Posts Tagged Recognition and enforcement

CJEU in Zulfikarpašić: Suggest generic criteria for ‘courts’; completes the analysis for the notarial question at issue.

The Court held  yesterday in Zulfikarpašić Case C-484/15. I review Bot AG ‘s Opinion here.  At issue is the interpretation of ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ in the European enforcement order Regulation. Mutatis mutandis therefore the case has implications for most other EU private international law instruments, which employ similar terms. In all of these Regulations, the terms ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ are under- or not at all defined. The CJEU in fact refers to considerations under the Brussels I Recast in its judgment yesterday. And indeed its approach in Zulfikarpašić was confirmed on the same day for the Brussels I Recast, in Pula Parking.

For the determination of a ‘court’ the AG had emphasised guarantees as to independence and impartiality; the power to decide on one’s own authority; leading to a finding which was or may be subject to an exchange of arguments and may be challenged before a judicial authority. The AG had suggested that whether these conditions are fulfilled is for the national courts to assess.

The Court itself referred to a number of classic principles for the interpretation of EU private international law: autonomous interpretation; mutual trust; legitimate expectations. It then reformulated but essentially suggests similar criteria as its AG: for a finding to be qualified as a judgment, it must have been delivered in court proceedings offering guarantees of independence and impartiality and of compliance with the principle of audi alteram partem (at 43).In the Croatian procedure at issue, the notary issues an authentic instrument which, if it is challenged as to its content, is moved up the pecking order to court proceedings. The proceedings before the notary not meeting with the Court’s generic criteria, in contrast with the AG the Court itself already holds that the notaries at issue do not act as courts and their decisions are not ‘judgments’.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1. Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.

 

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Bot AG in Zulfikarpašić: Are notaries ‘courts’ and do they issue ‘judgments’?

Postscript 9 March 2017. The Court held today. Post coming up.

In Zulfikarpašić Case C-484/15, Bot AG opined on 8 September. At issue is the intepretation of ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ in the European enforcement order Regulation. Mutatis mutandis therefore the case has implications for most other EU private international law instruments, which employ similar terms. In all of these Regulations, the terms ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ are under- or not at all defined.

The question was submitted in the context of a dispute between Ibrica Zulfikarpašić, a lawyer established in Croatia, and Slaven Gajer, who is also domiciled in Croatia, regarding the certification as a European Enforcement Order, of a writ of execution issued by a notary based on an authentic document.  The referring court essentially inquires whether a notary who, in accordance with Croatian law, has issued a definitive and enforceable writ of execution based on an authentic document has the power to certify it as a European Enforcement Order where it has not been opposed. If the answer is no, the referring court asks whether a national court can carry out that certification where the writ of execution concerns an uncontested claim.

Article 4(1) of Regulation 805/2004 defines ‘judgment’ as ‘any judgment given by a court or tribunal of a Member State, whatever the judgment may be called, including a decree, order, decision or writ of execution, as well as the determination of costs or expenses by an officer of the court’. Article 2(a) of the Brussels I Recast Regulation now includes exactly the same definition. Yves Bot himself summarised the CJEU’s case-law on the notion of ‘judgment’ in the Brussels I Regulation in Gothaer. He reiterates that Opinion here and I should like to refer readers to my earlier summary of the Opinion in Gothaer.

After a tour de table of the various opinions expressed ia by the EC and by a number of Member States, the Advocate General submits that the concept of ‘court’ should be interpreted, for the purposes of Regulation No 805/2004, as covering all bodies offering guarantees of independence and impartiality, deciding on their own authority by a judgment which, first, was or may be subject to an exchange of arguments before being certified as a European Enforcement Order and, second, may be challenged before a judicial authority (at 108). A functional approach, therefore (at 109).

