Posts Tagged US
Many thanks to Donna Williams for reporting and commenting on 1:18-cv-10798 Snöfrost AB v. Håkansson in the District Court of Massachusetts. Not all my blog posts relate to maverick cases, especially at the week-end perhaps. This one is a standard application of forum non conveniens in the US and a useful reminder of the application of the principle by US courts.
Snöfrost, a Swedish company, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts against Susanne Håkansson, a Massachusetts resident, seeking to enforce an alleged share purchase agreement (“SPA”). The SPA required Håkansson to purchase shares in a Swedish company (Farstorps Gård AB) for 330 million Swedish Krona. Snöfrost alleged that Håkansson reneged on the deal “at the eleventh hour” by raising regulatory issues as an excuse.
Håkansson’s residence in the jurisdiction would have meant immediate dismissal of FNC under the Owusu rule, had this been a case before a court in the EU.
Jurisdiction dismissed: centre of gravity of the case is Sweden – Donna explains the relevant factors in her post.
(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168.
Cuzco v Tera (Chapter 11). Respect for Korean exclusive jurisdictional rule (shareholder derivative claims) does not trump US subject-matter jurisdiction.
Thank you Dechert for flagging Case No. 16-00636 Cuzco v Tera (Chapter 11), in which Faris J with great clarity wades in on a motion to dismiss US Chapter 11 jurisdiction in favour of exclusive jurisdiction for the Seoul courts with respect to a Korean company shareholder derivative action.
The case is relevant to insolvency practitioners. More generally however it highlights the need for a court to keep a level heading when wading through to and fro litigation in various States.
A bit of factual detail is required to appreciate the ruling.
Cuzco USA filed a chapter 11 in Hawaii with its sole asset real property in Hawaii. Tera Resources Co., Ltd. (“Tera”), one of Cuzco Korea’s shareholders asserted that the Debtor and its insiders conspired to deprive Cuzco Korea of the value of the real property. Tera commenced an action for fraud, breach of fiduciary duties, piercing the corporate veil, unjust enrichment and imposition of constructive trust.
The defendants moved to dismiss, in favour of the Korean courts – and failed, both on arguments of forum non conveniens and on arguments of there being exclusive jurisdiction for the courts at Seoul. Defendant Mr Lee is purportedly the manager of Cuzco USA and the representative director of Cuzco Korea. Defendant Ms Yang is shareholder and creditor of Cuzco Korea and an ally of Mr. Lee.
Cuzco USA had proposed, and the court confirmed, a Third Amended Plan of Reorganization. Briefly summarized, the Third Amended Plan provided that Cuzco USA would transfer the Keeaumoku (Hawaii) Property to Newco, a Hawaii limited liability company of which Mr. Lee is the sole member, that Newco would attempt to raise enough money through a refinancing to repay all of Cuzco USA’s creditors in full, and that if the refinancing did not occur by a date certain, Newco would sell the Keeaumoku Property at auction and distribute the proceeds to Cuzco USA’s creditors.
Tera and others filed motions for reconsideration of the order confirming the Third Amended Plan. Tera is a shareholder of Cuzco Korea. It also holds a judgment, entered by a Korean court, against Ms. Yang, and orders from a Korean court that, according to Tera, resulted in the seizure of Ms. Yang’s interests in and claims against Cuzco Korea.
Cuzco USA then moved to modify the Third Amended Plan and replaced it with a Fourth Amended Plan. Briefly summarized, this Plan eliminates the transfer of the Keeaumoku Property to Newco; instead, Cuzco USA will retain the property and either refinance it or sell it at auction. Tera and others vigorously objected to plan confirmation on multiple grounds. The court confirmed the Fourth Amended Plan.
Tera argued (among other things) that the Third Amended Plan was the product of a fraudulent scheme by Mr. Lee, Ms. Yang, and others to divert the equity in Cuzco USA from Cuzco Korea to themselves and to render Tera’s interests in Cuzco Korea worthless.
That Korean law covers governs the right to bring derivative claims on behalf of a Korean corporation is not under dispute between the parties. (It is therefore considered part of the rules on internal organisation which are subject to lex societatis). However Faris J dismissed defendants’ suggestion that the US court should also respect Korea’s jurisdictional rules that such suits be brought in Seoul only.
