Posts Tagged Scope of application

Sovereign debt litigation in Kuhn: ‘Civil and commercial’ viz bearers of Greek bonds. CJEU holds litigation falls outside of Brussels I Recast. Pays lip-service only to Fahnenbrock.

Update 22 November 2018 see yesterday’s comments by prof Mankowski here. He is right to point out the reduction in practice of defence mechanisms to Greece, to sovereign immunity. However that defence is of course a strong one, as I pointed out here, given that even the German courts have acepted it.

I had earlier reviewed Bot AG’s Opinion in C-308/17 Leo Kuhn, in which the Court held on Thursday. The case concerns the retrofit introduction of CACs – Collective Action Clauses, in Greek bonds, allowing the amendment to the initial borrowing terms by decisions adopted by a qualified majority, of the remaining capital owed and applying also to the minority.

Along the lines suggested by the AG, the Court finds the litigation not to relate to civil and commercial matters (likely also leading to a finding on the basis of national law, of sovereign immunity).

Extensive reference is made of course to Fahnenbrock , among others. Yet the Court pays lip service only to Fahnenbrock: in that judgment, it launched the ‘direct and immediate’ formula: in that case it found it was the bondholders’ vote, which led directly and immediately to changes to the financial conditions of the securities in question, not the public authorities’ actions essentially dictating it: therefore that litigation was held not to be actum iure imperii, and it was found to be subject to the service of documents Regulation.

In Kuhn, Brussels I Recast is engaged and here the Court would seem to be inclined to follow (also) Bot AG’s Opinion in Fahenbrock (where he was not so followed): there, Bot AG had opined that the Greek State’s intervention in the contracts was direct and not at a distance from the contract. His focus was more on the circumstances of the case than on the legal nitty-gritty. There are certainly many similarities between Fahnenbrock and Kuhn: in the latter, the crammed-down haircut was formally the result of a majority decision of bondholders to accept the restructuring offer made by the Greek State. Not unlike Fahnenbrock were as noted it was also a bondholders’ vote which was the formal trigger.

In Kuhn, the Court emphasises the context, like Bot to no avail had done in Fahnenbrock: after a succinct tour d’horizon of the debt crisis leading to the CACs, the Court concludes ‘It follows that, having regard to the exceptional character of the conditions and the circumstances surrounding the adoption of Law 4050/2012, according to which the initial borrowing terms of the sovereign bonds at issue in the main proceedings were unilaterally and retroactively amended by the introduction of a CAC, and to the public interest objective that it pursues, the origin of the dispute in the main proceeding stems from the manifestation of public authority and results from the acts of the Greek State in the exercise of that public authority, in such a way that that dispute does not fall within ‘civil and commercial matters’ within the meaning of Article 1(1) of Regulation No 1215/2012.’

I suggested at the time that ‘direct and immediate effect’ is not a criterion which is easy to handle. Yet in solely emphasising context, the Court now casts the net too wide in my view, and at the very least leads to more speculation (pun intended) in the litigation context of sovereign debt.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.

 

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Vis (non) attractiva concursus. Bobek AG suggests tortious suit brought by liquidator (‘Peeters /Gatzen’) is covered by Brussels I Recast.

I earlier posted a guest blog on the qualification of the Dutch Peeters /Gatzen suit, a damages claim based on tort, brought by a liquidator against a third party having acted wrongfully towards the creditors. Bobek AG opined two weeks back in C-535/17 NK (insolvency practitioner for a baillif practice) v BNP Paribas Fortis.

His Opinion is of relevance not just for the consideration of jurisdiction, but perhaps even more so (for less litigated so far) for the analysis of applicable law.

Roel Verheyden has commented on the Opinion in Dutch here, and Sandrine Piet had earlier contextualised the issues (also in Dutch) here. She clarifies that the suit was introduced by the Dutch Supreme Court in 1983, allowing the insolvency practitioner (as EU insolvency law now calls them) to claim in tort against third parties whose actions have diminished the collective rights of the creditors, even if the insolvency person or company at issue was not entitled to such suit. The Advocate General himself, in his trademark lucid style, summarises the suit excellently.

