Posts Tagged Regulation 1346/2000

Skarb Państwa v Stephan Riel (qq insolvency trustee Alpine Bau).

Salzburg-based Alpine Bau had been carrying out a considerable amount of roadwork engineering for the Polish State. The courts at Vienna started insolvency proceedings in 2013, appointing Mr Riel as what is now called the ‘insolvency practitioner’. Austria is the centre of main interests, the Austrian procedure the main proceedings. A little later a secondary proceeding is opened in Poland. Skarb Państwa, the Polish finance ministry or treasury, seeks in those proceedings the payment of debt it claims is outstanding vis-a-vis the Polish State. It also seizes the Austrian courts in a separate proceeding, asking it to confirm the existence of debt owed to it (the amount almost exactly the amount it specified in the Polish secondary proceedings) and at the same time a stay in its pronouncement until the Polish courts have ruled on the fate of the claim in Poland. Essentially therefore the Austrian action is a conservatory action, a hedging of the treasury’s bets.

An interesting angle is that in the Austrian proceedings the Treasury claims application of the Brussels Ia Regulation, particularly its Article 29 lis alibi pendens rule. The Austrian courts reject the existence of the debt and they do not entertain the lis alibi pendens request (the request for a stay).

The first question in C-47/18 (judgment 18 September) was whether Brussels Ia or the Insolvency Regulation are engaged. The CJEU (at 33) emphasises the need for both avoidance of overlap and of non-cover by either (‘doivent être interprétés de façon à éviter tout chevauchement entre les règles de droit que ces textes énoncent et tout vide juridique’), in the relation between the two Regulations: the infamous dovetail which as I have flagged in earlier posts, the Court in my view does not get entirely right. References are to Valach, Wiemer & Trachte, Feniks, Nickel & Goeldner). Here, the Treasury bases its action on Article 110 of the Austrian insolvency act (allowing, and urging first-tier creditors (such as, inevitably, Inland Revenue) to have their claims properly registered so as to ensure the priority in the picking order against the other creditors). The claim therefore is subject to the Insolvency Regulation 1346/2000.

The Court subsequently and unsurprisingly holds that Brussels Ia’s lis alibi pendens rule cannot somehow apply deus ex machina. At 43: insolvency is excluded from the Regulation; this exclusion is all or nothing: if the Regulation does not apply, none of it applies, including its procedural rules. These have, in BIa context, the clear purpose of ruling out as much as possible procedures pending in more than one Member State on the same issue. The Insolvency Regulation, by contrast, allows for concurrent proceedings, albeit primary and secondary ones, and (in Article 31 of the old Regulation; tightened in the current version 2015/848) encourages co-operation and exchange of information to avoid irreconcilable judgments.

(The further question asked refers to debt documentation requirements).

Geert.

Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5 Heading 5.4.1. Chapter 2 Heading 2.2.2.10.1

 

 

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Deutsche Apotheker- und Arztebank v Leitzbach. A straightforward COMI assessment to start the week.

I am working on rather intricate conflicts issues this week (which I am enjoying) so I am turning to the blog for a little cerebral relief (equally pleasing). In [2018] EWHC 1544 (Ch) Deutsche Apotheker- und Arztebank EG v Leitzbach , reported with thanks by Ashfords, Hodge J correctly applied the COMI test of Regulation 1346/2000 to dismiss jurisdiction for the courts in England and Wales.

Dr Leitzbach had obtained a bankruptcy order after a previous attempt in which he had failed to testify to COMI in England and Wales. His, successful, second attempt, it now became clear, was obtained after misrepresentation. Dr Leitzbach’s arguments pro COMI it seems were mostly based on residence in the UK, proof for which he sought to obtain from (in fact non-existing) supermarket loyalty cards, as well as receipts of purchases made hundreds of miles apart within a short time-frame.

Note at 27 Hodge J’s in my view entirely correct sympathy for forum shopping in insolvency: as long as COMI can be correctly ascertained in the jurisdiction, this is an entirely justifiable phenomenon. Except indeed COMI was not in the UK as the High Court equally found:

at 71: ‘I simply cannot accept the evidence of Dr Leitzbach as to the fact that he was living and working …as a consultant in England and Wales at the relevant time. I simply do not accept his evidence to that effect. Secondly, however, I would in, any event, have found that, as a professional dentist who had been practising as such in Germany, Dr Leitzbach had never acquired a COMI in England and Wales…’

at 74: ‘so far as his visibility as a dentist is concerned, third parties would clearly have formed the view that he was continuing to practise with his brother in Germany until the end of 2012. He remained on the appropriate public dental register until the end of 2012. He secured a certificate that he was unfit for dental work at the end of 2011; but even that document was addressed to the former practice address in Hochheim, and it operated simply to relieve the debtor from making contributions to his official German dental pension scheme only until 30 June 2012…Dr Leitzbach accepted..that he was representing to third parties that he remained in practice as a dentist in the Hessen dental register until the end of December 2012. It was that dental practice address that was used by Dr Leitzbach to register himself on the postgraduate dental course that he undertook. He accepted that others on the course would all have assumed that he was continuing to practise as a dentist in Germany. His CV, written for the purpose of a published article in a dental journal, gave the impression that he had worked as a dentist in Germany until the end of 2012, and that, thereafter, his only professional activity was attending the postgraduate dental course.’