At B, p.10: US statutes confer subject matter jurisdiction on US courts. Statutes of another nation, such as the South Korean statute on which the moving defendants rely, cannot change the subject matter jurisdiction of a United States bankruptcy court under a United States statute.
Forum non conveniens was dismissed for there is a strong policy that favors centralization of claims against the debtor in the bankruptcy court that outweighs any other interest (at C, p.12). One would have to have strong arguments to push that aside and clearly these were not present here.
Update 21 June 2019 the EU /Ukraine issue, below, has now led to a formal request for establishment of panel.
Update 10 April 2019 see USTR for their report on having successfully resolved a timber management issue under the US /Peru FTA.
Update 19 March 2019 see Quentin Decleve here for the US following suit, related to rule of law /due process/ hearing rights issues before the Korean competition authority.
Update 16 January 2019 the first such trigger was quickly followed by a second: the EU have requested consultations with Ukraine over the country’s ban on the export of unprocessed woods.
This is a short posting for completeness and filing purposes. The EU have requested consultations with South Korea under the Trade and Sustainable Development chapter of the EU-Korea FTA. Labour rights are at the heart of the request. The request is a first trigger of the ‘Trade and’ consultations chapters under recent EU FTAs. I am not in a position to say more at this stage.
Glaxo Welcome v Sandoz et al  EWHC 3229 (Ch), puts the spotlight on an important part of international forum shopping, namely discovery /disclosure, in particular collateral use of document obtained in one jurisdiction, in litigation in another. What is fundamentally at stake is that the launch of proceedings in a discovery friendly jurisdiction, may be simply employed as a jack for obtaining evidence to be used in a discovery-heavy jurisdiction. (A few months back the principles were also applied in Buzzfeed v Gubarev  EWHC 1201 (QB)
Claimants apply for an order permitting the second claimant to use certain documents disclosed by some of the defendants (“the Sandoz Defendants”) in the claim in the English courts, in a claim in Belgium between the second claimant and Sandoz NV (“Sandoz Belgium”). The two claims are part of global litigation between members of the GlaxoSmithKline and Sandoz groups of companies. In Europe there are claims in several jurisdictions including England and Wales, The Republic of Ireland, Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium. The disclosure exercise between the claimants and the Sandoz Defendants has been very substantial. It involved the Sandoz Defendants reviewing 406,300 documents using 50 legally qualified reviewers. This led to the subsequent disclosure of slightly in excess of 75,000 documents to the claimants.
As Marsh CM notes at 11, ‘There is a marked contrast in the manner in which litigation is conducted in England and Wales on the one hand and Belgium (and most other Civil law countries) on the other hand. In England and Wales, the ability to obtain disclosure that is adverse to the other party’s claim is an important feature of litigation. However, the evidence provided in connection with the application shows that disclosure is only available in a very limited form in Belgium. One of the issues to be determined is whether disclosure obtained in this jurisdiction should be made available to a party that is engaged in litigation in a jurisdiction where disclosure, if not unknown, is very limited in scope.’
He is of course spot on: obtaining relevant documentation from the other party is not easily done in Belgium (and elsewhere) and often needs to be deduced from final filings of submissions or indeed at the hearing stage.
Relevant authority is discussed at 22 ff., and is really quite relevant: the discussion shows among others great consideration of rule of law concerns, mutual trust between EU Member States and Council of Europe parties, and the relevance of applicable law in the assessment (at 22(5): ‘The Belgian Claim proceeds under harmonised EU law as set out in the Trade Mark Directive. It follows that the English court is in a better position to consider initial relevance of the documents to the issues in the Belgian Claim than would be the case were the claim to be one brought under domestic Belgian law’).’
Final conclusion is in favour of collateral use of a substantial amount of documents. It is worth copying Marsh CM’s reasons in full: at 60:
(1) The parties to this claim, and associated companies, are engaged in litigation on a very wide scale in many jurisdictions. They are part of very substantial businesses with equal resources. There is no suggestion that the application is oppressive.
(2) Although the legal basis for this claim and the Belgian Claim are markedly different, there are similarities between some of the issues that are engaged.
(3) The claimants have been able to satisfy the court that the majority of the documents they seek to use are likely to be relevant to the Belgian Claim. The interests of justice would therefore militate in favour of the claimants having an opportunity to obtain advice about their use in the Belgian Claim.
