SCOR v Barclays. High Court dismisses application for stay on the basis of Article 30 BIa (related actions). Leaves the Euroeco /Privatbank discussion unsettled.

In SCOR SE v Barclays [2020] EWHC 133 (Comm), claimant SCOR is a reinsurance company incorporated in France. Covéa, a shareholder of SCOR, made an unsolicited offer to acquire a controlling shareholding in SCOR. Barclays was one of Covéa’s financial advisors and prospective lenders in relation to the Offer. The English proceedings, and related French proceedings, all concern French law claims brought by SCOR against Mr Derez, who was one of its directors, Covéa, and Barclays in connection with the Offer. It is alleged by SCOR that Mr Derez disclosed to Covéa and to its advisors, including Barclays, confidential information, which he obtained in breach of duties he owed to SCOR, and that the information was misused in relation to the Offer.

SCOR has commenced three sets of proceedings: On 29 January 2019, direct criminal proceedings in France. On the same day, the proceedings in England against Barclays. On On 6 February 2019, French proceedings against Monsieur Derez and Covéa. Concealment of breach of trust is the running theme in all 3 proceedings.

An application to stay the French Commercial Court proceedings, which had been made by the Claimant, had been dismissed.

Hancock J had two issues to decide under Article 30 Brussels Ia (at 6). The first was whether the French criminal proceedings, which were first in time, were related to the English Commercial Court action. The second was whether the High Court, as the Court second seised, should stay these proceedings, it being accepted that it had the power to do so under A30. The parties were agreed that, although the civil proceedings which formed part of the criminal action were an “adjunct” to the criminal part of the proceedings, they were nonetheless civil and commercial proceedings within the meaning of the Regulation.

Authority discussed includes of course CJEU C-406/92 The Tatry, however quickly attention focussd on the issue of ‘expediency’ in Article 30. Claimant pointed out that there had been a debate in the authorities as to what was meant by “expedient, with some authorities taking the line that this meant possible or capable, and others suggesting that the relevant synonym was “desirable” ‘. The Court of Appeal in Privatbank v Kolomoisky [2019] EWCA Civ 1709, which I discuss here, settled the issue in the direction of ‘desirable’. However Hancock J then discussed counsel’s reference to Euroeco Fuels (Poland) Limited and others v Sczezin and Swinoujscie Seaports and others [2019] EWCA Civ 1932 which at the time (December 2019) I called at most a ‘lukewarm’ application of Privatbank on this issue.

Hancock J leaves the discussion hanging for in his words at 15, ‘it is uncertain whether expediency in this context is to be treated as meaning desirability, or whether it is a jurisdictional requirement of the grant of a stay that the two cases can in fact be heard together: see Privatbank and cases cited therein, on the one hand, but compare the Euroeco decision on the other. I do not need to decide this question in this case, since my decision would be the same whichever test is applied, and I propose to consider the matter by reference to the test as set out in Privatbank.’

Yet at 24-25  he holds ‘on the basis the application of the test in Sarrio, as interpreted in later cases including in particular Privatbank, that the French criminal proceedings and the English proceedings are related. I move on to consider the exercise of my discretion on this basis.’ Yet ‘Of course, if the actual test is that which may be suggested by the Euroeco case, then the proceedings would not be related, and I would have no discretion to exercise.’

Here I do not follow. No proper decision is made on the authority or not of Privatbank or Euroeco (the latter suggested by counsel for the defence (fellow Bruges Stefan Zweig alumnus) to be at most per incuriam).

At 28 ff then follows a most relevant discussion of the wide nature or not of the discretion to issue a stay, once it has been established the cases are related (Hancock J at 31 deciding at that there is no presumption for a stay in favour of the applicant) deciding at 43 that there is no compelling reason for the stay, on the basis of the factors outlined there, with which I agree.

This is again a most relevant case. The relatedness or not of cases is a most, most crucial issue, including of course in an Article 33-34 context.

Geert.

(Handbook of EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.

Wiemer & Trachte v Tadzher: vis attractiva concursus leads to exclusive jurisdiction for the pauliana.

The pauliana rings extensively at Kirchberg these days and months.

Two days ago the Court held in C‑296/17 Wiemer & Trachte. Following Wahl AG’s Opinion (which is not available in English), the Court has confirmed exclusive jurisdiction for set aside (pauliana) actions, of the courts of the Member State within the territory of which insolvency proceedings have been opened (COMI or secondary proceedings). Not therefore jurisdiction under the Brussels I Recast for the State of domicile of the defendant.

