Want to stymie a judgment creditor? It’s not as easy as you think.

English courts aren’t best pleased when they give judgment, only to find someone busily trying to frustrate the claimant’s efforts to collect on it. Last year, in JSC BTA Bank v Ablyazov [2016] EWHC 230 (Comm) (noted here on this blog), Teare J very rightly decided that an elusive judgment debtor’s pal was liable in tort to the judgment creditor when he helped the debtor shuffle his assets around in an elaborate “now you see them, now you don’t” exercise. Yesterday, in Marex Financial Ltd v Garcia [2017] EWHC 918 (Comm), Knowles J carried on the good work. Marex had got judgment in England for some $5 million, plus the usual freezing orders, against a couple of BVI companies controlled by SG, a globetrotting businessman. SG thereafter took care to avoid the UK, instead taking steps to spirit away the English assets of his companies to a web of entities in far-flung jurisdictions where it was difficult, if not impossible, for Marex to track them down. Marex thereupon sought permission to sue SG out of the jurisdiction, alleging a tort committed in England. What tort? In so far as SG might be deemed to have acted with the companies’ consent, inducement of breach of contract (i.e. the implicit contract by the companies to pay the judgment debt); and in so far as the companies hadn’t consented and hence he was in breach of duty to them, causing loss to Marex by unlawful means. Knowles J agreed with both limbs of the argument, swiftly disposed of a forum non conveniens point, and allowed service out, thus giving Marex at least a decent chance of getting paid.

Good news, therefore, to judgment creditors. Moreover, while this was a non-EU service out case, note that so long as any relevant monkey-business took place in England, its reasoning will apply equally to EU and EEA-based defendants under Brussels I and Lugano, because the tort “gateway” has been interpreted similarly in both cases since Brownlie v Four Seasons Holdings Inc [2015] EWCA Civ 665; [2016] 1 W.L.R. 1814.

So good luck and good hunting.

Investors — beware how you handle corporate structures

Most serious investors in everything from ships to real estate to businesses act through the medium of ‘tame’ companies. They do this for very good reasons. However, the Supreme Court gave a salutary warning this morning that even the simplest structures of this kind can provide pitfalls for the unwary.

Slightly simplified, in Lowick Rose LLP (in liquidation) v Swynson Ltd [2017] UKSC 32 what happened was this. A wealthy investor H used a wholly-owned special purpose vehicle S Ltd to make a loan of £15 million to EMS Ltd to enable EMS to buy MIA Inc. Due diligence, or rather a lack of it, was provided by accountants HMT, who failed to notice glaring problems with MIA. The trouble quickly surfaced. As a damage limitation exercise H caused S to lend a further £1.75m to EMSL in 2007 and £3m in 2008, H at the same time obtaining a large holding in EMS. Things went from bad to worse, and in 2008 more refinancing was necessary. H personally lent EMS some £19 million, most of which went to pay off EMS’s borrowings from S, with the rest being new money. To no avail: MIA collapsed, and with it the whole house of cards.

H and S sued HMT for losses of some £16 million. At this point an awkwardness arose. HMT was held on the facts to have owed no duty to H. As regards S it admitted negligence, but argued that in so far as S’s loans to EMS had been paid off (by H) the loss was H’s and not S’s. Reversing the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court decided for HMT. S had indeed suffered no loss. The loan by H to EMS to pay off S was not an unconnected benefit, so as to be regarded as res inter alios acta. Nor could S invoke transferred loss and the rule in Dunlop v Lambert (1839) 2 Cl & F 626; nor yet could H use the doctrine of subrogation to keep the loan from S to EMS alive and claim in the name of S.

A nice windfall for HMT’s professional indemnity insurers, and an unnecessary one. Had H lent the money to S for S to use to refinance EMS, there would have been no problem; H, through S, would have been £16 million to the good. But he hadn’t done that, and that was an end of the matter. As we said above, when using corporate structures any failure to take care to guard your back can be very costly.

Solicitors also note: you are now on notice. Since this decision, unless you take great care in advising on refinancing deals, the SIF is likely to have some less-than-kind words for you too.

Message from the Supreme Court: do your due diligence

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in BPE Solicitors v Hughes-Holland [2017] UKSC 21 looks like a dry-as-dust decision on the measure of damages in professional negligence cases. It is more important than that, however.

