Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler


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A Collection of Two Halves – Part 2: Old Cases

IMGP5876

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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Two bankruptcy annulments, two council debts, and a decision “of potential interest to all insolvency practitioners”

1136 Swakop

Some questions answered by a few of the recent cases in the courts:

Kaye v South Oxfordshire District Council – if an insolvency commences mid-year, how much of the year’s business rates rank as an unsecured claim?
Yang v The Official Receiver – can a bankruptcy order be annulled if the petition debt is later set aside?
Oraki & Oraki v Dean & Dean – on the annulment of a bankruptcy order, if the petitioning creditor cannot pay the Trustee’s costs, who pays?
Bristol Alliance Nominee No 1 Limited v Bennett – can a company escape completion of a surrender agreement if the process is interrupted by an Administration?
Rusant Limited v Traxys Far East Limited – is a “shadowy” defence sufficient to avoid a winding up petition in favour of arbitration?

A decision “of potential interest to all insolvency practitioners and billing authorities for business rates”

Kaye v South Oxfordshire District Council & Anor (6 December 2013) ([2013] EWHC 4165 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/4165.html

HHJ Hodge QC started his judgment by stating that this decision is “of potential interest to all insolvency practitioners and billing authorities for business rates” (paragraph 1), as he disagreed with advice that appears to have been relied upon by billing authorities and Official Receivers for quite some time. This may affect CVAs, which were the subject of this decision, and all other insolvency procedures both corporate and personal.

The central issue was: how should business rates relating to a full year, e.g. from 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014, be handled if an insolvency commences mid-year?

In this case, the council had lodged a proof of debt in a CVA for a claim calculated pro rata from 1 April to the date of the commencement of the CVA, but the Supervisor had observed to the council that he believed that the full year’s business rates ranked as an unsecured claim.

The council responded that the company had adopted the statutory instalment option (whereby the full year’s rates are paid in ten monthly instalments commencing on 1 April) and that, as this was still effective at the commencement of the CVA, the unsecured claim was limited to the unpaid daily accrued liability – with the consequence, of course, that the council expected to be paid ongoing rates by the company in CVA. The council stated that, had the right to pay by instalments been lost at the time of the CVA (by reason of the debtor’s failure to bring instalments up to date within seven days of a reminder notice), the whole year’s balance would have become due and this would have comprised the council’s claim. [This seems perverse to me: it would mean that companies would be better off postponing proposing a CVA until the business rates become well overdue, as the full year would then be an unsecured claim, rather than accruing as a post-CVA expense.] The Supervisor applied to the court for directions.

In support of the council’s view was advice (not directly related to this case) from the Insolvency Service of early 2010, which stated that, unless a bankrupt had failed to comply with a reminder notice, the Official Receiver would reject a claim for council tax for the portion of the year following a bankruptcy order. The council also provided what was said to be the current view of the Institute of Revenues and Valuation, which followed a similar approach in relation to a company’s non-domestic rates.

Hodge HHJ felt that the decision in Re Nolton Business Centres Limited [1996] was of no real assistance, because, although this had resulted in a liquidator being liable for rates falling due after appointment, he stated that it merely demonstrated the “liquidation expenses principle”: “the question was not whether the debt had been incurred before, or after, the commencement of the winding up, but whether the sums had become due after the commencement of the winding up in respect of property of which the liquidator had retained possession for the purposes of the company” (paragraph 38).

Although, in this case, the full year’s rates had not fallen due for payment by the time of the commencement of the insolvency, Hodge HHJ viewed it as “a ‘contingent liability’, to which the company was subject at the date of the [CVA]” (paragraph 54). Therefore, he felt that the full year’s non-domestic rates were “an existing liability incurred by reason of its occupation of the premises on 1st April 2013. It, therefore, seems to me that the liability does fall within Insolvency Rule 13.12” (paragraph 55) and, by reason of the CVA’s standard conditions, were provable. He also commented that it seemed that this would apply equally to liquidations and bankruptcies.

The judge decided that the council should be allowed to prove in the CVA for the full amount of unpaid rates and he felt that the company would have a good defence to the existing summons for non-payment of post-CVA rates.

My thanks to Jo Harris – I’d originally missed this case, but she’d mentioned it in her February technical update.

(UPDATE 22/07/2014: For an exploration of the application of this case to IVAs, take a look at my more recent post at http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-7y)

Absence of petition debt – council tax liability that was later set aside – was not a ground to annul bankruptcy order

Yang v The Official Receiver & Ors (1 October 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3577 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3577.html

Yang was made bankrupt on a petition by Manchester City Council for unpaid council tax of £1,103. After the bankruptcy order, Yang discharged the liability orders but also challenged the liability on the basis that the council had incorrectly classed the property as a house in multiple occupation. Subsequently, the valuation tribunal ordered the council to remove Yang from the liability.

Yang then sought to have the bankruptcy annulled, but the court ordered that the bankruptcy order be rescinded; the annulment was refused, as the court decided that there was no ground for the contention that, at the time the bankruptcy order was made, it ought not to have been: at that time, the multiple occupation assessment stood and Yang had not challenged it.