The need to avoid forum shopping (a strong leading principle in the insolvency Regulation) in particular, led Wahl AG and now the Court to insist on exclusive jurisdiction. The alternative reading (defended, I understand, inter alia by the Commission; this is odd for it ordinarily is a staunch defender of the forum shopping-averse nature of the Regulation) relied on the altogether limiting wording of the relevant articles in the Regulation (both the previous and current versions), and also on an efficiency argument: particularly the insolvency practitioner ought to be able to forum shop so as to ensure the best outcome for the collective creditors (particularly by pursuing parties who have benefited from avoidance actions, in their domicile). Wahl AG confessed sympathy for that practical reason (not unlike some of the arguments in the common law against say Owusu or West Tankers), yet emphasised the CJEU’s direction on vis attractiva concursus: rather a magnetic direction.

Geert.

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

 

Valach: Clarifying vis attractiva concursus.

This one long overdue – I am adding it to the blog for completeness’ sake. C‑649/16 Valach was held end of December 2017. The CJEU relies heavily on Tunkers and recital 6 of the (old) Insolvency Regulation: the regulation should be confined to provisions governing jurisdiction for opening insolvency proceedings and judgments which are ‘delivered directly on the basis of the insolvency proceedings and are closely connected with such proceedings’: the latter two criteria guide the CJEU.

In the case at issue, the action for liability at issue in the main proceedings is the direct and inseparable consequence of the performance by the committee of creditors, a statutory body established by Slovak law when insolvency proceedings are opened, of the task specifically assigned to them by the provisions of national law governing such procedures. Consequently, it is clear that the obligations which form the basis of bringing an action for liability in tort against a committee of creditors, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, originate in rules that are specific to insolvency proceedings (at 35-36).

As for the second criterion, it is the closeness of the link between a court action and the insolvency proceedings that is decisive for the purposes of deciding whether the Brussels I Recast’s insolvency exception is triggered. That is the case here: at 38: in order to ascertain whether the liability of the members of the committee of creditors may be engaged because of the rejection of the restructuring plan, it will be necessary to analyse in particular the extent of that committee’s obligations in the insolvency proceedings and the compatibility of the rejection with those obligations. Such an analysis clearly presents a direct and close link with the insolvency proceedings, and is therefore closely connected with the course of those proceedings.

Geert.

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

 

Tünkers France: Limiting the jurisdiction of the court of COMI in cases of unfair competition.

Granted, Arie van Hoe’s brief review of the issues in C-641/16 Tünkers France (Tunkers) has the more resonant title for those truly in the know: vis attractiva concursus is a principle which makes sense from a judicial economy point of view but which is likely to gazump parties’ choice of court, as well as ordinary jurisdictional rules. Briefly explained: when a company is insolvent (or under restructuring), prima facie it makes sense to gather as many lawsuits as possible against it, in one court: that of the Member State of COMI. Vis attractiva (the pulling force) concursus then (as defined by Arie) is the principle that ancillary proceedings may be attracted to, and brought before, the forum concursus.

The Court of Justice supports an interpretation in that direction of the Brussels I Regulation in conjunction with the insolvency Regulation, most recently in case like Nortel (see my posting for references to earlier case-law), and now included in some form in the Insolvency Regulation. Its development by the CJEU however was not straightforward, as is explained by Laura Carballo Piñeiro; neither is the jury on it entirely settled as excellently reviewed by Zoltan Fabok. More importantly, vis attractiva concursus tends to upset choice of court validly made by creditors of the insolvent company (unlike the Brussels I Regulation, the Insolvency Regulaiton does not accommodate choice of court; indeed it actively discourages forum shopping). The principle therefore must not be interpreted in a way which upsets standard choice of court to a disturbing degree.

Tünkers France involves a case for unfair competition brought by the insolvency practitioners of a German company. Part of the business was sold to a company in France who subsequenly started soliciting clients from the insolvent company, misrepresenting itself as the exclusive distributor in France of the goods manufactured by the debtor. The French subsidiary of the insolvent company brings an action for damages for unfair competition.

The CJEU (in passing nota bene emphasising the need for a harmonious application of the Insolvency and Brussels I Regulation) held that such action is a separate action and it is not based in the rules specific to insolvency proceedings. The French subsidiary acted exclusively with a view to protecting its own interests and not to protect those of the creditors in the insolvency proceedings. The conduct of the tortfeasors is moreover subject to other rules than those applicable in the contest of insolvency proceedings.

Vis attractiva concursus therefore does not have superhero status: the forum concursus cannot attract cases that are too far removed from the insolvency.

Geert.

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