Gategroup: A seminal and questionable judgment on gatekeeping viz restructuring ‘Plans’ under the Lugano Convention, Insolvency Regulation.

Zacaroli J this morning held in Gategroup Guarantee Ltd, Re [2021] EWHC 304 (Ch) on whether ‘part 26A’ English restructuring ‘Plans’ (see my review of ia Deep Ocean) are within the scope of the Lugano Convention’s insolvency exception (Lugano rather than Brussels Ia was engaged).

He held they are, leading to neutralisation of an exclusive choice of court agreement in the relevant bonds, and making the courts of England and Wales have jurisdiction despite this choice of court.

Oddly Kaupthing was not referred to. Neither was Enasarco.

The judge relied unconvincingly in my view on the dovetail discussion (most recently discussed by me viz Alpine Bau) under the Brussels IA Recast and the EU Insolvency Regulation (‘EIA’)- neither of course applicable to the UK anymore, as indeed is the case for the Lugano Convention.

All in all this is a case in which the  reasoning has a potentially long term impact. The claim form in this case was issued on 30 December 2020. As such, by reason of Regulation 92(1), (2)(d) and (3) of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgment (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, the Lugano Convention continues to apply.

The Plan Company was incorporated on 8 December 2020 as a wholly owned subsidiary of gategroup Holding AG (the ‘Parent’, a company incorporated in Switzerland. At [55] , if Lugano applies to applications under Part 26A, then the Plan Company accepts that by reason of A23(1) Lugano and the exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of Zurich in the Bonds, this court has no jurisdiction. That acceptance is made notwithstanding that the Deed Poll contains a non-exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of England. The Plan Company acknowledges that since the purpose of the Plan is to effect amendments to the terms of the Bonds, the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the Bonds is engaged.

The usual modus operandi of assuming application of Brussels Ia arguendo (see viz schemes of arrangement most recently KCA Deutag and viz Plans Deep Ocean and Virgin) did not fly here for as noted the Plan Company accepts that the exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the Zurich courts is a complete bar to this court assuming jurisdiction if the Lugano Convention applies (in the preceding cases the point need not be decided, since jurisdiction under BIa could be established arguendo as in none of them was there adversarial argument on the point).

At 70 Justice Zacaroli introduces effectively an amicus curiae by Kirkland & Ellis, opposing the view that the insolvency exception applies.

At 73 ff a first point is considered: Part 26A Plans have not been notified under the EIA Annex. This refers to the so-called dovetailing between Brussels Ia, Lugano and the EIR. The suggestion is that if a procedure is not listed in Annex A EIR, it is conclusively not an insolvency proceeding and “that is the end of the matter” because the dovetailing principle leads inexorably to the conclusion that it falls within the Recast (‘and thus within the Lugano Convention’  [73]). At 82 the judge incidentally is under the impression that the older, heavier procedure of amendment by (EP and Council) Regulation applies – which it no longer does since the EIR 2015.

I have since long submitted that there is no such dovetail. It is also clear that there cannot be identity of interpretation between the Lugano Convention’s insolvency exception and the Brussels regime given that non-EU Lugano States are not part of the EIR. The judge confirms as much at 81 and at 91 ff  and, in a first approach, revisits the principles of modified universalism and the origin of the insolvency exception in particular in the Jenard report. He holds at 103 that the ratio behind the insolvency exception in the Rapport Jenard is the same as the ratio behind Plans, hence that the exception applies.

In a second (presumably subsidiary) approach, the judge queries whether proceedings under Part 26A comply with the abstract requirements for an ‘insolvency’ procedure under of A1(1) EIR and finds at 133 that they do. I am really not convinced by the relevance of that analysis. He includes at 134 ff an argument that the Dutch ‘WHOA’ (Wet homologatie onderhands akkoord) proceedings are to be included in Annex A. Again I am not convinced that serves much purpose. Member States populate the Annex and a Member State proposal for inclusion is not checked against A1(1) EIR.

Conclusion on the jurisdictional issue at 137: ‘proceedings under Part 26A are within the bankruptcy exclusion in the Lugano Convention. This court accordingly has jurisdiction notwithstanding the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the Bonds.’

A most relevant judgment, on which the issues are not at all clear. Expect appeal lest the restructuring timing has made this nugatory – settling these issues would most certainly be welcome.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, paras 2.73 ff (2.81 ff in particular) and 5.35 ff.

