Posts Tagged Insolvency

Stripes US. High Court considers jurisdiction for scheme of arrangement in the usual way.

In [2018] EWHC 3098 (Ch) Stripes US, Smith J deals with jurisdiction for schemes of arrangement in the now well established way (see my last report on same in Algeco):

The EU’s Insolvency Regulation is clearly not engaged: the schemes fall under company law. The High Court then applies the jurisdictional test viz the Brussels I Recast 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).

The issue in fact splits in two: so far as the question of jurisdiction in relation to a foreign (non-EU or Lugano States based) company is concerned (Stripes US is incorporated in Delaware), the law is clear. It is well-established that the court has jurisdiction to sanction a Scheme in relation to a company provided that company is liable to be wound up under the Insolvency Act 1986.

Turning next to the Scheme Creditors, of the 31 Scheme Creditors, 19.4% by number (26.35% by value) of the ‘defendants’ (an odd notion perhaps in the context of a Scheme sanction) are domiciled in the UK, plenty Smith J holds to suggest enough reason for anchoring: not taking jurisdiction vis-a-vis the defendants domiciled in other Member States, would carry with it a serious risk of irreconcilable judgments.

Finally the case for forum non conveniens (and comity) is considered (vis-a-vis the US defendant), and rejection of jurisdiction summarily dismissed: in this case the relevant agreement which is the subject of the Scheme has a governing law which is (and, I understand, always has been) English law: at 63: ‘Generally speaking, that is enough to establish a sufficient connection. The view is that under generally accepted principles of private international law, a variation or discharge of contractual rights in accordance with the governing law of the contract should be done by the court of that law and will be given effect to in other third-party countries.’ US experts moreover advised any judgment would most probably have no difficulty being enforced in the US

Geert.

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

 

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Deutsche Apotheker- und Arztebank v Leitzbach. A straightforward COMI assessment to start the week.

I am working on rather intricate conflicts issues this week (which I am enjoying) so I am turning to the blog for a little cerebral relief (equally pleasing). In [2018] EWHC 1544 (Ch) Deutsche Apotheker- und Arztebank EG v Leitzbach , reported with thanks by Ashfords, Hodge J correctly applied the COMI test of Regulation 1346/2000 to dismiss jurisdiction for the courts in England and Wales.

Dr Leitzbach had obtained a bankruptcy order after a previous attempt in which he had failed to testify to COMI in England and Wales. His, successful, second attempt, it now became clear, was obtained after misrepresentation. Dr Leitzbach’s arguments pro COMI it seems were mostly based on residence in the UK, proof for which he sought to obtain from (in fact non-existing) supermarket loyalty cards, as well as receipts of purchases made hundreds of miles apart within a short time-frame.

Note at 27 Hodge J’s in my view entirely correct sympathy for forum shopping in insolvency: as long as COMI can be correctly ascertained in the jurisdiction, this is an entirely justifiable phenomenon. Except indeed COMI was not in the UK as the High Court equally found:

at 71: ‘I simply cannot accept the evidence of Dr Leitzbach as to the fact that he was living and working …as a consultant in England and Wales at the relevant time. I simply do not accept his evidence to that effect. Secondly, however, I would in, any event, have found that, as a professional dentist who had been practising as such in Germany, Dr Leitzbach had never acquired a COMI in England and Wales…’

at 74: ‘so far as his visibility as a dentist is concerned, third parties would clearly have formed the view that he was continuing to practise with his brother in Germany until the end of 2012. He remained on the appropriate public dental register until the end of 2012. He secured a certificate that he was unfit for dental work at the end of 2011; but even that document was addressed to the former practice address in Hochheim, and it operated simply to relieve the debtor from making contributions to his official German dental pension scheme only until 30 June 2012…Dr Leitzbach accepted..that he was representing to third parties that he remained in practice as a dentist in the Hessen dental register until the end of December 2012. It was that dental practice address that was used by Dr Leitzbach to register himself on the postgraduate dental course that he undertook. He accepted that others on the course would all have assumed that he was continuing to practise as a dentist in Germany. His CV, written for the purpose of a published article in a dental journal, gave the impression that he had worked as a dentist in Germany until the end of 2012, and that, thereafter, his only professional activity was attending the postgraduate dental course.’

