Posts Tagged Schemes of arrangement

Heiploeg: Transfer of undertakings, employee protection and pre-packs. The Dutch Supreme Court Advocate-General on the implications of CJEU Smallsteps.

I am no expert in all things insolvency and restructuring. I have an interest in it because of the conflict of laws issues (see the Insolvency Regulation) and the relationship with Brussels Ia. I am also interested in the labour law implications of corporate restructuring. These trigger highly relevant ethical, economic, and legal concerns.

Directive 2001/23 protects employees’ rights in the event of transfer of undertakings. The position of employees of course may be seen by potential investors as a hurdle to get onboard. Employees are inevitably on their cost cutting horizon. (For emperical Dutch research see Aalbers et al here and review in NL of same on Corporate Finance Lab).

The Directive exempts (Member States may provide otherwise) bankruptcies ‘proper’ and analogous insolvency proceedings. (They have to be under the management of what the Insolvency Regulation now calls an insolvency practitioner: an insolvency trustee, in other words). In C-126/16 Smallsteps, the Court held that pre-packs also known as ‘hushed bankruptcies’ do not qualify: since such a procedure is not ultimately aimed at liquidating the undertaking, the economic and social objectives it pursues are no explanation of, or justification for, the employees of the undertaking concerned losing the rights conferred on them by Directive 2001/23 (at 50).

Frederik De Leo reported here more extensively and with more knowledge of the issues, on the implications of Smallsteps, including implications for both the Dutch and the Belgian Statutes and proposals on pre-packs and corporate restructuring. On the Dutch implications, Robert van Moorsel had interesting insight here (in Dutch).

In Heiploeg, which was initiated before judgment in Smallsteps but is still being litigated (by Trade Unions), the Dutch Supreme Court /Hoge Raad is now essentially asked to apply the various conditions which the Court of Justice imposed for the bankruptcy exception of Directive 2001/13 to apply. Its procureur-generaal (essentially here fulfilling the role of an Advocate-General at the CJEU) opined in a well-documented Opinion on 1 November 2019 (apologies for late reporting: the Opinion traveled all sorts of corners in my briefcase) and proposes that the Supreme Court annul the lower court’s application of Smallsteps (which had found that the conditions for exception from the employees’ rights Directive did apply).

The Opinion is not I fear accessible to non-Dutch speakers – I am hoping proper experts will report more extensively once the Hoge Raad’s judgment is out.

Geert.

 

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Canadian recognition of Syncreon Group English Scheme of Arrangement underscores new markets for restructuring tourism.

An essentially Dutch group employs English restructuring law and has the resulting restructuring recognised in Canada. Need one say more to show that regulatory competition is alive and well and that the UK, England in particular need not fear a halt to restructuring forum shopping post Brexit.

Blakes first alerted me to the case, the Initial recognition order 2019 ONSC 5774 is here (I have not yet managed to locate the final order). Insolvency trustee PWC have a most informative document portal here. See also the Jones Day summary of the arrangements here. The main issue of contention was the so-called third party release in favour of Syncreon Canada which could have bumped into ordre public hurdles in Ontario as these clearly have an impact on the security of underlying debt. The way in which the proceeding are conducted (fair, transparent, with due consideration of minority holders etc.) clearly have an impact on this exercise.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 2, Chapter 5.

 

 

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NN2 Newco limited and Politus BV. The Nyrstar (Belgium) scheme of arrangement’s jurisdictional confirmation.

Update 13 September 2019 same principles on jurisdiction (and reference to NN2Newco) made by Falk J in [2019] EWHC 2412 (Ch) Syncreon Group BV. Update 13 January 2019 ditto [2019] EWHC 3615 (Ch) Lecta Paper where reference is also made to Codere. Jurisdiction upheld on the basis of Article 25 and Articles 8 juncto 4 Brussels Ia.

Update 20 August 2019 For an Irish approval of a scheme of arrangement with extensive US links see Re Ballantyne RE Plc & the Companies Act 2014 [2019] IEHC 407, reported here.

The Nyrstar business was created on 31 August 2007 by combining the zinc and lead
smelting and alloying operations of Zinifex Limited and Umicore NV/SA. Nyrstar is a global multi-metals business, with a market leading position in zinc and lead, and growing positions in other base and precious metals. It is one of the world’s largest zinc smelting companies based on production levels. The Nyrstar business has mining, smelting and other operations located in Europe, the Americas and Australia and employs approximately 4,200 people. The ultimate group Parent is incorporated in Belgium and has corporate offices in Zurich, Switzerland.

