Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler


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Mopping Up: courts clarify “apparent bias”, “fair and proper price”, and “unfair harm”, but blur “debenture”

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Oh dear, I’m slacking – even the R3 Technical Bulletin has beaten me to it this time! I will try to avoid much of the same ground in this batch of judgment summaries…

Pathania v Adedeji – lack of evidence as regards an OR becoming trustee calls into question when the bankrupt’s estate vested
Dryburgh v Scotts Media Tax – if a company does not know it has a claim against a director, does the clock tick?
Northern Bank v Taylor – where an IP is free of actual bias, how important is apparent bias?
O’Connell v Rollings – what makes a “fair and proper price” obtained for fixed-charge assets?
Fons HF v Corporal – court’s definition of “debenture” brings into question unregulated lenders’ and borrowers’ activities
Registrar of Companies v Swarbrick – under what circumstances can replacement Administrators’ Proposals be filed?
Top Brands v Sharma – can a former liquidator apply to have an adjudicated creditor’s claim expunged?
Eastenders v HMRC – can HMRC detain goods pending investigations into their duty status?
Hockin v Marsden – can an administrator cause “unfair harm” to creditors’ interests and be acting reasonably?

Scanty OR records leave estate-vesting shrouded in mystery

Pathania v Adedeji & Anor (21 May 2014) ([2014] EWCA Civ 681)
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/681.html

Mr Pathania obtained judgment against Dr Adedeji at a time when the court did not know that Mr Pathania had been made bankrupt six months earlier. Dr Adedeji appealed on the ground that a bankrupt claimant cannot maintain legal proceedings under his own name, but these should have fallen to his trustee.

Although the bankruptcy order had been made in June 2010 – and the judgment made in December 2010 – it was not until April 2011 that an IP was appointed. The questions arise: what was the status of the OR in December 2010? Was he a trustee or simply the receiver and manager of the estate pending appointment of a trustee? The questions are important, as S306(1) provides that the bankrupt’s estate vests in the trustee on his appointment or when the OR becomes trustee. S293(3) provides that the OR becomes trustee when he gives notice of his decision not to convene a meeting of creditors. So when did the OR give such notice, if he ever did?

Lord Justice Floyd, using “moderate language”, stated that it was “highly unsatisfactory that the question of whether or not Mr Pathania’s assets had vested in a trustee should still be shrouded in any degree of mystery” (paragraph 50). Granted, it seems to have taken three or four years for the importance of the timing of the vesting of the bankrupt’s estate to have been appreciated; this seems to have been time enough for holes to develop in the OR’s records. The OR’s system suggested that he became trustee of 28 August 2010 and the file contained an undated report to creditors (although it seems that it may have been under cover of a letter dated 23 August 2010), which referred to a notice ‘attached’ but there was no attachment, leading the judge to states that “there is, as it seems to me, still no clear evidence that the formalities necessary for the appointment of the official receiver as trustee were complied with in this case” (paragraph 51). He also noted other indications in the case that he was not so appointed, including the document appointing the IP as trustee, which “contains no reference to a previous trustee or his discharge” (- does it ever?).

Although the judge was not persuaded on the evidence that the OR had become trustee around August 2010, he noted that this was not the be-all and end-all: Dr Adedeji “must show that Mr Pathania knew that the official receiver had become trustee, that his estate had become vested in the official receiver and that he knew that was so before judgment on the claim was entered” (paragraph 53). He also observed that, had Mr Pathania’s bankruptcy been disclosed before judgment, the action likely would have been stayed and, given that the (IP) trustee later assigned the action to Mr Pathania, the chances are that he would have been authorised to continue with it sooner or later. Consequently, De Adedeji’s appeal seeking to have the judgment set aside was dismissed.

Error or deliberate contrivance: either way, the clock didn’t tick whilst the director withheld information from his company

Dryburgh v Scotts Media Tax Limited (In Liquidation) (23 May 2104) ([2014] CSIH 45)
http://www.bailii.org/scot/cases/ScotCS/2014/2014CSIH45.html

The liquidator brought proceedings against the company’s two directors for breach of fiduciary duties in depriving the company (“SMT”) of c.£750,000 and breach of the common law duties to exercise reasonable skill, care and diligence in relation to the SMT’s payment of a dividend at a time when it had insufficient distributable assets to justify it.