Advocate General Bot submits therefore that an enforcement title such as a writ of execution issued by a notary based on an authentic document constitutes a judgment within the meaning of Article 4(1) of Regulation No 805/2004, provided that the notary with power to issue that writ adjudicates, in the exercise of that specific function, as a court, which requires him to offer guarantees as to his independence and impartiality and to decide on his own authority by a judgment which, first, was or may be subject to an exchange of arguments before being certified as a European Enforcement Order and, second, may be challenged before a judicial authority. 

Whether these conditions are fulfilled is for the national courts to assess.

This Opinion and the eventual judgment by the Court will also be relevant for the application of the Succession Regulation, 650/2012. In matters covered by that Regulation, notaries throughout the EU have an important say and may quite easily qualifies as a ‘court’. Bot AG refers to the Regulation’s definition of ‘court’ at 71 ff of his current Opinion.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1. Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.

 

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Refusal of recognition for failure to serve. ECtHR tests the Brussels regime against Strasbourg in AVOTIŅŠ v Latvia

In  AVOTIŅŠ v Latvia |Avotins v LAtvia, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR at Strasbourg held late May that Article 6 ECHR (right to fair trial) was engaged but not infringed by the Latvian’s Supreme Court’s application of Article 34(2( Brussel I (now Article 45(1) b Brussels I Recast).

The Article reads ‘A judgment shall not be recognised: (…) 2. where it was given in default of appearance, if the defendant was not served with the document which instituted the proceedings or with an equivalent document in sufficient time and in such a way as to enable him to arrange for his defence, unless the defendant failed to commence proceedings to challenge the judgment when it was possible for him to do so;…

In the case at issue applicant sought refusal by the Latvian court of recognition of a Cypriot judgment issued against him. After review of the Regulation’s core pedigree of mutual recognition and mutual trust, burden of proof particularly exercised the Court: at 121:

‘The fact that the applicant relied on that Article (34(2), GAVC) without having challenged the judgment as required necessarily raised the question of the availability of that legal remedy in Cyprus in the circumstances of the present case. In such a situation the Senate was not entitled simply to criticise the applicant, as it did in its judgment of 31 January 2007, for not appealing against the judgment concerned, and to remain silent on the issue of the burden of proof with regard to the existence and availability of a remedy in the State of origin; Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, like Article 34(2) in fine of the Brussels I Regulation, required it to verify that this condition was satisfied, in the absence of which it could not refuse to examine the applicant’s complaint. The Court considers that the determination of the burden of proof, which, as the European Commission stressed (see paragraph 92 above), is not governed by European Union law, was therefore decisive in the present case. Hence, that point should have been examined in adversarial proceedings leading to reasoned findings. However, the Supreme Court tacitly presumed either that the burden of proof lay with the defendant or that such a remedy had in fact been available to the applicant. This approach, which reflects a literal and automatic application of Article 34(2) of the Brussels I Regulation, could in theory lead to a finding that the protection afforded was manifestly deficient such that the presumption of equivalent protection of the rights of the defence guaranteed by Article 6 § 1 is rebutted. Nevertheless, in the specific circumstances of the present application the Court does not consider this to be the case, although this shortcoming is regrettable.’

Those ‘specific circumstances’ include in particular the applicant’s professional background: at 124:

‘the applicant, who was an investment consultant, should have been aware of the legal consequences of the acknowledgment of debt deed which he had signed. That deed was governed by Cypriot law, concerned a sum of money borrowed by the applicant from a Cypriot company and contained a clause conferring jurisdiction on the Cypriot courts. Accordingly, the applicant should have ensured that he was familiar with the manner in which possible proceedings would be conducted before the Cypriot courts (…). Having omitted to obtain information on the subject he contributed to a large extent, as a result of his inaction and lack of diligence, to bringing about the situation of which he complained before the Court and which he could have prevented so as to avoid incurring any damage’. 

I am not convinced by the Court’s view on the burden of proof and on the national court’s duty to assess the law in the State of origin sua sponte. Judges Lemmens and Briede, jointly concurring but for different reasons as the court, in my view have the better argument where they say

‘If the applicant wanted to argue that no remedy had in fact been available to him in Cyprus, in our opinion it would have been for him to raise this issue explicitly before the Supreme Court. We question whether he could expect the Supreme Court to raise that issue of its own motion. And we definitely consider that he cannot complain under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the lack of an explicit response to an argument that was not explicitly made.’

