KCA Deutag throws contractual commitment not to oppose into the scheme of arrangement jurisdictional mix.

KCA Deutag UK Finance PLC, Re (In the Matter of the Companies Act 2006) [2020] EWHC 2977 (Ch) is in most part a classic scheme of arrangement sanctioning hearing, with the scheme proposed by a UK-incorporated company with COMI undisputedly there, too. See a range of posts on the blog for the classic jurisdictional analysis.

What is slightly out of the ordinary is the contractual commitment by the creditors not to oppose the scheme in foreign jurisdictions.  Snowden J, at 33:

In this case, two things give me that comfort. The first is that there was an overwhelming vote by Scheme Creditors in favour, and a very large number of such creditors entered into a lock-up agreement which bound them contractually to support the Scheme and not to do anything to undermine it. It is very difficult to see how such creditors who contractually agreed to support the Scheme and/or who voted in favour could possibly be allowed to take action contrary to the Scheme in any foreign jurisdiction, and the number and financial interests of those who did not vote in favour is comparatively very small indeed. That alone is sufficient to demonstrate to me that the Scheme is likely to have a substantial international effect and that I would not be acting in vain if I were to sanction it.

I would intuitively have felt quite the opposite, although detail is lacking (e.g. was the commitment given as a blank cheque before the details of the scheme were known): such contractual commitment even if valid under (presumably; no details are given) English law as the lex contractus of the commitment, could serve to undermine international effectiveness. For I would not be surprised if creative counsel on the continent could find a range of laws of lois de police or ordre public character, to try and object to contractual commitment to sign away the right to oppose.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 2, Chapter 5. Third edition forthcoming February 2021.

The French Supreme Court confirms English law denial of adopted’s right to confirm simultaneous descent from adopted parents and biological father.

A quick note for archival purposes on the French Supreme Court judgment earlier this month in which it upheld the lower courts’ decision (which had been reversed upon appeal) that European Convention rights do not trump the impossibility under English law, which is the law under which the claimant had been adopted, for the adopted to confirm descent from both the adopted parents and the biological father.

It is important to keep in mind the specific circumstances of the case in which the Supreme Court let the stability of family relations prevail over ECHR rights. The adoption went back to 1966 (the UK birth to 1958). The true identity of the father seemingly had always been known to the applicant. The mother (1963) and the suspected biological father (2011)  have passed away, the real issue would seem to be inheritance related.

Geert.

 

Applicable law and statutes of limitation in CSR /business and human rights cases. The High Court, at least prima facie, on shipbreaking in Bangladesh in Begum v Maran.

Update 28 August 2020 permission to appeal and cross-appeal has been granted and is being additionally sought by both parties on various issues.

Hamida Begum v Maran UK [2020] EWHC 1846 (QB) engages exactly the kinds of issues that I have just posted about, in court rather than in concept. On 30th March 2018 Mr Mohammed Khalil Mollah fell to his death whilst working on the demolition of a defunct oil tanker in the Zuma Enterprise Shipyar in Chittagong (now Chattogram), Bangladesh. On 11th April 2019 the deceased’s widow issued proceedings claiming damages for negligence under the UK Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and the Fatal Accidents Act 1976; alternatively, under Bangladeshi law. The scope of the proceedings has subsequently been broadened inasmuch as draft Amended Particulars of Claim advance a cause of action in restitution: more precisely, unjust enrichment.

Application in the current case is for strike-out and /or summary judgment (denying liability) hence the legal issues are dealt with at prima facie instead of full throttle level. One or two of the decisions deserve full assessment at trial. Trial will indeed follow for the application was dismissed.

The case engages with the exact issues in exchanges I had at the w-e.

Proceedings have not been brought against the owner of the yard and/or the deceased’s employer. Both are Bangladeshi entities. Maran (UK) Ltd,  defendant, is a company registered in the UK and, it is alleged, was both factually and legally responsible for the vessel ending up in Bangladesh where working conditions were known to be highly dangerous.

Focus of the oral argument has been whether claim discloses viable claims in English law on the basis of tort of negligence (answer: yes) and in unjust enrichment (answer: no).

The issue of liability in tort is discussed on the basis of English law, which is odd at first sight given Rome II might suggest as a starting point Bangladeshi law as the lex causae ; Justice Jay himself says so much, but only at 76 ff when he discusses Rome II viz the issue of limitation. In applications for summary judgment however, reasoning and order of argument may take odd form as a result of the prima facie nature of the proceedings and the conversations between bench and parties at case management stage.