SMT had ceased trading in late 2001, but it had not been placed into liquidation until September 2005 (as an MVL, which converted into CVL in March 2007). The transactions challenged by the liquidator occurred in September and November 2001. The liquidator had been given leave to bring proceedings in January 2009. At first instance, although the Lord Ordinary had held that the director/respondent had been in breach of his duties, he dismissed the principal action as he had concluded that the claims “had prescribed”, i.e. they were out of time as a consequence of the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973, which provides a time limit of 5 years.

Section 6(4) of the 1973 Act states: “In the computation of a prescriptive period in relation to any obligation for the purposes of this section: (a) any period during which by reason of
(i) fraud on the part of the debtor or any person acting on his behalf, or
(ii) error induced by words or conduct of the debtor or any person acting on his behalf,
the creditor was induced to refrain from making a relevant claim in relation to the obligation… shall not be reckoned as, or as part of, the prescriptive period”.

The Inner House judges concluded that this section applied in this case: SMT had been induced to refrain from making a claim by error induced by the director’s conduct and also by fraud on his part. Therefore, the commencement of proceedings in January 2009 was well within the period of 5 years from the winding-up in 2005. The judges added that it was also possible that the delay during which SMT was induced not to make a claim continued throughout the MVL until it had been converted into CVL.

The court explained it this way: “if the respondent was unaware of SMT’s right to make a claim for breach of fiduciary duty, the result following the rules of attribution is that the company was in error as to its legal rights and section 6(4)(a)(ii) applies. If the respondent was aware of SMT’s right to make a claim against him, his failure to alert to the company to its right was a deliberate contrivance to ensure that his breach of fiduciary duty was not challenged… That in our opinion falls within the concept of fraud, in the sense of a course of acting that is designed to disappoint the legal rights of a creditor, SMT. In our view that falls squarely within the underlying purpose of section 6(4), namely to excuse delay caused by the conduct of the debtor. As a result of the respondent’s failure to draw attention to SMT’s rights, SMT was induced to refrain from making a claim. It follows that either SMT’s inaction was the result of an error induced by the actings of the respondent, or it was the result of the respondent’s failure to inform the company of its rights (“fraud” in the technical sense described above). Either way, the prescriptive period does not run” (paragraph 31).

Apparent bias works against nominee’s appointment as administrator

Northern Bank Limited v Taylor & Donnelly (4 April 2014) ([2014] NICh 9)
http://www.bailii.org/nie/cases/NIHC/Ch/2014/9.html

Two IPs were prepared to act as administrator of a partnership: one was the nominee of the partners’ proposed interlocking IVAs that had been rejected; and the other was the choice of the largest creditor. There are no prizes for guessing which of the two IPs had the court’s favour, but I thought this case serves a useful reminder.

Although it could be argued that the nominee had acquired valuable knowledge of the partnership and its assets, the judge did not feel that the costs of getting the other IP up to speed was going to make a fundamental difference. He considered that “the choice of the only (or main) creditor should carry great weight” (paragraph 16).

The judge wanted to emphasise that there was no suggestion of actual bias on the nominee’s part, but he felt that apparent bias did exist. He described this generally (per Porter v Magill (2002)) as “‘where the fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts, would conclude that it was a real possibility of bias’… In some cases the circumstances may be such where the directors’ nominee is in a position where the issue of apparent bias can arise because of his previous dealings with the directors. In such circumstances, even where he has acted blamelessly, he should stand down” (paragraph 15).

Court satisfied that Administrators’ marketing and sales process led to fair and proper price

O’Connell v Rollings & Ors (21 May 2014) ([2014] EWCA Civ 639) (Re Musion Systems Limited (In Administration))
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/639.html

Online articles (e.g. http://www.mercerhole.co.uk/blog/article/administration-fixed-charge-creditors-rights) have highlighted the key outcome of this case: the dismissal of the charge-holder’s appeal against the order under Para 71 permitting Administrators to sell assets as if they were not subject to the fixed charge. The judgment is valuable in illustrating how the court measures the fine balance between the prejudice to the charge-holder caused by an order and the interests of those interested in the promotion of the purposes of the administration.

