The CJEU confirms a corporation’s general duty of care is not caught by the corporate carve-out. Judgment in ZK v BMA (Peeters Gatzen suit) impacts on business and human rights litigation, too.

The CJEU a little while back held in C‑498/20 ZK v BMA on the applicable law for the Dutch ‘Peeters Gatzen’ suit, for which I reviewed the AG Opinion here. The suit is  a tortious suit brought by a liquidator. In Nk v BNP Paribas the CJEU held at the jurisdictional level it is covered by Brussels Ia, not by the Insolvency Regulation.

A first issue of note, which I discuss at some length in my earlier post, is whether the liability is carved-out from Rome II as a result of the lex societatis provision. The CJEU confirms the AG’s contextual analysis, without repeating his general criterion, emphasises the need for restrictive interpretation, and specifically for the duty of care holds that liability resulting from a duty of care of a corporation’s bodies and the outside world, is covered by Rome II. This is important for business and human rights litigation, too: [55]

Pour ce qui concerne spécifiquement le manquement au devoir de diligence en cause au principal, il convient de distinguer selon qu’il s’agit du devoir spécifique de diligence découlant de la relation entre l’organe et la société, qui ne relève pas du champ d’application matériel du règlement Rome II, ou du devoir général de diligence  erga omnes, qui en relève. Il appartient à la seule juridiction de renvoi de l’apprécier.

The referring judge will have to decide whether the case engages the duty of care vis-a-vis the wider community (including the collectivity of creditors) however it would seem most likely that it does. If it does, locus damni is held, confirming the AG view, to be The Netherlands if the referring judge finds that the insolvent corporation’s seat is based there. The financial damage with the creditors is indirect only and does not establish jurisdiction.

[44] Should a judge decide that they do not have jurisdiction over the main claim, they also and necessarily have to relinquish jurisdiction over the warranty /guarantee claim against a third party under A8(2) BIa. CJEU Sovag is referred to in support.

Geert.

Galapagos Bidco v DE. The CJEU fails to clarify whether move of COMI by mere market notice, may be effective.

Krzysztof Pacula reported end of March on CJEU C-723/20 Galapagos Bidco v DE and justifiably highlighted the Brexit issue. The case concerns a move of COMI – centre of main interest within the context of the Insolvency Regulation 2015/848 and it is on the element of impromptu move that my post will focus.

Galapagos SA is a Luxembourg holding company whose centre of administration (‘effective place of management‘ according to the former directors) was moved in June 2019, at least so contend previous directors, to England. At the end of August 2019, they apply to the High Court in England and Wales to have insolvency proceedings opened.

Echos of the tussle are here and of course also in Galapagos Bidco SARL v Kebekus & ors [2021] EWHC 68 (Ch). The day after the move of centre of administration, the former directors were replaced with one other, who moved centre of administration to Dusseldorf and issued relevant market regulation statements to that effect. This move was subsequently recognised  by the Courts at Dusseldorf as having established COMI there. The High Court action in London was never withdrawn and would seem to have been dormant since.

Applicant in the proceedings is Galapagos BIDCO Sarl, a creditor of Galapagos SA. It is I understand (but I am happy to be corrected by those in the know) Luxembourg based. As Krzysztof reports, it contests that the German move has effected move of COMI which it argues lies in England (although I fail to see how its reasoning should not also apply to the earlier instant move from presumably Luxembourg to England).

The question that arises is whether, in the determination of the centre of a debtor company’s main interests, specific requirements must be imposed to prevent abusive conduct. Specifically, in the light of the Regulation’s stated aim of preventing forum shopping, whether ‘on a regular basis’ in the second sentence of the first subparagraph of Article 3(1) Insolvency Regulation 2015, presupposes an adequate degree of permanence and is not present if the establishment of a centre of administration is pursued at the same time as a request to have insolvency proceedings opened. Respondents in the appeal, which include the insolvency administrator (trustee) contend that the requirement of administration ‘on a regular basis’ is fulfilled if the administration is permanent.

