I don’t think any of these judgments introduces anything new, but they might still hold a little interest:
- Wright Hassall LLP v Morris – lessons in avoiding personal liability in post-administration agreements
- McCarrick v Hunter – LPA Receivership results in change of client, thus no TUPE transfer of service provision
- City of London Group Plc & Anor v Lothbury Financial Services Limited & Ors – out-bid Newco avoids claims from purchaser finding the “cupboard bare”
- McRoberts v McRoberts – when will a court release a bankrupt from a family proceedings debt under S281(5)?
Lessons in avoiding personal liability in post-administration agreements
Wright Hassall LLP v Morris  EWCA Civ 1472 (15 November 2012)
Summary: This has been the subject of some discussion on the LinkedIn Contentious Insolvency group. The main lessons I drew from this case are that, not only should IPs take care to avoid personal liability when signing contracts/agreements as agent (SoBO?), but also to understand who – himself or the insolvent entity – is made party to legal proceedings. In this case, it seems that the IP did not think through the consequences of an action brought against him; he seemed to assume (or at least he attempted to rely on the assumption) that the successful litigant would rank pari passu with other administration expense creditors. As the IP had not appealed the order, all that was left to the judge – who was asked by the litigant for directions that it be paid in priority to the other expense creditors – was the question: was the order against the IP personally or the companies in Administration? As the companies had not been made party to the proceedings, the court on appeal concluded that it could not be the companies and thus the IP was held personally liable.
The Detail: Mr Morris, Administrator of two companies, entered into two CFAs with Wright Hassall LLP. The judgment of Lord Justice Treacy notes: “Although the heading to the agreements made plain that the two companies were in administration, and the Appellant must have understood that Mr Morris was the Administrator, when he signed the agreements he did so without any qualification as to his personal position or reservation as to his personal liability. In due course Judge Brown QC was to find that Mr Morris signed the documents without reading them” (paragraph 5). Here endeth the first lesson.
Later, the solicitors sought payment under the CFAs. The court found in favour of Wright Hassall LLP, but, as described above, when the solicitors pursued payment, Morris sought to treat them as an administration expense creditor who would need to wait along with all other expense creditors. The solicitors sought directions that they be paid in priority to the other expense creditors, but, although the issue of personal liability had not been raised before, Judge Cooke recognised that this issue was key. He decided that Morris was not personally liable, putting some weight behind the naming of the defendant as “Morris as Administrator of… Limited” and suggested that this acknowledged that Morris was acting as agent, rather than in a personal capacity. Wright Hassall LLP appealed this decision.
The problem identified by one of the appeals judges, Treacy LJ, was that the only defendant was Morris; at no stage had the companies been joined as parties to the litigation. Treacy LJ noted that there was no authority for asserting that, by describing the defendant as “Morris as Administrator of… Limited”, this recognises that he is being sued as agent. He also noted that the only way the companies could have been made party to the action was with the consent of the Administrator or by order of court, but neither of these steps had been taken. Finally, he noted that, had the companies truly been the defendants, they would have been described as “XYZ Limited (In Administration)”. As Judge Brown QC could only make an order against a party to the action before him, it followed that the order was against Mr Morris personally.
LPA Receivership results in change of client, thus no TUPE transfer of service provision
McCarrick v Hunter  EWCA Civ 1399 (30 October 2012)
Summary: I have seen some commentary on the Hunter v McCarrick Employment Appeal Tribunal ( UKEAT 0167/10/DA) and, as this recent appeal was dismissed, there has been no change, but I thought it was worth a quick mention.
We are all used to the principle that, if a business switches its service provider, the people employed by the original service provider are protected under TUPE. In this case, the appointment of LPA Receivers led to employees switching employer although they provided the same services to the same properties. However, the switch of employers was not considered to be a transfer of service provision, because the “client” had changed from the borrower to the mortgagee/receivership.
The Detail: McCarrick was employed by WCP Management Limited (“WCP”), which provided management services on a group of properties. The mortgagee appointed LPA Receivers, who instructed a new property management company, King Sturge, and thus WCP stopped providing the service. McCarrick then became employed personally by Hunter, who had an interest in seeing the swift end of the receivership and who made McCarrick available to assist King Sturge in the property management at no cost to the receivership. McCarrick apparently provided the same property management services as he had before, but he was now paid by Hunter.