The other points that I found interesting in the judgment are:

• The judge had to be (and was) satisfied that the Administrators were proposing to sell the assets for a “proper price” (paragraph 49). Absence of reference to “best price” is interesting to me, in view of the fact that the Administrators did not pursue a somewhat tentative sale to a party, who on the face of it was offering a larger sum (but which would have involved deferred consideration due from an overseas company). Personally, I have never liked the concept of achieving a “best price” sale; apart from the practical difficulties of measuring against a superlative “best”, it’s not just about the quantum.
• In the circumstances – limited cash, ongoing liabilities to 17 employees, and quarter-day rent looming – the Administrators could not be criticised for deciding to pursue a sale by means of a contract race.
• Although the appellant argued that the company’s intellectual property rights were valued at “very substantially more than the Administrators achieved” (paragraph 62), the judge was “satisfied that the Administrators did ascertain the value of the business and assets of the company, including its intellectual property rights, such as they were, by testing the market, and doing so in a perfectly sensible and adequate way. Faced with rising costs and diminishing assets, they were naturally concerned to secure a sale as soon as reasonably possible. That is precisely what they did and I am satisfied that, in doing so, they obtained a proper price” (paragraph 63).
• Although the judge recognised “that the urgency of the situation and commercial pressures will sometimes require administrators to make a decision before a meeting [of creditors] can be convened. But in any such case it may still be possible for the administrators to consult with the creditors and, so far as circumstances permit and it is reasonable to do so, that is what they should do” (paragraph 80).

Implications of apparent widening of “debentures” definition

Fons HF (In Liquidation) v Corporal Limited & Anor (20 March 2014) ([2014] EWCA Civ 304)
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/304.html

Fons made unsecured loans to Corporal Limited under two shareholder loan agreements. The question for the Court of Appeal was: did the loans fall under Fons’ charge-holder’s security, either as “debentures” or “other securities” under the charge’s definition of “shares” (“…also all other stocks, shares, debentures, bonds, warrants, coupons or other securities now or in the future owned by the chargor in Corporal from time to time or any in which it has an interest”)?

Having reviewed the historic use of the word debentures, Patten LJ concluded: “As a matter of language, the term can apply to any document which creates or acknowledges a debt; does not have to include some form of charge; and can be a single instrument rather than one in a series” (paragraph 36). It seems that the previous judge gave “debentures” a narrower meaning because it appeared in a list ending: “other securities”. However, Patten LJ pointed out that other items in that list may be considered a security, if “securities” is synonymous with “investments” and thus he could not see why a reasonable observer should regard “other securities” as limiting “debentures” to a meaning that would exclude the shareholder loan agreements. The appeal judges were unanimous in the decision to allow the appeal.

The implications of this judgment have been summarised in a letter from the City of London Law Society to HM Treasury dated 4 June 2014 (http://goo.gl/2F9tpH). The Society wished to raise its “serious concerns in respect of the significant legal uncertainty” caused by this decision: “In holding that loan agreements are debentures in that, whether or not the relevant loan is drawn, the agreements acknowledge or create indebtedness, the judgment appears to have the effect of regulating loans in a manner not previously adopted.”

The Society’s key concern is that, if loan agreements are debentures, then they could be caught as regulated investments under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (“FSMA”). If this is the case, then unless a party is authorised or exempt under the FSMA, they are at risk of criminal sanctions – this might apply, not only to unregulated lenders, but also borrowers as well as secondary traders of loans.

Consequently, the Society has asked the Treasury to “take action (a) immediately to clarify HM Treasury’s policy intentions on this topic and (b) as soon as practicable act so as to provide clarity in law.”

(UPDATE 25/08/14: The Society has released a copy of the FCA’s response to the Loan Market Association (17/07/14), which states that the FCA has considered the judgment in this case and, in the FCA’s view, it does not impact the regulatory perimeter prescribed by the FSMA: http://goo.gl/vO99NT )

(UPDATE 31/08/14: well, it was there!  It seems to have been pulled down again; I don’t know if that means the FCA has had second thoughts…)

(UPDATE 20/11/14: the letter is back at http://goo.gl/ek9Td6 )

Registrar of Companies’ resistance to file replacement Proposals overcome

The Registrar of Companies v Swarbrick & Ors (13 May 2014) ([2014] EWHC 1466 (Ch)) (Re Gardenprime Limited (In Administration))
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2014/1466.html

11 Stone Buildings has produced a good summary of this case: http://www.11sb.com/pdf/insider-rewriting-the-register-gardenprime-sc-may-2014.pdf.

The Registrar of Companies (“RoC”) applied to set aside an order that the administrators’ original Proposals be removed from the register and replaced with another set of Proposals, which omitted certain information in view of a confidentiality clause in a share purchase agreement.

The RoC’s central challenge was whether, and to what extent, the court could intervene in the performance of the RoC’s duties and powers: the RoC had carried out its duty in registering the Proposals that had been delivered to it and the original Proposals had not been found to be non-compliant or containing “unnecessary material” (per S1076 of the CA 2006) and thus in want of removal and replacement. Accordingly, it was argued, the RoC had no statutory power to accept the amended Proposals as a replacement and could not be required to do so.