On the tort of neglicence claimant argues under English law, with direct relevance to the current debate on environmental and human rights due diligence, that a duty of care required the defendant to take all reasonable steps to ensure that its negotiated and agreed end of life sale and the consequent disposal of the Vessel for demolition would not and did not endanger human health, damage the environment and/or breach international regulations for the protection of human health and the environment. The EU Ship Recycling Regulation 1257/2013 was suggested as playing a role, which is dismissed by Justice Jay at 24 for the Regulation was not applicable ratione temporis.

At 30, claimant’s case on negligence is summarised:

First, the vessel had reached the end of its operating life and a decision was taken (perforce) to dispose of it. Secondly, end-of-life vessels are difficult to dispose of safely. Aside from the evident difficulties inherent in dismantling a large metal structure, a process replete with potential danger, an oil tanker such as this contains numerous hazardous substances such as asbestos, mercury and radio-active components. Although these were listed for Basel Convention purposes and for the attention of the buyer, and the deceased was not injured as a result of exposure to any hazardous substance, the only reasonable inference is that waste such as asbestos is not disposed of safely in Chattogram. Thirdly, the defendant had a choice as to whether to entrust the vessel to a buyer who would convey it to a yard which was either safe or unsafe. Fourthly, the defendant had control and full autonomy over the sale. Fifthly, the defendant knew in all the circumstances that the vessel would end up on Chattogram beach. Sixthly, the defendant knew that the modus operandi at that location entailed scant regard for human life.

The gist of the argument under tort therefore is a classic Donoghue v Stevenson type case of liability arising from a known source of danger.

At 42 ff Justice Jay discusses what to my mind is of great relevance in particular under Article 7 Rome II, should it be engaged, giving claimant a choice between lex locus delicti commissi and lex locus damni for environmental damage, in particular, the issue of ‘control’. One may be aware from my earlier writings (for an overview see my chapter in the 2019 OUP Handbook of Comparative environmental law) that the determination of the lex causae for that issue of control has not been properly discussed by either the CJEU or national courts. This being a prima facie review, the issue is not settled definitively of course however Justice Jay ends by holding that there is no reason to dismiss the case on this issue first hand. This will therefore go to trial.

As noted Rome II is only discussed towards the end, when the issue of limitation surfaces (logically, it would have come first). Claimant does not convince the judge that the case is manifestly more closely connected with England than with Bangladesh under A4(3) Rome II. Then follows the discussion whether this might be ‘environmental damage’ under Article 7 Rome II, which Justice J at 83 ff holds preliminarily and prima facie, it is. Analysis of Article 7 is bound to be of great importance at trial and /or appeal.

At 85 a further issue for debate is trial is announced, namely whether the one-year statute of limitation under Bangladeshi law, should be extended under Article 26 Rome II’s allowance for ordre public (compare Roberts and CJEU C-149/18 Martins v DEKRA – that case concerning lois de police and statutes of limitation. 

Plenty of issues to be discussed thoroughly at trial.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

 

On the nature of private international law. Applying islamic law in the European Court of Human Rights.

Update 13 July 2020 see for an illustration of the issues, Matthians Lehmann here, on the classification by German judges of the mahr, akin to a dowry – with consideration (and eventually side-stepping of all) of the Rome I, III, and the maintenance and matriomonial property Regulations. The Court’s analysis feels like ten little monkeys bouncing on a bed: one by one the Rome I, Maintenance, Matrimonial property, Rome III Regulations are considered yet cast aside. See also Jan Jakob Bornheim’s reference here to Almarzooqi v Salih, [2020] NZHC 1049, where the New Zealand High Court assumed that the mahr was a contractual promise without much consideration of the characterisation issue. And Mukarrum Ahmed, who commented ‘in England, the leading case on the characterisation of mahr is Shahnaz v Rizwan. The wife’s claim was treated as a contractual obligation.’ [GAVC, that’s Shahnaz v Rizwan [1965] 1 QB 390].

Anyone planning a conflict of laws course in the next term might well consider the succinct Council of Europe report on the application of islamic law in the context of the European Convention on Human Rights – particularly the case-law of the Court. It discusses ia kafala, recognition of marriage, minimum age to marry, and the attitude towards Shari’a as a legal and political system.

