Posts Tagged Lex societatis

Kokott AG in Kerr v Postnov(a): How house association meetings turn into a jurisdictional and applicable law potpourri.

Advocate General Kokott opined end of January in C-25/18 Brian Andrew Kerr v Pavlo Postnov and Natalia Postnova (let’s call the case Kerr v Postnov(a)). The case concerns the application of Brussels I Recast’s Articles 24(1) and (2) exclusive jurisdictional rules, cq the application of Article 7(1) jurisdictional rules on contracts, and applicable law consequences of same.

Incidentally, Ms Kokott’s use of ‘Brussels Ia’ instead of the Brussels I Recast Regulation adds to the growing chorus to employ Brussels Ia (lower case, no space between I and a) instead of Brussels I Recast, Brussels bis, or as recently seen at the High Court, BIR (BrusselsIRecast).

The Advocate General’s Opinion is a useful and succinct reminder of CJEU authority, suggesting the issue is acte clair really, except there are one or two specific issues (e.g. the enforcement issue, discussed below) which justify clarification.

The case concerns proceedings concerning claims for payment arising from resolutions made by an association of property owners without legal personality in connection with the management of the property in question. Mr Kerr, appellant in the proceedings before the referring court, is a manager of an association of owners of a property situated in the town of Bansko (Bulgaria). He brought proceedings before the Razlog District Court, Bulgaria against two property owners, Mr Postnov and Ms Postnova, concerning payment of contributions that were owed by them wholly or in part for the maintenance of communal parts of the building on the basis of resolutions made by the general meeting of the property owners in the period from 2013 to 2017. According to the appellant in the main proceedings, an action to secure enforcement of the claim pursued was brought with the application.

Address of the defendants used by the court at first instance is in the Republic of Ireland. (As the AG notes, whether service was properly given is relevant for the recognition of the eventual judgment; this however is not the subject of the current proceedings neither is it detailed in the file.)

Coming to the first issue: Article 24(1) requires strict and autonomous interpretation. The main proceedings have as their object the payment of outstanding contributions purportedly owed by two co-owners for the management and maintenance of the property concerned. At 34: It is thus a matter of obligations — to use the words of the referring court — arising from ownership of shares in the commonhold as rights in rem in immovable property. At 38: to be covered by 24(1) the right in question must have effect erga omnes and that the content or extent of that right is the object of the proceedings (reference ex multi to Schmidt and Komu).

Prima facie this would mean that Article 24(1) must be ruled out: at 39: in the main proceedings, the action brought by the manager is based on claims in personam of the association of owners for payment of contributions for the maintenance of communal areas of the property. The rights in rem of the defendant co-owners of the commonhold — in the form of intangible ownership shares — initially remain unaffected. However, at 40 Ms Kokott signals the enforcement issue: that action could affect the defendants’ rights in rem arising from their ownership shares, for example by restricting their powers of disposal – an assessment subject to the applicable law, which is for the referring court to make. In footnote the Advocate General suggests the potential involvement in that case of Article 8(4)’s combined actio in rem and in personam.

The case therefore illustrates the potential for engineering even in Article 24 cases: firstly, by varying the claim (the content or extent of the rights contained in Article 24 has to be the ‘object’ of the proceedings; claimant can manipulate the claim to that effect); second, the prospect of adding an enforcement claim to an otherwise contractual action. This engineering evidently clashes with the objective and forum-shopping averse interpretation of Article 24, however as I have repeatedly discussed on this blog, abusive forum shopping is a difficult call for the CJEU and indeed national courts to make.

The discussion of Article 24(2) does lead to a clear conclusion: the forum societatis is not engaged. Article 24(2) covers only proceedings which have as their object the legal validity of a decision, not proceedings which have as their object the enforcement of such decisions, like the action at issue seeking payment of contributions based on such a decision (at 44).

As for Article 7(1) forum contractus the usual Handte et al suspects feature in the Opinion as does Case 34/82 Peters Bauunternehmung.  The association is joined through voluntary acquisition of an apartment together with ownership shares of the communal areas of the property (at 54): there is a ‘contract’. [Advocate General Kokott already pre-empts similar discussion in Case C‑421/18, where the Court will have to clarify whether these considerations can also be applied to a case in which a bar association is taking legal acion to assert claims for payment of fees against one of its members].