Does R2.33A, which provides for an administrator to apply for an order of limited disclosure in respect of Proposals, only apply in advance of filing? In other words, once Proposals have been filed, is it too late to apply for a R2.33A order? The judge stated: “in my judgment on the correct construction of Rule 2.33A the jurisdiction of the court to make an order limiting disclosure of the specified part of the statement as otherwise required by Paragraph 49(4) is not exhausted the moment the statement has been sent. On the contrary, an application for such an order may be made even after that event, and an order may be made with retrospective effect” (paragraph 52).

But how does such an order fit in with the RoC’s powers under the CA2006 as regards removing documents containing “unnecessary material” from the register? The judge’s conclusion was that the effect of the R2.33A order was to render the disputed material as “unnecessary material” under the CA2006 and thus the RoC was empowered to remove it.

Technicality blocks IP’s attempts to reverse her decision

Top Brands Limited & Anor v Sharma (8 May 2014) ([2014] EWHC 1454 (Ch)) (Re Mama Milla Limited (In Liquidation))
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2014/1454.html

I have seen other commentaries on this case focus on the repercussions of being slow in dealing with court matters, but I will look at the case’s once-in-a-blue-moon technical intricacy.

A liquidator rejected a creditor’s claim, the creditor appealed to court, and then the two of them submitted to a consent order by which the liquidator reversed her decision to reject and agreed to admit the claim. The liquidator, having been replaced by another IP at a creditors’ meeting, now faces a S212 action. The (now former) liquidator sought to adjourn the trial so that she could pursue a claim to set aside the consent order on the basis that it was procured by fraudulent misrepresentation. If the creditor’s claim were to be rejected, then its standing to pursue the S212 application might be thwarted.

The difficulty for the former liquidator was that R4.85 sets out who can apply to have a claim expunged: the liquidator or (where the liquidator declines to act) the creditor. As the former liquidator was neither, she had no jurisdiction. Simon Barker HHJ accepted that “such a conclusion would be troubling in the light of there being a real prospect that neither [of the two applicants] are creditors” (paragraph 48), but for the facts that the current liquidator, who was still investigating matters, had jurisdiction and the former liquidator had “a reasonable window of opportunity” to take action under R4.85 after the S212 application had commenced but before she had been removed as liquidator. He also stated that, even in the event that the current liquidator did not intend to investigate the matter (although, of course, the liquidator will be duty-bound to satisfy himself that any distributions made by him are made to genuine creditors), “the court simply does not have jurisdiction to act in disregard of R4.85”.

Lack of hindsight does not hamper HMRC’s powers of detention

Eastenders Cash and Carry Plc & Ors v The Commissioners for HM Revenue & Customs; First Stop Wholesale Limited v The Commissioners for HM Revenue & Customs (11 June 2014) ([2014] UKSC 34)
http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2014/34.html

HMRC detained the companies’ goods, citing S139(1) of the Customs & Excise Management Act 1979 as their authority for doing so, but they later returned some of the goods when the officers’ enquiries as regards the goods’ duty status proved inconclusive. In the Eastenders case, the court had previously found that the officers had had reasonable grounds to suspect that duty had not been paid on the goods, but in First Stop’s case, the goods were detained pending investigations into whether duty had been paid. The question arising was: could only goods that were actually liable to forfeiture be detained, i.e. was it unlawful for HMRC to detain goods that turned out not to be (or not proven to be) liable to forfeiture?

The Supreme Court judges all agreed that S139(1) of the 1979 Act should be interpreted so that “detention of goods is unlawful whenever the goods are not in fact liable to forfeiture” (paragraph 24). The difficulty flowing from this is that, of course, at the time of detention, officers may well suspect that the goods are liable to forfeiture, but further enquiries sometimes will establish that this is not the case. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

But does this mean that the officers had no statutory power at all to detain the goods? In creating the S139(1) power of detention, was the power to detain, which had previously been held to arise by necessary implication from statutory powers of examination, abolished? The judges could not see “why Parliament should have conferred upon the Commissioners and their officers a wider range of intrusive investigatory powers than any other public body, but should at the same time have chosen to deprive them of a means of preventing goods from being disposed of until they have completed their examination and decided whether the goods should be seized” (paragraph 45).

Consequently, the Supreme Court judges concluded that the limited circumstances in which goods could be detained under S139(1) was not the only source of the officers’ powers of detention. In the Eastenders case, “since the officers were carrying out a lawful inspection of the goods for the purpose of determining whether the appropriate duties had been paid, and had reasonable grounds to suspect that duty had not been paid, they were in our view entitled by virtue of section 118C(2) to detain the goods for a reasonable period in order to complete the enquiries necessary to make their determination” (paragraph 49). Even in the First Stop case, the judges considered that “the examination was not completed until the necessary enquiries had been made, and that the power of examination impliedly included an ancillary power of detention for a reasonable time while those enquiries were made” (paragraph 49).