Needless to say, ordre public features, as does the foundation of conflict of laws: respect for each others’ cultures.

Geert.

 

 

The Prestige recognition tussle – ctd. On arbitration and state immunity.

A short update on the Prestige litigation. I reported earlier on the disclosure order in the recognition leg of the case. In that review I also listed the issues to be decided and the preliminary assessment under Title III Brussels Ia. That appeal is to be heard in December 2020 (see also 21 ff of current judgment). In The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v Spain (M/T “PRESTIGE”) [2020] EWHC 1582 (Comm) Henshaw J on 18 June held on yet another set of issues, related to arbitration and State Immunity.

He concluded after lengthy analysis to which it is best to refer in full, that Spain does not have immunity in respect of these proceedings; that the permission to serve the arbitration obligation our of jurisdiction, granted earlier to the Club should stand; and that the court should appoint an arbitrator.

I am pondering whether to add a State immunity chapter to the 3rd ed. of the Handbook – if I do, this case will certainly feature.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.16.

Alexander bros v Alstom. A reminder of the relevance of EU law for New York Convention refusal of recognition of arbitral awards on ordre public grounds.

In Alexander Brothers Ltd (Hong Kong SAR) v Alstom Transport SA & Anor [2020] EWHC 1584 (Comm) Cockerill J discussed inter alia (at 177 ff) the impact of EU law on the ordre public assessment for potential refusal of recognition of an arbitral award under section 103 of the 1980 New York Convention.

CJEU authority are C-126/ 97 Eco Swiss (concerning EU competition law) and C-168/ 05 Claro (unfair terms in consumer contracts). At 183 Cockerill J does not suggest the CJEU authority should no longer stand. Indeed she suggests obiter that there is no reason to suggest the CJEU’s line of reasoning should not apply to wider issues than just competition law or consumer law. However, the burden of proof of showing that particular parts of EU law are of a nature to justify the ordre public exception, lies upon the party objecting to recognition. In casu Alstom have fallen short of that duty. Yes, there is scant reference to anti-corruption in the private sector; and yes there is EU money laundering law. However (at 186) ‘the EU has, in general terms, set its face against corruption. But aside from the area of money laundering it has not put in place mandatory laws or rules. In the context of international corruption of the kind in focus here it has left it to the individual member states to adopt what measures seem good to them. There is, in short, no applicable mandatory rule or public policy.’

An interesting discussion.

Geert.

PJSC v Starr. A glimpse of the complications of non-automatic recognition and enforcement.

A short note on Public Joint Stock Company (Rosgosstrakh) v Starr Syndicate Ltd & Ors [2020] EWHC 1557 (Comm) just to illustrate the complications for recognition and enforcement in the absence of a near-automated process such as under Brussels IA (the Hague Judgments Convention is meant to lubricate the process internationally). Claimant applies for summary judgment on its claim for recognition and enforcement of three judgments obtained in its favour in the Russian courts in 2015 and 2016.

Moulder J first discussed the issue of lack of jurisdiction for the Russian courts and she finds at 93 after consideration that the discussions to and fro, and the evidence of Russian experts for each of the parties, necessitates proper discussion with oral evidence of the contractual construction, under Russian law, of the relevant choice of court clauses. Of course under BIa and other regimes operating with a certain amount of mutual trust, second-guessing jurisdiction is not part of the assessment.

Next, the allegations of bias are also discussed, with at 126 ia reference to an interference by President Putin, and at 138 a solid set of reasoning for Moulder J to dismiss the potential for summary judgment on this point, too. Of course bias is an ordre public issue which even under BIa’s rules for recognition of judgments from other Member States, might justify refusal of recognition.

Geert.

 

 

 

SAS Institute v World Programming. A complicated enforcement saga continues.

Update 15 June 2020 as Gilles Cuniberti notes, enforcement jurisdiction (see towards the end of this post) ought to have involved some discussion of A24(5) Brussels Ia.