The CJEU unfortunately fails to answer that question, choosing to reply instead with a hierarchical answer which encourages race to court: [36]

the court of a Member State with which a request to open main insolvency proceedings has been lodged retains exclusive jurisdiction to open such proceedings where the centre of the debtor’s main interests is moved to another Member State after that request is lodged, but before that court has delivered a decision on that request, and that, consequently, where a request is lodged subsequently for the same purpose before a court of another Member State, that court cannot, in principle, declare that it has jurisdiction to open such proceedings until the first court has delivered its decision and declined jurisdiction.

However in the case at issue, the Withdrawal Agreement has the effect that if the High Court has not, as it would seem, taken its decision on the opening of proceedings prior to the end of Brexit Implementation Day 1 January 2021 (CET), the German courts need no longer apply that consequence of mutual trust and are at liberty to determine the existence of COMI.

The CJEU ends by suggesting Q1 no longer needs answering. Yet I think it does. Perhaps not so much for the case at issue (which explains why the judicially economical CJEU does not offer a reply). The German courts, as Zacaroli J notes in his decision [14], held in October 2019 that COMI for GAS has successfully moved to Germany as from 25 August 2019, the day the capital market and bondholders were informed that the centre of administration had been moved to Düsseldorf. Yet the file does not suggest that COMI prior to the attempted move, existed in Germany: it was established there following the new director’s decision. In accordance with the Regulation’s presumptions, it would have previously existed in Luxembourg. The element of ‘on a regular basis’ therefore still matters. Is the CJEU suggesting that a mere information of the capital markets suffices to move COMI?

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 5.6.1.

 

Sánchez-Bordona AG in ZK v BMA on applicable law for the Peeters Gatzen insolvency suit. Includes important suggestions for the corporate life (lex societatis) exception and duty of care.

Sánchez-Bordona AG opined at the end of October on the law applicable to the Peeters /Gatzen suit (of Nk v BNP Paribas fame) in Case C‑498/20 ZK, in his capacity of successor to JM, insolvency practitioner in the insolvency of BMA Nederland BV v BMA Braunschweigische Maschinenbauanstalt AG – ZK v BMA for short. An English version of the Opinion is still not available.

Peeters /Gatzen is a tortious suit brought by a liquidator. In Nk v BNP Paribas the CJEU held it is covered by Brussels Ia, not by the Insolvency Regulation. The obvious applicable law port of call is Rome II. A first point which the AG reviews is a rather important discussion on the lex societatis exception to Rome II. The extent of that exception is important e.g. also for business and human rights cases, for the Peeters /Gatzen suit essentially engages duty of care towards third parties.

The AG emphasises (35) one of my points of attention in the BIa /Rome I/II interplay: that in accepting a certain amount of consistency in interpretation, the courts must nevertheless appreciate each instrument’s autonomy and quite different subject-matter. (46) The reasoning behind the exclusion of the lex societatis from the 1980 Rome Convention is said to be the ambition at the time to harmonise company law across the EU which, as we know from CJEU Daily Mail and all its successors, has still not come true. The AG then refers to the internal /external dimension of corporate relations such as discussed in C‑25/18 Kerr and C‑272/18 Verein für Konsumenteninformation. However he then suggests (51) that the reference to the ‘internal’ dimension of the life of a corporation does not suffice to justify 2 of the examples which Rome II explicitly lists in A1(2)d as being part of the corporate exception: the personal liability of officers and members as such for the obligations of the company or body and the personal liability of auditors to a company or to its members in the statutory audits of accounting documents.

At (52-53) he then posits his way out of the conundrum, immediately acknowledging that the criterion he suggests may not be easily applicable: all contractual and non-contractual elements for which a specific solution exists which emanates from the relationship between those elements and the internal life and mechanisms of a corporation (whether they relate to the internal workings or the external relations), are covered by one statutory corpus, namely the lex societatis. Put differently, they are excluded insofar as and because their corporate law element absorbs all other. Specifically viz non-contractual obligations, if the relevant rule is so ‘drenched’ with elements specific to the corporate law context that it looses its meaning outside that context, that rule qualifies as being part of the lex societatis exception.

