The Rule in Gibbs: Safeguarding Creditors’ Rights or Aiding and Abetting “Hold Out” in Foreign Insolvencies?

There is an English common law rule that a debt governed by English law cannot be discharged or compromised by a foreign insolvency proceeding. This rule is derived from a Court of Appeal case: Antony Gibbs and sons v La Société Industrielle et Commerciale des Métaux (1890) 25 QBD 399.

The rule has been heavily criticised. Many do not consider it to be relevant in modern day cross-border insolvency proceedings following the continuing trend towards recognition of foreign insolvency proceedings (and their effects). As explained further below, some commentators see the rule as assisting creditors to “hold out” from participating in collective insolvency measures which are designed to benefit the creditor class as a whole.

The English court recently had the opportunity to review whether Gibbs still applied in Bakhshiyeva v Sberbank of Russia [2018] EWHC 59 (Ch). The court considered an application by a foreign representative to the English court on behalf of a debtor, International Bank of Azerbaijan, for a permanent stay on a creditors’ enforcement of claims in England under an English law governed contract contrary to the terms of the foreign insolvency proceeding. Under local law, the English creditors were purportedly bound. The Azerbaijani proceedings were not “terminal” liquidation proceedings and therefore, any stay would need to apply beyond the duration of the proceedings to properly bind the English creditors and to permanently give effect to the insolvency proceedings.

The foreign proceedings were conducted in Azerbaijan and had been recognised in England under the Cross-Border Insolvency Regulations 2006 (the “CBIR“) (implementing UNCITRAL Model Law). The CBIR are a procedural mechanism whereby foreign insolvency proceedings (conducted outside the EU) can be recognised and foreign representatives can seek “assistance” from courts in other jurisdictions to effect the insolvency proceedings (subject to any restrictions on the exercise of such power under local law).

The English High Court found that the rule in Gibbs did apply to prevent the court granting a permanent (or indefinite) stay on the enforcement of creditors’ English law governed contractual claims. Any stay granted by the court would be more than simply procedural and would go to the substance of creditors’ claims – the court would, in effect, be ordering the discharge of the creditor’s claim and was prohibited from doing this, following the rule in Gibbs.

The message for creditors with English law claims which are purportedly extinguished under a foreign (non-EU) insolvency process is therefore, to adopt a “hold out” position. Following the expiry of the foreign proceedings (and any related stay on creditor action), objecting creditors may then take steps to enforce English law governed contractual claims provided however, that they have not participated in the foreign insolvency proceedings (they may otherwise be deemed to have accepted the jurisdiction of the foreign proceeding).

We note many holders of English law governed bonds issued by the Greek government adopted a “hold-out” strategy knowing that the English courts would not recognise any provision of Greek law extinguishing or amending the sovereign debt.

The “territorial” nature of the rule in Gibbs is, arguably, “out of step” with trends in modern insolvency law. In the US, for example, in proceedings under Chapter 15 of the Bankruptcy Code (the US statute adopting UNCITRAL Model Law) (“Chapter 15“), US courts have enforced foreign court judgements made in foreign proceedings, including judgements which alter or vary US law governed debts or claims. Chapter 15 does however, include important public policy protections for creditors designed to forestall recognition of clearly abusive procedures.

The US has a longstanding policy of recognising restructurings of US law governed financings of foreign companies. The Supreme Court’s 1883 decision in the famous Gebhard case (Canada Southern Railway Co v Gebhard [1883] 109 US 527) set the precedent for US recognition of foreign restructuring processes in which Chief Justice Waite endorsed the recognition of the implementation of a Canadian scheme of arrangement with the words “under these circumstances the true spirit of international comity requires that schemes of this character, legalised at home, should be recognised in other countries“.

The “public policy” exception to recognition under Chapter 15 only applies in “exceptional circumstances” and includes, for example, circumstances where a creditor was denied due process and notice of the foreign insolvency proceedings of the debtor; and the denial of privacy rights. The fact that a creditor may make a more limited recovery, and the fact that the substantive law of the insolvency proceeding was not the same as US law, were not held to be “manifestly contrary” to public policy.