(4) Use of the documents to enable the second claimant to consider whether, having obtained advice, a claim against additional parties should be pursued is, to my mind, more compelling than use of documents in connection with the Belgian Claim. There are no risks of adversely affecting the existing proceedings. The court should be slow to stand in the way of a party who wishes to obtain advice about pursuing a lawful course of action.
(5) There is now an agreed procedure for the orderly progress of the appeal in Brussels with the second claimant filing an additional brief followed by Sandoz Belgium. The disruption, if any, by the introduction of additional documents has been minimised.
(6) The number of documents the claimants seek to use is relatively small. Those that may be used in the Belgian Claim are not disproportionate in volume to what is at stake in those proceedings. There is no real danger that the Belgian Claim will be overwhelmed with additional documents even if all of them are deployed and Sandoz Belgium considers it is necessary to file additional documents to counter documents having been ‘cherry picked’ by the claimants.
(7) The difference of approach between litigation in England and Belgium is a factor, but one of limited weight. There is no suggestion that the use of documents obtained in disclosure is an abuse of this court’s process. The risk of the Belgian Court’s process being subverted by the introduction of disclosure documents is marginal, particularly bearing in mind the involvement of the Belgian lawyers and the procedure that has been agreed.
(8) I accept Mr Hickman’s submission in relation to the documents exhibited to Morris 7. The documents that are exhibited were extensively discussed in the witness statement which was read by the Deputy Judge. Although the claimants do not make an application for a declaration that they are permitted to use those documents as of right, the documents have been legitimately deployed for the purposes of an application heard in open court (subject only to the pro tem confidentiality order).
(9) It is not open to the Sandoz Defendants to say, and they have not submitted, that if the order permitting use of the documents is made, their position in the Belgian Claim is prejudiced, in the sense that the likelihood of them successfully prosecuting the claim and/or defending the counterclaim is reduced. The interests of justice require that material which is likely to be relevant should be permitted for proper purposes. A reduction in their prospects of success is an immaterial consideration in their favour and, if anything, it weighs in the balance in favour of the claimant.
Looking over the fence in re B.C.I Fins. Pty Ltd. (In Liquidation). The rollercoaster world of conflict of laws.
In re B.C.I Fins. Pty Ltd. (In Liquidation) (thank you Daniel Lowenthal for flagging) illustrates to and fro exercise, hopping between laws, and the use of choice of law rules to establish (or not) jurisdiction. This method is often called the ‘conflicts method’ or ‘looking over the fence’: to establish whether one has jurisdiction a judge has to qualify his /her district as a place of performance of an obligation, or the situs of a property, requires the identification of a lex causae for the underlying obligation, application of which will in turn determine the situs of the obligation, property etc.
As Daniel points out, Bankruptcy Code section 109(a), says that “only a person that resides or has a domicile, a place of business, or property in the United States, or a municipality may be a debtor under this title.” Lane J considers the issue in Heading B and concludes that the Debtors’ Fiduciary Duty Claims against Andrew and Michael Binetter constitute property in the United States to satisfy Section 109(a).
There is no federal conflicts rule that pre-empts. New York conflict of law rules therefore apply. New York’s “greatest interest test” pointed to Australian substantive law to determine the situs of the fiduciary duties claims: “[t]he Liquidators were appointed by an Australian court, and are governed by Australian law, and Andrew Binetter is an Australian citizen. Perhaps even more importantly, the Fiduciary Duty Claims arose from acts committed in Australia and exist under Australian law, and any recovery will be distributed to foreign creditors through the Australian proceeding.’
Lane J then applies Australian substantive law eventually to hold on the situs of the fiduciary duty: considering the (competing) Australian law experts, he is most swayed by the point of view that under Australian law ‘not only debts, but also other choses in action, are for legal purposes localised and are situated where they are properly recoverable and are properly recoverable where the debtor resides.’ The Binetters reside in New York.
In summary: New York conflict of law rules look over the fence to locate the situs of a fiduciary debt to be in New York, consequently giving New york courts jurisdiction. A neat illustration of the conflicts method.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, Chapter 3, Heading
US Iran sanctions renew the spotlight on the EU’s blocking regulation: A rare EU harmonised approach to enforcement and recognition from third States.
Ross Denton at Baker & McKenzie has a gem of a briefing on the EU’s ‘blocking Regulation’ and what it would mean in light of the US’ mooted sanctions on Iran. Steptoe had earlier also pondered the impact of the US withdrawal from the ‘Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’ or JCPOA, on the Regulation.