He immediately acknowledges (56) that this kind of litmus test is not easy to apply in practice and suggest (57 ff) to employ the ratio legis of the liability at stake to assist with the exercise. If that ratio lies in the general neminem laedere rule, Rome II is engaged. If that ratio however immediately follows from corporate law considerations, such as a director’s loyalty to the corporation, the exception is engaged. The AG lists examples (63), including the scenario at stake in CJEU OFAB. At (66) the AG concludes, albeit not directly, that the Peeters Gatzen suit in all likelihood is not covered by Rome II and he discusses the other questions in subsidiary fashion.

(67ff) with reference ia to CJEU Lazar the CJEU refers to the tricky characterisation of damage as (in)direct and opts in cases such as these that the direct damage occurs in the insolvent (or otherwise facing liquidity issues) corporation: the diminishing impact on the creditors is indirect, ricochet. Locus damni therefore is The Netherlands if the referring judge finds that the insolvent corporation’s estate is based there. (76) Whomever initiates the suit (the insolvency practitioner and /or the creditors) is irrelevant, as is (80) the fact that some of the creditors are located outside the EU.

(83ff) then follows the discussion of A4(3) Rome II’s escape clause (most recently discussed in Scott v AIG). A pre-existing contractual relationship (which the AG suggests (95ff) may also be called upon by claimants that are not party to that relationship) is just one among many factors that may play a role – not a particularly dominant one: (93-94) particularly where such relationship (such as here, taking the form of a credit facility) is one where choice of law was made: A4(3) RII is directed at situations where the non-contractual relationship has a closer connection to a law other than the locus damni. Lex voluntatis does not necessarily reflect the tort’s closer relationship but rather the parties’ voluntary expression.

An important Opinion.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, para 4.22.,  para 4.39 ff.

Windhorst v Levy. The High Court on the narrow window to refuse a Member State judgment under Brussels Ia, which subsequently got caught up in insolvency.

Update 2 December 2021 The Court of Appeal today, Windhorst v Levy [2021] EWCA Civ 1802, rejected the appeal, albeit with one variation. A stay of execution was granted, subject to a payment of security, pending the outcome of the German proceedings.

Windhorst v Levy [2021] EWHC 1168 (QB) has been in my in-tray a little while. The court was asked to consider whether registration of a German judgment under Brussels Ia should be set aside when the judgment debt in question was subsequently included within a binding insolvency plan, which is to be recognized in E&W pursuant to the European Insolvency Regulation  – EIR 1346/2000 (not materially different on this point to the EIR 2015). Precedent referred to includes Percival v Moto Novu LLC.

Appellant argues the registration order should be set aside as the initial 2003  judgment is no longer enforceable, having been waived as part of a binding insolvency plan, which came into effect by order of a German court on 31 August 2007 (“the Insolvency Plan”), and which this court is bound to recognize under the Insolvency Regulation.

In CJEU C-267/97 Coursier v Fortis Bank SA (held before the adoption of the EIR) it was held that enforceability of a judgment in the state of origin is a precondition for its enforcement in the state in which enforcement is sought. However that judgment then at length discussed what ‘enforceability’ means, leading to the Court holding that it refers solely to the enforceability, in formal terms, of foreign decisions and not to the circumstances in which such decisions may in practice be executed in the State of origin. This does not require proof of practical enforceability. The CJEU left  it to ‘the court of the State in which enforcement is sought, in appeal proceedings brought under [(now) Brussels Ia], to determine, in accordance with its domestic law including the rules of private international law, the legal effects of a decision given in the State of origin in relation to a court-supervised liquidation.’

The respondent contends that, applying the test laid down in Coursier v Fortis, the 2003 Judgment plainly remains enforceable in formal terms under German law.

