Restructuring tourism and Virgin Atlantic. The first application of England’s new Restructuring Plan leaves the jurisdictional issue hanging.

I flagged [2020] EWHC 2191 (Ch) Virgin Atlantic (the plan in the meantime has been sanctioned in [2020] EWHC 2376 (Ch)) in an update of my earlier post on the Colouroz Investment Scheme of Arrangement.

Restructuring practitioners have been justifiably excited by this new addition to England’s regulatory competition in restructuring tourism.

In my many posts on Schemes of Arrangements (see in particular Apcoa with the many references to later cases in that post; and Lecta Paper), I have summarised the modus operandi: no firm decision on jurisdiction under Brussels Ia is made (it is by no means certain but scheme creditors have so far not taken much of a swipe seeing as they tend to accept the attraction of the debtor company continuing as  a going concern following the use of an English scheme). If at least one of the creditors is domiciled in England, it is considered sued and a defendant per Article 4 Brussels Ia. Other, non-England domiciled creditors are then pulled into English jurisdiction using the one anchor defendant per Article 8(1). Trower J extends that assumption to Restructuring Plans at 58 ff:

      1. It is now well-established that an application for sanction of a Part 26 scheme is a civil or commercial matter and the reasoning seems to me to apply with equal force to a Part 26A restructuring plan. However, it has never been completely determined whether the rule laid down in Article 4(1) of the Regulation, that any person domiciled in an EU member state must (subject to any applicable exception) be sued in the courts of that member state, also applies to a Part 26 scheme, although the matter has been referred to and debated in a number of cases.
      1. In the present case, I shall adopt the usual practice of assuming without deciding that Chapter II and, therefore, Article 4 of the Recast Judgments Regulation applies to these proceedings on the basis that Plan Creditors are being sued by the company and that they are defendants, or to be treated as defendants, to the application to sanction the scheme. If, on the basis of that assumption, the court has jurisdiction because one of the exceptions to Article 4 applies, then there is no need to determine whether the assumption is correct and I will not do so.
      1. In the present case, the Company relies on the exception provided for by Article 8 of the Recast Judgments Regulation. By Article 8, a defendant who is domiciled outside a member state may be sued in that member state provided that another defendant in the same action is domiciled there and provided that it is expedient to hear the claims against both together to avoid risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting in separate proceedings. The consequence of this is that if sufficient scheme creditors are domiciled in England then Article 8(1) confers jurisdiction on the English court to sanction a scheme affecting the rights of creditors domiciled elsewhere in the EU, so long as it is expedient to do so, which it normally will be (see, for example, Re DTEK Finance Plc [2017] BCC 165 and [2016] EWHC 3563 (Ch) at the convening and sanctioning stages).
    1. and concluding at 61
      1. In the present case, the evidence is that at least one Plan Creditor from each class is domiciled in the jurisdiction. Perhaps most importantly, so far as in terms of Trade Plan Creditors, it is 90 out of 168. In my view, this is amply sufficient to ensure that the requirements of Article 8 are satisfied.’

Article 25 BIa jurisdiction is obiter dismissed at 62 for not all creditors have credit arrangements subject to English choice of court.

Restructuring Plans do have features which differ from Schemes of Arrangement and some of those do trigger different considerations at the recognition and enforcement level than have hitherto been the case for Schemes.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 2, Chapter 5. Note: 3rd of the Handbook is forthcoming (February 2021).

Bank of Baroda v Maniar. The impact of the lex concursus on personal guarantees.

It was a year ago since I started writing up this post – I must have gotten distracted, for I continue to find the issues both relevant and interesting. In Bank of Baroda v Maniar & Anor [2019] EWHC 2463 (Comm) (not appealed to my knowledge),  Pearce J considered the attempt by an Indian Bank (with business activities in the UK) to enforce personal guarantees given in respect of the liability of an Irish-registered company (which had been set up by the guarantors) under a credit facility. The Irish company had entered into examinership under Irish law, and the Irish courts had approved a scheme of arrangement. Of interest to the blog is whether the bank had properly served notice on the guarantors, in accordance with the Companies Act 2014 (Ireland) s.549.