Its debt is now being restructured using an English scheme of arrangement, with a variety of new companies being formed as corporate vehicles for same. Readers of the blog will not be surprised: this is a classic example of regulatory (restructuring) competition, which I regularly report on the blog (most recently: New Look, with further references there).

In [2019] EWHC 1917 (Ch) re NN2 Newco limited and Politus BV, Norris J applies the now estblished jurisdictional test, with one or two points of attention. Against the scheme company jurisdiction is straightforward: this is England incorporated. Against the scheme creditors, English courts apply the jurisdictional test viz the Brussels Ia Regulation arguendo: if it were to apply (which the English Courts have taken no definitive stance on), would an English court have jurisdiction?

At 11: viz the Notes:

They are now governed by English law (in place of New York law). Clause 12.06 of the governing Indenture now reads:- “The courts of England and Wales shall have jurisdiction to settle any disputes that arise out of or in connection with the Indenture, the Notes and the Guarantees, and accordingly any legal action or proceedings arising out of or in connection with the Indenture the Notes and the Guarantees (“Proceedings”) may be brought in such courts. The courts of England and Wales shall have exclusive jurisdiction to settle any Proceedings instituted by [NNH or NN2]… in relation to any Holder or the Trustee on behalf of the Holders (“Issuer Proceedings”). [NNH and NN2], each of the Guarantors, the Trustee and each Holder (each, “a Party”) irrevocably submit to the jurisdiction of such courts and agree that the courts of England and Wales are the most appropriate and the most convenient courts to settle Issuer Proceedings and accordingly no party shall argue to the contrary. Notwithstanding the foregoing, this section 12.06 shall not limit the rights of… each of the Holders to institute any Proceedings against [NNH and NN2] in any other court of competent jurisdiction, nor shall the taking of Proceedings in one or more jurisdictions preclude the taking of proceedings in any other jurisdiction….”

This is an asymmetric jurisdiction clause. The English Courts have jurisdiction over all disputes and the parties agree that they are the most convenient forum and submit to the jurisdiction of the English courts. NNH and NN2 are bound to use the English courts if they sue the Holder of a Note, because the English courts have exclusive jurisdiction in such a case. But the Holder of a Note can also sue NNH and NN2 in any Court that otherwise has jurisdiction, so the English courts have a non-exclusive jurisdiction in such a case.

At 13:

The original governing law of the Existing Bonds was English law. But the holders voted to amend the jurisdiction clause in the Trust Deed to provide: “The courts of England and Wales shall have exclusive jurisdiction to settle any disputes that arise out of or in connection with the Trust Deed and the Bonds, and accordingly any legal action or proceedings arising out of or in connection with the Trust Deed and the Bonds (“Proceedings”) may be brought in such courts. [NNV and NN2] and the Trustee (in its own capacity as such and on behalf of the Bondholders) irrevocably submit to the jurisdiction of such courts and waive any objection to Proceedings in such courts whether on the ground of venue or on the ground that the Proceedings have been brought in an inconvenient forum. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Belgian courts have exclusive jurisdiction over matters concerning the validity of decisions of the Board of Directors of NNV of the general meeting of shareholders of NNV and of the general meeting of Bondholders.”

This is a symmetrical jurisdiction clause with a “carve out” for specific proceedings.”

At 18 ff the details of the scheme are outlined. It involves Trafigura financial instruments, Trafigura now being Nyrstar’s controlling shareholder. At 31 ff jurisdiction is discussed. There is no abusive forum shopping (per Codere; which I reference here). The usual Article 8 and Article 25 routes are discussed. With respect to Article 25, the English jurisdiction clauses in the Existing Notes and the Politus Facility are asymmetric; however Norris J at 41 (with reference to authority) does not see that as an obstacle seeing as Article 25 covers both symmetric and asymmetric choice of court.

A final hurdle is whether any order sanctioning the scheme is likely to be effective or whether it is apparent even at this stage that the scheme will not be recognised in other relevant jurisdictions even if sanctioned: this will eventually be settled at the sanctioning hearing however Norris J already indicates that it is unlikely that expert evidence will yield surprising (objectionable) results.

Scheme meetings may therefore be convened.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 2, Chapter 5.

 

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New Look: Application of the good old rules for schemes of arrangements, with some doubt over the substantial effects test.