In considering Yang’s appeal, HHJ Hodge QC felt that the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 were relevant, which state that “the court shall make the [liability] order if it is satisfied that the sum has become payable by the defendant and has not been paid” (paragraph 20) and the court cannot look into the circumstances of how the debt arose, although the debtor is entitled to follow the statutory appeal mechanism. The judge stated: “It seems to me that the fact that a liability order is later set aside does afford grounds for saying that, at the time the bankruptcy order was made, there was no liability properly founding the relevant bankruptcy petition within the meaning of Section 282(1)(a) of the 1986 Act. But that does not mean that a bankruptcy order made on a petition founded upon such a liability order ‘ought not to have been made’” (paragraph 22) and therefore he was content that the bankruptcy order was rescinded, rather than annulled, although there remain three further grounds of the appeal to consider another day.

Innocence is relative

Oraki & Oraki v Dean & Dean & Anor (18 December 2013) ([2013] EWCA Civ 1629)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1629.html

After a long battle, the Orakis’ bankruptcies were annulled on the basis that the orders should not have been made: the petition debt related to fees charged by a man who was not a properly qualified solicitor and was not entitled to charge fees. At the same time, the judge ordered that the Trustee’s costs should be paid by the Orakis, although they were open to seek payment from the solicitor firm (Dean & Dean) and to challenge the level of the Trustee’s remuneration.

The Orakis appealed the order to pay the Trustee’s costs on the basis that they were completely innocent. Floyd LJ agreed that the Orakis were wholly innocent “as between Dean & Dean and the Orakis”, however “the confusion occurs if one seeks to carry those considerations across to the costs position as between the trustee and the Orakis. There is no clear disparity, at least at this stage, between the ‘innocence’ of the two parties” (paragraphs 36 and 37). He also stated that, whilst it was still open for the Orakis to challenge the level of costs, which appear to have increased by some £250,000 since 2008, it seemed to him to be unlikely that the Trustee would not be able to demonstrate that he is entitled to at least some costs.

Lady Justice Arden added her own comments: “the guiding principle, in my judgment, is that the proper expenses of the trustee should normally be paid or provided for before the assets are removed from him by an annulment order” (paragraph 63) and it was not clear that the Orakis’ estates would be sufficient to discharge the expenses in full, which, absent the order, would have left the Trustee with the burden of unpaid expenses. She noted that, usually, the petitioning creditor would be ordered to pay the Trustee’s costs where a bankruptcy order is annulled on the ground that it ought never to have been made. However, unusually, in this case the petitioning creditor could not pay and therefore the judge was entitled to order that the Orakis pay.

Landlord entitled to escrow monies held for part-completed surrender interrupted by Administration

Bristol Alliance Nominee No. 1 Limited & Ors v Bennett & Ors (18 December 2013) ([2013] EWCA Civ 1626)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1626.html

In 2010, A\Wear Limited (“the company”) entered into an ‘Agreement for surrender and deed of variation’ with the landlord (“Bristol”) of leased properties and £340,000 was held in escrow pending completion of the surrender and payment by the company of the VAT on the escrow amount. A similar arrangement was made in relation to another property with an escrow amount of £210,000. Shortly after the landlords served notice on the company requiring completion of the surrender, the company entered into administration and the company, acting by its administrators, refused to complete the surrender.

At first instance, the judge refused to make the order requested by the landlords for specific performance to enable the escrow amounts to be released to them, on the basis that it would have offended the principle of pari passu treatment of unsecured creditors. At the appeal, Rimer LJ disagreed: although the refusal of an order for specific performance would open up the possibility that the company’s contingent interest in the escrow monies might be realised, the monies were not part of the company’s assets and therefore ordering specific performance would not deprive the company of any assets then distributable to creditors. Rimer LJ stated that the effect of the refusal “was to promote the interests of the company’s creditors over those of Bristol in circumstances in which there was no sound basis for doing so”. “Prior to the administration, Bristol had a right, upon giving appropriate notice, as it did, to compel the company to complete the surrender. If such a claim had come before the court before the company’s entry into administration, there could have been no good reason for the court to refuse to make such an order; and the consequence of doing so would have been to entitle Bristol to the payment of the escrow money. It was manifestly the intention of the parties to the surrender agreement to achieve precisely such a commercial result. The company’s entry into administration cannot have resulted, and did not result, in any material change of circumstances. The principle underlying Bastable’s case shows that Bristol remained as much entitled to an order for specific performance as it had before” (paragraph 34). With the support of the other appeal court judges, the appeal was allowed.

Winding up petition “trumped” by arbitration agreement

Rusant Limited v Traxys Far East Limited (28 June 2013) ([2013] EWHC 4083 (Comm))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Comm/2013/4083.html

Rusant Limited sought to restrain the presentation of a winding up petition against it by Traxys Far East Limited, which had issued a statutory demand for the repayment of a loan. However, the loan agreement included a term that “any dispute, controversy or claim… should be referred to and finally resolved by arbitration of a single arbitrator” and Rusant claimed that an extension to the loan repayments had been agreed.