COMI never have been in the UK, the carpet was pulled from underneath the previous Bankruptcy order and this had to be annulled.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.

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Bank Leumi. No calling for the EU’s Insolvency Regulation in intra-UK scenarios.

Thank you Ben Zielinski for flagging Bank Leumi (UK) Plc v Screw Conveyor Ltd [2017] CSOH 129. I believe Ben is right in writing that this is the first formal acknowledgement that Scottish judicial authorities have no insolvency business in respect of an English registered company, and the same applies to English courts and Scottish companies,  in spite of the EU’s Insolvency Regulation.

Even if a company carries out its main activities in Scotland, internal UK jurisdictional rules will assign insolvency jurisdiction to the English judicial authorities. That is a result of, as Lord Doherty writes, the Insolvency Regulations designating the ‘Member State the courts of which may open insolvency proceedings’ however ‘territorial jurisdiction within that Member State is established by the Member State’s national law’ (at 9).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.

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COMI for groups of companies. The Brussels commercial court in Parfip.

Thank you to both Patrick Wauthelet and Arie van Hoe for forwarding a copy of the judgment of the Brussels commercial court in Parfip. Please pop me an e-mail should you like a copy. The judgment is textbook application of CJEU precedent, including of course Eurofood and Interedil. Fully respecting the presumption of individual COMI in the case of a group of companies, the judgment refers to ia German and French precedent in rebuking the presumption. Not only were the companies effectively run from Brussels, notwithstanding non-Belgian seat for some of them; to third parties it was also clear that this was the case.

The judgment also confirms a narrow interpretation of the exception for ‘credit institutions’.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.2.Heading 5.6.1.2.4.

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Not the Muppet show. FREP, FREP, FREP and Frogmore. Determination of COMI for groups and SPVs. The High Court pushes head office approach.

In [2017] EWHC 25 (Ch) the Frogmore Group,  there are three relevant companies: FREP (Knowle) Limited. FREP (Ellesmere Port) Limited and FREP (Belle Vale) Limited all of which were incorporated in and have their registered office in Jersey. The Companies form part of Frogmore group (of which the ultimate parent is Frogmore Property Company Limited). The Frogmore group specialises in real estate investment and management in the UK and each of the Companies owns a shopping centre located at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, Belle Vale in Liverpool and Knowle in Bristol respectively. Each of these shopping centres is managed by Frogmore Real Estate Investment Managers Limited (“FREPIM”), a company formed in England and Wales with its registered office and base for operations at London.

The Nationwide seeking enforcement of security, the group sought a declaration that COMI was at Jersey.

Marshall DJ held with reference to the familiar precedents of Eurofood and Interedil, both featuring heavily in my earlier postings on COMI, but also to Northsea Base Investments in which Birss J paid particular attention to the largest shareholders. Of note is that this reference to the largest shareholders does not entail (and indeed is not so constructed in either Northsea Base or Frogmore) that these get the pick of what COMI might entail. Rather, that the dealings with and experience of one place as being the place where the company’s interest are being managed from, is of particular interest for the Interedil emphasis on ascertainability by third parties. Marshall DJ also rekindles the discussion on whether Interedil’s emphasis is on identifying the ‘Head office’ of the companies: a conclusion which one needs to treat with caution for even in Interedil’s tacit support for the head office approach, the emphasis continues to lie with the combination of factors, all leading to transparency and publicity.

The High Court in the end held with reference to the following: (at 39; all wording as  the judgment but with one or two words left out)

(1) Day- to-day conduct of the business and activities of the Companies has been in the hands of an agent appointed in England, namely FREPIM. Under the Advisory Agreement (which was itself governed by English law and had an English exclusive jurisdiction clause) FREPIM was to take on full responsibility for providing a very large range of services to the Companies, including day-to-day management of the Shopping Centres and dealing with their financing, accounting, marketing and formulation of their business strategy. FREPIM  itself acknowledged that it worked on investment strategy and business plans for the Companies; instructed lawyers, surveyors and consultants for them; negotiated the purchase and sale of properties on their behalf; dealt with their borrowing requirements; and attended to the provision of accounting systems and the preparation of management and annual accounts. These actions were not just limited commercial activities but included the types of function that one would expect a head office to discharge.

(2) Day-to-day dealings with third parties are carried out from the offices of FREPIM at London. This is confirmed by the evidence of the activity of FREPIM described above but it is also supported by, for example, the Companies’ VAT returns where their business address is stated to be those offices. In their day-to-day dealings with third parties regarding expenditure these offices are given as the address for invoices.

(3) If one has regard to the point of view of the largest creditor, Nationwide, the Facility Agreement and the Nationwide Debentures are governed by English law and have an English jurisdiction clause. Under the Facility Agreement the Shareholder is the service agent for the Companies. In the case of the Nationwide Debentures, they have express reference to the power to appoint administrators under the 1986 Act. FREPIM took over the day-to-day contact with Nationwide as well as providing Nationwide with various pieces of information (such as quarterly compliance packs and accounts for borrowers) and did so from London. FREPIM also accepted that the management of the relationship between the Companies and Nationwide had been carried out by [the group treasurer] and the Chairman of the Frogmore group, who was also based in London.