Administrators compelled to assign mis-selling claim

Hockin & Ors v Marsden & Anor (19 March 2014) ([2014] EWHC 763 (Ch)) (Re London and Westcountry Estates Limited (In Administration))
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2014/763.html

The R3 Technical Bulletin 107 has covered this case, which resulted in a direction that administrators assign potential mis-selling claims to the shareholders (one of which was also a creditor). As the Bulletin pointed out, the judge did not criticise the administrators for declining to pursue the claims themselves, but he felt that, as the terms of the proposed assignment included that the estate would share the benefit from any success, it would unfairly harm the creditors if the claims were simply lost and thus he felt that there was a basis to the creditor’s Para 74 claim.

A further point that I found interesting in this case was the judge’s reaction to the administrators’ criticism of the consideration offered under the proposed assignment. The judge could see no practical alternative to effecting the assignment in the terms proposed: once the court had expressed itself in favour of an assignment, faced with no other potential assignees the administrators had no real negotiating position, and the court could not compel the shareholders/creditor to fix the consideration at a higher figure.

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A Collection of Two Halves – Part 2: Old Cases

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And here is the second half of my collection. They’re not exactly “old” cases, but merely ones that I’ve already seen pop up in case digests. But, in the interests of completeness:

SoS v Knight – lack of salary in hard times is not fatal to sole shareholder’s/director’s redundancy claim.
Enta Technologies v HMRC – petition for winding-up on appealed tax assessments is an abuse of process (UPDATE 13/02/2015: HMRC’s later appeal has been allowed – see below).
Relfo v Varsani – convoluted transactions fails to thwart tracing and unfair enrichment claim.
The Keepers and Governors of John Lyon School v Helman – tenancy vesting in trustee avoids receivers’ claim to freehold.

Sole shareholder/director’s choice to forgo salary in company’s hard times is not fatal to redundancy claim

Secretary of State for BIS v Mrs P Knight (9 May 2104) ([2014] UKEAT 0073 13)

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2014/0073_13_0905.html
Sarah Rushton of Moon Beever pretty-much said it all (http://www.moonbeever.com/hr-blog/787-insolvency-service-redundancy-payment).

The sole shareholder and managing director of a company drew a salary sporadically in the years preceding the company’s insolvency and was paid no salary in the last two years of the company’s trading, her evidence being that, because times had been hard, she had forfeited her salary to enable the other employees and creditors to be paid.

The Appeal Tribunal found that the Employment Judge had been entitled to conclude that Mrs Knight’s agreement that she would be unpaid did not amount to a variation or discharge of her employment contract. The judge accepted that “the absence of payment under what is said to be a contract of employment is a factor which the tribunal of fact has to consider and take into account” (paragraph 23), but it does not necessarily mean that there is no consideration from the company. Consequently, Mrs Knight was entitled to a redundancy payment from the RPO.

Abuse of process to seek a winding-up order on appealed tax assessments

Enta Technologies Limited v HMRC (21 March 2014) ([2014] EWHC 548 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2014/548.html

I would recommend the summary by Nicholas Fernyhough of RPC (http://www.rpc.co.uk/index.php?option=com_easyblog&view=entry&id=1081&Itemid=129).

HMRC presented a winding-up petition on the basis of non-payment of a number of tax assessments, which were the subject of appeals. It was the judge’s view that, since April 2009 when VAT appeals moved to the First-Tier Tribunal, “the winding-up court should in my view now, post-2009, refuse itself to adjudicate on the prospective merits of the appeal and leave that question to be dealt with by the tribunal, either dismissing the petition or staying it in the meantime” (paragraph 11). The Tribunal had already ruled that the appeals were not ‘hopeless’ and thus “any attempt to revisit the tax judge’s ruling should be done by an application to the tribunal itself rather than by invitation to a winding-up court to second-guess that decision” (paragraph 12). The judge continued: “These matters are in themselves sufficient to lead me to the conclusion that the petition should be dismissed as an abuse of process and/or as a matter of discretion and the advertisement restrained” (paragraph 14).