The judge, at 52 ff, refers ia to CJEU Prism Investments and Salzgitter to emphasise the very narrow window for refusal of recognition, and holds [56] that the German judgment clearly is still formally enforceable in Germany (where enforcement is nota bene only temporarily stayed pending appeal proceedings). The effects of the German insolvency plan, under German law, are not such that the 2003 judgment has become unenforceable [58].

The request for a stay of execution is also denied, seeing as the appellant chose not to pursue a means available to it under German law and before the German courts, to seek a stay (it would have required it to put down the equivalent sum as court security).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.560 ff, 5.141 ff.

Emerald Pasture. The High Court on on actions ‘related to’ insolvency (Gourdain; vis attractiva concursus) and jurisdiction for E&W courts post Brexit.

Update 4 February 2022 appeal against the findings under French law has today been dismissed: Cassini SAS v Emerald Pasture Designated Activity Company & Ors [2022] EWCA Civ 102 .

Update 3 September 2021 the judge [Emerald Pasture Designated Activity Company & Ors v Cassini SAS & Anor [2021] EWHC 2443 (Ch)] has now also held that under applicable French law, relevant Covenants remained enforceable against Cassini during the observation period of the French safeguard procedure.

In Emerald Pasture Designated Activity Company & Ors v Cassini SAS & Anor [2021] EWHC 2010 (Ch) there is an interesting split between pre and post Brexit applicable EU rules, with BIa not engaged yet the EU insolvency rules firmly in the picture.

Claimants Emerald are lenders, and first defendant Cassini is the borrower, under a senior facilities agreement dated 28 March 2019 (the SFA). The SFA is governed by English law and has an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the English courts. Cassini is subject a French ‘Sauvegarde’) opened on 22 September 2020. This is a form of debtor-in-possession safeguard proceeding for a company in financial difficulties that wishes to propose a restructuring plan to its creditors. Sauvegarde is included in the proceedings that are subject to the Recast European Insolvency Regulation 2015/848. Parties are seemingly in agreement that the EIR 2015 continues to apply in the UK in respect of the Sauvegarde, because it was commenced prior to 31 December 2020, Brexit date.

Cassini contest jurisdiction, arguing that the claim derives from and is closely linked to the Sauvegarde and thus falls within A6(1) EIR, the so-called vis attractiva concursus which reads

“The courts of the Member State within the territory of which insolvency proceedings have been opened in accordance with Article 3 shall have jurisdiction for any action which derives directly from the insolvency proceedings and is closely linked with them, such as avoidance actions.”

This Article is the result of CJEU case-law such as Gourdain , Seagon , German Graphics , F -Tex.

Zacaroli J unfortunately repeats the suggested dovetail between BIa and the EIR, referring to CJEU Nickel & Goeldner.

As the judge notes [24] the application of A6(1) has not been made easier by the CJEU blurring the distinction between the conditions – with reference to Bobek AG in NK v BNP Paribas Fortis NV (on the Peeters /Gatzen suit).

Emerald argue that the question is whether the action itself derives from the insolvency proceeding. They contend that since the action is for declaratory relief in respect of a contract, its source is the common rules of civil and commercial law. Cassini focus on the issue raised by the action. They contend that since the only matter in issue in the action is whether the rights to information under the SFA are overridden by the Sauvegarde – and the principles of French insolvency law that govern the Sauvegarde – the real matter in issue concerns the effects of the insolvency proceedings so that the action falls within A6(1).

The judge [45] after discussion and assessment of the authorities (incl   ING Bank NV v Banco Santander SA ) discussed by both parties, decides against vis attractiva concursus. He holds that the legal basis for the declarations sought remains the SFA, and thus the rules of civil and commercial law, notwithstanding that the only issue which the court would be required to determine is the impact of French insolvency law on the obligations under the SFA. The question which the declarations are designed to answer, it is held, is the enforceability of the contractual rights.

