jurisdiction over such claims, but subject to the numerous concessions your client has made including but not limited to her explicit abandonment of any claim to be presently entitled to or for delivery up of shares …”. Jones Day, the solicitors then acting for the first defendant similarly qualified his Acknowledgement of Service – see their letter of 26 March 2018. Baker McKenzie qualified the other Khoury defendants’ Acknowledgement of Service as being “… only in respect of the two claims as set out in the Claimant’s Claim Form … and is subject to the numerous concessions the Claimant has made to date …” and added that: “We understand that the Claimant intends to seek to amend her Particulars of Claim and our clients’ position as to whether any such amendment(s), if allowed, impact on the jurisdiction of the court over our clients as regards any claims other than those to which this Acknowledgement of Service is filed is fully reserved, including as to jurisdiction and/or the arbitrability of any such amended claims”. In the circumstances, it is probable that the amendment Baker McKenzie had in mind was one substantially in terms of the draft re-amended Particulars of Claim that had been placed before the Court of Appeal.’

At 21 ff Pelling J discusses the relationship between the amended claim, the earlier findings on jurisdiction, and the ‘concession’, leading at length eventually to hold that there was no impact of the concession on the extent of jurisdiction,

As Pelling J notes at 1 in fine: ‘Even allowing for the value at risk in this litigation all this is obviously disproportionate.’ One assumes the role of various counsel in the alleged concessions made earlier, must have had an impact on the energy with which the issue was advocated.

The case will now proceed to trial, lest there be any other jurisdictional challenges.

Geert.

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

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Skarb Państwa v Stephan Riel (qq insolvency trustee Alpine Bau).

Salzburg-based Alpine Bau had been carrying out a considerable amount of roadwork engineering for the Polish State. The courts at Vienna started insolvency proceedings in 2013, appointing Mr Riel as what is now called the ‘insolvency practitioner’. Austria is the centre of main interests, the Austrian procedure the main proceedings. A little later a secondary proceeding is opened in Poland. Skarb Państwa, the Polish finance ministry or treasury, seeks in those proceedings the payment of debt it claims is outstanding vis-a-vis the Polish State. It also seizes the Austrian courts in a separate proceeding, asking it to confirm the existence of debt owed to it (the amount almost exactly the amount it specified in the Polish secondary proceedings) and at the same time a stay in its pronouncement until the Polish courts have ruled on the fate of the claim in Poland. Essentially therefore the Austrian action is a conservatory action, a hedging of the treasury’s bets.

An interesting angle is that in the Austrian proceedings the Treasury claims application of the Brussels Ia Regulation, particularly its Article 29 lis alibi pendens rule. The Austrian courts reject the existence of the debt and they do not entertain the lis alibi pendens request (the request for a stay).

The first question in C-47/18 (judgment 18 September) was whether Brussels Ia or the Insolvency Regulation are engaged. The CJEU (at 33) emphasises the need for both avoidance of overlap and of non-cover by either (‘doivent être interprétés de façon à éviter tout chevauchement entre les règles de droit que ces textes énoncent et tout vide juridique’), in the relation between the two Regulations: the infamous dovetail which as I have flagged in earlier posts, the Court in my view does not get entirely right. References are to Valach, Wiemer & Trachte, Feniks, Nickel & Goeldner). Here, the Treasury bases its action on Article 110 of the Austrian insolvency act (allowing, and urging first-tier creditors (such as, inevitably, Inland Revenue) to have their claims properly registered so as to ensure the priority in the picking order against the other creditors). The claim therefore is subject to the Insolvency Regulation 1346/2000.

The Court subsequently and unsurprisingly holds that Brussels Ia’s lis alibi pendens rule cannot somehow apply deus ex machina. At 43: insolvency is excluded from the Regulation; this exclusion is all or nothing: if the Regulation does not apply, none of it applies, including its procedural rules. These have, in BIa context, the clear purpose of ruling out as much as possible procedures pending in more than one Member State on the same issue. The Insolvency Regulation, by contrast, allows for concurrent proceedings, albeit primary and secondary ones, and (in Article 31 of the old Regulation; tightened in the current version 2015/848) encourages co-operation and exchange of information to avoid irreconcilable judgments.