We note the Gibbs rule has been disapplied in the context of EU insolvency proceedings, on the basis that English courts recognise the jurisdiction of courts in respect of insolvency proceedings in Member States under the European Insolvency Regulation (“EIR“); and similar “public policy” exceptions apply. It is difficult to justify the radically different approach English courts take to non-EU insolvency proceedings particularly given the UK’s recent decision to leave the EU.

Our view is that as part of any withdrawal treaty of the UK from the EU, the parties should look to negotiate a process for mutual recognition of insolvency proceedings based on the EIR “recognition” approach. Looking outside of its relationship with the EU, it would also seem sensible for the UK to look to adopt an approach similar to US Chapter 15, for the UK courts to recognise foreign insolvency proceedings with safeguards for creditors to avoid the application of such rules only if limited public policy reasons exist to void the application of the foreign insolvency proceedings. The English court will want to avoid “re-litigating” issues dealt with under foreign insolvency proceedings, and should not examine actual recoveries made by creditors. However, a carve out on “public policy” grounds could protect English creditors if it captured circumstances where the process was evidently “discriminatory” to foreign (English) creditors.

We acknowledge there are strong arguments to retain the Gibbs rule. By entering an English law contract, creditors may feel strongly that they wish to retain the impartiality, commerciality and due process English courts are well known for.

As we near BREXIT, in this issue as in so many others, the UK has a decision to make: adopt English “exceptionalism” or take a more ‘universalist’ view implied by the recognition of foreign insolvency proceedings exemplified by the current arrangements under the EIR? The choice is looming.

Second Circuit Overturns Ruling on Cram-Down Interest Rates in Momentive

 

 

  • Adopts Sixth Circuit Test for Selecting Interest Rate
  • Affirms District and Bankruptcy Court Determinations Regarding Senior Debt Status and Disallowing Make-Whole Payments
  • Rejects Debtor’s Equitable Mootness Argument

On October 20, 2017, the Second Circuit issued its long awaited ruling[1] on several appeals from a U.S. District Court (Bricetti, J.) determination affirming the United States Bankruptcy Court (Drain, J.) in the MPM Silicones, L.L.C. (“Momentive”) bankruptcy case.[2]   The Second Circuit rejected the lower court rulings applying a “formula rate” of interest to cram-down paper issued to senior secured lenders under the Momentive plan of reorganization and remanded the case to the bankruptcy court with instructions to apply an “efficient market rate” of interest if one could be ascertained.  READ MORE

Recast EU Insolvency Regulation Comes into Force

 

On 26 June 2017, the Recast EU Insolvency Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No. 2015/848) came into force. It will apply to all relevant insolvency proceedings (although existing and ongoing proceedings will continue to be bound by the EU Insolvency Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No. 1346/2000) (the “EIR”)). The Recast EU Insolvency Regulation will have direct effect in all EU member states (except Denmark).”

The Recast EU Insolvency Regulation is an update of the EIR following ten years of insolvency practice and experience since the EIR’s implementation. Largely, it represents a codification of well-established insolvency practice developed across the EU under the EIR however, it also introduces new innovative steps which, it is hoped, mark a step forward in light of learnings under the EIR to address perceived issues or “gaps” in existing legislation. READ MORE

Orrick Assists in the Restructuring of Leading French Digital Media Group SoLocal

Orrick assisted GLAS Trust Corporation Limited in the recent financial restructuring of SoLocal Group S.A., the leading French provider of digital local media and marketing.