On that basis, the exclusive choice of court clause grants E&W courts jurisdiction, under English common law (as it would have done under BIa, given the judge’s finding on vis attractiva).

If the claim goes ahead (one images appeal may be sought), the French insolvency proceedings will not have lost their relevance. Cassini argue on that issue [12 ff] that since the characteristic performance of the SFA is the loan of funds, which has already occurred, the SFA is not a “current contract” and as a result of French law, is no longer enforceable. Only the underlying debt subsists, they argue, which must be paid by way of dividends in the French insolvency proceedings. That argument, one assumes, will bump into further obstacles.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed, 2021, para 5.76 ff.

DTEK Energy: Grounds for the Rome I issue of Schemes of Arrangement to be heading for the Court of Appeal.

In DTEK Energy BV, Re [2021] EWHC 1551 (Ch) Norris J yesterday expanded on his reason to sanction this scheme of arrangement of a Dutch corporation. I had referenced an earlier DTEK scheme in my post here. The judge firstly pointed out the straddle position of the E&W courts, in assessing the sanction of the scheme from the jurisdictional point of view: [30]:

for the purposes of testing whether the Judgments Regulation presented a jurisdictional bar to the English Court exercising jurisdiction over EU domiciled scheme members or creditors it was assumed to apply (and an appropriate gateway identified). But for the purposes of testing international effectiveness it was not assumed to apply, and the English Courts looked for expert evidence which demonstrated alternative bases.

He also points out [31] what I have repeatedly mentioned: the analysis was never extensive, for the schemes tended eventually to be unopposed. Summary of the default position is done [31] with reference to Van Gansewinkel (in which I acted as one of the experts) seeing as, like DTEK, it involved recognition and enforcement in The Netherlands.

At [37], importantly, the judge refers to a report produced by Prof. Dr. Christoph Paulus and Prof. Dr. Peter Mankowski as to the likelihood of the recognition of the Bank Scheme by EU Member States. They seemingly are of opinion that the Bank Scheme would be given effect in every Member State by virtue of Art 12(1)(d) Rome I. This provides that the law applicable to a contract (in the instant case, English law) shall govern the various ways of extinguishing obligations: and that rule covers all modes of extinguishing obligations (including those operating against dissentient creditors). At [38] this conclusion is said to have been supported by a number of relevant E&W precedents (all of which  I have reported on the blog; see eg Lecta Paper) however these all merely scratched the surface.

Gazprombank however oppose this conclusion and refer in support to a report produced (I have not seen it) by Dr Peters (sic; it’s Prof Dr Niek Peters) for the Dutch situation and, at [44] by Mr Vorkas for the Cypriot situation. Both question the opposability of the scheme to recalcitrant creditors in light of amended choice of law. I have not studied the issue in the detail these reports have, and I have not seen any of them. However my own view on this is that there is certainly merit in what is here the opponents’ input:  the position of certain English schemes under Rome I is really quite vulnerable.

At [41] the judge on balance sides with the Paulus /Mankowiski report for ‘it is common ground that I cannot decide between the rival Dutch views’ (later repeated for the Cypriot report). I do not think that is necessarily correct, or at least it deserves some discussion: Brussels Ia may not be retained EU law yet Rome I is, therefore this is arguably not an issue of ‘foreign law’ (and certainly not ‘Dutch law’).  

Conclusion [46]: If sanctioned, the Bank Scheme will certainly be effective as regards 95% of Energy’s creditors. There is a reasonable prospect that the sole dissentient creditor will be unable to mount any challenge to it. Even in the event of a challenge, uncontested evidence demonstrates that the Bank Scheme will be effective in the jurisdiction in which operations are undertaken and assets located.

Seeing as this is one of the first times the BIa and particularly the Rome I situation is discussed in greater detail, I do hope this case is heading for the Court of Appeal.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 5.35 ff.

WWWRT v Tyshchenko. Interesting if contestable engagement with Brussels IA’s Article 34’s forum non-light regime.