(The further question asked refers to debt documentation requirements).

Geert.

Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5 Heading 5.4.1. Chapter 2 Heading 2.2.2.10.1

 

 

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NN2 Newco limited and Politus BV. The Nyrstar (Belgium) scheme of arrangement’s jurisdictional confirmation.

Update 13 September 2019 same principles on jurisdiction (and reference to NN2Newco) made by Falk J in [2019] EWHC 2412 (Ch) Syncreon Group BV.

Update 20 August 2019 For an Irish approval of a scheme of arrangement with extensive US links see Re Ballantyne RE Plc & the Companies Act 2014 [2019] IEHC 407, reported here.

The Nyrstar business was created on 31 August 2007 by combining the zinc and lead
smelting and alloying operations of Zinifex Limited and Umicore NV/SA. Nyrstar is a global multi-metals business, with a market leading position in zinc and lead, and growing positions in other base and precious metals. It is one of the world’s largest zinc smelting companies based on production levels. The Nyrstar business has mining, smelting and other operations located in Europe, the Americas and Australia and employs approximately 4,200 people. The ultimate group Parent is incorporated in Belgium and has corporate offices in Zurich, Switzerland.

Its debt is now being restructured using an English scheme of arrangement, with a variety of new companies being formed as corporate vehicles for same. Readers of the blog will not be surprised: this is a classic example of regulatory (restructuring) competition, which I regularly report on the blog (most recently: New Look, with further references there).

In [2019] EWHC 1917 (Ch) re NN2 Newco limited and Politus BV, Norris J applies the now estblished jurisdictional test, with one or two points of attention. Against the scheme company jurisdiction is straightforward: this is England incorporated. Against the scheme creditors, English courts apply the jurisdictional test viz the Brussels Ia Regulation arguendo: if it were to apply (which the English Courts have taken no definitive stance on), would an English court have jurisdiction?

At 11: viz the Notes:

They are now governed by English law (in place of New York law). Clause 12.06 of the governing Indenture now reads:- “The courts of England and Wales shall have jurisdiction to settle any disputes that arise out of or in connection with the Indenture, the Notes and the Guarantees, and accordingly any legal action or proceedings arising out of or in connection with the Indenture the Notes and the Guarantees (“Proceedings”) may be brought in such courts. The courts of England and Wales shall have exclusive jurisdiction to settle any Proceedings instituted by [NNH or NN2]… in relation to any Holder or the Trustee on behalf of the Holders (“Issuer Proceedings”). [NNH and NN2], each of the Guarantors, the Trustee and each Holder (each, “a Party”) irrevocably submit to the jurisdiction of such courts and agree that the courts of England and Wales are the most appropriate and the most convenient courts to settle Issuer Proceedings and accordingly no party shall argue to the contrary. Notwithstanding the foregoing, this section 12.06 shall not limit the rights of… each of the Holders to institute any Proceedings against [NNH and NN2] in any other court of competent jurisdiction, nor shall the taking of Proceedings in one or more jurisdictions preclude the taking of proceedings in any other jurisdiction….”

This is an asymmetric jurisdiction clause. The English Courts have jurisdiction over all disputes and the parties agree that they are the most convenient forum and submit to the jurisdiction of the English courts. NNH and NN2 are bound to use the English courts if they sue the Holder of a Note, because the English courts have exclusive jurisdiction in such a case. But the Holder of a Note can also sue NNH and NN2 in any Court that otherwise has jurisdiction, so the English courts have a non-exclusive jurisdiction in such a case.