Regulation 2271/96 provides essentially for protection against, and counteracts the effects of the extra-territorial application of the laws of third States. WTO lawyers will remember it mostly from the days of Helms-Burton. As Ross points out, the European Commission now have delegated power to populate the Annex to the list (which details the sanctions the Regulation acts against).
Potentially extra-territorial are in particular US ‘secondary’ sanctions: i.e. those against non-US individuals (or companies) for actions undertaken outside the US.
Of particular interest to readers of the blog – including researchers I would imagine, are Articles 4, 5 and 6, which I have copy-pasted in full below. They deal with recognition and enforcement, co-operation with foreign courts, and recovery of expenses. These Articles are a rare instance where the EU adopt a harmonised approach to recognition and enforcement of judgments originating ex-EU (awaiting the potential Hague Judgments project). [Update 22 May 11:30 AM. As Enio Piovezani comments below, the GDPR, too, includes a relevant rule: See Article 48: ‘Transfers or disclosures not authorised by Union law. Any judgment of a court or tribunal and any decision of an administrative authority of a third country requiring a controller or processor to transfer or disclose personal data may only be recognised or enforceable in any manner if based on an international agreement, such as a mutual legal assistance treaty, in force between the requesting third country and the Union or a Member State, without prejudice to other grounds for transfer pursuant to this Chapter.’]
As Ross points out, however, the proverbial US rock is harder than the equally proverbial EU stone, hence in practice many companies choose to abide by the US sanctions, anyways.
My fingers are itching to launch yet another interesting PhD topic on this issue…Takers?
No judgment of a court or tribunal and no decision of an administrative authority located outside the Community giving effect, directly or indirectly, to the laws specified in the Annex or to actions based thereon or resulting there from, shall be recognized or be enforceable in any manner.
No person referred to in Article 11 shall comply, whether directly or through a subsidiary or other intermediary person, actively or by deliberate omission, with any requirement or prohibition, including requests of foreign courts, based on or resulting, directly or indirectly, from the laws specified in the Annex or from actions based thereon or resulting therefrom.
Persons may be authorized, in accordance with the procedures provided in Articles 7 and 8, to comply fully or partially to the extent that non-compliance would seriously damage their interests or those of the Community. The criteria for the application of this provision shall be established in accordance with the procedure set out in Article 8. When there is sufficient evidence that non-compliance would cause serious damage to a natural or legal person, the Commission shall expeditiously submit to the committee referred to in Article 8 a draft of the appropriate measures to be taken under the terms of the Regulation.
Any person referred to in Article 11, who is engaging in an activity referred to in Article 1 shall be entitled to recover any damages, including legal costs, caused to that person by the application of the laws specified in the Annex or by actions based thereon or resulting therefrom.
Such recovery may be obtained from the natural or legal person or any other entity causing the damages or from any person acting on its behalf or intermediary.
The Brussels Convention of 27 September 1968 on jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters shall apply to proceedings brought and judgments given under this Article. Recovery may be obtained on the basis of the provisions of Sections 2 to 6 of Title II of that Convention, as well as, in accordance with Article 57 (3) of that Convention, through judicial proceedings instituted in the Courts of any Member State where that person, entity, person acting on its behalf or intermediary holds assets.
Without prejudice to other means available and in accordance with applicable law, the recovery could take the form of seizure and sale of assets held by those persons, entities, persons acting on their behalf or intermediaries within the Community, including shares held in a legal person incorporated within the Community.
I have often argued that the European Commission and by extension the EU’s Insolvency Regulation is wrong in taking as a starting point that forum shopping in insolvency matters as a rule needs to be discouraged. This aversion towards forum shopping is one of the main reasons for the UK and other Member States to keep Schemes of Arrangement and other restructuring devises well out off the reach of the Regulation. (The Brussels I recast for instance allows for much more strategic choice of court use).
Thank you Debra Dandeneau for flagging the US Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York’s decision in Ocean Rig. The Court essentially argues that to use forum shopping in a restructuring /insolvency case is absolutely acceptable provided it is done in good faith, particularly with a view to maximizing chances of survival and /or maximal recovery by the creditors. Note that the Court, in determining COMI for the various companies in the group, pays specific attention to the ascertainability, by third parties, of COMI.
A judgment to be applauded. And this posting, incidentally, is the 500th on this blog. To 1000 and beyond!
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.1, Heading 5.4.6.