 

Deep Ocean. A presumably last judgment confirming Brussels Ia UK jurisdiction over continental restructuring using ‘Restructuring Plans’.

Trower J confirmed mid-December (judgment was not published until earlier this week) jurisdiction for England and Wales courts over continental corporations using ‘Restructuring Plans’, in an echo of his earlier findings in Virgin Atlantic.  The plan has in the meantime also been sanctioned. Mother holding is a Dutch BV. Plan companies are all UK incorporated. Creditors in part UK based, largely non-UK based. However the presence of a sizeable number of them in E&W is held (36-38) to be sufficient to serve as anchor using A8(1) BIa.

As I flagged in my review of Virgin Atlantic, pre-Brexit and of course even more so post Brexit, jurisdiction for these Plans let alone their recognition and enforcement in the EU, involves additional challenges to Schemes of Arrangements. I have a paper on the issues forthcoming.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, paras 5.35 ff

 

Restructuring tourism and Virgin Atlantic. The first application of England’s new Restructuring Plan leaves the jurisdictional issue hanging.

I flagged [2020] EWHC 2191 (Ch) Virgin Atlantic (the plan in the meantime has been sanctioned in [2020] EWHC 2376 (Ch)) in an update of my earlier post on the Colouroz Investment Scheme of Arrangement.

Restructuring practitioners have been justifiably excited by this new addition to England’s regulatory competition in restructuring tourism.

In my many posts on Schemes of Arrangements (see in particular Apcoa with the many references to later cases in that post; and Lecta Paper), I have summarised the modus operandi: no firm decision on jurisdiction under Brussels Ia is made (it is by no means certain but scheme creditors have so far not taken much of a swipe seeing as they tend to accept the attraction of the debtor company continuing as  a going concern following the use of an English scheme). If at least one of the creditors is domiciled in England, it is considered sued and a defendant per Article 4 Brussels Ia. Other, non-England domiciled creditors are then pulled into English jurisdiction using the one anchor defendant per Article 8(1). Trower J extends that assumption to Restructuring Plans at 58 ff:

      1. It is now well-established that an application for sanction of a Part 26 scheme is a civil or commercial matter and the reasoning seems to me to apply with equal force to a Part 26A restructuring plan. However, it has never been completely determined whether the rule laid down in Article 4(1) of the Regulation, that any person domiciled in an EU member state must (subject to any applicable exception) be sued in the courts of that member state, also applies to a Part 26 scheme, although the matter has been referred to and debated in a number of cases.
      1. In the present case, I shall adopt the usual practice of assuming without deciding that Chapter II and, therefore, Article 4 of the Recast Judgments Regulation applies to these proceedings on the basis that Plan Creditors are being sued by the company and that they are defendants, or to be treated as defendants, to the application to sanction the scheme. If, on the basis of that assumption, the court has jurisdiction because one of the exceptions to Article 4 applies, then there is no need to determine whether the assumption is correct and I will not do so.
      1. In the present case, the Company relies on the exception provided for by Article 8 of the Recast Judgments Regulation. By Article 8, a defendant who is domiciled outside a member state may be sued in that member state provided that another defendant in the same action is domiciled there and provided that it is expedient to hear the claims against both together to avoid risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting in separate proceedings. The consequence of this is that if sufficient scheme creditors are domiciled in England then Article 8(1) confers jurisdiction on the English court to sanction a scheme affecting the rights of creditors domiciled elsewhere in the EU, so long as it is expedient to do so, which it normally will be (see, for example, Re DTEK Finance Plc [2017] BCC 165 and [2016] EWHC 3563 (Ch) at the convening and sanctioning stages).
    1. and concluding at 61
      1. In the present case, the evidence is that at least one Plan Creditor from each class is domiciled in the jurisdiction. Perhaps most importantly, so far as in terms of Trade Plan Creditors, it is 90 out of 168. In my view, this is amply sufficient to ensure that the requirements of Article 8 are satisfied.’

Article 25 BIa jurisdiction is obiter dismissed at 62 for not all creditors have credit arrangements subject to English choice of court.

Restructuring Plans do have features which differ from Schemes of Arrangement and some of those do trigger different considerations at the recognition and enforcement level than have hitherto been the case for Schemes.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 2, Chapter 5. Note: 3rd of the Handbook is forthcoming (February 2021).