(UPDATE 13/02/2015: on 28 January 2015, the Court of Appeal allowed HMRC’s appeal: Lord Justice Vos did not agree that the tax tribunal’s jurisdiction to decide on the validity of assessments abrogated the Companies court’s jurisdiction to decide on whether a company should be wound up.  In the circumstances of this particular case, Vos LJ felt that the judge should have concluded that the tax assessments were not disputed by the company in good faith and on substantial grounds and consequently he allowed the appeal and made an order for the company’s compulsory winding-up.  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/29.html)

An elaborate façade of transactions was insufficient to thwart a tracing claim

Relfo Limited (In Liquidation) v Varsani (28 March 2014) ([2014] EWCA Civ 360)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/360.html

The summary by Lexis Nexis’ Anna Jeffrey at http://lexisweb.co.uk/blog/randi/how-will-the-court-approach-tracing-claims/ covers this case well.

Mr Varsani appealed an order, which had arisen from the liquidator’s claim of unjust enrichment. His appeal was dismissed.

The facts of the case had been unusual in that the funds had not be paid from the company’s account into Mr Varsani’s account either directly or via a chronological chain of transactions flowing through a number of accounts, but, in the words of Lord Justice Floyd, the transactions were “an elaborate façade to conceal what was in truth intended and arranged to be a payment for the benefit of Bhimji Varsani” (paragraph 121).

Lady Justice Arden felt that the judge had had plenty of material from which to draw the inference that the company’s money was substituted by payments used ultimately to make the payment to Mr Varsani. She said: “The decision in Agip demonstrates that in order to trace money into substitutes it is not necessary that the payments should occur in any particular order, let alone chronological order. As Mr Shaw submits, a person may agree to provide a substitute for a sum of money even before he receives that sum of money. In those circumstances the receipt would postdate the provision of the substitute. What the court has to do is establish whether the likelihood is that monies could have been paid at any relevant point in the chain in exchange for such a promise” (paragraph 63).

Tenancy vesting in Trustee breaks timeline for Receivers’ freehold claim

The Keepers and Governors of the Possessions, Revenues and Goods of Free Grammar School of John Lyon v Helman (22 January 2014) ([2014] EWCA Civ 17)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/17.html
For a comprehensive summary, I would recommend that by Imran Malik of Muckle LLP: http://www.pmflegal.com/blog/index.php/2014/04/17/case-update-receivers-unable-to-claim-freehold/.

A tenant was made bankrupt and then the sub-chargee of the tenant’s house appointed receivers, after which the trustee in bankruptcy disclaimed the lease. The receivers then lined up a sale of the house and, the day before completing the sale, they served the landlords with a notice claiming the freehold of the house under the Leasehold Reform Act 1967.

The Act gives a tenant the right to acquire on fair terms the freehold where certain conditions are satisfied. Crucially, the server of the notice must have been a tenant of the house under a long tenancy for the last two years. The landlord challenged the validity of the notice on the basis that the appointment of the trustee in bankruptcy had resulted in the vesting of the tenancy in the trustee, who had not been in office for two years (and in any event the receivers did not purport to serve the notice on behalf of the trustee).

Lord Justice Rimer described the landlords’ submission as “not just simple, it is formidable” (paragraph 27). He considered that the ‘last two years’ condition was not met and thus the receivers’ claim to the freehold “was writ in water and signified nothing” (paragraph 34). The appeal judges unanimously allowed the landlords’ appeal.


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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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Three cases: (1) What is the relevant date for IVAs suspended on a S262 challenge? (2) When is an alleged transaction at an undervalue not a “transaction”? (3) Vesting of causes of action in Trustee foils attempts to pursue misfeasance claim

• Davis & Davis v Price & Price – what is the relevant date for IVAs suspended on a S262 challenge?
• Hunt v Hosking & Ors – when is an alleged transaction at an undervalue not a “transaction”?
• Fabb & Ors v Peters & Ors – vesting of causes of action in Trustee foils attempts to pursue misfeasance claim

What exactly is a “suspended” IVA?

Davis & Davis v Price & Price ([2013] EWHC 323 (Ch)) (21 February 2013)
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/323.html

Summary: As a consequence of a successful S262 challenge, two debtors’ IVAs were suspended and further creditors’ meetings were convened to consider their revised Proposals. After these were approved, the S262 challengers issued statutory demands in pursuit of their costs for bringing the challenge. The appeals judge agreed that the statutory demands should be set aside on the basis that the costs were caught in the IVAs, for which the relevant date was the second meetings’ date. Contrary to the wording of the S262 order, the judge felt that the effect of suspending the original IVAs was not to continue to bind the original creditors.

