Nickel & Goeldner: Not the procedural context but the legal basis of the action determines the insolvency exception.

It is always useful to have the Court of Justice remind us of (some might say: fine-tune) what it has decided in precedent. This is no different in Nickel & Goeldner– Case C-157/13. (Which also deals with Article 71’s rule on the relation between Brussels I and the Convention for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMRT)).

This blog has reported earlier on the difficulties in applying the ‘insolvency exception’. (E.g. in Sabena and Enascarco). In Nickel & Goeldner, the insolvency administrator of Kintra applied to the relevant Lithuaian courts for an order that Nickel & Goeldner Spedition, which has its registered office in Germany, pay its debt in respect of services comprising the international carriage of goods provided by Kintra for Nickel & Goeldner Spedition, inter alia in France and in Germany. According to the insolvency administrator of Kintra, the jurisdiction of the Lithuanian courts was based on Article 14(3) of the Lithuanian Law on the insolvency of undertakings. Nickel & Goeldner Spedition disputed that jurisdiction claiming that the dispute fell within the scope of Article 31 of the CMR and of the Brussels I Regulation.

The Courts instructs how its earlier case-law (Gourdain; Seagon; German Graphics; F-Tex) needs to be applied (at 26-27):

It is apparent from that case-law that it is true that, in its assessment, the Court has taken into account the fact that the various types of actions which it heard were brought in connection with insolvency proceedings. However, it has mainly concerned itself with determining on each occasion whether the action at issue derived from insolvency law or from other rules.

It follows that the decisive criterion adopted by the Court to identify the area within which an action falls is not the procedural context of which that action is part, but the legal basis thereof. According to that approach, it must be determined whether the right or the obligation which respects the basis of the action finds its source in the common rules of civil and commercial law or in the derogating rules specific to insolvency proceedings.

The action at issue is an action for the payment of a debt arising out of the provision of services in implementation of a contract for carriage. That action could have been brought by the creditor itself before its divestment by the opening of insolvency proceedings relating to it and, in that situation, the action would have been governed by the rules concerning jurisdiction applicable in civil and commercial matters.  The fact that, after the opening of insolvency proceedings against a service provider, the action for payment is taken by the insolvency administrator appointed in the course of those proceedings and that the latter acts in the interest of the creditors does not substantially amend the nature of the debt relied on which continues to be subject, in terms of the substance of the matter, to the rules of law which remain unchanged.

Hence, there is no direct link with the insolvency proceedings and the Brussels-I Regulation continues to apply.

(On the application of Article 71, the Court holds that, in a situation where a dispute falls within the scope of both the regulation and the CMR, a Member State may, in accordance with Article 71(1) of the Regulation, apply the rules concerning jurisdiction laid down in Article 31(1) of the CMR.).

Not the procedural context (in particular, whether the liquidator takes the action) but the legal basis of the action determines the insolvency exception. A useful alternative formulation of the Gourdain et al case-law.

Geert.

 

Burgo Group: Some not altogether shocking revelations on the Insolvency Regulation. Useful revelations nevertheless.

There’s case-law of the Essent, Kylie Minogue (eDate Advertising), Seal Pups, or Kiobel type. And then there is case-law of the, well, Burgo type. In Burgo Group v Illochrama SA, Case C-327/13, the ECJ held on 4 September. The judgment does not reveal anything shocking. (Some might argue at least some of the questions could have been acte claire). However the Court’s findings nevertheless put to bed some concerns which insolvency practitioners might have had.

On 21 April 2008, the Commercial Court, Roubaix-Tourcoing (France) placed all the companies in the Illochroma group — including Illochroma, established in Brussels (Belgium) — into receivership and appointed Maître Theetten as agent. On 25 November 2008, it placed Illochroma in liquidation and appointed Maître Theetten as liquidator.

Burgo Group, established in Altavilla-Vicentina-Vicenza (Italy), is owed money by Illochroma for the supply of goods. On 4 November 2008, Burgo Group presented Maître Theetten with a statement of liability in the amount of EUR 359 778.48. Maître Theetten informed Burgo Group that the statement of liability could not be taken into account because it was out of time.

