Goldman Sachs v Novo Banco: on ‘Civil and commercial’ in Brussels I, and choice of court transfer

Postscript 4 July 2018. The Supreme Court this morning dismissed the appeal – the Court of Appeal’s judgment stands. In essence, the ruling held that an English court is required by article 3 of the Recognition Directive to recognise the December decision, and must therefore treat the Oak liability as never having been transferred to Novo Banco. Novo Banco was therefore never party to the jurisdiction clause in the facility agreement.

Postscript 6 June 2019  Winterbrook v NB Finance, Novo Banco and Bank of New York Mellon [2019] EWHC 737 (Ch) applies the SC’s judgment. The administrative proceedings in Portugal, seeking review of the Portuguese authorities’ decision, are not a matter of fact (as being foreign law) but rather of foreign judicial adjudication; they cannot therefore as yet (if ever) have an impact on the earlier decisions on privity.

Postscript 8 November 2016 the Court of Appeal held differently – thank you Maria Joao de Matias Fernandes for flagging: with more emphasis laid on the reorganisation Directive, the Court of Appeal held that the choice of court clause had not been transferred and that no prorogation of jurisdiction to the English courts could otherwise be established. The Court of Appeal’s decision has no impact on the High Court’s discusison with respect to ‘civil and commercial’.

In Goldman Sachs v Novo Banco SA, the High Court first of all had to consider the scope of the Brussels I Regulation on the issue of ‘civil and commercial’.  This issue came up following the restructuring of a Portuguese Bank and the role of the Portuguese Central Bank, under its statutory powers, in the transfer of liabilities to a Bridge Bank, ‘Novo Banco’. [For the facts of the case see the judgment itself and see also Christopher Bates’ review, which first alerted me to the case. Mr Bates also reviews the issue of mutual recognition under the Bank Recovery Directive].

Hamblen J (soon to move to the Court of Appeal) in my view justifiably rejected Novo Banco’s arguments that the claim was not civil and commercial, given the statutory intervention of the Central Bank. With reference to the traditional line-up of CJEU precedent (see most recently Fahnenbrock, absent from the High court’s judgment; and Sapir, which does feature heavily) he held that the nature of the claim, in spite of the factual intervention of the Central Bank, is one in debt, which is a claim based on private law rights conferred by the relevant Facility Agreement and a civil and commercial matter. A novation of the Facility Agreement would not change the nature of that claim; nor does a statutory transfer.

Having decided that the claim falls under the Regulation, the High Court subsequently had to decide whether Novo Banco was subject to the choice of court, in favour of the English court, part of the Facilities Agreement. As this is a transfer of claims and not a contractual chain, Refcomp does not apply (Hamblen J did not refer to it). The matter needs to be decided by the lex causae, here the lex contractus: English law. Upon consideration of the various arguments, the High Court held that the choice of court clause had so been transferred together with the original claims.

Finally, the Court rejected a stay on ‘case management’ grounds (see Jong and Plaza for earlier applications).

The case shows how some of the core considerations of Brussels I can create a lot of argument, indeed.

Geert.

Choice of court and law for the holiday season.

As the holiday season now is in full swing, here’s a choice of court and choice of law clause I received. For us all to ponder on the beaches /in the mountains /whatever retreat we’ll find ourselves on:

‘LAW AND JURISDICTION
This agreement is between the holiday-maker (the renter) and the agency or property owner. Booking ltd is acting only as a representative of the agency or owner listed on the voucher and as such can not be held directly responsible for any problems concerned with the booking. The owners of Booking LTd its employees or agents shall not be liable for any damage, loss or personal injury which may be sustained by persons or property at any time during the reserved stay. In the event of controversies arising from the booking of the rental, the Irish Court only can deal with the matter and Irish law only applies. Signing the booking form and making the booking implies that the General Letting Conditions have been understood and have thereby been accepted without reserve and without exception. If any of the conditions of this contract have become invalid or were invalid or if in this contract there should be a gap, the other conditions cannot be contested.