In WWRT Ltd v Tyshchenko & Anor [2021] EWHC 939 (Ch) and following an earlier Worldwide Freezing Order, Bacon J engages with Article 34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens ‘light’ regime.

The proceedings are brought by WWRT ltd against Mr Serhiy Tyshchenko and his ex-wife, Mrs Olena Tyshchenko. The claim is founded on an allegation that the Defendants carried out an extensive fraud on the Ukrainian bank, JSC Fortuna Bank during which time the bank was (it is claimed) ultimately owned by Mr Tyshchenko. The bank was subsequently declared insolvent and was liquidated, in the course of which a package of its assets, including the disputed loans, was sold to Ukrainian company Star Investment One LLC.  Star in turn sold those rights and assets to WWRT in March 2020. WWRT’s case is that following those two assignments it has now acquired the rights to bring the claim relied upon in the present proceedings, which is one in tort under Article 1166 of the Ukrainian Civil Code.

In current proceedings, defendants contest jurisdiction, on the basis of 3 alternative grounds:

Firstly, the principle of ‘modified universalism’ (which I have discussed ia here) which should ground a stay under common law so as to prevent WWRT from bypassing the Ukrainian insolvency proceedings. The suggestion is that CJEU Owusu did not deal with a potential stay to allow the judge in one EU Member State to stay proceedings so as to support insolvency proceedings in another Member State. Bacon J held [57], in my view justifiably, that even if indeed the CJEU in Owusu did not specifically deal with this issue, its reasoning (particularly the insistence on predictability and legal certainty) extends to the current scenario. Insolvency proceedings may well (and indeed clearly) fall outside BIa’s scope, however the claim at issue is one in tort, which falls squarely within it. At 62 ff he discusses obiter that even if such stay would have been theoretically possible, he would not have exercised his discretion to grant it.

Secondly, at 89 ff, a stay by analogy with A34 BIa. It is seemingly common ground between the parties and the judge that the bankruptcy exclusion in A1 BIa precludes the express application of A34 if the pending action in the third State is in the nature of bankruptcy or insolvency proceedings. Support is found in Baker J’s views in BB Energy. This is not a settled issue. Neither is much discussion, pro or contra, of the in my view unjustifiable finding of reflexive application of A28 Lugano in JSC Commercial Bank v Kolomoisky [2019] EWCA Civ 1708. The more sound rejection of an A34 stay in the case at issue  in my view lies in the judge’s obiter finding at 95 that the proceedings in E&W are not ‘related’ to those in the Ukraine.

Thirdly, a more straightforward argument of lack of domicile of one of the defendants in the UK, hence room for a forum non conveniens stay. This argument was in fact dealt with first, at 38 ff, with Bacon J  holding on the basis of a pattern of settled residence that domicile was in fact established. At 98 ff he holds obiter that even if A4 hence BIa had not been engaged, he would not have allowed a stay on forum non grounds.

In conclusion, the freezing orders were continued.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, para 2.539 ff

Oeltrans Befrachtungsgesellschaft v Frerichs: the CJEU on the reach of lex contractus as a shield against the lex concursus’ pauliana (avoidance action).

Update 28 April 2021 see Giles Cuniberti’s critique of the implications of A13 EIR (contract law trumps insolvency law) here.

In C-73/20 Oeltrans Befrachtungsgesellschaft v Frerichs the CJEU held yesterday – no AG Opinion had been requested.

Applicant ZM has been the liquidator in the insolvency of Oeltrans Befrachtungsgesellschaft, established in Germany. Insolvency proceedings had been opened in April 2011. The Oeltrans group includes Tankfracht GmbH, also established in Germany. An inland waterway contract (a charter party) existed between Tankfracht and Frerich, established in the Netherlands, under which Tankfracht owed Frerich EUR 8 259.30. Frerich was to transport goods by vessel for Tankfracht from the Netherlands to Germany. In November 2010, Oeltrans paid Frerich the sum owed by Tankfracht,  ‘on the order of Tankfracht’. The application does not give any detail as to the circumstances of that ‘order’.