Burgo Group then requested the opening of secondary proceedings in respect of Illochroma. The referring court (The Brussels Court of Appeal) observed that the Insolvency Regulation defines ‘establishment’ as any place where the debtor carries out a non-transitory economic activity with human means and goods, which is the situation in the present case. Illochroma is a company with two establishments in Belgium, where it is the owner of a building, buys and sells goods and employs staff. Illochrama and the liquidator contend that, since Illochroma has its registered office in Belgium, it cannot be regarded as an establishment within the meaning of Regulation No 1346/2000. They argue that secondary proceedings are restricted to establishments without legal personality (issue 1).

Belgian law applicable to the present case provides that any creditor, including a creditor established outside Belgium, may bring an action before a Belgian court for the opening of insolvency proceedings against its debtor. However, Illochroma maintains that that right is restricted to creditors established in the Member State of the court before which the action seeking the opening of secondary proceedings has been brought, since the sole purpose of such proceedings is to protect local interests (issue 2).

Finally, the referring court observes that Regulation No 1346/2000 does not state whether the possibility for the persons referred to in Article 29 thereof to request, in the Member State within the territory of which the establishment is situated, the opening of secondary proceedings is a right that must be recognised by the court having jurisdiction in that regard or whether that court enjoys a discretion as to whether it is appropriate to grant that request, with a view, in particular, to protecting local interests (issue 3).

 

With respect to issue 1, the ECJ first of all dismissed any suggestions that COMI may be second-guessed by courts in other Member States. Even if the French courts erred in accepting primary jurisdiction, per Bank Handlowy the courts in other Member States have to stick by that judgment. Any challenge to it must be brought in the national courts of the Member States were main proceedings were opened. The Regulation nevertheless of course has inserted the possibility of secondary proceedings precisely to protect local interests in other Member States. (Even though correction of COMI was not as such thought of when secondary proceedings’ architecture was conceived, in practice they do serve to offset some of the consequences of (alleged) wrong COMI assessment).

‘Establishment’ is defined in Article 2(h) of Regulation No 1346/2000 as ‘any place of operations where the debtor carries out a non-transitory economic activity with human means and goods’. Per Interedil, the fact that that definition links the pursuit of an economic activity to the presence of human resources shows that a minimum level of organisation and a degree of stability are required. It follows that, conversely, the presence alone of goods in isolation or bank accounts does not, in principle, satisfy the requirements for classification as an ‘establishment’. On the other hand, the definition does not refer to the place of the registered office of a debtor company or to the legal status of the place in which the operations in question are carried out.The Member State where the company has its registered office clearly is not excluded from the definition: otherwise local interests would be denied the opportunity of seeking protection, which would exist in other Member States where an establishment is present.

As for the second issue, the Regulation draws a clear distinction between territorial proceedings opened prior to the opening of main proceedings, and secondary proceedings. It is only in relation to territorial proceedings that the right to request the opening of proceedings is limited by the Regulation to creditors who have their domicile, habitual residence or registered office within the Member State in which the relevant establishment is situated, or whose claims arise from the operation of that establishment (at 48, with reference to Zaza Retail). Any other conclusion would amount to indirect discrimination on the grounds of nationality, since non-residents are in the majority of cases foreigners (at 49).

Finally, with respect to issue 3, the Regulation grants broad discretion, with regard to the opening of secondary proceedings, to the court before which an action seeking the opening of secondary proceedings has been bought. Article 28 of the Regulation determines in principle as the law applicable to secondary proceedings, that of the Member State within the territory of which those secondary proceedings are opened. Whether opening of the proceeding is ‘appropriate’ has to be determined by that applicable law. EU law does have an impact on that assessment, though (at 64 ff): in deciding appropriateness, Member States must not discriminate on the basis of place of residence or registered office; the Regulation’s motifs for allowing secondary proceedings must be respected (in the main: protection of local interests, given that universal proceedings may be preferred however do often lead to practical difficulties); and finally the principle of sincere co-operation implies that the court assessing the secondary proceedings, must have regard to the objectives of the main proceedings.

 

All in all therefore very much a common sense judgment, with the final instruction to the courts being quite relevant: secondary proceedings must not operate as isolated incidents and they have to take some lead from the main proceedings.

Geert.

Insolvency, Brussels I and Lugano: Enasarco v Lehman Brothers upholds strong defence of choice of court

In Enasarco v Lehman Brothers, the High Court was asked to stay English proceedings following jurisdictional issues of a derivative agreement between Enasarco and Lehman Brothers Finance (LBF). Swiss liquidators of LBF had already rejected a claim under the agreement, rejection which is being challenged in the Swiss courts. The derivative agreement is subject to English law and to choice of court exclusively in favour of the English courts.