A financier, G, was negligently misinformed by his solicitor about a project he was thinking of financing. To cut a long story short, G was led to believe he was bankrolling the carrying out of a property development, while in fact he was merely refinancing the property owner’s own crippling indebtedness, leaving no assets left over to actually do the work. Having taken the loan the borrower went bust; the property was sold for a song, and G lost his hard-earned cash.

Pretty obviously, had G not been misled he would have run a mile and invested his funds elsewhere, where they would still have been available to him. There was however a complication: quite apart from any misinformation by his lawyers, the project he invested in was a complete dud from beginning to end. In other words, even if what his solicitors told him had been entirely true and he had been financing the actual works, he would still have been pouring his money down the drain, and he would still have lost out.

Upholding the Court of Appeal, Lord Sumption (speaking for the court) decided that G recovered nothing. Even though he would not have made the disastrous investment he did but for his solicitors’ blunder, his solicitors’ duty did not extend to protecting him from garden variety commercial misfortune. It followed that (contrary to a number of earlier authorities) the so-called SAAMCO cap (see South Australia Asset Management Corpn v York Montague Ltd [1997] AC 191) applied to reduce recovery to nil.

The significance of this decision to businesses generally, from lenders of money to buyers of ships or businesses, is that it removes what was once quite a comforting safety-net. Prior to BPE, if professional advisers negligently failed to tell a client facts indicating that some investment he was seeking to make was entirely unacceptable or unviable, the client could recover his entire (foreseeable) loss, even if other commercial conditions indicated that the deal was a disaster and he would have lost out anyway regardless of the facts he was not told about. Quite rightly, the Supreme Court has now closed off this means of palming off one’s own financial misjudgment on somebody else’s professional indemnity insurers. As the title says: do your due diligence. If you don’t, from now on you’re on your own.

New York judgment against you? England expects you to pay up, in pretty short order.

A refreshing no-nonsense approach from Teare J today in Midtown Acquisitions LP v Essar Global Fund Ltd [2017] EWHC 519 (Comm) to a guarantor desperately trying to avoid enforcement in London of a judgment given against it in Manhattan. EGF had guaranteed a facility given to Essar Steel Minnesota LLC, a now-very-bankrupt former subsidiary of monster Indian conglomerate Essar Global. When Essar Minnesota defaulted, EGF  confessed liability ; a New York judge duly signed judgment against it in the modest sum of about $172 million. EGF applied to vacate the judgment: meanwhile the creditor, Midtown, wasted no time and applied to enforce it in England.

Teare J in quick succession demolished four arguments hopefully raised against enforcement.

(a) The New York order was based on a confession of liability, with no action technically brought. Irrelevant, he said: it was still a judgment.

(b) The outstanding application to vacate meant that the judgment wasn’t final. Nonsense: it was immediately binding as res judicata in New York unless and until set aside, and that sufficed to make it enforceable in England.

(c) The judgment was on admissions, with neither party arguing on the law or the facts. So what? It was still a judgment on the merits — i.e. whether EGF had to pay $172 million.

(d) To a half-hearted pleading of fraud, Teare J answered shortly that only a showing of conscious and deliberate dishonesty would do to establish this, and none had been pleaded or shown.

In addition he was prepared to enforce the judgment on the basis of a clause under which “The Guarantor agrees that a judgment in any such action, suit or proceeding may be enforced in any other jurisdiction by suit upon such judgment … The Guarantor hereby waives any objection it may now or hereafter have to the laying of the venue of any such action, suit or proceeding, and … further waives any claim that any such action, suit or proceeding brought in any of the aforesaid courts has been brought in any inconvenient forum.”

The only indulgence he allowed was a short stay of execution until one week after the result of the application to vacate: unless the application was successful, execution would then follow automatically.

In our view this judgment is to be welcomed and should be widely publicised. If a creditor has a clear claim, the fact that it got judgment on it quickly, with no argument, ought to be a factor in favour of, rather than against, its being immediately able to enforce that judgment here. Furthermore, delaying tactics such as applications to vacate should generally not be allowed to derail the process. The message is simple: even outside the EU context, bring your judgments to London, and we’ll enforce them unless the other side produces a pretty convincing reason why we shouldn’t.

