Posts Tagged Insolvency

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 repeadtedly 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.

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Lydian international. The Jersey courts on universalism and cross-border insolvency.

In Representation of Lydian international Limited [2020] JRC 049 MacRae DB refers to universality in insolvency proceedings only once,  namely where he refers to authority at 20. Yet his approach in honouring the request for assistance, made by the courts at Ontario ‘on the basis of comity’, walks and talks like universality. This is of course reminiscent of Menon CJ’s recent speech on the issue, or similar decisions elsewhere.

‘Though there is no precedent in Jersey for a Canadian CCAA order or similar order being enforced or recognised in relation to a Jersey company, we had no doubt that we should assist the Canadian Court in this case.  There were no reasons of Jersey public policy impeding the court making the orders sought.  To the contrary, it is consistent with Jersey’s status as a responsible jurisdiction for the Royal Court to lend assistance in order to facilitate an international insolvency process in a friendly country that has a potential to benefit the creditors of the Lydian Group as a whole.’ The Deputy Bailiff also notes that key Jersey creditors and the Jersey corporation of the Lydian group itself were represented in the Canadian proceedings.

Geert.

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

 

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Lecta paper. Scheme of arrangements in the Brexit transition period, and the Brussels IA elephants in the room continue to be undisturbed.

In Lecta Paper [2020] EWHC 382 (Ch), Trower J picks up where Zacarolii J left off in [2019] EWHC 3615 (Ch) (which I briefly flagged in my post here and which is referred to in current judgment 12) and goes through the usual matrix for assessing the international impact of an English scheme of arrangement on the European continent.

Ultimate parent company is a Luxembourg company, with further controlling interests held by yet another Luxembourg and a Spanish company. A 10-11 Trower J flags a sensitive issue for credit and other financial arrangements: financial instruments subject to New York law, where amended to English law as governing law and the courts at England as non-exclusive jurisdiction. This was done in accordance with New York law, and approved by over 90% of the instruments’ holders. Yet again therefore a crucial question viz schemes of arrangement and the Brussels jurisdictional and applicable law regimes remains unaddressed, namely the event of opposition of a sizeable stake of creditors.

At 33 ff the issue of jurisdiction is discussed along the lines of Apcoa, Codere and NN2 Newco. Under residual private international law, the sufficient connection to England, engineered by the aforementioned change of governing law and jurisdiction in line with the law governing the instruments at the time (New York law, at 38), was held not to be unfair viz the creditors even in the case of the mother company with COMI in Luxembourg. At 44 ff Trower J returns to the issue of whether Brussels Ia can apply at all to the case, particularly via Article 4 juncto Article 8(1), holding for application of Article 25 in the end. However as in the authority he applies, there continue to be a lot of assumptions in this analysis which, failing substantial opposition by creditors, still have not been settled by either UK, CJEU or continental authority.

At 40 follows the equally standard reference to national experts testifying to the scheme’s recognition in the jurisdictions concerned: France, Italy, Spain, Luxembourg.

At 41 Trower J then briefly mentions Brexit (see my reference to similar cases here). Referring again to the national experts but also to his own insight, Justice Trower simply notes that

‘The Recast Judgments Regulation will continue to apply to the recognition of an English judgment in EU member states, notwithstanding the occurrence of Brexit, provided that the judgment has been given in proceedings which were instituted before 31 December 2020, being the end of the transition period. This follows from Article 67(2) of the Withdrawal Agreement. It follows that any sanction order made in this case should be recognised in EU member states, pursuant to the Recast Judgments Regulation, as will their own domestic law dealing with the recognition of judgments. It is also the case that the application of the Rome I Regulation ought to be unaffected by Brexit in any event. As I read the expert reports, they each confirm that that Regulation will continue to apply after the end of the transition period so that the law of the jurisdiction in respect of which they give evidence will recognise the governing law of the relevant contracts, in this case English law, as applying to the variation and discharge of rights under that contract.’

Note as I did above, the continuing Brussels IA cover assumptions, as well as the position post Brexit (whether under Lugano 2007 or not, remains to be seen).

Geert.

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

 

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Islandsbanki v Stanford. The finer mechanics of Lugano Convention recognition at work.

In Islandsbanki & Ors v Stanford [2020] EWCA Civ 480, upon appeal from Fancourt J in [2019] EWHC 1818 (Ch), Asplin LJ discussed whether purported execution of a foreign judgment registered in the High Court pursuant to the Lugano Convention, can be execution issued in respect of the judgment debt (for the purposes of section 268(1)(b) of the Insolvency Act 1986), if the execution occurred before the period for appealing the registration of the judgment has expired and, if not, whether the defect can be cured.