The AG makes a brief outing into Rome I to point out that Rome I has a lex societatis exception. Under the conflict-of-law rules, claims for payment made by a legal association against its members are not to be assessed on the basis of the Rome I Regulation, even though such claims are to be regarded as ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) of the Brussels Ia Regulation (at 60).

However for the purposes of Article 7(1), where the CJEU to find that it is engaged, place of performance needs to be decided. If none of the default categories of Article 7(1) apply, the conflicts method kicks in and Rome I’s lex societatis exception is triggered (residual conflict of laws will determine the applicable law which in turn will determine place of obligation; see also at 74 and the reference to the Tessili rule).

Is the management activity itself is carried out for remuneration (as required per Falco Privatstiftung and also Granarolo) or at least an economic value per Cormans-Collins? The facts of the case do not clearly lay out that they are but even if that were the case (appointment of a specialist commercial party to carry out maintenance etc.), the contributions to be paid to the association by the co-owners are intended in no small part to cover taxes and duties, and not therefore to fulfil contractual obligations towards third parties which were entered into on behalf of and for the account of the association of owners (at 71). All in all, the AG opines, the non-uniform nature of these contributions leads to non-application of the service rule of Article 7(1)b and therefore a resurrection of the classic Tessili formula.

Not so acte clair perhaps after all.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6, 2.2.11.1

 

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Cuzco v Tera (Chapter 11). Respect for Korean exclusive jurisdictional rule (shareholder derivative claims) does not trump US subject-matter jurisdiction.

Thank you Dechert for flagging Case No. 16-00636 Cuzco v Tera (Chapter 11), in which Faris J with great clarity wades in on a motion to dismiss US Chapter 11 jurisdiction in favour of exclusive jurisdiction for the Seoul courts with respect to a Korean company shareholder derivative action.

The case is relevant to insolvency practitioners. More generally however it highlights the need for a court to keep a level heading when wading through to and fro litigation in various States.

A bit of factual detail is required to appreciate the ruling.

Cuzco USA filed a chapter 11 in Hawaii with its sole asset real property in Hawaii. Tera Resources Co., Ltd. (“Tera”), one of Cuzco Korea’s shareholders asserted that the Debtor and its insiders conspired to deprive Cuzco Korea of the value of the real property. Tera commenced an action for fraud, breach of fiduciary duties, piercing the corporate veil, unjust enrichment and imposition of constructive trust.

The defendants moved to dismiss, in favour of the Korean courts – and failed, both on arguments of forum non conveniens and on arguments of there being exclusive jurisdiction for the courts at Seoul. Defendant Mr Lee is purportedly the manager of Cuzco USA and the representative director of Cuzco Korea. Defendant Ms Yang is  shareholder and creditor of Cuzco Korea and an ally of Mr. Lee.

Cuzco USA had proposed, and the court confirmed, a Third Amended Plan of Reorganization. Briefly summarized, the Third Amended Plan provided that Cuzco USA would transfer the Keeaumoku (Hawaii) Property to Newco, a Hawaii limited liability company of which Mr. Lee is the sole member, that Newco would attempt to raise enough money through a refinancing to repay all of Cuzco USA’s creditors in full, and that if the refinancing did not occur by a date certain, Newco would sell the Keeaumoku Property at auction and distribute the proceeds to Cuzco USA’s creditors.

Tera and others filed motions for reconsideration of the order confirming the Third Amended Plan. Tera is a shareholder of Cuzco Korea. It also holds a judgment, entered by a Korean court, against Ms. Yang, and orders from a Korean court that, according to Tera, resulted in the seizure of Ms. Yang’s interests in and claims against Cuzco Korea.

Cuzco USA then moved to modify the Third Amended Plan and replaced it with a Fourth Amended Plan. Briefly summarized, this Plan eliminates the transfer of the Keeaumoku Property to Newco; instead, Cuzco USA will retain the property and either refinance it or sell it at auction. Tera and others vigorously objected to plan confirmation on multiple grounds. The court confirmed the Fourth Amended Plan.