Claimant referred inter alia to the Gibbs rule, which I discussed in my posting on [2018] EWHC 59 (Ch) International Bank of Azerbaijan , since confirmed by the Court of Appeal. Defendants rely ia on Article 4 of the EIR 2000, Regulation 1346/2000, materially applicable to the proceedings:  “(1)…the law applicable to insolvency proceedings and their effects shall be the law of the Member State within the territory of which such proceedings are opened…(2) The law of the State of the opening of proceedings shall determine the conditions of the opening of those proceedings, their conduct and their closure. It shall determine in particular: .. j. The conditions for and the effects of closure of insolvency proceedings, in particular by composition; k. Creditors’ rights after the closure of insolvency proceedings.”

Claimant concedes that law of the State of the opening, namely Irish law, may be required to be given effect under the EIR, however argues that effect is limited to those aspects of Irish insolvency law which are necessary for the insolvency proceedings to fulfil their aim, and that Section 549 of the Irish Company Act (which concerns the preservation of the right to pursue guarantors) does not fall within the ambit of “the law applicable to insolvency proceedings” to which Article 4(1) of EIR applies.

In other words Claimant does not entertain the possibility of what was Article 13 in the 2000 EIR and is now Article 16 in the 2015 EIR, also applied by the CJEU in Nike, Kornhaas and Lutz. Rather, it more straightforwardly argues that relevant sections of the Irish Company Act are simply not within the scope of the lex concursus and that (at 84) the law governing the guarantees is English law per Article 4 Rome I.  At 109 Pearce J ultimately rather concisely holds

The important point here is the potential effect of a Section 549 offer on creditors’ meetings. The fact that the making of such an offer gives rise to the possibility of the guarantor accepting the offer and exercising the voting rights of the creditor at a members’ meeting creates a significant connection between the notice and the conduct of the examinership itself. This brings the procedure within the ambit of Article 4 of EIR. (now Article 7 EIR 2015 – GAVC)

Why the relation with the carve-out of Article 13 (now 16) was not discussed is not clear to me, particularly as at 156 ff there is discussion of Article 15 (now 18)’s provision : The effects of insolvency proceedings on a lawsuit pending concerning an asset or a right of which the debtor has been divested shall be governed solely by the law of the Member State of which that lawsuit is pending.”) 

Claimant not having discussed Article 13 (16), presumably did not raise the possibility of an appeal, either. 

The remainder of the discussion then turns to the validity of service under Irish law,  to be judged by an English judge. With Pearce J at 138 and 143 I see no reason why the EIR would stand in the way of an English judge so applying the lex concursus, even if an Irish judge would do so with an amount of discretion. At 152 and 154, after consideration, service was deemed not to have been valid.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.7.

East-West logistics: debatable COMI determination in the case of an insolvent virtual trading company, and proprio motu obligations of the judge.

In  East-West Logistics LLP v Melars Group Ltd [2020] EWHC 2090 (Ch), at issue was COMI – Centre of Main Interests determination under Regulation 2015/848 of a  trading company incorporated in BVI, until 10 December 2015. It then moved its registered office to Malta, two months after service of the claim form in BVI proceedings and a month after acknowledging service, with regard to a charterparty gone wrong.

CJEU Interedil including its insistence on third-party observability, is the main authority called upon by parties. Baister DJ adds Northsea Base Investment in particular and notes at 22

Because this company traded virtually rather than physically, much of the case law is of little assistance: it deals largely with companies of substance that have a headquarters, offices, a tangible physical presence or assets or staff who are located and work somewhere or other.

