Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler

Not the Game appeal

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Plenty of comprehensive summaries of the Game appeal have been produced, so I cover here some lesser-known judgments:

Salliss v Hunt – a Deputy Registrar’s approval of a Trustee’s fees basis being switched from percentage to time costs comes under scrutiny
LSI 2013 Limited v The Solar Panel (UK) Company Limited – how presenting contingent creditors in a CVA proposal may have unintended consequences
Credit Lucky Limited v NCA – a Company’s attempt to escape a winding-up in favour of an Administration Order fails
Day v Shaw & Shaw – spouse entitled to an equity of exoneration even though the co-owner was not the principal debtor

A couple of useful summaries of the Game appeal can be found at: http://lexisweb.co.uk/blog/randi/landlords-can-rejoice-following-the-game-administration-decision/ and http://www.11sb.com/pdf/insider-note-cofa-game-decision-26-feb-2014.pdf.

(UPDATE: Game Retail’s application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court is expected to be heard in November 2014.)

(UPDATE 02/11/2014: The Supreme Court refused Game Retail permission to appeal on the basis that “the application does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance which ought to be considered by the Supreme Court at this time bearing in mind that the case has already been the subject of judicial decision and reviewed on appeal.” (http://goo.gl/cWWuDs))

Baister’s Practice Statement applied to Trustee’s request to switch fees basis from percentage to time costs

Salliss v Hunt (10 February 2014) ([2014] EWHC 229 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2014/229.html

The Chancellor of the High Court opened his judgment by calling this a “regrettable case of litigation”, which should have been avoided.

Mr Salliss had been made bankrupt in 1993 on the petition of Barclays Bank plc, which appeared to have been owed over £2m originally. The creditors approved the Trustee’s fees as the first £2,000 realised and thereafter on the OR’s scale.

The only assets were pension plans. These had not been realised, but when Mr Salliss reached 65 in 2007 he began working on an annulment so that he could draw down on the pensions. He paid the claims of his creditors other than Barclays, which had not submitted a proof of debt and, when pressed, confirmed that it had withdrawn its right to claim in the bankruptcy due to the age of the case.

Then the court applications began…

Salliss applied for an annulment, but the Trustee’s report indicated that his time costs were almost £40,000 and other costs and expenses were £24,000. Salliss put forward an accountant’s report that stated that strictly the Trustee was not entitled to any remuneration, in view of the basis agreed by creditors.

The Trustee applied for an order that Salliss sign the necessary forms so that the Trustee could realise his interest in the pensions. The Trustee also applied to change the basis of his fees from the agreed percentage basis to time costs. Nine months on, the Trustee’s fees and costs had increased from £64,000 to over £150,000.

All three applications came before the Deputy Registrar, who rejected the annulment application, but granted the Trustee’s two applications. He considered that time costs was the only appropriate basis “because even though the bankruptcy commenced more than 19 years ago there is still uncertainty as to what might be realised and when if it continues and in any event the extent of the time necessarily and unavoidably spent by Mr Hunt and his staff already is such that a percentage basis of any kind could not, in my view, result in appropriate remuneration, especially as yet further time would have to be spent the amount of which cannot be anticipated” (paragraph 35). He had also been reluctant to ignore Barclays’ debt entirely, given the precedent of Gill v Quinn, which had involved the rejection of an annulment because of a number of creditors’ silence to invitations to prove their debts.

At the appeal, the Chancellor’s view was that this case was quite different to Gill v Quinn and that the evidence showed that Barclays had taken “an informed policy decision that it would not then or in the future lodge a proof in respect of any debt in Mr Salliss’ bankruptcy” (paragraph 41) and therefore Barclays’ debt was irrelevant to the annulment application.

He also felt that the Deputy Registrar’s approach to the remuneration application was flawed. He felt that insufficient regard had been given to Chief Registrar Baister’s Practice Statement on the fixing and approval of the remuneration of appointees, which, contrary to the Deputy Registrar’s view, he felt was relevant to applications to have a fees basis changed as well as fixed by the court. With the Practice Direction in mind, the Chancellor stated that the proper approach “is to begin by asking what has changed and was not foreseen and could not have been foreseen when the creditors made their decision” (paragraph 51). In this case, it had always been known that the assets were limited, but the Trustee had been content to continue to act under the creditors’ resolution. The Chancellor commented that “the usual and proper course should be for the trustee to apply to the court for a change in the basis of remuneration as soon as it becomes clear that an application will be necessary in order to make the remuneration (in the words of the Practice Direction) fair, reasonable and commensurate with the nature and extent of the work properly to be undertaken by the appointee. In other words, the application should, so far as practicable, be prospective and not retrospective. Unless there is some good and proper reason to do otherwise, it is not appropriate for the trustee to wait until all the work is done and then apply to the court as a ‘fait accompli’ for a retrospective change in the remuneration resolved by the creditors” (paragraph 53).

The Chancellor decided that the annulment and the remuneration applications should be set aside, although he felt unable to determine them on the appeal. He did, however, draw attention to “the considerable increase in the bankruptcy fees and expenses… in substance due to the time, cost and expense of litigating over the costs, expenses and remuneration at the date of the Trustee’s Report” (paragraph 52) and questioned whether the matter could have been brought to a swift conclusion far earlier, when the pension plans’ lump sum might have been sufficient to meet all the costs and expenses.