Tera argued (among other things) that the Third Amended Plan was the product of a fraudulent scheme by Mr. Lee, Ms. Yang, and others to divert the equity in Cuzco USA from Cuzco Korea to themselves and to render Tera’s interests in Cuzco Korea worthless.

 

That Korean law covers governs the right to bring derivative claims on behalf of a Korean corporation is not under dispute between the parties. (It is therefore considered part of the rules on internal organisation which are subject to lex societatis). However Faris J dismissed defendants’ suggestion that the US court should also respect Korea’s jurisdictional rules that such suits be brought in Seoul only.

At B, p.10: US statutes confer subject matter jurisdiction on US courts. Statutes of another nation, such as the South Korean statute on which the moving defendants rely, cannot change the subject matter jurisdiction of a United States bankruptcy court under a United States statute.

Forum non conveniens was dismissed for there is a strong policy that favors centralization of claims against the debtor in the bankruptcy court that outweighs any other interest (at C, p.12). One would have to have strong arguments to push that aside and clearly these were not present here.

Geert.

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Wathelet AG in E.ON v Dědouch: Interpretation of the exlusive jurisdictional rule for corporate issues in the case of squeeze-out.

This is effectively my second posting today on Article 24(2) Brussels I Recast.

In C-560/16 E.ON v Dědouch, Wathelet AG Opined last week, on the scope of the exclusive jurisdictional rule of (now) Article 24(2) of Regulation 1215/2012. The issue arose in proceedings between Michael Dědouch et al, a group of minority shareholders on the one hand, and Jihočeská plynárenská a.s. (established in the Czech Republic) and E.ON Czech Holding AG (‘E.ON’) [established in Germany] on  the other, concerning the reasonableness of the sum which, in a procedure for removing minority shareholders (‘squeeze-out’), E.ON was required to pay Mr Dědouch et al following the compulsory transfer of their shares in Jihočeská plynárenská.

Mr Dědouch et al are suing both companies and are asking the Regional Court, České Budějovice, Czech Republic to review the reasonableness of the sum. In those proceedings E.ON raised an objection that the Czech courts lacked jurisdiction. E.ON argue that, in view of the location of its seat /domicile, only the German courts had international jurisdiction per (now) Article 4.

The regional court initially accepted jurisdiction on the basis of (now) Article 8(1): the anchor defendant mechanism (one of the two defendant companies being a Czech company). Eventually the High Court, Prague found that the Czech courts had jurisdiction under (old) Article 5(1)(a) of the Brussels I Regulation: the special jurisdictional rules for contracts.

Wathelet AG suggests the case raises the complex issue of litigation in intra-company disputes. At 21 he writes that the facts highlight a structural problem in the Regulation, namely ‘the absence of a basis of jurisdiction dedicated to the resolution of internal disputes within companies, such as disputes between shareholders or between shareholders and directors or between the company and its directors.’ That is not quite correct: it is not because the Regulation has no tailor-made regime for this type of dispute that is has no jurisdictional basis for it. That a subject-matter is not verbatim included in the Regulation does not mean it is not regulated by it.

The AG then (at 23) considers that the issue under consideration is complicated by the difficulty of applying (now) Articles 7(1) and (2), ‘since the removal of the minority shareholders and the consideration decided by a resolution of the general meeting are neither a contract nor a tort, delict or quasi-delict.’ I am not so sure. Is there no ‘obligation freely assumed’ between minority and other shareholders of the same company? Are they not bound by some kind of ‘contract’ (in the broad, Jakob Handte sense) when becoming shareholders of one and the same company? That (at 24) ‘The principle of a procedure for squeezing out the minority shareholders is that the principal shareholder can start it without their consent‘ I do not find convincing in this respect. Plenty of contractual arrangements do not limit contracting parties’ freedom to act: except, their actions may have contractual consequences. The AG in my view focuses too much on the squeeze out being one-sided. An alternative view may see a wrongful deployment of squeeze-out a breach of an earlier contractual, indeed fiduciary duty between /among shareholders.