The main creditors involved were the lenders of around €835 million in senior secured bank debt and the holders of €350,000,000 8.875% senior secured notes due 2018 (the “Notes”). The restructuring agreed between the company, its shareholders and its creditors involved a partial cash prepayment of debt and a swap for new notes, warrants, convertible notes and equity. Shareholders received three free shares for every two existing ones held. Overall the restructuring resulted in a two-thirds reduction in debt (from €1.158 billion to €398 million) and greatly reduced leverage ratio. READ MORE

Debtwire European Distressed Debt Market Outlook 2017

 

The 2017 Debtwire European Distressed Debt Outlook report surveyed 100 distressed investors and 30 private equity funds to establish the outlook for 2017.  Jointly sponsored by Orrick and Greenhill, the report predicts that European restructurings will hit their next peak in 2017, with respondents citing interest rate rises (22%), geopolitical conflict (21%) and Brexit (16%) as the most important macroeconomic factors driving this trend.  READ MORE

The Gorsuch Nomination: The Return of the Business Friendly Court?

 

President Donald Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, to fill the Supreme Court seat of Justice Antonin Scalia. Our Supreme Court and appellate team, led by partner Bob Loeb, took a look at Judge Gorsuch’s track record as a judge on key business issues like securities litigation, arbitration and bankruptcy, to speculate on his future as a potential justice. To read the full article, please click here.

Orrick’s Marc Levinson Compares Chapter 9 to Chapter 11 for the Federal Judicial Center Website

 

Orrick Restructuring Senior Counsel Marc Levinson is one of the chapter 9 experts assisting in the preparation of a chapter 9 manual for bankruptcy judges and court clerks that has been posted on the website of the Federal Judicial Center, an arm of the United States Courts which educates federal judges.  Among other things, the manual will discuss the differences between chapter 9 and chapter 11 bankruptcies. The below video comparing chapter 9 v. chapter 11 was prepared at the FJC’s request that Marc draw upon his experience representing the cities of Stockton and Vallejo, California, in their chapter 9 cases. It has been posted on the FJC’s website, but note that access to the video on that website is restricted to judges. READ MORE

Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Jevic on Whether Distribution of Settlement Proceeds May Depart From Statutory Priority Scheme

 

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on December 7, 2016 in Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp. The case poses a question that has divided the Second, Third, and Fifth Circuits: Whether a bankruptcy court may authorize the distribution of settlement proceeds in a way that departs from the statutory priority scheme in the Bankruptcy Code, including through a so-called “structured settlement.” READ MORE

Sixth Circuit Finds Bankruptcy Court Cannot Force City to Provide Services in Chapter 9

On November 14, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that courts in chapter 9 cases lack authority to order a municipal debtor to provide services to its constituents. Affirming the bankruptcy court’s dismissal of customers’ claims arising from the termination of their water service by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, the Sixth Circuit held that section 904 of the Bankruptcy Code prohibits a chapter 9 court from entering orders that “interfere” with a municipality’s “political [and] governmental powers.” In re City of Detroit, Mich., No. 15-2236, 2016 WL 6677715 (6th Cir. Nov. 14, 2016). READ MORE

Third Circuit Departs from Momentive and Reinstates EFIH Noteholder Make-Whole Claims Causing Uncertainty over EFH’s Ability to Exit Bankruptcy

Recently, the Third Circuit reversed decisions issued by the Delaware Bankruptcy and District Courts and permitted first and second lien noteholders of Energy Future Intermediate Holding Company LLC and EFIH Finance Inc. to receive payment of a make-whole premium. In re Energy Future Holdings Corp., No. 16-1351 (3d Cir. Nov. 17, 2016).  The decision, which is largely grounded in New York law, departs from recent controversial decisions issued by the Bankruptcy Court and District Court for the Southern District of New York in the Momentive bankruptcy, which we have previously discussed here and here.  In Momentive, the courts reached the opposite conclusion on substantially similar facts.  In Momentive, the courts reached the opposite conclusion on substantially similar facts.  In addition to creating a split between the Third Circuit and the Southern District of New York, the ruling creates uncertainty regarding the ability for the debtors in the long-running EFH bankruptcy to confirm their proposed chapter 11 plan. READ MORE