The end result is the same at the ECtHR. For future application of the Brussels I (Recast) Regulation however it makes a big difference.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16, Heading 2.2.16.1.4 (p.198).

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My translation into English of the Belgian vulture fund Act.

I have reported earlier on the 2015 Belgian Act tackling the enforcement of vulture fund litigation. In preparation of a paper on the topic, I have had to translate the (relevant parts of: I have omitted intro- and extroductory parts) the Act. I thought I might as well share. Source reference would be much appreciated if you do employ the translation below.

Geert.

Article 2

When a creditor pursues an unfair benefit by purchasing Government bonds or receivables, his rights vis-à-vis the debtor State are limited to the price paid for the bonds or receivables.

Regardless of the law governing the legal relationship between the creditor and the debtor State, no enforcement title can be obtained in Belgium and no protective or enforcement measure can be taken in Belgium at the request of such creditor in connection with a payment to be received in Belgium if such payment procures an unfair benefit vis-à-vis the creditor.

Pursuing an unfair benefit exists where there is clear disproportion between the purchase price and the bonds or securities’ face value, or between the purchase price of the bonds and the sums actually claimed by the creditor.

Such clear disproportion  must be supplemented by at least one of the following criteria for it to qualify as an unfair benefit:

–         Bankruptcy or suspension of payments of /by the debtor State was established, or imminent, when the bonds or receivables were purchased;

–         The creditor has its seat in a State or territory which

a)       Either is included in the list of uncooperative States and territories as established by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF); or

b)       Meets with the definition of tax haven established per Article 307, para 1, fifth indent of the Income Tax Act 1992; or

c)       Is included in a Government list of States unwilling to negotiate an agreement which in accordance with relevant OECD standards, provides as of 2015 for the automatic exchange of data with Belgium on fiscal and banking matters;

–         The creditor systematically employs litigation to obtain reimbursement of the bonds previously purchased;

–         The creditor has refused to co-operate with the establishment restructuring measures for the debtor State;

–         The creditor has abused the debtor State’s weakened position so to negotiate a clearly imbalanced repayment agreement; or

–         Repayment in full of the sums claimed by the creditor would have a clearly establishable negative impact on the public finances of the debtor State and could endanger the socioeconomic development of its population.

Art.3

This Act does not affect the application of international Treaties, the law of the European Union, or bilateral Treaties.

 

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Schemes of arrangement: No scheming, and no hastily arranging, please. The High Court adjourns hearing in Indah Kiat.

I have reported before on various schemes of arrangement which the English Courts gave the go-ahead even when they concerned non-English companies (I should flag that in two of those, Apcoa and Van Gansewinkel, I acted as expert). Thank you Arie van Hoe for bringing Indah Kiat to my attention some weeks ago.

Indah Kiat is a Dutch BV seeking an order convening a single meeting of its scheme creditors to consider and if thought fit approve a scheme of arrangement pursuant to Part 26 of the Companies Act 2006. The application is strenuously opposed by one of the Scheme Creditors, APP Investment Opportunity LLC (“APPIO”), which contests the jurisdiction of the court to entertain or sanction the Scheme. Such opposition is different from the other schemes which I mention in my previous postings.

In the first instance, APPIO simply seeks an adjournment of the Scheme Company’s application on the grounds that inadequate notice has been given to Scheme Creditors. However, it also raises a significant number of other issues concerning the adequacy of the evidence and disclosure by the Scheme Company, together with questions concerning the procedure and scope of the court’s jurisdiction to sanction creditor schemes for foreign companies in relation to debts governed by foreign law.