He also notes, at 23 and I agree, that the forum shopping which the company had clearly engaged in, is not of itself of material relevance (despite nota bene the Regulation’s recitals betraying a contempt for forum shopping): ‘a debtor is entitled to move his centre of main interests and to do so for self-serving reasons. The question is whether the move is real or illusory.’ Baister DJ refers to Shierson v Vlieland-Boddy [2005] EWCA Civ 974 which albeit held early in the life of the (previous) EU Insolvency Regulation continues to have relevance.

The judge comments at 22 that ‘there appears to have been no attempt to notify any third party of the move: no evidence is given of the company’s having done so; on the contrary,…, the company continued to use a BVI address after the move’ – which could make one think that in fact BVI should emerge as a strong contender for COMI – even if seemingly neither party suggested it was.

The judge at 27 emphasises the proprio motu instruction of the EIR, i.a. in Article 4: a judge cannot ‘avoid the obligation imposed on it by the Regulation to “examine of its own motion whether the centre of the debtor’s main interests…is actually located within its jurisdiction,..”: the place of registered office is not a fallback in case parties do not provide proper evidence: the judge must examine COMI on the facts himself.

Then follows an admirably serious engagement with the few elements present in the case, leading to Baster J opting for England as COMI: at 54:

I conclude on the basis of the documentary material, the location of the company’s banking facilities from time to time, the location of its legal advisers, the location of at least one judgment creditor to which a debt was to be paid and the place where the company was involved in litigation that at the relevant time the company was administering its interests in both the UK and Switzerland so that both were centres of the company’s interests. I conclude, by a narrow margin and with misgivings, that on balance the greater use of English law for contracts, the greater use of London as a seat of arbitration, the actual recourse to or forced involvement in legal proceedings here and the consequential use of English lawyers makes the UK, on the balance of probabilities, the main centre of those interests. The company’s affairs seem to have been conducted in this country more than in Switzerland, certainly as far as contractual and litigation interests were concerned, although it is, I accept, hard to be precise.

I tend to disagree and I believe it is at 35 that the mistake is being made:

Locating the company’s centre of main interests in Malta rests on its registered office being there and no more than that. There is unchallenged evidence from the petitioner that there is no operational office and no one conducting the business of the company there. The registered office is a “letter box” and no more. It follows that if the company “conducts the administration of its interests on a regular basis elsewhere” such that that “is ascertainable by third parties,” that “elsewhere” can only be either the UK or Switzerland.

The Registered office presumption despite its rebuttability, remains a presumption. If on the facts, ‘the place where the debtor conducts the administration of its interests on a regular basis and which is ascertainable by third parties’ (definition of COMI in A3(1) EIR) does not clearly point to another place than the registered office, the presumption must remain in place. In the case at issue, the starting point seems rather to have been to establish either the UK or Switserland as COMI. In doing so the judge I feel did not give enough weight to the COMI presumption. Even with the proprio motu instruction, the judge must not scavenge for alternative COMI; there must be convincing evidence of the alternative, which I do not think from the judge’s description, is available here.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.2.Heading 5.6.1.2.4.

Dutch SC applies Nk v PNB Paribas and determines locus damni for Peeters Gatzen suit.

Early July the Dutch Supreme Court followed-up on CJEU C–535/17 NK v BNP Paribas Fortis re the Peeters /Gatzen suit – a judgment I covered here. Roel Verheyden has additional analysis of the SC ruling, in Dutch, here. The SC held that the Dutch courts do not have jurisdiction, identifying Belgium as the Erfolgort per CJEU Marinari and Kolassa. As Roel notes, the SC (other than its AG) attention to potential ‘specific factors’ suggesting The Netherlands as an Erfolgort, is underwhelming and may lead to a general conclusion that Dutch Insolvency practitioners applying the Peeters /Gatzen suit to foreign parties while have to sue these abroad – leading to potential issues in the governing law itself and a disappearance of Peeters /Gatzen altogether.

Geert.