At 13:

The original governing law of the Existing Bonds was English law. But the holders voted to amend the jurisdiction clause in the Trust Deed to provide: “The courts of England and Wales shall have exclusive jurisdiction to settle any disputes that arise out of or in connection with the Trust Deed and the Bonds, and accordingly any legal action or proceedings arising out of or in connection with the Trust Deed and the Bonds (“Proceedings”) may be brought in such courts. [NNV and NN2] and the Trustee (in its own capacity as such and on behalf of the Bondholders) irrevocably submit to the jurisdiction of such courts and waive any objection to Proceedings in such courts whether on the ground of venue or on the ground that the Proceedings have been brought in an inconvenient forum. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Belgian courts have exclusive jurisdiction over matters concerning the validity of decisions of the Board of Directors of NNV of the general meeting of shareholders of NNV and of the general meeting of Bondholders.”

This is a symmetrical jurisdiction clause with a “carve out” for specific proceedings.”

At 18 ff the details of the scheme are outlined. It involves Trafigura financial instruments, Trafigura now being Nyrstar’s controlling shareholder. At 31 ff jurisdiction is discussed. There is no abusive forum shopping (per Codere; which I reference here). The usual Article 8 and Article 25 routes are discussed. With respect to Article 25, the English jurisdiction clauses in the Existing Notes and the Politus Facility are asymmetric; however Norris J at 41 (with reference to authority) does not see that as an obstacle seeing as Article 25 covers both symmetric and asymmetric choice of court.

A final hurdle is whether any order sanctioning the scheme is likely to be effective or whether it is apparent even at this stage that the scheme will not be recognised in other relevant jurisdictions even if sanctioned: this will eventually be settled at the sanctioning hearing however Norris J already indicates that it is unlikely that expert evidence will yield surprising (objectionable) results.

Scheme meetings may therefore be convened.

Geert.

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

 

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The wealth in Paul Holgate v Addleshaw Goddard (Scotland). Intra-UK conflicts, the Gourdain insolvency exception; anchoring; forum contractus; and a stay on forum non conveniens grounds.

In [2019] EWHC 1793 (Ch) Paul Holgate v Addleshaw Goddard (Scotland) the claim is for damages for breach of contract, negligence and/or breach of fiduciary duty in connection with and arising out of the defendant’s acceptance and performance (and/or non-performance) of instructions to act as solicitor for and to advise Arthur Holgate & Son Limited (then in administration, now in liquidation) in relation to a dispute between the Company and Barclays Bank.

The application concerns the allocation of jurisdiction within the UK. The rival forums are England and Scotland. The claim is not time-barred in England, but may, at least in part, be time-barred in Scotland, where the relevant period of ‘prescription’ (the Scottish equivalent of ‘limitation’) is 5 years.

The Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 allocates jurisdiction within the devolved regions of the UK and, for civil and commercial matters, has opted to apply the (now) Brussels I Recast Regulation mutatis mutandis. At issue is first of all the insolvency exception of Brussels Ia (extended here as noted to the UK Act) interpreted per CJEU C-133/78 Gourdain: at 4:””[I]t is necessary, if decisions relating to bankruptcy and winding-up are to be excluded from the scope of the [Brussels] Convention, that they must derive directly from the bankruptcy or winding-up, and be closely connected with the proceedings for the liquidation des biens or the règlement judiciaire .” (Reference to the French procedure given the French origins of the case). This provision of course in the meantime has a mirror image in the Insolvency Regulation known as the vis attractiva concursus: the forum concursus can hear not just the very insolvency action but also those closely connected to it. CJEU C-111/08 SCT Industri v Alpenblume also features heavily in the discussion.

(Note Clark M makes the oft-repeated mistake of suggesting Brussels Ia and Insolvency Regulation dovetail. I have emphasised on various occasions that they do not).

Following discussion, at 50 Clark M holds that the claim does not relate to the internal management, of the administration or the conduct of the Joint Administrators (JAs) of the insolvency: the defendant’s purely advisory role meant it was not responsible for either of these. This is insufficient for the claim to be “closely linked” to the administration.