Any and all issues regarding the property, such as damages, injury, etc, shall be a dispute between the owner or agency and the renter of the property. In such cases, with no exceptions, Irish law will apply and the jurisdiction will be the local courts in Ireland.’

Happy holidays. Geert.

Nortel. CJEU confirms Nickel & Goeldner, and extends Seagon to secondary proceedings.

Update 16 June 2017. See [2017] EWHC 1429 Nortel for not just cost orders in the UK COMI proceeding but also the strategy in trying to discourage opening of secondary proceedings.

I need to give a bit of a factual background before I can get to the implications of the ECJ’s (or CJEU, I still haven’t decided) finding in C-469/13 Nortel.

Nortel Networks SA is established in Yvelines (France). The Nortel group was a provider of technical solutions for telecommunications networks. Nortel Networks Limited (‘NNL’), established in Mississauga (Canada), held the majority of the Nortel group’s worldwide subsidiaries, including NNSA.  In 2008 insolvency proceedings were initiated simultaneously in Canada, the US and the EU. In January 2009, the High Court opened main insolvency proceedings under English law in respect of all the companies in the Nortel group established in the EU, including NNSA, pursuant to Article 3(1) of the Insolvency Regulation.

Following a joint application lodged by NNSA and the joint administrators, by judgment of May 2009 the court at Versailles opened secondary proceedings in respect of NNSA. In July 2009, industrial action at NNSA was brought to an end by a memorandum of agreement settling the action. It provided for the making of a severance payment, of which one part was payable immediately and another part, known as the ‘deferred severance payment’, was to be paid, once operations had ceased, out of the available funds arising from the sale of assets. That memorandum was approved by the court at Versailles. NNSA’s positive balance was subsequently however caught up in the global settlement for Nortel, including transfers of funds to escrow accounts in the US, to be distributed following global settlement, and new debt following the continuation of Nortel’s activities as well as costs related to the global winding-up of the company. The deferred severance payment therefore could no longer be paid.

The works council of NNSA and former NNSA employees brought an action before the court at Versailles seeking, first, a declaration that the secondary proceedings give them an exclusive and direct right over the share of the overall proceeds from the sale of the Nortel group’s assets that falls to NNSA and, second, an order requiring the liquidator to make immediate disbursement, in particular, of the deferred severance payment, to the extent of the funds available to NNSA. the French liquidator then summoned the joint administrators as third parties before the referring court. However, these then suggested the court at Versailles decline international jurisdiction, in favour of the High Court at London, and in the alternative, to decline jurisdiction to rule on the assets and rights which were not situated in France for the purposes of Article 2(g) of the Insolvency Regulation when the judgment opening the secondary proceedings was delivered. That Article reads

(g) “the Member State in which assets are situated” shall mean, in the case of: – tangible property, the Member State within the territory of which the property is situated, – property and rights ownership of or entitlement to which must be entered in a public register, the Member State under the authority of which the register is kept, – claims, the Member State within the territory of which the third party required to meet them has the centre of his main interests, as determined in Article 3(1);

There are essentially two parts to the referring court’s questions: (i) the allocation of international jurisdiction between the court hearing the main proceedings and the court hearing the secondary proceedings; and (ii) identification of the law applicable to determine the debtor’s assets that fall within the scope of the effects of the secondary proceedings.

On the (i) first question, the Court first reviewed whether the Insolvency Regulation applied at all – an issue seemingly which did not feature in the national proceedings nor in the written procedure before the CJEU, however which came up at the hearing. The issue being that what the Works Council was after was that an agreement to pay a debt be honoured: one that looks just like a fairly standard agreement were it not to arise out of insolvency. Per Nickel and Goeldner the Court reviewed whether the right or the obligation which respects the basis of the action finds its source in the common rules of civil and commercial law or in the derogating rules specific to insolvency proceedings. Here, the basis of the action, as was pointed out by Mengozzi AG, was relevant French insolvency law (for the determination of the order of creditors’ rights) and the Insolvency Regulation (for the determination of the hierarchy between main and secondary insolvency proceedings). The Insolvency Regulation therefore applies. The AG’s review in fact was clearer than the Court’s summary. More generally, the ECJ does seem to go out of its way to re-emphasise the Nickel and Goeldner formula, even if the separation of the Brussels I and the Insolvency Regulation was not particularly controversial in the case at issue.

