No instant forum coffee. Selecta: Some more substantial reflection on jurisdiction for schemes of arrangement.

In Selecta Finance UK Ltd, Re [2020] EWHC 2689 (Ch) Johnson J considered the jurisdictional issues for schemes of arrangement in a touch more detail than recently has been the regular method in both convening and sanctioning hearings.

Selecta Finance UK Limited is a most recent addition to the ‘Selecta’ group , having been established only on 13 August 2020. (Selecta is said to be the leading provider of unattended self-service coffee and convenience food in Europe).  The Scheme concerns three series of senior secured Notes (“the Existing SSNs“), which have an aggregate principal amount of €1.24 billion plus CHF 250 million. The Existing SSNs were issued originally not by the Company but by Selecta Group BV, its parent company incorporated in the Netherlands. They were issued pursuant to a Trust Deed dated 2 February 2018 , and were originally governed by New York law and subject to a provision for the New York Courts to have exclusive jurisdiction.

With reference to authority, Johnson J accepts that the relevant parties in interest who qualify as the Scheme Creditors are the ultimate beneficial owners of the Existing SSNs. By 14 September 2020, the Existing SSN Holders holding a majority by value of the Existing SSNs had provided their consent to (among others) the following key changes to the terms of the SSNs:  i) Amendment of the governing law provisions of the Trust Deed so that the Existing SSNs are governed by English rather than New York law. ii) Amendment of the jurisdiction provisions of the Trust Deed so that the Existing SSNs are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English Court in relation to any proceedings commenced by an obligor of the Existing SSNs, and the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the English Court in relation to other proceedings; iii) Accession of the Company to the Trust Deed as a co-issuer of the Existing SSNs.

At 18 it is said that an expert report on US and New York law confirms that the amendments to the governing law and jurisdiction clauses of the Trust Deed are valid under New York law and would be regarded as effective in any United States court applying that law.

The relevance of that finding for unwilling SSNs beneficiaries, I would argue, is not undisputedly established under Article 10 and Article 3(2) Rome I.

 

The Company then entered into a Supplemental Trust Deed on 14 September 2020 and thereby became a co-issuer of the Existing SSNs under the Trust Deed. As Johnson J notes at 44: it is only by means of the Supplemental Trust Deed that the Company became co-issuer of the Existing SSNs, and that the governing law and jurisdiction provisions were changed so as to refer to English law and jurisdiction.

It is clear that a jurisdictional link with England & Wales has been established specifically for the purpose of a company taking advantage of the scheme provisions in English law. With reference to Newey J in Re Codere Finance (UK) Ltd [2015] EWHC 3778 (Ch) which I reviewed here, this is held to be ‘good forum shopping’.

Article 25 Brussels Ia jurisdiction is only possible by means of the amendments to the Trust Deed effected via the Supplemental Trust Deed, as I also noted above. As I suggest there, had there been recalcitrant minority Note holders objecting to the change in court and law clause, I think the Scheme would not have been jurisdictionally home and dry on A25 choice of court grounds.

The next classic consideration is under Article 8(1)’s anchor defendant mechanism seeing as jurisdiction against the company is established per Article 4.

At 53 reference is made to Snowden J. who in Van Gansewinkel has suggested that in determining whether A8(1) applies, the Court is required to consider whether the “numbers and size of the scheme creditors domiciled in [the UK]” are “sufficiently large“: the result of that instruction is that applicants tend to point out the (debt) size of the creditors so domiciled, even if in DTEK Newey J held that size and number are irrelevant, ditto in Lecta Paper and Swissport Fuelling.

At 54 comes Johnson J’s obiter, useful finding:

Speaking for myself, I incline to the view that the presence of a single creditor is a necessary, but not of itself a sufficient, condition to the operation of Art. 8. I say that because in terms the power conferred by Art. 8 is engaged where “any one of” a number of defendants is domiciled in England & Wales, but even then the power is to be exercised only in cases where the language of the proviso in Art. 8 is satisfied – i.e., where the claims against the various defendants are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings. I did not hear detailed argument on the meaning of this language, and in any event the application before me was uncontested, and so I express my view on it somewhat tentatively; but tentatively it seems to me that the question of expediency posed by the proviso is rather less about the geographical distribution in terms of number and size of the prospective defendants, and is rather more about the expediency in case management terms of connected claims being resolved in one place, even if only one anchor defendant is domiciled there. The argument in this case is that it is expedient for the claims against all EU domiciled Scheme Creditors to be resolved in one place, i.e. in England & Wales, because such claims all relate to the reorganisation of their indebtedness vis-à-vis the Company, and these Courts are best placed to resolve such questions given the separate jurisdiction they exercise over the Company under CA Part 26. Indeed, they may be uniquely placed to do so.

Opposition to the Scheme’s jurisdiction tends to evaporate once it gets to the convening and hearing stage. This is typically because the opposing creditors tend to by that stage be converted to the necessity of restructuring and the unattractiveness of having to pursue debt collection against a corporation in serious financial difficulty. As a result nearly all precedent is first instance only.

Geert.

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

‘Performance based’ and ‘Well to wheel’ renewable (bio)fuel standards.

Thank you Jonathan Cocker for flagging Ontario’s stakeholder consultation on renewable fuel standards, aka biofuels. Current thinking, outlined in the discussion paper, is to make the standards ‘performance based’: ie without pushing one or rather additive and exclusively focus on achieved (documented) reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Biofuels are known to create international trade tension. Argentina and the EU are still formally in consultation over the EU’s approach. Various WTO dispute settlement concerns anti-dumping duties on biofuels. Finally one or two elements of WTO dispute settlement on support for renewable energy touch upon fuel standards.

With all that in mind one particular element of the Ontario regime caught my attention: the intention to regulate GHG emissions ‘well to wheel’: ie ‘to assess emissions performance across the fuel’s full well-to-wheel lifecycle, from extraction to processing, distribution and end-use combustion.’(p.6). Canada does that already for  diesel, with its 2014 greener diesel Regulation, employing what is known as the ‘GHGenius’ model.

What I have not been able to gauge from my admittedly limited research into that model: does it at all and if so how, apply to particularly extraction outside of Canada indeed outside Ontario? For the EU, much of the biofuel production (let alone biofuel imports) at some point or another involves extra-EU elements. How does a well to wheel method in such case work under WTO rules?

Geert.