The Detail: The Prices challenged the Davises’ IVAs under S262 in relation to the values of £1 attributed to their claims for the purposes of voting at creditors’ meetings held in June 2010. The challenge was successful and the District Judge ordered the suspension of the Davises’ IVAs – which would not have been approved had the Prices’ claims been admitted for voting in the sum of £35,389, the value placed on the claims for voting purposes by DJ Gamba – and required the Davises to decide whether to re-present the original Proposals or to present varied Proposals for consideration at further creditors’ meetings to be convened by the Nominee. The Davises were also ordered to pay the Prices’ costs of £7,011.

At creditors’ meetings held on 13 January 2011, the Prices again voted to reject the Proposals, which had been revised by the Davises, but the Prices only proved in the sum of £35,389. However, the requisite majorities were achieved and the revised Proposals were approved. The Prices then pursued payment of their costs of £7,011 on the argument that they were not claims in the IVAs, because they did not exist at the time of the original interim orders in April 2010.

The question at the heart of this matter was: what was the effect of the suspension of the Davises’ IVAs? In this appeal, counsel for the Prices sought to distinguish between an order revoking an IVA and one suspending it, both options available to the court under S262(4). Mr Justice David Richards noted that there was only one rule relating to entitlements to vote at a creditors’ meeting convened to consider an IVA Proposal – R5.21; the rules make no distinction as to whether this is the first time such a meeting is convened or whether it is convened on the back of a revoked IVA or a suspended IVA under S262(4). The judge considered that in this circumstance the reference in R5.21(2)(b) to the “amount of the debt owed to him at the date of the meeting” was the amount owed at the date of the January 2011 meeting convened to consider the revised Proposals and therefore the Prices had been entitled to prove also in respect of their costs in bringing the S262 challenge.

So what is the status of a suspended IVA? The wording of DJ Gamba’s order resulting from the S262 challenge had stated that, if the proposed variation was put to the vote and rejected, the approval of the IVAs on 8 June 2010 would be revoked with immediate effect “and the IVA Creditors shall ceased to be bound by the IVAs”; it further provided that, if the IVAs were reconsidered and approved, the suspension of the approval of the IVAs would be lifted with immediate effect and “the IVA Creditors shall continue to be bound by the IVAs in accordance with section 260”. However, David Richards J stated: “I do not think it is right that if the approval of an IVA is suspended, it nonetheless continues to bind creditors. Once approval is suspended, it does not seem to me possible to say that there is an ‘approved arrangement’ within the meaning of section 260(2)” (paragraph 29). He acknowledged that S262(7) grants the court power to give supplemental directions, but he did not believe that this enabled the court to substitute a different rule for R5.21 in relation to creditors’ voting rights.

12/02/2014 UPDATE: Although the appeal heard on 21/01/2014 was dismissed (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/26.html), it did highlight a(nother!) problem with the Act: S260, which binds creditors into an approved IVA, expressly has effect “where the meeting summoned under S257 approves the proposed” IVA. However, in this case, the meetings that led to approved IVAs were consequent to a S262 challenge and, as Lady Justice Arden put it, “if the IVAs were varied and the creditors approved those varied IVAs, those were the IVAs to come into force, not the original IVAs. In reality what happened in that event is that the varied IVAs replaced the original IVAs. The original IVAs ceased to have any legal existence after that” (paragraph 33).

Thus, were the creditors bound by S260? “The court must of course give effect to the intention of Parliament… However, where the effect of a literal interpretation of a statute is to create significant anomalies which the court is satisfied Parliament could not have intended, the court should seek to find an interpretation which avoids those anomalies” (paragraphs 38 and 39). In order to achieve this end, Lady Justice Arden interpreted the reference to a “further meeting” in S262(4)(b) to be a reference to a “further meeting under S257” so that S260 has effect.

The Company must be party to the transaction for it to be challenged at an undervalue

Hunt v Hosking & Ors ([2013] EWHC311 (Ch)) (22 February 2013)
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/311.html

Summary: A liquidator sought to challenge as transactions at an undervalue payments made to Mr Hosking from the Company’s client monies held by its accountants – the monies were paid to Mr Hosking in settlement of his private loan to the accountant, who appeared to be entitled to the monies by reason of two fee agreements with the Company. However, the liquidator’s S238 application failed on the basis that the payments to Mr Hosking were not “transactions” to which the Company was party. The judge pointed out that either the accountants were not authorised to pass the monies over, in which case it would be an issue of misappropriation of assets, or the challenge should be levelled at the fee agreements between the accountants and the Company.