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

Erfolgsort bij Peeters/Gatzen-vordering

 

CJEU in Novo Banco: confirms mere presence of a natural person’s core immovable asset (the ‘family home’) does not in itself determine COMI (in insolvency).

When I reviewed Szpunar AG’s opinion, I pointed out that the crux of this case is the determination of ‘centre of main interests’ in the context of natural persons not exercising an independent business or professional activity, who benefit from free movement. The CJEU has now held.

With respect to natural persons outside of a profession, the Insolvency Regulation 2015/848 (‘EIR 2015’) determines ‘(i)n the case of any other individual, the centre of main interests shall be presumed to be the place of the individual’s habitual residence in the absence of proof to the contrary. This presumption shall only apply if the habitual residence has not been moved to another Member State within the 6-month period prior to the request for the opening of insolvency proceedings.’

‘Habitual residence’ is not defined by the EIR 2015. The CJEU runs along the usual themes: need for predictability and autonomous interpretation; emphasis on the Regulation generally defining COMI as ‘the place where the debtor conducts the administration of his interests on a regular basis and is therefore ascertainable by third parties’ (at 19 and referring to recital 13 of the previous Regulation); among those third parties, the important position of (potential) creditors and whether they may ascertain said centre (at 21); to agree with the AG at 24 that

relevant criteria for determining the centre of the main interests of individuals not exercising an independent business or professional activity are those connected with their financial and economic situation which corresponds to the place where they conduct the administration of their economic interests or the majority of their revenue is earned and spent, or the place where the greater part of their assets is located.

Like the AG, the CJEU holds that the mere presence of a natural person’s one immovable asset (the ‘family home’, GAVC) in another Member State than that of habitual residence, in and of itself does not suffice to rebut COMI (at 28).

At 30, the Court specifically flags that COMI in effect represents the place of the ’cause’ of the insolvency, i.e. the place from where one’s assets are managed in a way which led the insolvent into the financial pickle: 

In that regard, although the cause of the insolvency is not, as such, a relevant factor for determining the centre of the main interests of an individual not exercising an independent business or professional activity, it nevertheless falls to the referring court to take into consideration all objective factors, ascertainable by third parties, which are connected with that person’s financial and economic situation. In a case such as the one in the main proceedings, as was observed in paragraph 24 above, that insolvency situation is located in the place where the applicants in the main proceedings conduct the administration of their economic interests on a regular basis or the majority of their revenue is earned and spent, or the place where the greater part of their assets is located.

As in all other scenarios of rebuttal, the ascertainability in particular by (potential) creditors is key and is a factual consideration which the national courts have to make.

Geert.

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

Bundeszentralamt Fur Steuern v Heis. On comity, staying proceedings, and the ‘public /private’ divide in international litigation.

Bundeszentralamt Fur Steuern (Being the Federal Central Tax Office of the Federal Republic of Germany) & Ors v Heis & Ors [2019] EWHC 705 (Ch) was held in March 2019 bit only came unto BAILII recently and had not caught my attention before.

The primary question raised is whether appeals by the applicants, the German Federal Tax Office (“the GTA”) and by Deutsche Bank AG (“DB”) against the rejection by the Joint Special Administrators (“the Administrators”) of MF Global UK Limited (“MFGUK”) of their respective proofs of debt, to allow the underlying claim which forms the subject of the proof to be resolved by the specialist German tax or fiscal courts, which both the applicants (for different reasons) contend are the natural forum for the determination of the claims and the forum in which they can be resolved most efficiently.

The underlying issue concerns German withholding tax.

The GTA has at all times maintained that its claim should be determined in Germany by the German tax courts, per the UK-Germany double taxation Treaty, based on the OECD model convention (for those in the know: it is Article 28(6) which the GTA has suggested exclusively reserves its GTA Claim to the German Courts). However it felt compelled to submit a proof in MFGUK’s UK administration proceedings in order to preserve its rights.