COMI never have been in the UK, the carpet was pulled from underneath the previous Bankruptcy order and this had to be annulled.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.

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Wiemer & Trachte v Tadzher: vis attractiva concursus leads to exclusive jurisdiction for the pauliana.

The pauliana rings extensively at Kirchberg these days and months.

Two days ago the Court held in C‑296/17 Wiemer & Trachte. Following Wahl AG’s Opinion (which is not available in English), the Court has confirmed exclusive jurisdiction for set aside (pauliana) actions, of the courts of the Member State within the territory of which insolvency proceedings have been opened (COMI or secondary proceedings). Not therefore jurisdiction under the Brussels I Recast for the State of domicile of the defendant.

The need to avoid forum shopping (a strong leading principle in the insolvency Regulation) in particular, led Wahl AG and now the Court to insist on exclusive jurisdiction. The alternative reading (defended, I understand, inter alia by the Commission) relied on the altogether limiting wording of the relevant articles in the Regulation (both the previous and current versions), and also on an efficiency argument: particularly the insolvency practitioner ought to be able to forum shop so as to ensure the best outcome for the collective creditors (particularly by pursuing parties who have benefitted from avoidance actions, in their domicile). Wahl AG confessed sympathy for that practical reason (not unlike some of the arguments in the common law against say Owusu or West Tankers), yet emphasised the CJEU’s direction on vis attractiva concursus: rather a magnetic direction.

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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Vis (non) attractiva concursus. Bobek AG suggests tortious suit brought by liquidator (‘Peeters /Gatzen’) is covered by Brussels I Recast.

I earlier posted a guest blog on the qualification of the Dutch Peeters /Gatzen suit, a damages claim based on tort, brought by a liquidator against a third party having acted wrongfully towards the creditors. Bobek AG opined two weeks back in C-535/17 NK (insolvency practitioner for a baillif practice) v BNP Paribas Fortis.

His Opinion is of relevance not just for the consideration of jurisdiction, but perhaps even more so (for less litigated so far) for the analysis of applicable law.

Roel Verheyden has commented on the Opinion in Dutch here, and Sandrine Piet had earlier contextualised the issues (also in Dutch) here. She clarifies that the suit was introduced by the Dutch Supreme Court in 1983, allowing the insolvency practitioner (as EU insolvency law now calls them) to claim in tort against third parties whose actions have diminished the collective rights of the creditors, even if the insolvency person or company at issue was not entitled to such suit. The Advocate General himself, in his trademark lucid style, summarises the suit excellently.

Importantly, the Peeters /Gatzen is not a classic pauliana (avoidance) suit: Bobek AG at 16: ‘The power of the liquidator to bring a Peeters-Gatzen action is not limited to cases where the third party belongs to the circle of persons who, based on a Paulian (bankruptcy) claim .. would be liable for involvement in allegedly detrimental acts. The liquidator’s competence relates more generally to the damage caused to the general body of creditors by the wrongful act of a third party involved in causing that damage. The third party need not have caused the damage or have profited from it: it is sufficient that that third party could have prevented the damage but cooperated instead.’

In the case at issue, the third party is BNP Paribas Fortis, who had allowed the sole director of the company to withdraw large amounts of cash from the company’s account.

Firstly, on the jurisdictional issue, Nickel /Goeldner and Nortel had intervened after the interim judgments of the Dutch courts, creating doubt in their minds as to the correct delineation between the Insolvency and Brussels I Recast Regulation. The Advocate-General’s approach in my view is the correct one, and I refer to his Opinion for the solid arguments he deploys. In essence, the DNA of the suit are the ordinary rules of civil law (re: tort). That it be introduced by the insolvency practitioner (here, the liquidator) and that it is the case-law on liquidation proceedings which has granted that right to the liquidator, is not materially relevant. Note that the AG correctly adds in footnote 40 that even if the suit is not subject to the Insolvency Regulation, that Regulation does not disappear from the litigation. In particular, given that liquidation proceedings are underway, the lex concursus determines the ius agendi of the liquidator to bring the suit in tort, in another Member State (Belgium, on the basis of Article 7(2) or 4 Brussels I Recast).