Importantly, the Peeters /Gatzen is not a classic pauliana (avoidance) suit: Bobek AG at 16: ‘The power of the liquidator to bring a Peeters-Gatzen action is not limited to cases where the third party belongs to the circle of persons who, based on a Paulian (bankruptcy) claim .. would be liable for involvement in allegedly detrimental acts. The liquidator’s competence relates more generally to the damage caused to the general body of creditors by the wrongful act of a third party involved in causing that damage. The third party need not have caused the damage or have profited from it: it is sufficient that that third party could have prevented the damage but cooperated instead.’

In the case at issue, the third party is BNP Paribas Fortis, who had allowed the sole director of the company to withdraw large amounts of cash from the company’s account.

Firstly, on the jurisdictional issue, Nickel /Goeldner and Nortel had intervened after the interim judgments of the Dutch courts, creating doubt in their minds as to the correct delineation between the Insolvency and Brussels I Recast Regulation. The Advocate-General’s approach in my view is the correct one, and I refer to his Opinion for the solid arguments he deploys. In essence, the DNA of the suit are the ordinary rules of civil law (re: tort). That it be introduced by the insolvency practitioner (here, the liquidator) and that it is the case-law on liquidation proceedings which has granted that right to the liquidator, is not materially relevant. Note that the AG correctly adds in footnote 40 that even if the suit is not subject to the Insolvency Regulation, that Regulation does not disappear from the litigation. In particular, given that liquidation proceedings are underway, the lex concursus determines the ius agendi of the liquidator to bring the suit in tort, in another Member State (Belgium, on the basis of Article 7(2) or 4 Brussels I Recast).

Now, for applicable law, the AG first of all completes the analysis on the basis of the Insolvency Regulation, in the unlikely event the CJEU were not to follow him on the jurisdictional issue. Here (para 85 ff) the referring court wishes to know whether, if the Peeters-Gatzen action is covered by the Insolvency Regulation, such a claim would be governed, pursuant to Article 4(1) of that Regulation, by the law of the Member State where the insolvency proceedings were opened as regards both the power of the liquidator to bring that claim and the substantive law applicable to that claim. This question seeks to determine whether it is possible to follow the approach of the second-instance court in the main proceedings, and separate the law governing the powers of the liquidator (ius agendi) from the law applicable to the merits of the claim. The powers of the liquidator would then be governed by the lex fori concursus (Dutch law, per Article 4(2)(c) Insolvency Regulation). That article states that ‘the law of the State of the opening of proceedings … shall determine in particular … the respective powers of the debtor and the liquidator’. However, the merits of the claim would then be governed by the law applicable by virtue of the general (non-insolvency) conflict of law rules. In the present case that would lead to application of residual Dutch conflict of law rules, because the Rome II Regulation does not apply ratione temporis as the AG further explains. These rules lead to Belgian law being the lex causae.

Within the assumption of the Insolvency Regulation determining jurisdiction (for see footnote 40 as reported above, re ius agendi) the AG emphasises the Regulation’s goal of Gleichlauf: at 89: If the Peeters-Gatzen action were covered by the Insolvency Regulation, all its elements would be governed exclusively by the conflict of law rules of that regulation.

(Current) Article 16’s exception such as in Nike and Lutz does not come into play for as Bobek AG notes at 94, ‘It is difficult to see how the Peeters-Gatzen action at issue in the main proceedings could be qualified as a rule ‘relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of legal acts detrimental to all the creditors’, in the sense of Article 4(2)(m) [old, GAVC] of the Insolvency Regulation. The purpose of such an action is not a declaration of the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of an act of the third party, but the recovery of damages based on the wrongful behaviour of that third party towards the creditors. Therefore, as Article 4(2)(m) [old, GAVC] of the regulation would not apply in the main proceedings, the exception in Article 13 [old, GAVC] could not apply either.’