Next is the application of the anchor proceedings: these, too, follow EU language and precedent entirely and at 79ff Clark M discusses the interesting question whether a claim providing the anchor, issued after the claim which anchors unto it, is capable of conferring jurisdiction. He held that it does, provided the other requirements of the anchor provisions are satisfied: in particular the desirability of avoiding irreconcilable judgments. The sequence of claims did lead to some procedural oddity which could however be rectified and there was no suggestion of abuse. 

At 89 ff follows discussion of the forum contractus: ‘place of performance of the obligation in question’. At 129 Master Clark concedes that the relevant statutory instrument deliberately did not instruct this part of the UK’s residual rules to be interpreted in line with EU rules, however given the exact same wording, there is no reason for not doing so. At 132 follows then the oddity of the consequences of CJEU De Bloos (and now the language of the Regulation) with respect to ‘the obligation in question’: the determination of the principal obligation is carried out by analysing the particulars of claim. He finds at 136 that the Company’s complaints flow essentially from the primary complaint that the defendant was in breach of its fiduciary duty by continuing to advise and act for the Company (and not advising it that it could not properly do so), thereby putting the Bank’s interests (and its interests) before those of the Company. At 139: the place of performance of that obligation, is held to be in England.

Finally, forum non conveniens is briefly discussed and the right forum held to be England.

Quite a jurisdictional goodie bag.

Geert.

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

 

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New Look: Application of the good old rules for schemes of arrangements, with some doubt over the substantial effects test.

In [2019] EWHC 960 (Ch) New Look Secured Issuer and New Look Ltd, Smith J at H applies the standing rules on jurisdiction over the scheme and other companies which I also signalled in Algeco and Apcoa (with further reference in the latter post). Against the scheme companies jurisdiction is straightforward: they are England incorporated.  Against the scheme creditors, English courts apply the jurisdictional test viz the Brussels I Recast (‘a’) Regulation arguendo: if it were to apply (which the English Courts have taken no definitive stance on), would an English court have jurisdiction? Yes, it is held: under Article 8 (anchor defendants). (Often Article 25 is used as argument, too).

At 48 Smith J signals the ‘intensity’ issue: ‘In some cases it has been suggested that it may not be enough to identify a single creditor domiciled in the United Kingdom, and that the court should consider whether the number and size of creditors in the UK are sufficiently large: see Re Van Gansewinkel Groep[2015] EWHC 2151 (Ch) at [51]); Global Garden Products at [25]; Re Noble Group Ltd [2018] EWHC 3092 (Ch) at [114] to [116].’ Smith J is minded towards the first, more liberal approach: at 49. He refers to the liberal anchoring approach in competition cases, both stand-alone (think Media Saturn) and follow-on (think Posten /Bring v Volvo, with relevant links there).

At 51 he also discusses the ‘substantial effects’ test and classifies it under ‘jurisdiction’:

As well as showing a sufficient jurisdictional connection with England, it is also necessary to show that the Schemes, if approved, will be likely to have a substantial effect in any foreign jurisdictions involved in or engaged by the Schemes. This is because the court will generally not make any order which has no substantial effect and, before the court will sanction a scheme, it will need to be satisfied that the scheme will achieve its purpose: Sompo Japan Insurance Inc v Transfercom Ltd, [2007] EWHC 146 (Ch); Re Rodenstock GmbH[2011] EWHC 1104 (Ch) at [73]-[77]; Re Magyar Telecom BV[2013] EWHC 3800 (Ch) at [16].’ 

This is not quite kosher I believe. If, even arguendo, jurisdiction is established under Brussels Ia, then no ‘substantial effects’ test must apply at the jurisdictional stage. Certainly not vis-a-vis the scheme companies. Against the scheme creditors, one may perhaps classify it is a means to test the ‘abuse’ prohibition in Article 8(1)’s anchor mechanism.