(4) I also note that under the terms of the debentures securing the advances made by the Shareholder that the governing law is English, there is an English exclusive jurisdiction clause, that FREPIM is appointed the service agent of the Companies and there is express provision for the appointment of administrators under the 1986 Act.

The case is a good reminder that even intricate SPV structures should not detract from COMI finding on well-established principles. And that COMI determination always depends on a basket of criteria.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.2., Heading 5.6.1.2.4.

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Vinyls Italia: Szpunar AG on the chemistry between the Insolvency Regulation and Rome I. And again, on the pauliana.

In C-54/16 Vinyls Italia (in full: Vinyls Italia SpA, in liquidation v Mediterranea di Navigazione SpA) Szpunar AG opined last week (the Opinion is not available in English). At the core of the case is the application of Article 13 of the Insolvency Regulation 2000 (Article 16 in the 2015 version; see my general review here), however the case opens an interesting discussion on the meaning of ‘international’ in ‘private international law’.

For the general context of Article 13 (16 new) I should like to refer to my review of Lutz and Nike. At issue in the case at hand are payments made by Vinyls to Mediterranea for the transport of chemicals of the former by the latter. Both are Italian registered companies. Shipment was presumably carried out in Italy (an extra-Italian element in the actual transport does not feature in the factual analysis re ‘international’, which I refer to below). However the contract made choice of law in favour of English law. Mediterranea makes recourse to Article 13 juncto English law as the lex contractus to ward off an attempt by Vinyls to have the payments return to its books.

First up is the question whether courts should apply Article 13 ex officio: for Mediterranea’s claim was made after the procedural deadline foreseen by Italian law. Szpunar AG in my view justifiably suggest it does not: he refers to the Virgos Schmit report [„Article 13 represents a defence against the application of the law of the State of the opening, which must be pursued by the interested party, who must claim it” – § 136 of that report, para 43 of the AG’s Opinion) and to the CJEU’s finding in C-310/14 Nike at 26. The AG does point to the particulars of the case: Mediterranea seemingly had provided proof supporting its view that the substantial conditions of Article 13 had been met (in particular an expert opinion by an English lawyer) but had not expressis verbis requested its application. Szpunar refers the final say to the Italian court, which needs to judge on the basis of Italian civil procedure however does suggest that it seems fairly inconceivable to have provided proof for the fulfillment of a legal proviso, without meaning to request its application.

The question on the applicability of Rome I at all (which is required if Mediterranea want to make recourse to the provisions of English law as lex contractus per Rome I or the Rome convention) may not make it to the CJEU. As Szpunar AG notes, the underlying contract dates prior to 17 December 2009, which is the cut-off date of the Rome I Regulation. The referring court being a court of first instance, it is not in a position to request preliminary review of Rome I’s predecessor, the 1980 Rome Convention. The AG completes the analysis anyway (the Court itself will not, should it find Rome I not to be applicable) and takes in my view the right, expansionist approach (one which I also defend in my handbook): especially given the presence of Article 3(3)’s proviso for ‘purely domestic’ contracts, it is clear that it suffices for Rome I to be applicable that parties make choice of court in favour of a foreign law. Further in the opinion (137 ff) he also suggests that such application is not tantamount to fraude a la loi (fraus legis) and again I agree: the relevance of fraus has been seriously diminished by the provisions on party autonomy in both Rome I and the Rome Convention.

The use of choice of law per Rome I (or the Convention) in turn serves as a jack to trigger the application of the insolvency Regulation. That too is correct in my view, and with undramatic consequences. Choice of law for the underlying contract only identifies its lex causae (where relevant, with an impact on Article 13 of the Insolvency Regulation). It does does not of course in and of itself determine the lex concursus: the latter is determined by the Insolvency Regulation once /if insolvency occurs. Parties have no means to manipulate this at the time of the formation of the contract.

Exciting, conceptual stuff. Most probably the Court itself will not be in a position to assess it all.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.1; Heading 3.2.8.1; chapter 5; Heading 5.7.1.

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Secondary insolvency proceedings in Hanjin Europe. Plenty held, plenty assumed.

The Rotterdam court in Hanjin Europe held on the opening of secondary proceedings in The Netherlands, in application of the European Insolvency Regulation (EIR), with main proceedings and COMI in Germany. On the application of the insolvency Regulation there are few that match prof Wessels’ insights and I am happy to refer to them. Indeed it is Bob who alerted me to the case. Prof Wessels in particular points us to the following considerations:

  • the relationship between Annex A, Annex C and the abstract definition of ‘insolvency’ in the EIR. Useful precedent is Eurofood.
  • the power of a provisionary liquidator to request the opening of secondary proceedings.
  • the exact meaning of ‘establishment’, inter alia following judgment in Interedil.
  • whether applicant has to show an interest in requesting secondary proceedings.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5.

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