I reported earlier on complex enforcement issues concerning SAS Institute v World Programming. In [2020] EWCA Civ 599 SAS Institute Inc v World Programming Ltd Flaux J gives an overview of the various proceedings at 4:

The dispute between the parties has a long history. It includes an action brought by SAS against WPL in this country in which SAS’s claims were dismissed; a decision by WPL, following an unsuccessful challenge on forum non conveniens grounds, to submit to the jurisdiction of the North Carolina court and to fight the action there on the merits; a judgment in favour of SAS from the North Carolina court for some US $79 million; an attempt by SAS to enforce the North Carolina judgment in this jurisdiction which failed on the grounds that enforcement here would be (a) an abuse of process, (b) contrary to public policy and (c) prohibited by section 5 of the Protection of Trading Interests Act 1980 (“the PTIA”); and a judgment from the English court in favour of WPL for over US $5.4 million, which SAS has chosen to ignore.’

A good case to use therefore at the start of a conflicts course to show students the spaghetti bowl of litigation that may occur in civil litigation. There are in essence

  • English liability proceedings, decided in the end following referral to the CJEU (Case C-406/10);
  • North Carolina liability proceedings, in which WPL submitted to jurisdiction after an earlier win on forum non grounds was reversed on appeal and the NC courts came to the same conclusions as the English ones despite a finding they were not (clearly) under an obligation to apply EU law;
  • next, an SAS enforcement attempt in England which failed (with permission to appeal refused): my earlier post reviews it;
  • next, enforcement proceedings of the NC judgment in California. That CAL procedure includes an assignment order and WPL sought an anti-suit injunction to restrain SAS from seeking assignment orders as regards “customers, licensees, bank accounts, financial information, receivables and dealings in England”: it was not given the injunction for there was at the time no CAL assignment order pending which could be covered by anti-suit.
  • Currently, it seems, there is, and it is an anti-suit against these new assignment orders which is the object of the current proceedings.

At 59 ff follows a discussion of the situs of a debt; at 64 ff the same for jurisdiction re enforcement judgments, holding at 72

Applying these internationally recognised principles to the present case, the North Carolina and California courts have personal jurisdiction over WPL but do not have subject matter jurisdiction over debts owed to WPL which are situated in England. That is so notwithstanding that the losses for which the North Carolina court has given judgment were incurred by SAS in the United States. Nevertheless the effect of the proposed Assignment Order would be to require WPL to assign debts situated in England to SAS which would at least purport to discharge its customers from any obligation owed to WPL, while the effect of the proposed Turnover Order would be to require WPL to give instructions to its banks in England which would discharge the debts situated in England currently owed by the banks to WPL. In substance, therefore, the proposed orders are exorbitant in that they affect property situated in this country over which the California court does not have subject matter jurisdiction, thereby infringing the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.

Update 15 June 2020 as Gilles Cuniberti notes, enforcement jurisdiction ought to have involved some discussion of A24(5) Brussels Ia.

Which is later confirmed at 83. Consequently the earlier order is overturned: at 89: ‘it follows also that the judge’s conclusion that the Assignment and Turnover Orders were not “markedly exorbitant” was based upon a mistaken premise.’

The anti-suit and anti-enforcement applications are dealt with in particular with reference to comity, and largely granted with some collateral notices of intention by SAS not to seek a particular kind of enforcement.

Someone somewhere must have made partner on this litigation.

Geert.

 

 

Roberts bis (or rather, ter): undue hardship as part of ordre public.

The extensive ruling by Foster J in Roberts (a minor) v Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association & Ors [2020] EWHC 994 (QB) is clearly related to Soole J’s 2019 ruling which I reviewed here. Yet exactly how is not clear to me. No reference at all is made to the 2019 ruling (there is reference to an earlier Yoxall M 2018 ruling) in current judgment. Current ruling treats partially related issues of limitation and applicable law, Rome II is not engaged ratione temporis. The English rules’ general lex causae provision (pointing to locus delicti commissi), summarised at 112-113, Foster J finds, should not be displaced with a ‘substantially more appropriate’ rule in the circumstances. However she does find that the implications of the German statute of limitation should be set aside on ordre public grounds, for they would otherwise cause ‘undue hardship’.

Elijah Granet has extensive review here and I am happy to refer.

Geert.

 

 

The Prestige recognition tussle puts the spotlights on (now) Article 45 Brussels Ia, and on the relation between competing arbitral awards and judgments in ordinary.

Spain v The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd [2020] EWHC 142 (Comm) reports on the CMR (case management conference) re what promises to be interesting litigation. A Spanish judgment concerning liability for the pollution damage caused when the vessel PRESTIGE broke in two off the coast of Spain in 2002, needs to be enforced in the UK. Brussels Ia’s contestation of recognition is involved: particularly Articles 34(1) and (3).