The AG finally discusses the referring court’s question whether if the Peeters-Gatzen action is exclusively subject to the lex fori concursus, it would be possible to take into account, whether directly or at least by analogy, and on the basis of Article 17 Rome II read in conjunction with Article 13 (now 16) of the Insolvency Regulation, the security regulations and codes of conduct applicable at the place of the alleged wrongful act (that is to say, in Belgium), such as financial rules of conduct for banks. Article 17 Rome II reads ‘In assessing the conduct of the person claimed to be liable, account shall be taken, as a matter of fact and in so far as is appropriate, of the rules of safety and conduct which were in force at the place and time of the event giving rise to the liability.

I have argued before that Article 17 Rome II does not have the rather extensive impact which some attribute to it. The AG, after signalling that the Article is yet to be applied by the CJEU, notes that Rome II does not apply here ratione temporis. He then concludes with an aside (it is not articulated as a proper argument – which is just as well for it is circular I suppose): at 104: ‘the more pertinent question is… whether it is really necessary to have recourse to a cumbersome legal construction, in this case the application of rules by analogy, outside of their material and temporal scope, in order to reach a solution (the application of Belgian law) which solves a problem (the applicability of Netherlands law by virtue of the Insolvency Regulation) that should not have been created in the first place (since the Peeters-Gatzen claim at hand should fall within the scope of the Brussels I Regulation). In any event, I am of the view, also in this regard, that these questions by the referring court rather confirm that there is no close connection between that action and the insolvency proceedings.’

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.4.1, Heading 5.7.

 

 

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Kuhn: ‘Civil and commercial’ viz bearers of Greek bonds. Bot AG applies Fahnenbrock’s ‘direct and immediate effect’ and distinguishes Kolassa.

Advocate-General Bot opined on 4 July 2018 in the case of C-308/17 Leo Kuhn, domiciled at Vienna, who had purchased through an Austrian bank, Greek sovereign bonds. Pursuant to a forced exchanged /haircut carried out by Greece in March 2012, the bonds were replaced with new bonds with a lower nominal value. Mr Kuhn sued to have the initial borrowing terms enforced.

The Advocate-General is of course aware of the similarities with Fahnenbrock – in which he himself had also opined but was not followed by the Court. He first of all points out the similarities between the service Regulation and the Brussels I Recast (both e.g. limiting their scope of application to ‘civil and commercial’ matters), however also flags the specific recitals (in particular: recital 12) suggesting that in the context of the services Regulation the analysis needs to be done swiftly hence only cases which prima facie fall outside the scope of application (including where they manifestly (see the dictum of Fahnenbrock and para 50 of the AG’s Opinion in Kuhn) are not covered by that Regulation.

Coming next to the consideration of the application of ‘civil and commercial’, the facts of this case reflect very much the hybrid nature of much of sovereign debt litigation. In my view yes, the haircut took place within the wider institutional nature of Greece’s debt negotiations with the EU. Yet the ‘collective action clause’ (CAC) which was not part of the original terms and conditions (there was no CAC in the original lex causae, Greek law, but there is one in the newly applicable lex causae, English law: at 63 of the Opinion), was negotiated with the institutional holders of the bond and crammed down the minority holders like Mr Kuhn (at 66). The AG suggest that this does not impact on the qualification of the changes being ‘immediate and direct’, this being the formula employed by the Court in Fahnenbrock.

I am not so sure of the latter but it will be up to the CJEU to decide.

The Advocate General note bene subsequently ‘completes the analysis’ in case the CJEU disagrees with this view, and finds that if the issue is civil and commercial, it can be litigated under Article 7(1)’s rule on special jurisdiction for contractual obligations (the AG at para 88 ff distinguishes the case from C-375/13 Kolassa (in which the CJEU saw no contractual bond between the issuer of the bonds and the acquirer on the secondary market), the obligation at issue, he suggests, having to be performed in Greece. As for the latter element, the Advocate General does refer for the determination of the place of performance to the initially applicable law: Greek law, leaving the later lex causae, English law, undiscussed.