The consequences of presenting contingent creditors in CVA proposals

LSI 2013 Limited v The Solar Panel (UK) Company Limited (14 January 2014) ([2014] EWHC 248 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2014/248.html

The Company appealed a winding-up order on the ground that the Deputy District Judge had been wrong to treat the petitioning creditor as a contingent creditor, when the petition debt was genuinely disputed on substantial grounds.

At the appeal, counsel for the petitioning creditor focussed on a draft proposal for the Company’s CVA, which had listed the petitioner as a contingent creditor, albeit only for £1, and did not refer to the claim as disputed; the IP who had drafted the CVA proposal clearly would have understood the distinction between contingent claims and disputed debts. Consequently, the Deputy District Judge had accepted that the Company was insolvent and that the petitioning creditor was a contingent creditor and thus the winding-up petition had been granted.

His Honour Judge Hodge QC felt that the Deputy District Judge had attached too much weight to the reference in the CVA proposal – which was described as draft and had not been signed by the director – that the creditor was contingent and, in any event, it also stated that £1 was the total claim the creditor would have in a terminal insolvency. Hodge HHJ also noted that the petition had not been founded on the petitioner being a contingent creditor and that the Deputy District Judge had not considered the counter-claim. The outcome was that the winding-up order was set aside and the case was remitted to the Bristol District Registry with a view to considering the merits of the dispute.

No escaping a winding-up order in favour of administration

Credit Lucky Limited & Anor v National Crime Agency (29 January 2014) ([2014] EWHC 83 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2014/83.html

The Company applied for the winding-up order against it to be rescinded, varied or reviewed, or alternatively stayed. Amongst its arguments were that the director wanted to pursue a tax assessment appeal, which the liquidator regarded without merit and did not intend to pursue and that, if the tax assessment were challenged successfully, the director felt that there was every prospect of the creditors being paid in full. The director also intended to apply for an Administration Order so that the Company’s goodwill, name and database could be sold to a third party, which had made an offer conditional on the winding-up order being rescinded.

The judge had several concerns over the conditional offer, which led him to reject the application for rescission. He also did not see why someone should only be prepared to purchase the goodwill, name and database from an administrator and not from a liquidator. He felt that it was implausible that these assets would be more valuable if the Company “‘cleared its name’ by prosecuting and winning the tax appeal” (paragraph 40).

He also felt it was inappropriate to grant a stay: although the liquidator is obliged to take all reasonable steps the maximise asset realisations and therefore is entitled to decide whether to pursue an action in the name of the Company, if the Company or another interested party believes that the tax appeal should be pursued, “it is open to them to apply to the court for a direction which would enable them to prosecute the Tax Appeal in the name of the company or the liquidator. That being so it is difficult to see how – on the assumption that there is, contrary to the liquidator’s view, some merit in the Tax Appeal – the refusal of a stay would result in irremediable loss” to the Company or its shareholder (paragraph 64).

Equity of exoneration with a twist

Day v Shaw & Shaw (17 January 2014) ([2014] EWHC 36 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2014/36.html

This case differed from the usual equity of exoneration scenario in that the principal debtor to the secured creditor was, not a co-owner of the property, but Mr Shaw’s limited company, “Avon”, that had gone into liquidation and that, although Mr and Mrs Shaw had granted a charge over their property, the debt to the bank was also secured by reason of personal guarantees by Mr Shaw and the couple’s daughter, Mrs Shergold. Mr Day’s interest in the case arose because he had obtained a charging order over Mr Shaw’s interest in the property, so he was keen to contend that Mrs Shaw was not entitled to an equity of exoneration, but that the debt due to the bank should be borne equally by the shares of Mr and Mrs Shaw in the proceeds of the sale of the property.

At first instance, the judge had decided that Mrs Shaw was entitled to an equity of exoneration. On the appeal, Mr Day contended that, if the judge had treated Avon as the principal debtor, the conclusion would have been that the equity of exoneration did not apply to the property jointly owned by Mr and Mrs Shaw.

The question for Mr Justice Morgan was whether Mr Shaw and Mrs Shergold, as guarantors, and Mr and Mrs Shaw, as mortgagors, were all sureties of the same rank or was one group effectively sub-sureties for the other? The conclusion he reached was that “it is clear that in substance, Mr Shaw and Mrs Shergold were sureties for the debt of Avon and Mr and Mrs Shaw, as mortgagors, were sub-sureties. I do not consider that the guarantors and the mortgagors can be considered to be co-sureties equally liable for the principal debt. The result is that the sub-sureties (Mr and Mrs Shaw) are entitled to be indemnified by the sureties (Mr Shaw and Mrs Shergold) in just the same way as a surety is entitled to be indemnified by a principal debtor” (paragraph 26). It follows that for the purposes of the equity of exoneration, Mrs Shaw can establish that she is entitled to be indemnified by Mr Shaw in relation to the debt owed to Barclays” (paragraph 30).

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