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 concurcus’, 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.