Whether the Court will follow the AG remains of course to be seen.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.

 

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Kubicka: Narrow CJEU interpretation of the ‘property law’ exception.

When the ‘Bolkestein’ Directive on the free movement of services was eventually adopted some years back, some of us referred to it as the ‘hairdressers’ Directive (no disrespect): the scope of application was so narrowed down that few professions seemed still to be covered by it. Similarly, the EU’s Succession Regulation Member States wanted to ensure that the recognition and enforcement of rules on succession /estate would not upset national property law on rules held dear, such as numerus clausus. The Regulation to that effect excludes from its scope of application ‘the nature of rights in rem; and any recording in a register of rights in immoveable or moveable property, including the legal requirements for such recording, and the effects of recording or failing to record such rights in a register.’

In C-218/16 Kubicka the Court of Justice held last week. Ms Kubicka wishes to include in her will a legacy ‘by vindication’, which is allowed by Polish law, in favour of her husband, concerning her share of ownership of the jointly-owned immovable property in Frankfurt an der Oder. She wishes to leave the remainder of the assets that comprise her estate in accordance with the statutory order of inheritance, whereby her husband and children would inherit it in equal shares.  She expressly ruled out recourse to an ordinary legacy (legacy ‘by damnation’), as provided for by Article 968 of the Civil Code, since such a legacy would entail difficulties in relation to the representation of her minor children, who will inherit, as well as additional costs. A notary’s assistant refused to draw up a will containing the legacy ‘by vindication’ stipulated by Aleksandra Kubicka on the ground that creation of a will containing such a legacy is contrary to German legislation and case-law relating to rights in rem and land registration.

In the present case, both the legacy ‘by vindication’, provided for by Polish law and the legacy ‘by damnation’, provided for by German law, constitute methods of transfer of ownership of an asset, namely a right in rem that is recognised in both of the legal systems concerned. Therefore, the direct transfer of a property right by means of a legacy ‘by vindication’ concerns only the arrangement by which that right in rem is transferred at the time of the testator’s death. It is not covered by the exception.

Member States and practitioners who suggested an interpretation of the exception beyond its limited scope, were therefore rebuffed. That is a good thing. Property law often for no apparent reason is considered immune from conflict of laws, both in terms of jurisdiction and applicable law. The CJEU’s judgment in Kubicka puts a hold to too wide an interpretation of the rei sitae exception.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.2.1.

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Sabbagh v Khoury. The Court of Appeal struggles on merits review for anchor defendants.

Update 7 June 2018 on 31 May the High Court [2018] EWHC 1330 (Comm)] backed up the CA’s finding with an interim anti-suit (in arbitration) injunction.

Sabbagh v Khoury at the High Court was the subject of a lengthy review in an earlier post. The Court of Appeal has now considered the issues at stake, in no lesser detail.

In line with my previous post (readers unfamiliar with it may want to refer to it; and to very good Hill Dickinson summary of the case), of particular consideration here is the jurisdictional test under (old) Article 6(1) Brussels I, now Article 8(1) in the Recast, in particular the extent of merits review; and whether the subject matter of the claim comes within the succession exception of Article 1(2)(a) of the Brussels I Regulation.

As for the latter, the Court, after reviewing relevant precedent and counsel argument (but not, surprisingly, the very language on this issue in the Jenard report, as I mention in my previous post) holds in my view justifiably that ‘(t)he source of the ownership is irrelevant to the nature of the claim. ..The subject matter of the dispute is not whether Sana is an heir, but whether the defendants have misappropriated her property.‘ (at 161).

With respect to the application of Article 6(1) – now 8(1), the majority held in favour of a far-reaching merits review. Lady Justice Gloster (at 166 ff) has a minority opinion on the issue and I am minded to agree with her. As she notes (at 178) the operation of a merits test within Article 6(1) does give rise to risk of irreconcilable judgments, which can be demonstrated by reference to the present facts. She successfully, in my view, distinguishes the CJEU’s findings in Kolassa and in CDC, and the discussion at any rate one would have thought, merits CJEU review.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

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On ‘civil and commercial’, and, again, notaries as courts. The CJEU in Pula Parking.