Under German law, it is within the GTA’s power to give a decision on MFGUK’s objection to relvant Amended Tax Assessment Notices. If and when it did so, it would then be for MFGUK, if it wished to pursue the matter further, to file an appeal against that decision by the GTA with the Fiscal Court of Cologne. The Fiscal Court of Cologne is one of the 18 fiscal courts in Germany which are the courts of first instance for tax matters. That seems a natural course to take however here the GTA is caught in a conundrum: at 18: the GTA has not yet formally rejected MFGUK’s objection. This is because such objection would establish proceedings in Germany, and there is a procedural rule of German law that, in order to prevent parallel proceedings, a German court will automatically defer to the court first seized of a matter. Accordingly, it seems likely that if the GTA were to reject MFGUK’s objection before the Stay Application has been decided by the UK Court, on any appeal by MFGUK, the Fiscal Court of Cologne might as a matter of comity defer to this Court in order to avoid parallel proceedings.

At 57: Brussels Ia is not engaged for the case concerns both the insolvency and the tax exclusion of Articles 1.1 and 1.2.b. At 56 Hildyard J considers the issues under English rules on the power to stay, with a focus on the risk of irreconcilable judgments.

At 84 Hildyard J holds that the GTA read too much into A28(6) and that there is no exclusive jurisdiction, leaving the consideration of whether a stay might be attractive nevertheless (at 89 ff the issue is discussed whether German courts could at all entertain the claim). This leads to an assessment pretty much like a stay under Brussels Ia as ‘related’ (rather than: the same, to which lis alibi pendens applies) cases. Note at 87(6) the emphasis which the GTA places on the actual possibility of consolidating the cases – similar to the arguments used in BIa A33-34 cases such as Privatbank and later cases).

At 115 the impact of this case having public law impacts becomes clear: ‘It seems to me that, despite my hunch that there will also be considerable factual enquiry, and a factual determination of the particular circumstances may determine the result …, the legal issues at stake are not only plainly matters of German law, but controversial and complex issues of statutory construction of systemic importance and substantial public interest in terms of the legitimate interests of the public in the protection of its taxation system from what are alleged to be colourable schemes.’

And at 116, referring ia to VTB Capital v Nutritek, ‘the risk of inconsistent decisions in concurrent proceedings in different jurisdictions, is the more acute when in one of the jurisdictions the issue is a systemic one, or may be decided in a manner which has systemic consequences. Especially in such a context, there is a preference for a case to be heard by the courts of the country whose law applies.’ Reference to VTB is made in particular with resepect to the point that Gleichlauf (the application by a court of its own laws) is to be promoted in particular (at [46] in VTB per Lord Mance: “it is generally preferable, other things being equal, that a case should be tried in a country whose law applies. However, this factor is of particular force if issues of law are likely to be important and if there is evidence of relevant differences in the legal principles or rules applicable to such issues in the two countries in contention as the appropriate forum.’

At 117: ‘even if the factual centre of gravity may be London, the jurisdiction likely to be most affected by the result is Germany: and even if the US approach of ‘interest analysis’ is not determinative in this jurisdiction it does not seem to me to be an impermissible consideration.’

Held, at 121, there is here ‘a sufficiently “rare and compelling” reason for granting the stay sought by the GTA, provided that the German Fiscal Court are an available forum in which to determine the substance of the disputes.’ At 122 Hildyard J seeks assurances ‘insofar as the parties’ best endeavours can secure it, resolution of both the GTA Claim and the Later MFGUK Refund Claim as expeditiously as possible. That seems to me necessary in order to safeguard this jurisdictions’ insolvency processes and for the protection of the interests of the body of creditors as a whole.’