The liquidator seeks the repayment of that sum on the basis of the lex concursus, German law, insolvency pauliana. Frerichs contend that on the basis of A16 European Insolvency Regulation (‘EIR’) 2015 (in fact, the A13 almost identical version of the EIR 2000), such as applied ia in C-54/16 Vinyls Italia), Dutch law, the charter party’s lex contractus per the Rome I Regulation, shields it from the German Pauliana.

The core question is whether the impact of that lex contractus extends to payments made by third parties. In technical terms: whether effective contractual performance by third parties, is part of A12(1)b Rome I’s concept of ‘performance’ of the contract being within the scope of the lex contractus.

The CJEU, referring to Lutz and Nike, confirms the restrictive scope of A16 EIR. At 31-32 however it upholds the effet utile of A16, which as ia confirmed in Vinyls Italia, is to protect the legitimate expectations of a party contracting with a counterparty who subsequently enters insolvency proceedings, that the contract will continue to be governed by the lex contractus, not the lex concursus. ‘Performance’ per A12 Rome I is held to include performance by a third party. Many scholarly sources support the same conclusion, and e.g. Plender and Wilderspin, as well as McParland refer in support to the Guiliano-Lagarde report to the Rome Convention. I realise the CJEU does not refer to scholarly sources yet surely it could have referred to the Giuliano-Lagarde report to shore up its conclusions so succinctly formulated.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 3.98, paras 5.132 ff.

COMI for natural persons and the EIR. The High Court unconvincingly in Lin v Gudmondsson.

Lin v Gudmundsson & Ors [2021 EWHC 820 (Ch) is an application to annul the bankruptcy of Mr Gudmundsson by his ex-wife. She argues inter alia that the bankruptcy order should not have been made because England was not Mr Gudmundsson’s COMI.

At 54, Briggs J (presumably so led by counsel) oddly holds that the EU Insolvency Regulation (‘EIR’) 2015/848 only defines COMI in its recital 13. Odd, for that was the case under the previous Regulation, 1346/2000, not the current one which does define COMI in the text of the Regulation proper (Article 3(1) – see Heading 4 of my overview here). However that issue is of minor importance for the real hesitation I have with the judgment is

that the judge despite the EIR’s specific instruction that COMI needs to be determined proprio motu, retreats to the default adversarial nature of common law proceedings and defers to the claimant’s concession ‘that even if the court were to find that Mr Gudmundsson did not have his COMI in England and Wales it should not exercise its discretion to annul the bankruptcy order’ [57]; and

that the judge resorts to section 265(2) of the Insolvency Act 1986’s jurisdictional anchor (“in the period of three years ending with the day on which the petition is presented …a place of residence in England and Wales”) instead of the autonomous concept of ‘habitual residence’ in the Regulation. The meaning of that concept was recently discussed by the CJEU in C-253/19 Novo Banco.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, Chapter 5, para 5.95.

Gategroup: A seminal and questionable judgment on gatekeeping viz restructuring ‘Plans’ under the Lugano Convention, Insolvency Regulation.

Update 7 May 2021 in follow-up judgment [[2021] EWHC 775 (Ch)], the judge calls the case one of ‘good forum shopping’ per Codere, points to expert evidence on Swiss Law (by professor Rodrigo Rodriguez, seemingly supporting the suggestion Lugano’s insolvency exception applies [24]; Rodrigo did point to an issue with third party effect, which led to an amendment of the Plan) and Luxembourg law (by Philippe Hoss), both essentially confirming enforceability in Switserland and Luxembourg.

Zacaroli J this morning held in Gategroup Guarantee Ltd, Re [2021] EWHC 304 (Ch) on whether ‘part 26A’ English restructuring ‘Plans’ (see my review of ia Deep Ocean) are within the scope of the Lugano Convention’s insolvency exception (Lugano rather than Brussels Ia was engaged).