Issued on the same day as Zulfikarpašić, Pula Parking Case C-551/15 deals with similar core issues, with a few extras thrown in (see also the review by Burkhard Hess here). Pula Parking, a company owned by the town of Pula (Croatia), carries out, pursuant to a decision of the mayor of that town, the administration, supervision, maintenance and cleaning of the public parking spaces, the collection of parking fees and other related tasks. In September 2010, Mr Tederahn, who is domiciled in Germany, parked his vehicle in a public parking space of the town of Pula. Pula Parking issued Mr Tederahn with a parking ticket. Since Mr Tederahn did not settle the sums due within the period prescribed, Pula Parking lodged, on 27 February 2015, with a notary whose office is in Pula, an application for enforcement on the basis of an ‘authentic document’. A notary issued a writ of execution on 25 March 2015, on the basis of that document.  In his opposition, Mr Tederahn put forward a plea alleging that the notary who issued the writ of execution of 25 March 2015 did not have substantive and territorial jurisdiction on the ground that that notary did not have jurisdiction to issue such a writ on the basis of an ‘authentic document’ from 2010, against a German national or a citizen of any other EU Member State.

Does the Brussels I recast apply at all? And does it relate also to the jurisdiction of notaries in the Republic of Croatia?

On the temporal scope of the Brussels I Recast, the Court repeats its (Brussels Convention) Sanicentral (Case 25/79) finding: the only necessary and sufficient condition for the scheme of the Regulation to be applicable to litigation relating to legal relationships created before its entry into force is that the judicial proceedings should have been instituted subsequently to that date. Accession timing is irrelevant to the case: per C-420/07 Apostolides the Act of Accession of a new Member State is based essentially on the general principle that the provisions of EU law apply ab initio and in toto to that State, derogations being allowed only in so far as they are expressly laid down by transitional provisions.

On the substantial scope of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, for the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ the Court refers to its standing case-law (particularly most recently Aertssen and Sapir). In casu, it would seem (the national court is asked to confirm) that the parking debt claimed by Pula Parking is not coupled with any penalties that may be considered to result from a public authority act of Pula Parking and is not of a punitive nature but constitutes, therefore, mere consideration for a service provided. Brussels I applies.

However, notaries in casu do not act as courts: in a twin approach with Zulfikarpašić, the Court holds that the writ of execution based on an ‘authentic document’, issued by the notary, is served on the debtor only after the writ has been adopted, without the application by which the matter is raised with the notary having been communicated to the debtor. (at 58) Although it is true that debtors have the opportunity to lodge oppositions against writs of execution issued by notaries and it appears that notaries exercise the responsibilities conferred on them in the context of enforcement proceedings based on an ‘authentic document’ subject to review by the courts, to which notaries must refer possible challenges, the fact remains that the examination, by notaries, in Croatia, of an application for a writ of execution on such a basis is not conducted on an inter partes basis.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1. Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.

 

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Siemens: Debt arising from the unjustified repayment (by the authorities) of a fine for infringement of competition law excluded from Brussels I.

The Court held in C-102/15 Siemens just before mine and their summer break. It had escaped my attention. At issue was whether debt arising from the unjustified repayment of a fine for infringement of competition law falls within the scope of application of the Brussels I Recast. It does not. The Court distinguished flyLAL: while private actions brought to ensure compliance with competition law fall within the scope of the Regulation, a penalty imposed by an administrative authority in the exercise of the regulatory powers conferred upon it under national legislation comes within the concept of ‘administrative matters’, excluded from the scope of Regulation No 44/2001 in accordance with Article 1(1) thereof.(at 35).

An action in unjust enrichment related to the interest due, following to and fro, imposition and rescinding, ending finally in confirmation of the fine, is intimately bound up with that fine and therefore follows it in the exclusion.

A judgment of note for those who wish to keep complete overview.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.2 ff.

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