Then follows at 131 ff extensive analysis of the impact of this stay decision on the related case of Deutsche Bank, with at 190 a summary of the issues to be decided. Held at 218: ‘By careful selection of potentially dispositive issues, I consider that there is some prospect of that process enabling a determination without recourse to the intricacies of German tax law which are to be decided in the context of the GTA Claim; whereas an immediate stay guarantees a long delay before this court can determine the matter, based on presently hypothetical claims, after a long wait for non-binding guidance from the German court which may result from other cases to which DB is not a party.’ However at 219 the prospect of a stay after all is held out, should a quick resolution of those issues not be possible.

Most interesting.

Geert.

 

The Colouroz Investment et all Scheme of arrangement. Change to asymmetric choice of court issue left to sanction hearing.

In Colouroz Investment et al [2020] EWHC 1864 (Ch.), Snowden J at 59 ff considers the classic issues (see ia Lecta Paper) on the jurisdictional consideration: no cover under the Insolvency Regulation; cover under Brussels Ia (future Brexit alert: ditto under Lugano) left hanging and assumed arguendo (update 18 August 2020 ditto in [2020] EWHC 2191 (Ch) Virgin Atlantic). At 62 Snowden J summarises the position excellently:

‘(T)he court has usually adopted the practice of assuming that Chapter II of the Recast Judgments Regulation applies to schemes of arrangement on the basis that the scheme proposal is to be regarded as a “dispute” concerning the variation of the existing relationship between the company and its creditors under which the company “sues” the scheme creditors as “defendants” seeking an order binding them to the scheme.  If, on the basis of that underlying assumption, the court has jurisdiction over the scheme creditors pursuant to Chapter II of the Recast Judgment Regulation, then there is no need for the Court to determine whether that assumption is correct.

At 64: ‘Credit Agreements and the ICA (Intercreditor Agreement, GAVC) were originally governed by New York law and were subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the New York Court. However, as a result of the amendments made on 2 June 2020 with the consent of the requisite majority of the lenders under the contractual amendment regime, the governing law and jurisdiction provisions have now been changed to English governing law and English exclusive jurisdiction.’ At 65: expert evidence on NY law suggests amendments made on 2 June 2020 are valid and binding as a matter of New York law.

This to my mind continues to be a fuzzy proposition under the Rome I Regulation: change of lex contractus by majority must beg the question on the relevant provisions under Rome I. As far as I am are, this hitherto has not been driven home by anyone at a sanction hearing however it is bound to turn up at some point.

At 66 Snowden J, who gives consent for the sanction hearing, announces that one issue that will have to be discussed there is that if the Schemes are sanctioned, the intention is to have the jurisdiction clauses then changed to asymmetric jurisdiction clauses, detailed in 21-23: lenders will be entitled to bring proceedings against the obligors in any jurisdiction although any proceedings brought by the obligors must be brought in England. At 66 in fine: ‘that question is not for decision at this convening hearing, but should be considered at the sanction hearing.’

That’s a discussion I shall look forward to with interest.

Geert.

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

 

 

Swissport Fuelling. Another Scheme of arrangement, with a slight twist.

Swissport Fuelling Ltd, Re [2020] EWHC 1499 (Ch) at 59 ff repeats the classic (see Lecta Paper for the status quo), unresolved issue of jurisdiction for schemes of arrangement under under BIa (hence also: Lugano 2007). The case is worth reporting for slightly unusually, the scheme company, UK incorporated, acts as guarantor rather than borrower. Borrowers are mainly incorporated in Luxembourg and Switserland. Under the Credit Agreement, the Borrowers do not have a right of contribution or indemnity against the guarantors, so a claim against them would not ricochet against the UK incorporated Company.

Recognition under New York law is discussed – not yet the issue of recognition under Luxembourgish and Swiss law. That, one imagines, will follow at the sanctioning hearing, which will ordinarly follow the meeting of the scheme creditors which Miles J orders in current judgment.

Geert.

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

 

Akkurate: Whether English discovery may act extraterritorially under the EU Insolvency Regulation, and a clear difference following Brexit.