In [2019] EWHC 960 (Ch) New Look Secured Issuer and New Look Ltd, Smith J at H applies the standing rules on jurisdiction over the scheme and other companies which I also signalled in Algeco and Apcoa (with further reference in the latter post). Against the scheme companies jurisdiction is straightforward: they are England incorporated.  Against the scheme creditors, English courts apply the jurisdictional test viz the Brussels I Recast (‘a’) Regulation arguendo: if it were to apply (which the English Courts have taken no definitive stance on), would an English court have jurisdiction? Yes, it is held: under Article 8 (anchor defendants). (Often Article 25 is used as argument, too).

At 48 Smith J signals the ‘intensity’ issue: ‘In some cases it has been suggested that it may not be enough to identify a single creditor domiciled in the United Kingdom, and that the court should consider whether the number and size of creditors in the UK are sufficiently large: see Re Van Gansewinkel Groep[2015] EWHC 2151 (Ch) at [51]); Global Garden Products at [25]; Re Noble Group Ltd [2018] EWHC 3092 (Ch) at [114] to [116].’ Smith J is minded towards the first, more liberal approach: at 49. He refers to the liberal anchoring approach in competition cases, both stand-alone (think Media Saturn) and follow-on (think Posten /Bring v Volvo, with relevant links there).

At 51 he also discusses the ‘substantial effects’ test and classifies it under ‘jurisdiction’:

As well as showing a sufficient jurisdictional connection with England, it is also necessary to show that the Schemes, if approved, will be likely to have a substantial effect in any foreign jurisdictions involved in or engaged by the Schemes. This is because the court will generally not make any order which has no substantial effect and, before the court will sanction a scheme, it will need to be satisfied that the scheme will achieve its purpose: Sompo Japan Insurance Inc v Transfercom Ltd, [2007] EWHC 146 (Ch); Re Rodenstock GmbH[2011] EWHC 1104 (Ch) at [73]-[77]; Re Magyar Telecom BV[2013] EWHC 3800 (Ch) at [16].’ 

This is not quite kosher I believe. If, even arguendo, jurisdiction is established under Brussels Ia, then no ‘substantial effects’ test must apply at the jurisdictional stage. Certainly not vis-a-vis the scheme companies. Against the scheme creditors, one may perhaps classify it is a means to test the ‘abuse’ prohibition in Article 8(1)’s anchor mechanism.

A useful reminder of the principles. And some doubt re the substantial effects test.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 5.

 

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Stripes US. High Court considers jurisdiction for scheme of arrangement in the usual way.

In [2018] EWHC 3098 (Ch) Stripes US, Smith J deals with jurisdiction for schemes of arrangement in the now well established way (see my last report on same in Algeco):

The EU’s Insolvency Regulation is clearly not engaged: the schemes fall under company law. The High Court then applies the jurisdictional test viz the Brussels I Recast Regulation arguendo: if it were to apply (which the English Courts have taken no definitive stance on), would an English court have jurisdiction? Yes, it is held: under Article 8 (anchor defendants).

The issue in fact splits in two: so far as the question of jurisdiction in relation to a foreign (non-EU or Lugano States based) company is concerned (Stripes US is incorporated in Delaware), the law is clear. It is well-established that the court has jurisdiction to sanction a Scheme in relation to a company provided that company is liable to be wound up under the Insolvency Act 1986.

Turning next to the Scheme Creditors, of the 31 Scheme Creditors, 19.4% by number (26.35% by value) of the ‘defendants’ (an odd notion perhaps in the context of a Scheme sanction) are domiciled in the UK, plenty Smith J holds to suggest enough reason for anchoring: not taking jurisdiction vis-a-vis the defendants domiciled in other Member States, would carry with it a serious risk of irreconcilable judgments.

Finally the case for forum non conveniens (and comity) is considered (vis-a-vis the US defendant), and rejection of jurisdiction summarily dismissed: in this case the relevant agreement which is the subject of the Scheme has a governing law which is (and, I understand, always has been) English law: at 63: ‘Generally speaking, that is enough to establish a sufficient connection. The view is that under generally accepted principles of private international law, a variation or discharge of contractual rights in accordance with the governing law of the contract should be done by the court of that law and will be given effect to in other third-party countries.’ US experts moreover advised any judgment would most probably have no difficulty being enforced in the US

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 5.

 

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International Bank of Azerbaijan: Principle or practice of ‘modified universalism’ in (cram-down resulting from) insolvency proceedings.

Update 28 December 2018 the Court of Appeal  in [2018] EWCA Civ 2802 has confirmed. The English approach is now clearly different from US Bankruptcy courts e.g in Agrokor.