Next, the Court essentially extended its Seagon/Deko Marty case-law to secondary proceedings. In Seagon, the Court held that Article 3(1) must be interpreted as meaning that it also confers international jurisdiction on the courts of the Member State within the territory of which insolvency proceedings were opened to hear an action which derives directly from the initial insolvency proceedings and which is ‘closely connected’ with them, within the meaning of recital 6 in the preamble to the Regulation. In Nortel the Court holds that Article 3(2) of that regulation must be interpreted analogously. Here, the related action seeks a declaration that specified assets fall within secondary insolvency proceedings. It is designed specifically to protect the local interests which justify the very establishment of jurisdiction for the secondary proceedings.

However, such action quite obviously has a direct effect on the interests administered in the main insolvency proceedings. The jurisdiction for the court of the secondary proceedings therefore cannot be exclusive. It is jurisdiction concurrently with the Member State of COMI. This is an altogether sec appreciation of the Court which, as Bob Wessels notes, in reality will create serious co-ordination headaches (one for which I do not think even the provisions for co-ordination in the new insolvency Regulation provide sufficient answer).

Finally, in reply to question (ii), the ECJ is fairly brief: Article 2(g) ought to suffice to give the referring court the guidance it seeks. Granted, the ECJ says, it will not be easy. But it ought to suffice. The one extra guidance the CJEU gives is that that provision is also applicable if the property, right or claim in question must be regarded as situated in a third State (such as here: in the escrow accounts).

All in all, quite an important judgment, indeed. Unlike Nortel’s sad demise, this judgment has quite a life ahead of it.

Geert.

 

Fahnenbrock: ‘Civil and commercial’ viz bearers of Greek bonds. ECJ puts forward ‘direct and immediate effect’.

[Postscript 11 March 2016. The decision of the Bundesgerichtshof on 8 March 2016 is at odds with the CJEU’s finding. Peter Bert has background. The German Court declared action by German bondholders against the Greek State inadmissable  on grounds of sovereign immunity: if the case were admissible, the German courts would have to assess the merits of Greek acta iure imperii].

Within the context of the service of documents Regulation (1393/2007) but with no less relevance for the Jurisdiction Regulation, the Court held last week on the qualification of an action by (German) holders of Greek bonds, against the Greek State, for the involuntary shave they took on those bonds. I reviewed Bot AG’s Opinion here. He had suggested that in the case at issue, the Greek State, with its retroactive insertion of the collective action clause in the underlying contract, exercised acta uire imperii with direct intervention in the contract itself. Not an abstract, general regime (such as a change in overall tax) which only has an impact on said contract at arm’s length.

The ECJ disagreed. Its finding may be distinguishable, in that it emphasises (at 40 and 44 in particular) that for the service of documents Regulation, things need to move fast indeed and hence interpretation even of core concepts of the Regulation needs to proceed swiftly: ‘in order to determine whether Regulation No 1393/2007 is applicable, it suffices that the court hearing the case concludes that it is not manifest that the action brought before it falls outside the scope definition of civil and commercial matters. (at 49) However in the remainder of the judgment it does refer to precedent in particular under the Brussels I Regulation, hence presumably making current interpretation de rigueur for European civil procedure generally.

As noted in my earlier review, Bot AG opined that the Greek State’s intervention in the contracts was direct and not at a distance from the contract. The Court on the other hand essentially emphasised (at 57) that even though the Greek State, with its retroactive insertion of the collective action clause in the underlying contract, enabled the subsequent vote by the majority of the bondholders (to the dismay of the outvoted applicants), it was the vote, which led directly and immediately to changes to the financial conditions of the securities in question and therefore caused the damage alleged by the applicants – not the Act which enabled it. Not acta iure imperii therefore and hence European civil procedure is applicable.