He held they are (hence: excluded from Lugano), leading to neutralisation of an exclusive choice of court agreement in the relevant bonds, and making the courts of England and Wales have jurisdiction despite this choice of court.

Oddly Kaupthing was not referred to. Neither was Enasarco.

The judge relied unconvincingly in my view on the dovetail discussion (most recently discussed by me viz Alpine Bau) under the Brussels IA Recast and the EU Insolvency Regulation (‘EIA’)- neither of course applicable to the UK anymore, as indeed is the case for the Lugano Convention.

All in all this is a case in which the  reasoning has a potentially long term impact. The claim form in this case was issued on 30 December 2020. As such, by reason of Regulation 92(1), (2)(d) and (3) of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgment (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, the Lugano Convention continues to apply.

The Plan Company was incorporated on 8 December 2020 as a wholly owned subsidiary of gategroup Holding AG (the ‘Parent’, a company incorporated in Switzerland. At [55] , if Lugano applies to applications under Part 26A, then the Plan Company accepts that by reason of A23(1) Lugano and the exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of Zurich in the Bonds, this court has no jurisdiction. That acceptance is made notwithstanding that the Deed Poll contains a non-exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of England. The Plan Company acknowledges that since the purpose of the Plan is to effect amendments to the terms of the Bonds, the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the Bonds is engaged.

The usual modus operandi of assuming application of Brussels Ia arguendo (see viz schemes of arrangement most recently KCA Deutag and viz Plans Deep Ocean and Virgin) did not fly here for as noted the Plan Company accepts that the exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the Zurich courts is a complete bar to this court assuming jurisdiction if the Lugano Convention applies (in the preceding cases the point need not be decided, since jurisdiction under BIa could be established arguendo as in none of them was there adversarial argument on the point).

At 70 Justice Zacaroli introduces effectively an amicus curiae by Kirkland & Ellis, opposing the view that the insolvency exception applies.

At 73 ff a first point is considered: Part 26A Plans have not been notified under the EIA Annex. This refers to the so-called dovetailing between Brussels Ia, Lugano and the EIR. The suggestion is that if a procedure is not listed in Annex A EIR, it is conclusively not an insolvency proceeding and “that is the end of the matter” because the dovetailing principle leads inexorably to the conclusion that it falls within the Recast (‘and thus within the Lugano Convention’  [73]). At 82 the judge incidentally is under the impression that the older, heavier procedure of amendment by (EP and Council) Regulation applies – which it no longer does since the EIR 2015.

I have since long submitted that there is no such dovetail. It is also clear that there cannot be identity of interpretation between the Lugano Convention’s insolvency exception and the Brussels regime given that non-EU Lugano States are not part of the EIR. The judge confirms as much at 81 and at 91 ff  and, in a first approach, revisits the principles of modified universalism and the origin of the insolvency exception in particular in the Jenard report. He holds at 103 that the ratio behind the insolvency exception in the Rapport Jenard is the same as the ratio behind Plans, hence that the exception applies.

In a second (presumably subsidiary) approach, the judge queries whether proceedings under Part 26A comply with the abstract requirements for an ‘insolvency’ procedure under of A1(1) EIR and finds at 133 that they do. I am really not convinced by the relevance of that analysis. He includes at 134 ff an argument that the Dutch ‘WHOA’ (Wet homologatie onderhands akkoord) proceedings are to be included in Annex A. Again I am not convinced that serves much purpose. Member States populate the Annex and a Member State proposal for inclusion is not checked against A1(1) EIR.

Conclusion on the jurisdictional issue at 137: ‘proceedings under Part 26A are within the bankruptcy exclusion in the Lugano Convention. This court accordingly has jurisdiction notwithstanding the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the Bonds.’

A most relevant judgment, on which the issues are not at all clear. Expect appeal lest the restructuring timing has made this nugatory – settling these issues would most certainly be welcome.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, paras 2.73 ff (2.81 ff in particular) and 5.35 ff.

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