An unpaid Icelandic judgment debt from 2013 which together with interest, is now in excess of £1.5 million sterling equivalent. The judgment was given against Mr Stanford in the Reykjanes District Court in Iceland on 26 June 2013. A certificate was issued by the Icelandic court on 16 October 2013, pursuant to Articles 54 – 58 Lugano. IB applied to register the Icelandic judgment in England and Wales on 16 March 2016. A registration order was sealed on 23 March 2016 (the “Registration Order”).

Some of the issues in the Appeal (and before Fancourt J) concern purely English procedural rules however their effect is of course to facilitate, or obstruct, recognition and enforcement under the Lugano Convention. The confusion to a great degree results from the UK, despite Lugano’s direct effect, having implemented the Convention in the CPR rules anyway (at 24). The submission made by appellant (the Bank) before the Court is essentially that a narrow interpretation of the English CPR rules which would not allow remedying an error in the procedure, would run counter Lugano’s objective of facilitating recognition and enforcement (reference is made to the Pocar report and the recitals of Lugano itself).

Asplin LJ at 38 points to the language of Lugano itself: ‘during the time specified for an appeal pursuant to Article 43(5) against the declaration of enforceability and until any such appeal has been determined, no (emphasis in the original) measures of enforcement may be taken other than protective measures against the property of the party against whom enforcement is sought. The ordinary and natural meaning of those provisions is quite clear.’ She also at 37 points to the Convention’s objectives not being restricted to ease of enforcement: ‘the underlying policy of Articles 43(5) and 47(3) is that a fair and proportionate balance must be struck between the interests of the party which applies for a registration order having obtained a judgment in a foreign jurisdiction to which the Convention applies, and the defendant/debtor whose rights of appeal are prescribed by law and should not be undermined by allowing irreversible measures of enforcement.’

Conclusion, at 40: ‘It is for that reason that CPR 74.6(3) provides that a registration order must contain reference to the period in which an appeal against registration can be lodged and that no measures of enforcement can be taken before the end of that period and the reason why that prohibition was repeated in the Registration Order itself at paragraph 2. Accordingly, any attempt to remedy the premature issue and execution under the Writ of Control by means of an exercise of the discretion under CPR r3.10(b) or the use of CPR r3.1(2)(m) or 3.1(7) (or the inherent jurisdiction of the court, for that matter) would fundamentally undermine Article 47(3) and section 4A(3) in a way which is impermissible.’

at 62 ‘The defect in the execution in this case, if it can be called a defect, was fundamental….It was not a mere technicality or a formal defect which might be rectified pursuant to what is now Rule 12.64 of the Insolvency Rules 2016. It went to the heart of the execution process’.

Appeal dismissed following an interesting and clear application of both Lugano’s provisions and its spirit.

Geert.

 

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Forum shopping and personal insolvency. The High Court (briefly) in Wilson and Maloney (in re McNamara). Is this the last UK reference to the CJEU?

[2020] EWHC 98 (Ch) Wilson and Maloney (bankruptcy trustees of Michael McNamara), concerns mostly Article 49 TFEU (freedom of establishment) and Article 24(1) of the Citizens’ Rights Directive 2004/38 (equal treatment). (At 114) the critical question is whether the exclusion of pension rights on bankruptcy is something that can impact on the right of establishment, or is otherwise within the scope of Art 49 TFEU.

The substantive case at issue concerns the inclusion or not of in investment in a certain pension scheme, into the bankruptcy. My interest in the judgment lies in the succinct reference to forum shopping under insolvency regimes.

Mr McNamara was made bankrupt on 2 November 2012 on his own petition, presented that day. Prior to his bankruptcy Mr McNamara had been a high profile property developer operating primarily, if not exclusively, in the Republic of Ireland. But he and his wife had moved to London in July 2011, and the Court accepted that he had moved his centre of main interests (or COMI) from Ireland to England by the date of presentation of the petition.

Nugee J decided to refer to the CJEU for preliminary review (this having happened on 23 January, clearly one of the last if not the last UK reference to go up to the CJEU). Whether COMI was moved for forum shopping purposes is not likely to feature in the eventual judgment – for there does not seem to be any suggestion that the move of COMI to England had not been properly established.

Geert.

 

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Heiploeg: Transfer of undertakings, employee protection and pre-packs. The Dutch Supreme Court Advocate-General on the implications of CJEU Smallsteps.

Update 20 April 2020 the SC itself has referred further, very extensive questions to the CJEU. As Frederik de Leo reports here, the questions are phrased in such as way as to amount essentially to giving the CJEU a resit.