I need to ponder this a bit further however at first sight the ‘direct and immediate’ effect test brings back soar memories of the ‘primarily aimed at’ test in WTO law, which took some time for the Appellate body to shake off. A bit of a leap, I know, but the trade lawyers among you will know what I mean. Applicants in the case at issue may be left arguing that identifying the Greek State’s intervention as the cause of the change in law, is no application of the butterfly effect (an extremely remote event which is being blamed for downstream effects) but rather an elephant in the Greek bond market room.

‘Direct and immediate effect’ may become an important consideration in the ECJ’s application of ‘civil and commercial’ in EU civil procedure law.

Geert.

 

Of little birds, language, and choice of court in consumer contracts

I have reported elsewhere (In Dutch – I am hoping for some time at some point to write something similar in English; see in particular para 23) on the fact that the conjunctive ‘or’ has been dropped in all language versions of Article 19 of the Brussels I recast:

The provisions of this Section may be departed from only by an agreement:

  • which is entered into after the dispute has arisen;
  • which allows the consumer to bring proceedings in courts other than those indicated in this Section; or
  • which is entered into by the consumer and the other party to the contract, both of whom are at the time of conclusion of the contract domiciled or habitually resident in the same Member State, and which confers jurisdiction on the courts of that Member State, provided that such an agreement is not contrary to the law of that Member State.

This contrast with the similar proviso on choice of court in employment contracts, Article 23:

The provisions of this Section may be departed from only by an agreement:

  • which is entered into after the dispute has arisen; or
  • which allows the employee to bring proceedings in courts other than those indicated in this Section.

I have suggested, with others, that much as I do not understand why the conjunctive has been dropped, its deletion, combined with its being kept in Article 23, means that for consumer contracts, choice of court pre the dispute are now simply impossible under the Regulation, while being maintained for employment contracts. I was also puzzled as to why such an important change was not discussed at all in the run-up to the recast.

A little bird at the European Commission (one high up the conflicts tree) now tells me that what has happened in reality, is quite different. Reportedly the ‘juristes-linguistes’ took it upon them to correct an apparent linguistic mistake in the previous version of the Regulation (indeed one going back to the Brussels Convention): there ought not to be a conjunctive when listing more than one, non-cumulative alternative. That would also explain the difference with Article 23, where there are only 2 alternatives.

This clears up the legislative intent. It does not to me, at least, clear up the linguistic confusion. We may have been grammatically wrong under the previous format (I cannot judge the correctness of that in all these language versions). However at least we were legally certain. Being fully respectful of grammatical correctness myself (punctuation jokes never fail to amuse me), I am not sure which one to prefer in this instance.

Geert.

Gazprom. Arbitral anti-suit injunctions and the Judgments Regulation. Grand Chamber holds they are outside the scope, but not therefore invincible.

The ECJ today has held in C-536/13 Gazprom in a matter of factly manner (I had suspected the Court would be brief), that the enforcement of arbitral awards falls outside the Brussels I-Regulation, where that enforcement by the court of that State, effectively prohibits the party concerned from taking the case to a court in that very Member State. Rich was the main formula referred to, among the various precedents: ‘reference must be made solely to the subject-matter of the dispute‘ to assess the scope of Brussels I’s arbitral exclusion.

Importantly, West Tankers was distinguished particularly on the basis that in the facts at issue, there was no competing court in another Member State, hence no scope for the principle of mutual trust to be violated. The AG’s review of the impact of the recitals newly added by the Brussels I recast, was not addressed at all by the Court.