The Scheme Company is a special purpose vehicle which was incorporated for financing purposes in the Netherlands. It sought the COMI way to enable English courts to obtain jurisdiction over the scheme. English jurisdiction, required to carry out the Scheme, usually rests on either one of two legs: COMI, or making English law the governing law of the underlying credit agreements (if necessary by changing that governing law en route).

The COMI route to jurisdiction in many ways defies the proverbial impossibility of having one’s cake and eating it. For the establishment of a company’s centre of main interests, the courts and practice tend to refer to the EU’s Insolvency Regulation. Yet that schemes of arrangement do not fall under the Insolvency Regulation is a crucial part of the forum shopping involved in attracting restructuring advice to the English legal market. This is especially so for the aforementioned second route to jurisdiction (a change in governing law). however it is also true for the first form. Snowden J refers to that at para 85-86 of his judgment.

Indah Kiat has effected its change of COMI (rebutting the presumption of COMI being at its registered seat) by notifying its creditors via a number of clearing houses for the Notes concerned. APPIO contest that this notification sufficed for change in COMI. There are not enough relevant facts in the judgment to consider this objection thoroughly, however APPIO’s misgivings would not seem entirely implausible.

Snowden J notes that whilst protesting the jurisdiction, in the first instance APPIO simply seeks an adjournment of the convening hearing on the grounds that inadequate notice has been given of it to Scheme Creditors. It contends that given the complex nature of the Scheme and the factual background, there is no justification for an urgent hearing of the application. The Court agreed and the convening hearing (different from the sanction hearing, which follows later) was adjourned until 3 March. Snowden J further gave extensive argument obiter as to why the Scheme’s information was insufficient in the form as it stood at the hearing.

He then revisits (82 ff) the jurisdictional issue, which I have already signalled above: what role exactly COMI should play, how the Brussels I recast intervenes, what the impact is of likely recognition of the sanction (if any) in Indonesia, The Netherlands, and the US; and what if any role the relevant US judgments in the case should play: there will be plenty of points for discussion at the convening and sanction hearing. (I mentioned above that the convening hearing was scheduled around 3 March; I have not heard from the case since however if anyone has, please do let me know).

I do not think Indah Kiat has made the jurisdictional hurdle higher for Schemes of Arrangement involving foreign companies. Rather, the fierce opposition of an important creditor has brought jurisdictional issues into sharper perspective than had been the case before.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 5, Heading 5.4.2).

 

 

 

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Consenting to choice of court under the common law. The Privy Council in Vizcaya v Picard.

In Vizcaya v Picard, the Privy Council considered the issue of consent to a choice of court clause in the event no such choice has been made verbatim. It was alleged that choice of court had been made implicitly but clearly by reference to an applicable law agreement in the underlying contract. RPC have a review of the case on their blog and I am grateful to them for bringing it to my attention.

The case is a fall-out of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, carried out through Mr Madoff’s company Bernard L Madoff Investment Securities LLC (“BLMIS”), a New York corporation. After Madoff’s fraud came to light in 2008, Irving Picard (“the trustee”) was appointed as trustee in BLMIS’s liquidation in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York (“the New York BankruptcyCourt”). The trustee commenced proceedings under the anti-avoidance provisions of the US Bankruptcy Code against investors who had been repaid before the fraud was discovered, including the appellant, Vizcaya Partners Limited (“Vizcaya”), a BVI (British Virgin Islands) company which carried on business as an investment fund, and which invested about US$328m with BLMIS between January 2002 and December 2008, but was repaid US$180m before the fraud was discovered.

The Appeal before the Privy Council concerns primarily the content and scope of the rule in common law that a foreign default judgment is enforceable against a judgment debtor who has made a prior submission to the jurisdiction of the foreign court (as distinct from a submission by appearance in the proceedings).  Brussels I or the Recast was not applicable to the case. In that Regulation (Article 25), the expression of consent with choice of court must take one of thee forms: essentially: written (or oral but confirmed by written agreement); in accordance with lex mercatoria; or in accordance with established business practice simply between the parties.