Subsequently, McCarrick was dismissed and he sought to claim that the dismissal was unfair. In order to do so, he needed to prove continuity of employment between WCP and Hunter. The Employment Appeal Tribunal decided – and this appeals court confirmed – that there was no transfer of service provision between WCP and Hunter. It was stated that Regulation 3(1)(b) of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 envisages that the client will remain the same throughout the transfer of service provision and “it would be quite illegitimate to rewrite the statutory provisions in the very broad way suggested by the appellant” (paragraph 37), i.e. to enable the Regulations to achieve the purpose of protecting employees in this situation when there is a transfer of service provision. Therefore, as the client switched from the borrower to the mortgagee “and/or the receivership” (paragraph 27), Regulation 3(1)(b) regarding the transfer of service provision does not apply.
Out-bid Newco avoids claims from purchaser who found the cupboard bare
City of London Group Plc & Anor v Lothbury Financial Services Limited & Ors  EWHC 3148 (Ch) (8 November 2012)
Summary: The post-Administration purchasers of a business alleged that they found “the cupboard was bare”, but claims against “Newco” and others for migrating the business prior to insolvency failed.
What I found particularly interesting in this case was the apparent acknowledgement of the judge that the director could take certain steps in anticipation of a pre-pack sale to Newco.
The Detail: A subsidiary of the first claimant bought the business, name and assets of Lothbury Financial Limited (“LF”) from its Administrators four days after the company was placed into Administration on application of the claimants. The claimants alleged that a former director, consultants, and employee of LF conspired to transfer the business to Lothbury Financial Services Limited (“LFS”) and thus committed serious acts of misfeasance.
Mrs Justice Proudman concluded that the claims failed. She was satisfied that the evidence demonstrated that: LFS operated as a bona fide separate business prior to the Administration of LF; LF’s clients were not misled, but chose to follow the consultants, who had no restrictive covenants, to LFS of their own accord (the business was PR); and LFS was entitled to continue to use the name after the goodwill of LF was sold to the claimant.
As far back as summer 2009 (LF was placed into Administration on 29 March 2010), the director was taking advice from an IP regarding a pre-pack Administration, although he was also attempting to re-negotiate payment terms with the claimant in order to rescue LF. The claimants alleged that LFS was set up and structured as part of the director’s exit strategy, that LFS was to be the destination for LF’s business. “The claimants argue that the allegation of a pre-pack administration is self-serving as depriving LF of its business served to ensure that the price to be paid would be minimised and rival bidders would be discouraged. However, preparing to succeed to an original business in such circumstances is in my judgment different from preparing to compete with it. It is the essence of a pre-pack management buy-out that information has to be derived from the failing company in order to structure such a buy-out” (paragraph 38).
So how much activity in preparation of a pre-pack is acceptable and over what kind of period? It is noteworthy that in this case, although there was evidence of some confusion of company names on a client’s contract and an employee was described as having “overreached herself” (paragraph 28) in explaining to the London Stock Exchange’s Regulated News Section that LF had simply changed its name to LFS and moved offices, the judge found no case against the director for breach of fiduciary duty and noted that LF suffered no loss by the actions.
When will a court release a bankrupt from a family proceedings debt under S281(5)?
McRoberts v McRoberts  EWHC 2966 (Ch) (1 November 2012)
Summary: A discharged bankrupt was refused release from a bankruptcy debt arising from a family proceedings order.
Although this is not a particularly surprising outcome, the judgment provides a useful summary of the factors the court considers when deciding whether to override the default position of S281(5) of the Insolvency Act 1986.
The Detail: Mr McRoberts’ bankruptcy started in September 2006. Mrs McRoberts submitted a proof of debt for c.£245,000 being the amount owed under an order in their family proceedings in 2003 in resolution of their financial claims ancillary to their divorce. Mr McRoberts was discharged from bankruptcy in September 2007 and the bankruptcy was concluded with no distribution to creditors.
S281(5) provides that discharge from bankruptcy does not release the debtor from such a debt, but the court has jurisdiction to release it and the court in Hayes v Hayes held that the court’s discretion in this matter is unfettered and the debt can be released after the debtor’s discharge. The Hon. Mr Justice Hildyard considered the factors described in Hayes and continued: “As it seems to me, the ultimate balance to be struck is between (a) the prejudice to the respondent/obligee in releasing the obligation if otherwise there would or might be some prospect of any part of the obligation being met and (b) the potential prejudice to the applicant’s realistic chance of building a viable financial future for himself and those dependent upon him if the obligation remains in place. In striking that balance I consider that the burden is on the applicant; unless satisfied that the balance of prejudice favours its release the obligation should remain in place” (paragraphs 24 and 25). He also considered that a review of the merits or overall fairness of the underlying obligation did not come into it, but that, if any modification of the order were sought, this was a matter for the matrimonial courts.
In this case, the judge’s view was that the balance remained in favour of keeping the obligation in place – the debtor had not provided evidence that any future enterprise or activity would be blighted by the continued obligation – and thus he declined to grant release.