 

English law and jurisdiction post-Brexit

Evidence has recently been given to the EU justice sub-committee of the House of Lords that Brexit may scare off foreign businessmen from choosing English law and jurisdiction in favour of the Netherlands, Germany or Singapore. Sir Oliver Heald, Justice Minister, has pooh-poohed the idea. We suspect that, even discounting political hype, Sir Oliver may well be correct. Provided that arrangements are made for mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments between the UK and EU – something in all parties’ interests, even if the preservation of the whole of Brussels I is not – it is difficult to see how Brexit will change anything.

Shipbuilding options – worth the paper they’re written on?

Shipbuilding contracts often contain an element of “buy one, get a special offer on another”. In other words, an order for one vessel may well give the buyer an option on one or more further ships to be built at a later date. Unfortunately option provisions of this kind, can be of doubtful value, as Teekay Tankers found to its cost this week. As part of an order for four vessels from Korean builders STX, the parties included a clause aimed at giving an option on a further dozen vessels as follows:

“The Delivery Dates for each [of the] Optional Vessels shall be mutually agreed upon at the time of [Teekay’s] declaration of the relevant option … but [STX] will make best efforts to have a delivery within 2016 for each [of the] First Optional Vessels, within 2017 for each [of the] Second Optional Vessels and within 2017 for each [of the] Third Optional Vessels.”

STX went into Korean-style Chapter 11 bankruptcy, failed to build the original four ships and unsurprisingly repudiated the extra options. For the purpose of establishing its rights in the Korean administration (since recognised in England under the Model Law on Cross-border Insolvency), Teekay with the court’s permission got an arbitration award in respect of the original vessels, and in Teekay Tankers Ltd v STX Offshore & Shipbuilding Co Ltd [2017] EWHC 253 (Comm) sued for damages for the repudiation of the options. It failed in the latter.  Although it was clear that both parties had intended the option provision to have legal effect, and also that the courts disliked striking down a clause for uncertainty, this was simply too vague, since there was no way of establishing what criteria were to apply if Teekay gave notice to exercise the options and the parties could not agree dates. Cutting through a lot of verbiage, the conclusion appears to be simply this: to be sure of being able to enforce options of this kind, there is little alternative to providing for some kind of arbitration or third-party decision to be binding in the absence of some other agreement. Unpalatable, to be sure, especially to the yards, which need to maintain flexibility: but there seems little choice in the matter.

 

 

Standby letters of credit: fraud allegation repelled.

Robust common sense from the Court of Appeal today in Petrosaudi Oil Services Ltd v Novo Banco SA & Others [2017] EWCA Civ 9 on standby letters of credit, where  Christopher Clarke LJ satisfactorily took legal technicality in his stride to make sure the right side won.
PDVSA, a Venezuelan state oil company, signed up Petrosaudi to do some drilling work: Petrosaudi sensibly insisted on PDVSA providing a standby letter of credit from Novo Banco to cover sums which Petrosaudi certified PDVSA were “obligated” to pay them. The drilling contract stated that payments were due 30 days after being invoiced, with a “pay now, argue later” term applying in the absence of a notice within ten days that the sums stated due were disputed. A cool $129 million was invoiced to PDVSA. After 30 days it had been neither paid nor disputed, and Petrosaudi claimed from Novo Banco. At this point PDVSA intervened. They said, correctly, that the bill was disputed; that certain provisions of Venezuelan law (which admittedly applied to the contract) invalidated the “pay now, argue later” clause, and also provided, for good measure, official approval was required before any bill could be paid; and all these facts had been known to TB, the executive of Petrosaudi who certified that PDVSA was obligated to pay the $129 million. PDVSA persuaded HHJ Waksman that for that reason TB’s calling in the SLC for a sum he knew couldn’t be sued for was fraud, which meant payment from the bank wasn’t due and could be enjoined. Petrosaudi appealed. The Court of Appeal agreed with Petrosaudi: a debt could perfectly well exist (and hence be called something the debtor was obligated to pay) even if it wasn’t exigible in court yet. It followed that TB had been perfectly entitled, since he thought PDVSA’s challenge to the amount payable was baseless, to say that PDVSA was obligated to pay the full sum.