I am no expert in all things insolvency and restructuring. I have an interest in it because of the conflict of laws issues (see the Insolvency Regulation) and the relationship with Brussels Ia. I am also interested in the labour law implications of corporate restructuring. These trigger highly relevant ethical, economic, and legal concerns.

Directive 2001/23 protects employees’ rights in the event of transfer of undertakings. The position of employees of course may be seen by potential investors as a hurdle to get onboard. Employees are inevitably on their cost cutting horizon. (For emperical Dutch research see Aalbers et al here and review in NL of same on Corporate Finance Lab).

The Directive exempts (Member States may provide otherwise) bankruptcies ‘proper’ and analogous insolvency proceedings. (They have to be under the management of what the Insolvency Regulation now calls an insolvency practitioner: an insolvency trustee, in other words). In C-126/16 Smallsteps, the Court held that pre-packs also known as ‘hushed bankruptcies’ do not qualify: since such a procedure is not ultimately aimed at liquidating the undertaking, the economic and social objectives it pursues are no explanation of, or justification for, the employees of the undertaking concerned losing the rights conferred on them by Directive 2001/23 (at 50).

Frederik De Leo reported here more extensively and with more knowledge of the issues, on the implications of Smallsteps, including implications for both the Dutch and the Belgian Statutes and proposals on pre-packs and corporate restructuring. On the Dutch implications, Robert van Moorsel had interesting insight here (in Dutch).

In Heiploeg, which was initiated before judgment in Smallsteps but is still being litigated (by Trade Unions), the Dutch Supreme Court /Hoge Raad is now essentially asked to apply the various conditions which the Court of Justice imposed for the bankruptcy exception of Directive 2001/13 to apply. Its procureur-generaal (essentially here fulfilling the role of an Advocate-General at the CJEU) opined in a well-documented Opinion on 1 November 2019 (apologies for late reporting: the Opinion traveled all sorts of corners in my briefcase) and proposes that the Supreme Court annul the lower court’s application of Smallsteps (which had found that the conditions for exception from the employees’ rights Directive did apply).

The Opinion is not I fear accessible to non-Dutch speakers – I am hoping proper experts will report more extensively once the Hoge Raad’s judgment is out.

Geert.

 

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UB v VA (Tiger SCI): The CJEU dots the i’s on forum rei sitae in insolvency.

In C-493/18 UB v VA, proceedings took place between UB, on the one hand, and VA, Tiger SCI, WZ, as UB’s trustee in bankruptcy, and Banque patrimoine et immobilier SA, on the other, concerning the sale of immovable property originally owned by UB and mortgages granted over that property by UB and the action taken by WZ to have those transactions declared ineffective as against the bankruptcy estate.

A little bit of factual background may be useful – for that reference is best made to the judgment. Essentially, an avoidance (insolvency pauliana) action was launched given suspicious transactions between UB and his sister. On 10 May 2011, UB was, on his own petition, declared bankrupt by Croydon County Court. On 1 July 2011, WZ was appointed UB’s trustee in bankruptcy, with effect from 6 July 2011.  At WZ’s request, Croydon County Court authorised WZ on 26 October 2011 to bring an action before the French courts in order, first, to have the bankruptcy order registered and, second, to obtain a ruling that the sale of the properties referred to in paragraph 12 above and the mortgages granted over those properties to VA (‘the sales and mortgages at issue’) were transactions at an undervalue or for no consideration under the relevant United Kingdom bankruptcy law provisions. WZ thus sought a decision authorising the restitution of those properties to UB’s bankruptcy estate, for the purposes of their disposal. The French courts granted the declaration.

The legal issue under consideration is the reach of the Insolvency Regulation’s establishment of jurisdiction for the courts of the Member State of COMI. Does it extend to an action by a trustee in bankruptcy appointed by a court of the Member State in which the insolvency proceedings were opened (here: the UK) the purpose of which is to obtain a declaration that mortgages registered over immovable property situated in another Member State (here: France) and the sale of that property are ineffective as against the bankruptcy estate.

The CJEU correctly emphasises that the Insolvency Regulation old or new does not impose any rule conferring on the courts of the place where immovable property is located international jurisdiction to hear an action for the restitution of those assets to the bankruptcy estate in insolvency proceedings. Furthermore, concentrating all the actions directly related to the insolvency proceedings before the courts of the Member State within the territory of which with those proceedings were opened is consistent with the objective of improving the efficiency and speed of insolvency proceedings having cross-border effects. Support for this ex multi: Wiemer & Trachte.

The English courts therefore should have exercised jurisdiction per vis attractiva concursus – the file before the CJEU does not reveal its hesitation to do so. It does reveal that UB claims among others that the insolvency proceedings in England had already been concluded and presumably therefore the pauliana time-barred.

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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