Are the claims with respect to the derivative agreement so closely connected to the insolvency that they are covered by the insolvency exception to the Lugano Convention (identical to the exception in the Brussels I Regulation) consequently freeing the English courts from that Convention’s strict lis alibi pendens rule? (Similar questions were at issue recently in the Sabena recognition and enforcement issue – albeit evidently not re lis alibi pendens).

Richards J held they were – allowing the contractual issues under the derivative agreement to be settled by the English courts, and the insolvency matters by the Swiss courts.

LBF submitted that the Lugano Convention applies to the present proceedings and also to the proceedings in Switzerland whereby Enasarco challenges the rejection of its claim and, accordingly, that article 27 (lis alibi pendens) required the court to stay the English proceedings in favour of the Swiss proceedings. It was common ground that, if article 27 applies, the Swiss court was the court first seised. Alternatively, LBF submitted that the court should exercise its discretion under article 28 (re related, but not identical actions) to stay the English proceedings. In the further alternative, it submitted that the High Court should have granted a stay, on case management grounds, of the English claim pursuant to section 49(3) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 (SCA 1981). (In other words, were Lugano found not to apply).

Richards J of course referred to Gourdain and German Graphics, and found that the Swiss proceedings could not exist, nor have any relevance, outside the Swiss litigation: (at 42):

First, they are proceedings which arise, and can only arise, under Swiss insolvency law. Secondly, they form an integral part of the liquidation proceedings, designed to achieve the primary purpose of such proceedings, which is the distribution of the assets available to the liquidators among those creditors whose claims are admitted. The proceedings must take place in the court dealing with the liquidation. Thirdly, the purpose of the proceedings is not simply to establish whether the claimant has a good contractual or other claim, but to determine the amount and the ranking of the claim for the purposes of the liquidation. The ranking of claims is a matter arising exclusively under the relevant insolvency law. (…). Fourthly, the self-contained and special character of the Swiss proceedings is well illustrated by the fact that it does not give rise to res judicata as between the parties in relation to the underlying contractual dispute.

As for the discretionary stay under English civil procedure, Richards J held against it, for the following reasons (at 56 ff):

First, the Derivative Agreement contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause, as regards states which are parties to the Lugano Convention, in favour of the English courts. (Here reference was made to the Supreme Court’s decision in The Alexandros).

Secondly, as noted by the Court of Appeal in the AWB (Geneva) case when refusing a stay of English proceedings in favour of insolvency proceedings in Canada, and also by Rimer J in UBS AG v Omni Holding AG when refusing a stay of English proceedings in favour of insolvency proceedings in Switzerland, it is likely that the Swiss court will be greatly assisted by having the judgment of the English court on the rights and liabilities of the parties under the Derivative Agreement, given that it is governed by English law.

Thirdly, the Swiss proceedings were, practically speaking, not as far advanced as to make concurrent English proceedings nugatory. (Given the governing law of the contract, for instance, the Swiss courts might well be tempted to await the outcome of the English proceedings and take relevant conclusions for their own proceedings).

Fourthly, the merits of having issues arising under the Derivative Agreement determined by the English court have in fact been recognised by the liquidators of LBF in the past.

Finally, Enasarco had not chosen to commence proceedings in Switzerland. The liquidators chose to deal with Enasarco’s claims only in the Swiss insolvency proceedings and not through further proceedings in the English courts. It was the liquidators’ choice in this respect that forced Enasarco to issue the Swiss proceedings.

 

In summary, where issues are of a mixed nature, to the degree the mix can be undone, that is what must be carried out. The case highlights once again the strong defence raised by the English courts for choice of court clauses.

Geert.

 

Swiss ‘Sabena’ judgment interprets Lugano insolvency exception. Eventual recognition not impossible.

Update 22 January 2016 An amendment to the relevant parts of the Swiss PIL code is being suggested, which would make recognition of foreign insolvency proceedings less cumbersome.

In  SAirLines AG v Masse en faillite ancillaire de Sabena SA, the Swiss Bundesgericht (Federal High Court) held that the request by the liquidators of Sabena (the former Belgian national carrier) to have a Brussels Court of appeal judgment recognised and enforced in Switserland, falls within the ‘insolvency’ exception of the Lugano Convention (2007). It cannot therefore enjoy the swift recognition procedure included in that Convention. Instead, a claim under standard Swiss private international law in my view is still possbible (although, going by the Court’s obiter, see below, not promising).