In our view, quite rightly so. One reason you demand a performance bond (which is essentially what a SLC is) rather than a simple bank guarantee of a co-contractor’s obligations is precisely to assure yourself of cash-flow by shutting out snivelling arguments that the principal debt is disputed or not payable yet, or payable subject to a set-off, or whatever. A worrying feature of the first instance decision in Petrosaudi was precisely that it dangerously extended fraud and left the beneficiary with the prospect of an undeserved hole amounting to well over $100 million in its balance sheet: not a prospect that even Petrosaudi would view with equanimity.

Upcoming in the Supreme Court

Among the all-too-numerous public law cases slated for hearing in the Supreme Court this coming term, three solid commercial appeals beckon. IPCO (Nigeria) Ltd v Nigeria National Petroleum Corp [2015] EWCA Civ 1144 is about arbitration and security for costs (hearing 2 Feb).  Wood v Capita Insurance [2015] EWCA Civ 839 (7 Feb) is yet another case on interpretation of contracts to add to the burgeoning jurisprudence which almost every  judge faced with an interpretation issue now feels constrained to mention in his judgment. And, for financial law buffs, there is Taurus Petroleum Ltd v SOMO [2015] EWCA Civ 835 (21/22 March) on the situs of a L/C debt (and an incidental question of who the creditor is). Happy days.

2017

 

best happy new year 2017 wallpapers

 

Happy New Year to all our followers on the first working day of 2017. We will continue to look closely at what matters in maritime and commercial law. Once the minor matter of Brexit is out of the way, there are at least three rather important Supreme Court decisions in the pipeline — on safe ports, combined dangers, and (vitally) the effect of joint names insurance on liability (The Ocean Victory [2015] EWCA Civ 16); on “per claim” limits in insurance (AIG v Woodman [2016] EWCA Civ 367); and on the right to recover more by way of commercial damages than the losses that appear on any balance sheet (the combined appeals in The New Flamenco [2015] EWCA 1299 and Swynson v Lowick Rose [2015] EWCA Civ 629). And much more. As ever, watch this space.

Exemption clauses mean what they say — and so does the Misrepresentation Act 1967

Common sense in spades yesterday from the CA, in one of Moore-Bick LJ’s last judgments, contained in the financial misinformation case of Taberna Europe CDO II Plc v Selskabet AF [2016] EWCA Civ 1262. Taberna bought loan notes issued by Roskilde, a thoroughly bad Danish bank. They bought them not directly but on the secondary market from Deutsche Bank, allegedly on the basis of negligent misrepresentations by Roskilde. In due course, having lost their money, they claimed under the Misrepresentation Act 1967, s.2(1), against the successor body to Roskilde, which it was arguable under Danish law had to pick up the tab for misrepresentation claims. Three interesting issues arose:

(1) Roskilde’s pitch included two exemptions: “No liability whatsoever is accepted as to any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein”, and “Neither the Bank nor any officers or employees accepts any liability whatsoever arising directly or indirectly from the use of this presentation for any purpose.” Eder J held them inapplicable to Taberna’s claim on the basis of contra proferentem and Canada SS Lines v R [1952] AC 192. The CA disagreed, downplaying the supposed presumption against exoneration for negligence, and saying (at [23]): “In the past judges have tended to invoke the contra proferentem rule as a useful means of controlling unreasonable exclusion clauses. The modern view, however, is to recognise that commercial parties (which these were) are entitled to make their own bargains and that the task of the court is to interpret fairly the words they have used.” This adds to a line of recent cases (and in our view a very sound one) to similar effect, most recently Transocean Drilling v Providence Resources [2016] EWCA Civ 372, noted here in this blog.

(2) Did s.2(1) of the Misrepresentation Act apply at all, since Taberna bought from Deutsche Bank and not Roskilde? Eder J had held that the Act applied, because by buying the notes Taberna came into contractual relations with Roskilde, presumably by assignment. This holding looked odd at the time, and the CA specifically discountenanced it: the 1967 Act applies only to contracts directly induced between representor and representee.

(3) Was contributory negligence pleadable against a claim under s.2(1) of the 1967 Act? The answer, again sensibly, was said to be Yes, though the question didn’t arise since (a) Roskilde wasn’t liable anyway and (b) Taberna hadn’t been negligent.

Altogether a good day for down-to-earth contract lawyers. We congratulate Sir Martin and wish him a happy retirement.