Now, for applicable law, the AG first of all completes the analysis on the basis of the Insolvency Regulation, in the unlikely event the CJEU were not to follow him on the jurisdictional issue. Here (para 85 ff) the referring court wishes to know whether, if the Peeters-Gatzen action is covered by the Insolvency Regulation, such a claim would be governed, pursuant to Article 4(1) of that Regulation, by the law of the Member State where the insolvency proceedings were opened as regards both the power of the liquidator to bring that claim and the substantive law applicable to that claim. This question seeks to determine whether it is possible to follow the approach of the second-instance court in the main proceedings, and separate the law governing the powers of the liquidator (ius agendi) from the law applicable to the merits of the claim. The powers of the liquidator would then be governed by the lex fori concursus (Dutch law, per Article 4(2)(c) Insolvency Regulation). That article states that ‘the law of the State of the opening of proceedings … shall determine in particular … the respective powers of the debtor and the liquidator’. However, the merits of the claim would then be governed by the law applicable by virtue of the general (non-insolvency) conflict of law rules. In the present case that would lead to application of residual Dutch conflict of law rules, because the Rome II Regulation does not apply ratione temporis as the AG further explains. These rules lead to Belgian law being the lex causae.

Within the assumption of the Insolvency Regulation determining jurisdiction (for see footnote 40 as reported above, re ius agendi) the AG emphasises the Regulation’s goal of Gleichlauf: at 89: If the Peeters-Gatzen action were covered by the Insolvency Regulation, all its elements would be governed exclusively by the conflict of law rules of that regulation.

(Current) Article 16’s exception such as in Nike and Lutz does not come into play for as Bobek AG notes at 94, ‘It is difficult to see how the Peeters-Gatzen action at issue in the main proceedings could be qualified as a rule ‘relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of legal acts detrimental to all the creditors’, in the sense of Article 4(2)(m) [old, GAVC] of the Insolvency Regulation. The purpose of such an action is not a declaration of the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of an act of the third party, but the recovery of damages based on the wrongful behaviour of that third party towards the creditors. Therefore, as Article 4(2)(m) [old, GAVC] of the regulation would not apply in the main proceedings, the exception in Article 13 [old, GAVC] could not apply either.’

The AG finally discusses the referring court’s question whether if the Peeters-Gatzen action is exclusively subject to the lex fori concursus, it would be possible to take into account, whether directly or at least by analogy, and on the basis of Article 17 Rome II read in conjunction with Article 13 (now 16) of the Insolvency Regulation, the security regulations and codes of conduct applicable at the place of the alleged wrongful act (that is to say, in Belgium), such as financial rules of conduct for banks. Article 17 Rome II reads ‘In assessing the conduct of the person claimed to be liable, account shall be taken, as a matter of fact and in so far as is appropriate, of the rules of safety and conduct which were in force at the place and time of the event giving rise to the liability.

I have argued before that Article 17 Rome II does not have the rather extensive impact which some attribute to it. The AG, after signalling that the Article is yet to be applied by the CJEU, notes that Rome II does not apply here ratione temporis. He then concludes with an aside (it is not articulated as a proper argument – which is just as well for it is circular I suppose): at 104: ‘the more pertinent question is… whether it is really necessary to have recourse to a cumbersome legal construction, in this case the application of rules by analogy, outside of their material and temporal scope, in order to reach a solution (the application of Belgian law) which solves a problem (the applicability of Netherlands law by virtue of the Insolvency Regulation) that should not have been created in the first place (since the Peeters-Gatzen claim at hand should fall within the scope of the Brussels I Regulation). In any event, I am of the view, also in this regard, that these questions by the referring court rather confirm that there is no close connection between that action and the insolvency proceedings.’

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.4.1, Heading 5.7.

 

 

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Videology: Snowden J’s textbook consideration of COMI under UNCITRAL Model Law and EU Insolency Regulations.