Unlike the AG (at 26), neither do I see great obstacle in the difficulty in determination of a specific place of performance of such contractual duties between shareholders in the company law context. They may not fit within the default categories of Article 7(1), however I can see many a national judge not finding it impossible to determine a place of performance.

On the basis of these perceived difficulties the AG dismisses application of Articles 7(1) and (2) and then considers, and rejects, a strict application of Article 24(2). In other words in the AG’s view Article 24(2) is engaged here.

This is a tricky call. Justified reference is made by the AG to C‑372/07 Hassett, in which (then) Article 22(2) was held no to apply to a decision made by the Board of the Health Organisation not to indemnify two of their members in cases of medical negligence: this was found by the CJEU to be an action relating to the way in which a company organ exercises its functions – not covered by Article 24(2). In Dědouch, the action relates to the amount which the General Meeting of the company fixed as the compensation E.ON was required to pay the minority shareholders following the transfer of the shares. Notwithstanding Czech company law being the lex causae in assisting the GM in that decision, I am not convinced this engages Article 24(2) (hence reserving jurisdiction to the Czech courts).

In summary, I believe the Court should reject application of Article 24(2), and instruct the national courts to get on with the determination of jurisdiction per Article 7, or indeed 8.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.5, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.12.1.

 

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KA Finanz. The CJEU finds it does not need to entertain the corporate exception in European PIL and turns to EU corporate law instead.

Thank you, Matthias Storme, for alerting me late last night that judgment was issued in Case C-483/13 KA Finanz AG. The CJEU is asked to clarify the ‘corporate exception’ to the Rome Convention and subsequent Regulation on the law applicable to contractual obligations. The two main questions ask whether the ‘company law’ excepted area includes (a) reorganisations such as mergers and divisions, and (b) in connection with reorganisations, the creditor protection provision in Article 15 of Directive 78/855 concerning mergers of public limited liability companies, and of its successor, Directive 2011/35. I have a little more on the background in previous posting and I expressed my disappointment with Bot AG’s Opinion here.

The Court, like the AG, justifiably rejects a great deal of the questions as inadmissible, mainly due to the secondary law, interpretation of which is sought, not applying ratione temporis, to the facts at issue. It then in essence simply turns to European company law, in particular Directive 2005/56, to settle the issue. Why exhaust oneself with analysis of the corporate exception, if a different piece of EU law exhaustively regulates the issue? At 56 ff

It is stated in Article 2(2)(a) of Directive 2005/56 that a merger by acquisition is an operation whereby one or more companies, on being dissolved without going into liquidation, transfer all their assets and liabilities to another existing company, namely the acquiring company.

As regards the effects of such an operation, it is stated in Article 14(2)(a) of Directive 2005/56 that a cross-border merger brings about, from the date when the merger takes effect, the transfer of all the assets and liabilities of the company being acquired to the acquiring company.A merger by acquisition therefore entails the acquisition by the acquiring company of the company being acquired in its entirety, without extinguishing the obligations that a winding-up would have brought about, and, without novation, has the effect of substituting the acquiring company for the company being acquired as party to all of the contracts concluded by the latter. Consequently, the law which was applicable to those contracts before the merger continues to be applicable after the merger. It follows that EU law must be interpreted as meaning that the law applicable following a cross-border merger by acquisition to the interpretation of a loan contract taken out by the acquired company, such as the loan contracts at issue in the main proceedings, to the performance of the obligations under the contract and to how those obligations are extinguished is the law which was applicable to that contract before the merger.

(here: German law).

I appreciate the narrow set of facts upon which the CJEU holds allows one to distinguish. The spirit of the Court’s judgment in my view must however be what I have advocated for some time. Other than for a narrow set of issues immediately surrounding the very creation, life and death of the merged company, for which lex societatis applies, European private international law upholds lex contractus (often: lex voluntatis: the law so chosen by the parties) for the considerable amount of contractual satellites involving a merger and similar operations. Rome I is fully engaged for these contracts, including its provisions on third party impact of a change in governing law (this is relevant where the parties to the merger, decide to amend applicable law of the inherited contracts).

Geert.

 (Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.5, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.2 .