A useful reminder of the principles. And some doubt re the substantial effects test.

Geert.

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

 

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CeDe Group v KAN. Bobek AG on the intricate applicable law provisions of the Insolvency Regulation (here: concerning set-off for assigned claims).

Update 22 November 2019 the CJEU yesterday confirmed the AG’s Opinion.

Bobek AG opined end of May in C-198/18 CeDe Group v KAN. I am posting a touch late for well, readers will know I have not been fiddling my thumbs. The Opinion concerns the lex causae for set-off in accordance with the (2000) Insolvency Regulation – provisions for which have not materially changed in the current version of the EIR (Regulation 2015/848). At stake are Articles 4 cq 6 and 7 cq 9 in the two versions of the Insolvency Regulation.

The liquidator of PPUB Janson sp.j. (‘PPUB’), a Polish company the subject of insolvency proceedings in Poland, lodged before the Swedish courts an application against CeDe Group AB (‘CeDe’), a Swedish company, claiming payment for goods delivered under a pre-existing contract between PPUB and CeDe, which is governed by Swedish law. In the course of those proceedings, CeDe claimed a set-off in respect of a larger debt owed to it by PPUB. The liquidator had previously refused that set-off within the framework of the Polish insolvency proceedings. During the course of the procedure before the Swedish courts, PPUB’s liquidator assigned the claim against CeDe to another company, KAN sp. z o.o. (‘KAN’), which subsequently became insolvent. However, KAN’s liquidator refused to take over the claim at issue, with the result that KAN (in insolvency) is now party to the litigation

The Supreme Court, Sweden doubts the law applicable to such a set-off claim. Before the referring court, KAN claimed that the set-off claim should be heard under Polish law, whereas CeDe submitted that that issue should be examined under Swedish law. Both of course reverse-engineered their arguments to support opposing views.

The Advocate General in trademark lucid style navigates the facts and issues (not helped by the little detail seemingly given by the referring court). Complication is of course that the general Gleichlauf rule of the EIR is repeatedly tempered by ad hoc regimes for specific claims or claimants.

The AG advises on the main question (should the CJEU follow then his reply to the other questions becomes redundant), at 36, that ‘that Article 4(2) of the Insolvency Regulation makes reference to the conditions for invoking set-offs and to the effects of insolvency on current contracts cannot entail, in my view, that any claim relating to a contract where a party to that contract is subject to insolvency proceedings (and/or where a set‑off is invoked against that claimant) falls automatically within the concept of ‘insolvency proceedings and their effects’ for the purposes of determining which provision governs the applicable law. The mere fact that it is the liquidator who has lodged such an action does not, in my view, change that conclusion.. At 37 he adds powerful argument for same: ‘A case like the present one neatly demonstrates why any other conclusion would lead to unpredictable, or even bizarre, results. The law governing the contractual claim would not only differ from the one that the parties agreed on, but it would also change repeatedly, due to subsequent assignments and/or the assignees themselves eventually becoming subject to insolvency proceedings. All such changes to the applicable law would be based on events not only post-dating the conclusion of the contract and the choice of applicable law, but also largely unconnected to the contract. In addition, all this could be happening while proceedings are pending before the same court.’

Like the Commission, for the final, very interesting question [that question from the referring court boils down to the issue of whether the ‘non-permissibility’ of set-offs in the lex concursus under Article 4 EIR is to be addressed in concrete or abstract terms in order to trigger the exception laid down in Article 6(1)] Bobek AK focuses on the Regulation’s stated aim (recital 26 of the 2000 EIR; recital 70 in the 2015 EIR) of having the set-off regime fulfill its role as a guarantee for international commercial transactions: at 74: ‘adopting an approach focused on the concrete outcomes produced by the respective applicable laws in conflict in a given case, the test to be applied must zero in on the specific solution that would be arrived at by the law applicable to the main claim’.

An Opinion very much soaked in commercial reality.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.7.

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