The Detail: A firm of accountants, of which Mr Temple was the sole proprietor, held monies on behalf of its client, Ovenden Colbert Printers Limited (“the Company”), from which the accountants appeared to be entitled to draw fees pursuant to two fee agreements. A number of payments were made from the accountants’ client account to Mr Hosking, which he claims related to repayments of his private loan to Mr Temple (who later became bankrupt).

Mr Hunt, the Company’s liquidator, applied under S238 claiming that the payments made from the client account to Mr Hosking were transactions at an undervalue. The liquidator made other allegations regarding the strength of the fee agreements with a suggestion that they may have been induced under misrepresentation. However, the fee agreements were not the subject of the S238 application.

Mr Justice Peter Smith identified a fundamental difficulty with Mr Hunt’s argument that the payments to Mr Hosking were transactions at an undervalue: the Company was not a party to the payments. He illustrated it this way: “If Mr Temple held a bag of sovereigns for the Company and they were held to the Company’s order, and if he gave them away to Mr Hosking, I suggested that that would not be a transaction. It would simply be a case of misappropriation of assets. Of course, the Company through the liquidator would have any number of remedies to recover those sovereigns. Such a claim could be made not only against Mr Temple but also against Mr Hosking if he receives the sovereigns. That is not the present claim… The fundamental difficulty facing Mr Hunt is that however much he investigates; however much mud he wishes to throw at Mr Hosking; none of it is relevant to his application under section 238. This is because on the undisputed facts set out above, the Company has not entered into a transaction which the liquidator can review. The only transactions it entered into in my opinion were the two fee agreements and those are not under challenge and indeed one of them cannot be under challenge due to the passage of time. If the payments were authorised they cannot be challenged unless the two fee agreements are challenged and they are not in these proceedings. If the payments were unauthorised, there is no transaction by the Company” (paragraphs 50 and 55).

[UPDATE 26/11/2013: Hunt’s appeal against the summary judgment/strike out application was dismissed on 15/11/2013 (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1408.html). It seems to me that the fundamental difficulty remained: there was no indication that the Company had been party to any relevant transaction. Thus, the Court of Appeal decided that the judge had been right to strike out the application, as the claims under S238 and S241 had no prospect of success.]

Vesting of causes of action in Trustee foils attempts to pursue misfeasance claim

Fabb & Ors v Peters & Ors ([2013] EWHC 296 (Ch)) (18 January 2013)
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/296.html

Summary: A claim against administrators under Paragraph 75 of Schedule B1 was struck out as an abuse of process on the basis that the claimant knew his causes of action had vested in his Trustee in Bankruptcy at the time. In addition, the fact that 96% of the administrators’ claims against Fabb had been abandoned was not sufficient to support a misfeasance claim, as judgment had been achieved in relation to the remainder.

The Detail: Fabb was made bankrupt after administrators of “Holdings” obtained judgment against him of c.£88,000 in relation to a loan account and on a conversion claim, although over 96% of the administrators’ original claim was, effectively abandoned.

Fabb asserted two causes of action against the administrators: misfeasance and, in effect, malicious prosecution of the earlier proceedings as regards the 96% of the claims that were abandoned. After the proceedings commenced, the court ordered Fabb’s Trustee to assign to Fabb the various claims, conditionally on payment of £10,000; the assignment had not yet been completed.

His Honour Judge Purle QC noted a fundamental objection to the misfeasance proceedings: “Proceedings under paragraph 75 can only (so far as presently relevant) be brought by a shareholder or creditor. Mr Fabb is neither of those things, and nor will he be either of those things even if the assignment takes place. Any interest he may have had in the shares of Holdings is now vested in his trustee. Likewise, any indebtedness formerly due to him is now vested in his trustee… There is a still further objection. These proceedings were brought at a time when Mr Fabb knew that the causes of action he wishes to assert were vested in his trustee in bankruptcy, and that he needed an assignment” (paragraphs 13 and 16). On this basis, the judge felt bound to strike out Fabb’s claim as an abuse of process.

In any event, the judge identified difficulties in relation to the merits of Fabb’s claims that the 96% claim was brought abusively, for an improper motive or an improper purpose: “What to my mind makes the claim impossible is that the proceedings in which the 96 percent claim was included were pursued to judgment. True it is that the 96 percent claim was abandoned, but the rest of the claim was pursued over an eight day hearing, I think it was, and the claim succeeded in substantial amounts, despite a fully argued defence. It is difficult to see in those circumstances how the proceedings can be characterised as malicious or an abuse, as they had to be, and were successfully, pursued to judgment, albeit in a much smaller sum than originally claimed” (paragraph 23).