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The Pfizer /Allergan collapse: An end to Celtic Cash and a source of inspiration for EU rules on outgoing corporate mobility?

I shall keep this post short for otherwise it risks developing into a book. In a week which also saw the Panama papers blow a hole in the use of tax havens for individuals, the collapse of the Pfizer Allergan merger may be the beginning of the end for the Irish (and similar) corporate tax Nirvana. The US treasury’s new rules on outgoing corporate mobility mean re-incorporation in Ireland has become an awful lot less attractive.

I realise there are caveats and one may be comparing cheese and chalk. Also, tax lawyers no doubt will have to chew over this, yet: may this not also be the moment for the EC to reconsider similar issues in EU law, kicked off some time back by the Daily Mail case?

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law 2nd ed 2016 Chapter 7.

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Not quite HoHoHo (yet): OOO PROMNEFTSTROY v Yukos: Insolvency and conflict of laws in the Dutch Supreme Court.

Granted, the (bad) pun in the title would have worked better around the end of year, which is when I had originally planned this posting, before I got sidetracked. Bob Wessels has excellent overview here (including admirably swift and exact translation of core parts of the judgment). OOO PROMNEFTSTROY v Yukos at the Dutch Supreme Court is but one instalment in running litigation literally taking place across the globe.

Of particular interest to the blog is the court’s finding (at 3.4.2) that the existence of a corporation is subject to the lex incorporationis not, as the Court of Appeal had held, the lex concursus in the event of insolvency. The EU’s Insolvency Regulation does not apply for COMI is not within the EU. The Insolvency Regulation does not in so many words say the same as the Dutch Supreme Court however it is likely that under the EIR, too, this issue falls under lex societatis /lex incorporationis (see e.g. Miguel Virgos & Francisco Garcimartin, The European Insolvency Regulation: Law and Practice, Kluwer, 2004, p.82 (par 123, f: dissolution of the company).

One can imagine of course the one or two complications arising out of the seizure of assets of a company which no longer exists.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.7

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Winter has truly arrived. Bot AG skates around lex societatis issues in KA Finanz.

In Case C-483/13 KA Finanz AG, the CJEU is asked to clarify the ‘corporate exception’ to the Rome Convention and subsequent Regulation on the law applicable to contractual obligations. The two main questions ask whether the ‘company law’ excepted area includes (a) reorganisations such as mergers and divisions, and (b) in connection with reorganisations, the creditor protection provision in Article 15 of Directive 78/855 concerning mergers of public limited liability companies, and of its successor, Directive 2011/35. I have a little more on the background in previous posting. The Opinion itself has a complete overview of the issues at stake.

I suggested in my previous posting that lest the complete file posted with the Court give more detail, quite a few of the preliminary questions might be considered inadmissible due to a lack of specification in the factual circumstances.

Bot AG, who opined yesterday (at the time of posting, the English version of the Opinion was not yet available), has considerably slimmed down the list of questions eligible for answer, due to the (non-) application ratione temporis of secondary EU law at issue: this includes the Rome I Regulation. However he also, more puzzlingly, skates around the question concerning the application of the corporate exception of the 1980 Rome Convention, despite the judgment which is being appealed with the referring court, having made that exception the corner piece of its conflicts analysis. In particular, it considered that the consequences of a merger are part of the corporate status of the company concerned and that the transfer of assets within the context of a merger consequently need to be assessed viz-a-viz the company’s lex societatis: Austrian law, and not, as suggested by claimants, German law as the lex contractus relevant to the assets concerned (bonds issued by the corporate predecessor of the new corporation).

The AG focuses his analysis entirely on the specific qualification of the contract at issue (conclusion: sui generis), and on Directive 2005/56. In paras 47-48, he suggests that contractual obligations of the bank’s predecessor, per Directive 2005/56, are transferred to the corporate successor, including the lex contractus of those agreements. One can build an assumption around those paras, that the AG suggests a narrow interpretation of the corporate exception to the Rome Convention, etc. However it is quite unusual for one to have to second-guess an AG’s Opinion. Judicial economy is usually the signature of the CJEU itself, not its Advocate Generals.

I am now quite curious what the CJEU will make of it all.

Geert.

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