Graham Woloff eaor Calzaturificio Zengarini eaor re Akkurate Ltd, [2020] EWHC 1433 (Ch) concerns the question whether the court has the power under section 236(3) of the Insolvency Act 1986 to require persons resident in the EU to produce books and papers and an account of their dealings with a company being compulsorily wound up in England and Wales (it is not disputed that Akkurate’s centre of main interests (“COMI”) was in England and Wales under the European Insolvency Regulation EIR).

EIR 2000 applies to this case, because the winding up of Akkurate was before 26 June 2017, however the issue is not materially different in the new Regulation. There are inconsistent first instance decisions which Vos C reviews ia at 27 ff and at 54 after consideration, he considers s236(3) does not have extraterritorial effect on the basis of what he considers to be the binding authority of Re Tucker (a bankrupt) [1990] Ch. 148. however that following the EIR 2000 (unchanged in EIR 2015) the European regime can and does extend the territoriality of purely domestic insolvency provisions. CJEU authority cited is in particular C-339/07 Seagon v Deko Marty Belgium (at 58 ff) – which I find may be a bit optimistic. Vos C also decides that he can and should apply his discretion to grant orders as formulated at 68.

Clearly, post Brexit, the situation will revert to Tucker. Which would make the English courts less attractive than their continental counterparts – although of course one would have to wait for CJEU authority to confirm the issue less equivocally.

Geert.

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

 

Szpunar AG in Novo Banco: COMI (in insolvency) for natural persons, not self-employed, with assets in former Member State of habitual residence.

I sincerely continue to be humbled when cited by Advocates-General at the CJEU. Even more so therefore when it happens twice (see also Movic) in one week. In his Opinion in C-253/19 Szpunar AG refers to the Handbook’s analysis of C-341/04 Eurofood. The reference to that judgment is part of his assessment of ‘centre of main interests’ in the context of natural persons not exercising an independent business or professional activity, who benefit from free movement. The CJEU has not ruled on the issue before.

The AG points out that the European Insolvency Regulation (EIR) 1346/2000 (‘EIR 2000’), unlike its successor, Regulation 2015/848 (‘EIR 2015’), did not have time limitations under which the presumptions of COMI apply (see here for my paper on the main changes introduced by EIR 2015). However the EIR 2000 did have such presumption without the time limits, for companies and legal persons, and it generally, like the current EIR, requires courts to check whether COMI for natural persons or otherwise is located on their territory. This requires the court to check against the criteria for rebuttal of any presumptions of COMI. That test runs along the criteria that have repeatedly featured on the blog (cue search string ‘COMI’): COMI designates the place where the debtor conducts the administration of its interests on a regular basis and is therefore ascertainable by third parties.

‘Habitual residence’ is not defined by the EIR 2015 and I concur with the AG that references to its application in family European PIL are of limited value. At 45: priority should be given not to factors relating to a debtor’s social or family situation but to those relating to a debtor’s financial position. In the case of natural persons not engaged in a self-employed activity, the line separating their financial situation and their family situation is blurred (at 46). The Virgos Schmitt report already discussed the application of of the insolvency regime to natural persons and advised that COMI as applied to natural persons ought to focus on the economic interests.

At 49 the AG suggests that ‘habitual residence’ no longer reflects a natural person’s COMI if does not fulfil its role as the place where a debtor’s economic decisions are taken, as the place where the majority of its revenue is earned and spent, or as the place where the major part of its assets is located. That entails quite a broad scope for rebuttal of course. The AG refines this in the remainder of the Opinion. He refers to national case-law on the issue, and to the importance of free movement rights. He also suggests an important limitation: namely that in his view, the mere presence of a natural person’s  one immovable asset (the ‘family home’, GAVC) in another Member State than that of habitual residence, in and of itself does not suffice to rebut COMI.

As in all other scenarios of rebuttal, the ascertainability in particular by (potential) creditors is key. That is a factual consideration which the national courts are in prime position to make.

Geert.

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