The question in the case at issue is whether the agreement to submit must be express, or can also be implied or inferred. The Privy Council settled the uncertainty which would seem to have existed for some time in the common law, in favour of an answer in the affirmative. Consent to jurisdiction can be implied. What needs to be shown though is real ‘agreement’, or ‘consent’ (in European private international law with respect to the similar discussion re choice of law (Rome I) I would say the test is one of ‘clearly established’), quod non in casu. Choice of law (here: in favour of New York law) can be a factor but not a solely determinant one. Moreover, choice of court viz one’s business transactions does not imply automatic extension to insolvency proceedings.

Crucial precedent, it would seem. Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9

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The November 2015 draft Hague ‘Judgments’ project. A powerful potion or a cauldron full of jurisdictional spells?

The November 2015 draft ‘Judgments project’ of the Hague Conference on private international law, otherwise known as the draft convention on the recognition and enforcement of judgments relating to civil and commercial matters, is a very ambitious project which at the same time risks exposing some of the inherent weaknesses of the modus operandi of the Hague Conference. This is not the right forum for an exhaustive analysis. Rather, with input from other members (Elsemiek Apers in particular) at Leuven PIL institute, I would like to flag some areas of interest. Inevitably, an obvious point of reference is the European Union’s Brussels I (Recast) regime.

First, the text itself. The Working Group’s report, which accompanies the draft, explains the history and development of the text and the various options taken. No need to repeat it here. The approach of the Convention is the same ‘mission creep’ which the 1968 Brussels Convention had to resort to, to enhance the free movement of judgments between Member States. Given that the most widespread reason for refusal of recognition and enforcement (R&E), are accusations of excessive or inappropriate exercise of jurisdiction, one can only truly co-ordinate R&E if one also co-ordinates jurisdiction. The Hague Convention takes this route in Articles 5-6, (Exclusive) bases for recognition and enforcement. Following this co-ordination of jurisdictional rules, Article 7 then limits the ground upon which R&E may be refused.

Of note is that Article 4(2)’s ban on merits review (when assessing the possibility of recognition and enforcement), probably does not extend to judgments issued by default. The Article is not clear on what is meant exactly: the first para of Article 4(2) rules out ‘review of the merits’. The second para suggests ‘The court addressed shall be bound by the findings of fact on which the court of origin based its jurisdiction, unless the judgment was given by default.’ Not being bound by findings of fact does not necessarily entail a possibility for merits review, and the text can probably do with clarification at this point.

Article 5(e)’s special jurisdictional rule for contracts, has been clarified compared with earlier versions, however the text remains subject to plenty of room for debate.

Article 8’s room for refusing R&E when the exclusive jurisdictional rules of the Convention were infringed, or where matters excluded from the Convention were at issue, could in our view do with tidying up. It currently mingles scope for refusal of R&E as such, in the case of infringement of the exclusive jurisdictional rules, with discussion of excluded matters as ‘preliminary issues’ only – a clear reference to the EU’s experience with arbitration. Without editorial perfection, however, this article, in combination with Article 2’s excluded matters, risks similar and protracted debate as was /is the case under Brussels I (and the Recast).

Further, the modus operandi, and institutional consequences of the Convention. As indicated, an exhaustive review of the Convention is not possible here. That is due in large part to the extensive comments which one could address vis-a-vis each individual entry of the text. Rather like in the case of each individual provision of the Brussels regime. In the case of the latter, the CJEU is exercised on a very regular basis with the determination of the precise meaning of the heads of jurisdiction. In the Hague process, there is no such institution. One has to rely on the application of the Convention by the signatory States. At some point, one has to assess whether it is tenable not to have some kind of review process at The Hague, lest one risks the Convention being applied quite differently in the various signatory States. Coupled with the additional lawyer of complication were the EU to accede (which it is bound to; however would it really be progress to create additional layers of differentiation?), the CJEU itself might have difficulty accepting a body of judicial review, where the text to be reviewed borders so closely unto the Brussels regime.

Geert.

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