[2018] EWHC 59 (Ch) International Bank of Azerbaijan is an excellent illustration of the practicality v the doctrine of modified universalism in international insolvency law, as well as of the binding force of precedent even in a changing world. Hildyard J first summarises at 2 the question raised as ‘whether the Court has power to grant a permanent moratorium or stay to prevent a creditor exercising its rights under a contract governed by English law in order to prevent that creditor enforcing its rights contrary to the terms of the foreign insolvency proceeding by which all creditors were, under the relevant foreign law, intended to be bound. If it does, the second question is whether in its discretion the Court should exercise that power.’

IBA has fallen into financial difficulties, obliging it to enter into a restructuring proceeding under Azeri law. The Foreign Representative, Ms Gunel Bakhshiyeva (hence also giving her name to the official case-name) had the High Court issue an order  recognising the Restructuring Proceeding as a foreign main proceeding. That recognition order imposes a wide-ranging moratorium preventing creditors from commencing or continuing any action against IBA or its property without the permission of the Court.  The plan proposed by IBA pursuant to the restructuring proceeding has been approved by a substantial majority at a meeting of creditors in Azerbaijan, sanctioned by the relevant Azeri court, and as a matter of Azeri law, the plan is now binding on all affected creditors, including those who did not vote and those who voted against the Plan: a classic cram-down.

Respondents in the case contend that the plan cannot bind them. In each case their relationship as creditor with IBA is governed by English law. They rely on the (1890) rule in Gibbs, which states that a debt governed by English law cannot be discharged by a foreign insolvency proceeding. Reformulating the essential issues at 19, Hildyard J summarises them as

(1) Whether the Court has jurisdiction to extend a moratorium imposed under the CBIR without limit as to time, and in particular, beyond the date on which the foreign proceeding will terminate; and

(2) If so, whether the Court should refuse to lift the continuing moratorium in favour of a creditor whose debt is governed by English law, so as to prevent that creditor from achieving a better return than that enjoyed by all of the company’s other creditors under a restructuring plan promulgated in the jurisdiction in which the company is registered and has its centre of main interests (“COMI”).

At 44 ff Hildyard J excellently summarises the rule, and the critical reception of it in recent scholarship, the latter suggesting it is not just out of touch with a less anglo-centric view of the world, but also inconsistent with the English courts themselves expecting foreign recognition of schemes of arrangement (SAs being of a corporate, not lex concursus nature but nevertheless fishing in the same waters as insolvency proceedings) conducted in the English courts with English law as the lex causae.

Having summed up all the arguments against the rule and yet recent continued application of it, Hildyard J at 58 dryly notes that his place in the hierarchy means that he cannot simply swipe the rule aside: he must apply it and simply assess whether it applies in the current circumstances. More particularly, whether at one and the same time the ‘rule’ may formally be observed by accepting the continuation of the rights which English law confers, and yet also the principles of modified universalism which the UNCITRAL Model Law gives effect to.

Lengthy discussion then follows of the pros and contras, with the High Court eventually finding no persuasive argument to set aside the rule, particularly not by the English application of the UNCITRAL model law. Counsel had argued that qualifying the model law as procedural as opposed to substantive law, would enable the Court effectively to sidestep Gibbs as precedent. However Hildyard J prefered to accept the full force of precedent rather than sweeping it aside by the procedural pretext.

The substantive rule clearly is ripe for reconsideration by the Court of Appeal.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.1.

 

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Prof Hess on Brexit and Lugano.

A concise note (I am currently tied up mostly in writing research grants. And and and… I hope to return to the blog in earnest later in the week) to signal prof Hess’ excellent short paper on Brexit and judicial co-operation. Prof Hess focuses on the possibility to use the Lugano Convention. (See here for a draft of Michiel Poesen’s overview). I agree that Lugano would not be a good route if one’s intention is to safeguard as much as possible co-ordination between the  UK’s common law approach to private international law, and the EU’s. Neither evidently if one aims to facilitate smooth cross-border proceedings.

Prof Hess has an interesting side consideration on schemes of arrangements. (Including reference to Apcoa). Again I agree that the English courts’ approach to same is not entirely without question marks (particularly jurisdictional issues in the event of opposing creditors: see here). I do not though believe that they would justify hesitation at the recognition and enforcement stage in continental Europe – even after Brexit. At least: not in all Member States. For of course post Brexit, UK judgments become those of a ‘third country’, for which, subject to progress at The Hague, we have no unified approach.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 5.

 

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