The Brussels Court of Appeal in 2011 held SAirLines AG ( the holding company of the former Swiss Air Group) responsible for the insolvency of Sabena, by the misapplication of a number of crucial investment agreements (I summarise; that however is the gist of the dispute). SAirlines AG is itself being liquidated in Switserland. The Bundesgericht relied heavily on precedent in C-111/08 Alpenblumme where the insolvency exception of the Brussels I-Regulation was held as  as applying to a judgment of a court of Member State A regarding registration of ownership of shares in a company having its registered office in Member State A, according to which the transfer of those shares was to be regarded as invalid on the ground that the court of Member State A did not recognise the powers of a liquidator from a Member State B in the context of insolvency proceedings conducted and closed in Member State B.

It also referred to Gourdain. Per Gourdain, an action is related to bankruptcy only if it derives directly from the bankruptcy and is closely linked to proceedings for realising the assets or judicial supervision. It is the closeness of the link, in the sense of the case-law resulting from Gourdain, between a court action and the insolvency proceedings that is decisive for the purposes of deciding whether the exclusion in Article 1(2)(b) of the JR is applicable.

The mere fact that the liquidator is a party to the proceedings is not sufficient to classify the proceedings as deriving directly from the insolvency and being closely linked to proceedings for realising assets.

(Incidentally, for a Lugano-bound court to rely on the ECJ’s case-law on the insolvency exception may in my view in future be less obvious, at least as far as the ECJ’s case-law post the entry into force of the insolvency Regulation is concerned: the ECJ’s judgment on the respective scope of both Regulations is now obviously subject to there being the other, closely related Regulation. The Insolvency Regulation however does not apply to Switserland whence arguably the scope of the stand-alone Lugano insolvency exception need not necessarily evolve alongside that of the Brussels I-Insolvency exception).

In the case at hand, it might indeed be difficult to argue that the Belgian liquidators’ action while having an impact on the insolvency and the division of the assets, does not directly derive from the bankruptcy and would have existed even without such insolvency occurring.

The judgment does not mean that recognition and enforcement of the judgment is now totally out of the question (even the official court’s press release suggests as much in its title). Rather the Bundesgericht has simply held on the applicability of the Lugano Convention. As far as my legal German reaches (that may be an important caveat hence I would like to hear from Swiss, German or Austrian lawyers) the judgment does not prejudice enforceability under general Swiss private international law. (Although, with the same caveat, the language at para 10 of the judgment does not sound promising:

‘ Das belgische Urteil fällt aus den dargelegten Gründen nicht in den sachlichen Anwendungsbereich des Lugano-Übereinkommens. Dass das Urteil unter diesen Umständen nach den Regeln des IPRG anzuerkennen wäre, wird nicht geltend gemacht und ist aufgrund der insolvenzrechtlichen Natur der Streitsache auch nicht ersichtlich (vgl. BGE 139 III 236 E. 5.3). Bei dieser Sachlage kommt eine Anerkennung und Vollstreckbarerklärung von vornherein nicht in Frage, und es erübrigt sich, darüber zu befinden, ob die Anerkennungsvoraussetzungen gemäss dem LugÜ gegeben wären und ob die Beschwerdegegnerin überhaupt ein genügendes Rechtsschutzinteresse an einer selbstständigen Anerkennungsfeststellung und Vollstreckbarerklärung gemäss Art. 33 Abs. 2 und Art. 38 Abs. 1 LugÜ hätte, wie die Vorinstanz annahm, die Beschwerdeführerinnen hingegen bestreiten.).

 

To be continued, therefore?

Geert.

Schmid v Hertel: ECJ confirms ‘extraterritorial’ reach of insolvency Regulation’s Seagon extension – Actio Pauliana

(Postscript April 2015: The ECJ confirmed these principles in C-295/13, H v HK).

Less is more, I know – Apologies for the long title and thank you to Matthias Storme for highlighting the case. In Case C-328/12 Ralph Schmid v Lilly Hertel, Schmid was the German liquidator of the debtor’s assets, appointed in the insolvency proceedings opened in her regard in Germany on 4 May 2007. The defendant, Ms Hertel, resides in Switzerland. Mr Schmid brought an action against Ms Hertel before the German courts to have a transaction set aside, seeking to recover EUR 8 015.08 plus interest as part of the debtor’s estate.