The judgment does not solve all outstanding issues, however. Firstly, the Court’s reasoning seems to suggest that where competition with a court in another Member State is at issue, effet utile of the Brussels I Regulation might take the upper hand, as it did in West Tankers. Recognition of the award arguably in such case would amount to anti-suit. Further, the Court (this was a Grand Chamber judgment) points out that the award still has to go through the national court’s standard recognition and enforcement process, outside the framework of Title III of the Regulation, instead governed by national residual law as well as the New York Convention. Both of these (including through ordre public) might still offer quite a remit for the Lithuanian courts to refuse recognition.

Geert.

Defining ’employment’. CRUZ VILLALÓN AG in Holterman on applying Brussels I to defendant with dual director/employee capacity

CRUZ VILLALÓN AG Opined yesterday in C-47/14 Holterman (no EN version of the Opinion was available at the time of writing). What if a defendant is pursued both on the basis of his capacity as a director of the company, and for alleged failure properly to have carried out his duties as employee?

Applicant Holterman is incorporated in The Netherlands. Defendant is Mr Spies, a German national, domiciled in Germany. He was employed by applicant between 2001 and 2005/06, first as employee, subsequently also as director of Holterman’s establishments in Germany. Applicant alleges that defendant has caused damage as a result of improper fulfillment of his duties, indeed intentional recklessness, as director. Application is made at the court at Arnhem, where Spies successfully argues that the court has no jurisdiction on the basis that application has to be made of the protective category of ‘individual contracts of employment’.

Questions referred, were

1.    Must the provisions of Section 5 of Chapter II (Articles 18-21) of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 1 be interpreted as precluding the application by the courts of Article 5(1)(a) or of Article 5(3) of that Regulation in a case such as that at issue here, where the defendant is held liable by the company not only in his capacity as director of that company on the basis of the improper performance of his duties or on the basis of unlawful conduct, but quite apart from that capacity, is also held liable by that company on the basis of intent or deliberate recklessness in the execution of the contract of employment entered into between him and the company?

2    (a) If the answer to question 1 is in the negative, must the term ‘matters relating to a contract’ in Article 5(1)(a) of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 then be interpreted as also applying to a case such as that at issue here, where a company holds a person liable in his capacity as director of that company on the basis of the breach of his obligation to properly perform his duties under company law?

(b) If the answer to question 2(a) is in the affirmative, must the term ‘place of performance of the obligation in question’ in Article 5(1)(a) of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 then be interpreted as referring to the place where the director performed or should have performed his duties under company law, which, as a rule, will be the place where the company concerned has its central administration or its principal place of business, as referred to in Article 60(1)(b) and (c) of that Regulation?

3    (a) If the answer to question 1 is in the negative, must the term ‘matters relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict’ in Article 5(3) of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 then be interpreted as also applying to a case such as that at issue here, where a company holds a person liable in his capacity as director of that company on the basis of the improper performance of his duties under company law or on the basis of unlawful conduct?

(b) If the answer to question 3(a) is in the affirmative, must the term ‘place where the harmful event occurred or may occur’ in Article 5(3) of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 be interpreted as referring to the place where the director performed or should have performed his duties under company law, which, as a rule, will be the place where the company concerned has its central administration or its principal place of business, as referred to in Article 60(1)(b) and (c) of that Regulation?

Spies essentially argues that the employment section of the Regulation trumps concurrent jurisdiction on the basis of contract. ‘Contract of employment’ so far has not been addressed in the abstract by the ECJ, other than incompletely in Shenavai Case 266/85, where it referred to the need for a durable relation between individual and company. In particular of course, a contract for employment needs to be distinguished from a contract for the provision of services. The Advocate General takes inspiration from the protective intent of the employment contracts heading, to suggest that supervision and instruction, jointly summarised as ‘subordination’, are determining factors for positions of employment. Even higher management can find itself in such position, given that and provided its actions, notwithstanding a wide independent remit, are subject to control and direction of the companies’ bodies. Review of the company’s by-laws should reveal the existence of such control vis-a-vis higher management, read together with the terms and conditions of the contract of employment at issue (at 32). It is only, per Asscher, C‑107/94, if management itself through its shareholding, exercises control over those bodies, that the position of subordination disappears.