Looking at my back queue for blog postings, [2018] EWHC 2186 (Ch) Videology is one I do wish to bring to the attention of my readers. Snowden J refused to recognise proceedings under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code (“Chapter 11”) in relation to Videology Ltd as a foreign main proceeding under Article 17 of the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency (“the Model Law”) as incorporated into English law in Schedule 1 to the Cross-Border Insolvency Regulations 2006 (the “CBIR”). He did so because he was not satisfied that the centre of main interests (“COMI”) of the Company was in the US where the Chapter 11 proceedings are taking place. He did, however, grant recognition of the Chapter 11 proceedings as a foreign non-main proceeding.

The Judgment is a master class on COMI determination.  Of note are

  • at 28 the rejection of, for so long as the UK remains a party to the Recast EIR,  any different approach in relation to the concept of COMI under the CBIR/Model Law and the Recast EIR;
  • the emphasis on a basket of criteria required to displace the presumption of COMI in place of the registered office;
  • at 42 ff the rejection of a narrow focus on, or attachment of overriding importance to, the location in which the directors and senior management act;
  • Snowden J’s rejection at 46 ff of the Head Office approach as being determinant under EU law (see also Handbook heading 5.6.1.2.4); and
  • the factors referred to eventually to uphold the presumption: at 72: ‘In addition to being the place of its registered office, the UK is where the Company’s trading premises and staff are located, where its customer and creditor relationships are established, where it administers its relations with its trade creditors on a day-to-day basis using those premises and local staff, and where its main assets (the receivables and cash at bank) are located. All of those factors will be visible and immediately ascertainable by the customers, and in particular by the trade creditors, of the Company. The UK is also, importantly, where representations were made to the Company’s main finance creditor that its COMI was situated.’

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1 (specifically also 5.6.1.2.4 for the Head Office discussion).

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Valag: Clarifying vis attractiva concursus.

This one long overdue – I am adding it to the blog for completeness’ sake. C‑649/16 Valach was held end of December 2017. The CJEU relies heavily on Tunkers and recital 6 of the (old) Insolvency Regulation: the regulation should be confined to provisions governing jurisdiction for opening insolvency proceedings and judgments which are ‘delivered directly on the basis of the insolvency proceedings and are closely connected with such proceedings’: the latter two criteria guide the CJEU.

In the case at issue, the action for liability at issue in the main proceedings is the direct and inseparable consequence of the performance by the committee of creditors, a statutory body established by Slovak law when insolvency proceedings are opened, of the task specifically assigned to them by the provisions of national law governing such procedures. Consequently, it is clear that the obligations which form the basis of bringing an action for liability in tort against a committee of creditors, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, originate in rules that are specific to insolvency proceedings (at 35-36).

As for the second criterion, 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 Brussels I Recast’s insolvency exception is triggered. That is the case here: at 38: in order to ascertain whether the liability of the members of the committee of creditors may be engaged because of the rejection of the restructuring plan, it will be necessary to analyse in particular the extent of that committee’s obligations in the insolvency proceedings and the compatibility of the rejection with those obligations. Such an analysis clearly presents a direct and close link with the insolvency proceedings, and is therefore closely connected with the course of those proceedings.

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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Espírito Santo (in liquidation): CJEU on vis attractive concursus in the event of pending lawsuits (lex fori processus).

The title of this piece almost reads like an encyclical. C-250/17 Espirito Santo (in full: Virgílio Tarragó da Silveira Massa v Insolvente da Espírito Santo Financial GroupSA – readers will appreciate my suggestion of shortening), held last week, concerns the scope of Article 15 juncto 4(2)(f) of the EU’s Insolvency Regulation 1346/2000 (materially unchanged in Regulation 2015/848).

In many jurisdictions lawsuits pending are subject to vis attractiva concursus: all suits pending or not, relevant to the estate of the insolvent company are centralised within one and the same court. In the context of cross-border insolvency however this would deprive the courts and the law of the Member State other than the State of opening of proceedings, of hearing cq applying to, pending suits.

The Court has now held along the lines what is suggested in the Virgos-Schmit report: only enforcement actions are subject to Article 15. Lawsuits pending which merely aim to establish the merits of a claim without actually exercising it (in the judgment: ‘Substantive proceedings for the recognition of the existence of a debt’), remain subject to the ongoing proceedings in the other Member State.

The judgment evidently has more detail but this is the gist of it. Of note is that yet again, linguistic analysis assists the court in its reasoning.

Geert.

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

 

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