In Case C-339/07 Seagon the ECJ had ruled that the courts of the Member State within the territory of which insolvency proceedings have been opened have jurisdiction to decide an action to set a transaction aside (actio pauliana) that is brought against a person whose registered office is in another Member State. However does Seagon also apply where insolvency proceedings have been opened in a Member State, but the place of residence or registered office of the person against whom the action to have a transaction set aside is brought is not in a Member State, but in a third country?

The ECJ held that it does. Bob Wessels has a very good analysis here and I am happy to refer. Let me just add one or two things. The Brussels I Regulation, the overall Regulation on jurisdiction on civil and commercial matters, displays bias in favour of the defendant: actor sequitur forum rei. The overall jurisdictional angle of the Insolvency Regulation is different: avoiding forum shopping to the detriment of creditors is its main aim, and its insistence on verifiable and predictable criteria to determine COMI (which in turns determines jurisdiction) needs to be seen in that light. That non-EU domiciled defendants get caught up in EU proceedings on the basis of COMI is not generally seen as problematic within the context of the Regulation.

The ECJ is rather realistic with respect to the potential recognition and enforcement problems associated with judgments under the Regulation held against non-domicileds. In the absence of assets in the EU held by the non-dom (if there were, enforcement would be straightforward), classic bilateral treaties may come to the rescue and if there is no such treaty, so be it: the Regulation’s jurisdictional rules should not be held up by potential problems end of pipe.

An important judgment for the reach of the Insolvency Regulation.

Geert.

Anti-suit injunctions and the Insolvency Regulation – The High Court (and the US Bankruptcy court) in Kemsley

At least until late 2008, Mr Kemsley was a very wealthy individual. On 25 June 2008, Barclays granted him a personal loan of £5 million on an unsecured basis. The loan was repayable after a year but the loan period was subsequently extended. In 2009, Mr Kemsley’s business in England collapsed when his group of companies went into administration. Mr Kemsley was unable to keep up repayment to Barclays of instalments under the extended loan, and failed to stick to a repayment schedule for debts with another company. Mr Kemsley is a British citizen and had lived until 2009 in England. Following the collapse of his business here, he moved in June 2009 with his wife and family to Florida. They moved to New York City in about May 2010 but subsequently Mr and Mrs Kemsley became estranged and Mrs Kemsley moved back with their children to England in about June 2012. Mr Kemsley has remained in the United States.

On 13 January 2012, Mr Kemsley presented his bankruptcy petition to the High Court. His petition was based on his physical presence in England on the date of presentation, within the terms of the Insolvency Act 1986, and on his having had a place of residence in England within three years of presentation. On 26 March 2012, he was declared bankrupt on the basis of the EU’s Insolvency Regulation. On 1 March 2012, shortly before Mr Kemsley became bankrupt, Barclays commenced proceedings against him under the loan agreement in the Supreme Court of the State of New York. On 21 August 2012, he applied in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York under Chapter 15 of the US Bankruptcy Code for recognition of the English bankruptcy as a foreign main proceeding.

In the English case discussed in this post, Mr Kemsley seeks to restrain Barclays from pursuing proceedings in the United States: an anti-suit injunction. The anti-suit injunction was dismissed. The High Court sided in favour of a restrictive approach to ASIs in the case of bankruptcy, per precedent. It found that the US court was best placed to decide on COMI in the US.

The US bankruptcy court refused to recognise K’s UK bankruptcy as a foreign main or nonmain proceeding under chapter 15. The court held that K’s COMI needed to be adjudged as at the time of his English bankruptcy filing, not the time of the chapter 15 filing. Rejecting K’s statement at the time of his UK bankruptcy filing, the court found that his COMI was in the US at that time, focusing on K’s habitual place of residence and that of his family.

EU readers may be surprised that the High Court even considers an ASI, given the EU’s aversion to ASIs in the area of conflict of laws, post Gasser and Turner. However the High Court evidently must have considered the English court’s duties under and loyalties to the Insolvency Regulation fully met with the previous finding of insolvency. The current proceedings in that understanding fall outside that remit. Moreover, the aversion to anti-suit injunctions arguably only holds vis-a-vis fellow EU courts.

Of note are also the apparent limits to the international harmonisation of COMI as things stand.

Geert.

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