At 2 Teare J summarises the story so far:

The parties have been in dispute about liability for many years. Criminal proceedings were brought against the master of PRESTIGE in Spain in 2002 and, after the conclusion of the investigative stage of the proceedings, civil proceedings were brought against the master, the Owners of PRESTIGE and the Club, as liability insurer of the Owners, in 2010. (I am told that in addition to Spain there are some 264 other claimants.) In 2012 the Club commenced arbitration proceedings in London against Spain and in February 2013 obtained an award from the sole arbitrator Mr. Alistair Schaff QC which declared that, as a result of the “pay to be paid” clause in the policy the Club had no liability to Spain. In this court Spain challenged the jurisdiction of the arbitrator but the court (Hamblen J. as he then was) held in 2013 that the arbitrator had jurisdiction. Later that year the court in La Coruna dismissed the civil claim against the master, Owners and Club but convicted the master of the crime of disobeying orders by the Spanish authorities to accept a tow of the vessel. In 2015 the English Court of Appeal upheld the decision of Hamblen J. In 2016 the Spanish Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court in La Coruna and held that the master had been seriously negligent and that the Owners and Club were liable for the damage caused. In execution proceedings in Spain, the court in La Coruna declared the Spanish State entitled to enforce a claim up to approximately €2.355 billion against the defendants in the Spanish proceedings and declared the master, Owners and the Club liable in respect of the claims, although subject (in the case of the Club) to a global limit of liability in the sum of approximately €855 million.’

Thus the Club has an arbitration award in its favour but Spain has a judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court in its favour. Spain obtained an order from Master Cook pursuant to which the Spanish judgment was registered so that it could be enforced here against the Club. The Club seeks to appeal from that order. One of the grounds on which it seeks to appeal is that the Spanish judgment is irreconcilable with the judgment of Hamblen J. and the Court of Appeal (A34(3) BIa). Another ground is that recognition of England is contrary to the public policy of England (A34(1)).

This particular CMS concenrs disclosure requirements: the Club’s seeking of disclosure from Spain is resisted by the latter on grounds that is clashes with BIa’s intention of swift recognition.

One of the issues on which disclosure is sought, is Spain’s position under the insurance title of BIa: “Are the English Judgments not qualifying judgments within article 34(3) because the English Judgments conflict with Section 3 of Chapter II of the Brussels 1 Regulation ? In particular …(b) Is the respondent [Spain] entitled to rely on the exclusive rules for jurisdiction in Section 3 of Chapter II. In particular: (i) Is the respondent [Spain] a qualifying party that is entitled to the protective rules in Section 3 ?” Reference is made to Aspen Underwiting: the Club states that it is necessary for Spain to show that it is a member of the class protected by Section 3, which (per Aspen Underwriting, GAVC] excludes “professionals in the insurance sector or entities regularly involved in the commercial or otherwise professional settlement of insurance related claims who voluntarily assumed the realisation of the claim as part of its commercial or otherwise professional activity”. Aspen Underwriting in the meantime (Teare J’s judgment was issued in January; it has been in the blog queue) has been varied by the Supreme Court.

It will therefore be necessary, submitted counsel for the Club, for Spain to disclose documents which show “the class of business” conducted by it. If it is a member of the relevant class it can rely on section 3. If it is not, it cannot.

The second class of document of which disclosure is sought is very different and relates to the public policy defence. Did the Spanish Courts refuse to allow the master to participate in an underwater investigation of the strength of the vessel’s hull and refuse to disclose the results of the investigation (so that there was a breach of the master’s right to equality of arms and to be able to prepare a defence) or were the results disclosed to the master in sufficient time to allow him to prepare his defence. The Club therefore seeks disclosure of the documents relating to that question held by Spain. Here Teare J at 21 assumes that Spain’s evidence can be expected to support its case and to rely upon the documents which show when the results were disclosed to the master and in what terms. If the evidence does not deal with this issue then Spain will be unable to advance its factual case. ‘I therefore consider it very likely that no disclosure under this head will be required. In the unlikely event that it is required a focused application can be made after Spain has provided its evidence.’

The Order eventually imposes a timetable for exchange of evidence (including expert reports) and later settlement of disclosure issues should they arise. Hearing in principle in December 2020.

This could turn out to be a most relevant case.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.16.