Once the national court, on the basis of ad hoc analysis, holds that there is a position of employment, the national court has to apply Brogsitter per analogia: namely whether the action concerned follows from an alleged improper fulfillment of that agreement (as opposed to an improper fulfillment of duties as a director).

In subsidiary fashion only, does the AG entertain the questions relating to Article 5(1) and 5(3) (now 7(1) and 7(2) respectively). Spies’ duties as a director (again, should the ECJ find against applicability of the employment section) have to be considered ‘contractual’ within the meaning of the Regulation. The place of performance of the obligation in the view of the AG needs to be determined using Article 7(1)b, ‘the place in a Member State where, under the contract, the services were provided or should have been provided;’. Using Car Trim and Wood Floor Solutions and quoting Stephanie Francq, the AG suggests the national court identify the location where the service was mainly provided.

The AG’s views on the employment heading, however, seem solid and I would be surprised were the ECJ to have to go into the subsidiary questions.

Geert.

Toyota v Prolat and the Brussels I arbitration exception. Plus ça change.

In Toyota v Prolat [2014] EWHC 3649 (Comm) the High Court was asked by Toyota to confirm the existence of an agreement between parties to arbitrate. The arbitral panel, already seized by Toyota, agreed that it would be best for the Court preemptively to settle this issue since it suspects any ruling by the tribunal itself will be subject to litigation by Prolat. The agreement (existence of which is disputed by Prolat; it had employed an authorised agent, whose signings on behalf of Prolat are disputed) concerns the delivery of sugar by Toyota to Prolat. Prolat objects to the jurisdiction of the tribunal. It has itself started proceedings in Naples for damages for various alleged wrongdoing by Toyota, whether for breach of contract or tort.

The interest of the case for this blog lies in particular with the concurrent proceedings in Italy and the UK. Should the UK decline? The case is subject to Regulation 44/2001, not to the recast. Cooke J holds that ‘This Court is not being asked to interfere with the functions of the Italian court as no form of anti-suit injunction is being sought against Prolat. This Court is being asked to determine whether or not there is an arbitration agreement and to make a declaration in the light of its conclusion.West Tankers is therefore distinguished.  Would, had it applied, Regulation 1215/2012 made a difference? Cooke J held that it would not: ‘Article 1(2)(d) remains unchanged from the earlier Regulation but is more fully explained in paragraph 12 of the Preamble. I was also referred to Article 73 which states that the Regulation will not affect the application of the New York Convention. (…)‘ (at 16)

He concludes ibidem ‘Although it is not yet in force, it was suggested that some might regard the new Regulation as declaratory of the existing state of the law. . The jury on that, as is well-known, is out.

Cooke J further explores the issue of the applicable law to the contract per its putative law (Article 10(1) Rome I). Firm and justifiable conclusion (at 18) there, is: English law.

Geert.

Hejduk: Copyright infringement and jurisdiction. The ECJ entertains much less than its AG.

I have reviewed the AG’s opinion in Hejduk here. The AG’s Opinion was exciting for it cited, even if only in a specific (IP; more specifically copyright) context, the difficulty in identifying locus damni. This, I suggested (realistically optimistic) flagged an obvious concern with the ECJ’s ruling in Bier. However the ECJ in its judgment, issued yesterday,  was not having any of this. It applied relevant precedent (all recalled in my earlier posting), did not at all entertain the AG’s concerns with the locus damni assessment, and held that in the event of an allegation of infringement of copyright and rights related to copyright guaranteed by the Member State of the court seised, that court has jurisdiction, on the basis of the place where the damage occurred, to hear an action for damages in respect of an infringement of those rights resulting from the placing of protected photographs online on a website accessible in its territorial jurisdiction. That court has jurisdiction only to rule on the damage caused in the Member State within which the court is situated.

Plaintiff’s difficulties were of no concern to the ECJ. No surprise perhaps given the Brussels I Regulation’s near-exclusive concern for the position of the defendant.

Geert.

 

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