Although Mr Justice Warren described Rusant’s defence as “shadowy” and stated that, apart from the arbitration agreement, he would not grant an injunction, “the arbitration agreement, it seems to me, trumps the decision which I would otherwise have made” (paragraph 33) and therefore, in consideration of the Arbitration Act 1996, he did not allow the petition to proceed.


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Exercise of court’s discretion to allow creditor’s action to continue despite Interim Order and Other Judgments

1116 Sunset

Some recent court decisions:

Dewji v Banwaitt – under what circumstances will the court allow a creditor’s action to continue despite an IVA Interim Order?
Masters & Beighton v Furber – can a debtor be forced to hand over assets caught by IVA?
Ward Brothers (Malton) Limited v Middleton & Ors – does an IP acting in an informal capacity avoid TUPE?
O’Kane & O’Kane v Rooney – fixed charge receivers’ agents’ “worrying conduct” scuppers sale
Re Hotel Company 42 The Calls Limited – will the court terminate an Administration and hand back the company to the directors despite the Administrators’ wishes for it to continue?
Re ARM Asset Backed Securities SA – does the EC Regulation on Insolvency Proceedings apply when the winding-up petition is based on the just and equitable ground?
Westshield Limited v Mr & Mrs Whitehouse – which takes precedence: a CVA term requiring a Supervisor to decide on set-offs or the enforcement of an Adjudicator’s decision?

Creditor’s interim charging orders made final despite IVA Interim Order

Dewji v Banwaitt (29 November 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3746 (QB))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2013/3746.html

Mr Banwaitt had obtained judgment in proceedings against Dr Dewji for fraudulent misrepresentation in relation to an agreement under which Mr Banwaitt had paid to Dr Dewji sums for the purchase of land in Cambodia. Mr Banwaitt then obtained interim charging orders over three properties, but before the charging orders were made final, Dr Dewji was granted an Interim Order. However, at the hearing on the charging orders, the Master granted leave under S252(2)(b) of the Insolvency Act 1986 for Mr Banwaitt’s action to continue and exercised his discretion in making the charging orders final.

Dr Dewji’s request for permission to appeal the charging orders was refused. Mrs Justice Andrews accepted that usually the overriding principle would be that all creditors of a single class should rank equally once a statutory scheme had got underway. However, she noted that “there may be situations in which, despite the Interim Order, the ‘first past the post’ approach is justifiable” (paragraph 45). She suggested some scenarios: where a judgment creditor were seeking to recover monies paid under a contract that had been rescinded for fraud, “the Court might take the view when exercising its discretion that it would not be in the interests of justice to allow the debtor’s other creditors to participate in that share of his estate that was increased at the expense of the party he deceived” (paragraph 29) or where “the asset against which the judgment creditor is seeking to execute judgment falls entirely outside the IVA, so that there is no question of it being shared between the general body of creditors. Another, quite independent, example would be where the IVA was bound to fail, either because the judgment creditor had sufficient voting power to block it by himself, or because the creditors as a whole or a majority of them were bound to regard it as unattractive” (paragraph 39).

What Dr Dewji had proposed for his IVA led the judge to conclude that the Master had been justified in exercising his discretion in favour of the creditor. “The question that the Master had to determine is not whether it would be unfair to let Mr Banwaitt have an advantage over the general body of creditors. It is whether it would be unfair to let Mr Banwaitt, (who, on the evidence before the Master, was the only Investor induced to part with his money for this project by deceit, and who alone has chosen to expend costs in pursuing its recovery from Dr Dewji) obtain final charging orders over property that was not going to be distributed between Dr Dewji’s creditors, but (in the case of one property only, Dale Street) utilised to raise money to pay foreign lawyers to try and recover a substantial sum of money that would then be shared equally between Dr Dewji himself and some of those creditors, including the judgment creditor” (paragraph 47).

IVA debtor was not free to resist realisation of assets

Masters & Beighton v Furber (30 August 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3023 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3023.html

The Joint Supervisors of Mr Furber’s IVA sought an order requiring Mr Furber to allow the collection of some of his vehicles that, in accordance with the terms of the IVA, had been sold. The Joint Supervisors had also been granted a power of attorney to enable them to deal with Mr Furber’s assets. Mr Furber refused to allow the vehicles to be collected, claiming that he entered the IVA under pressure and that the vehicles had been sold at an undervalue.

Purle HHJ acknowledged that, in one sense, Mr Furber could choose to default on the IVA, with a potential consequence of being made bankrupt. However, as counsel for the applicant put it, “unless the process of disposal of the vehicles is concluded, there is a risk that the successful bidders will withdraw their bids and thereafter demand return of all monies paid, as well as possibly seeking damages. Ironically, if, as Mr Furber says, the value of the vehicles was higher than the sum that has been achieved by the online auction process then there will be a claim for loss of bargain by the successful bidders” (paragraph 9). With the risk of increasing creditors’ claims in mind, the judge agreed to order the release of the vehicles: “In my judgment, requiring Mr Furber to comply with his obligations under the IVA and the power of attorney will be in the best interests of his creditors generally and maintain the authority of the supervisors who are effectively, if not in law, officers of the court” (paragraph 11).

IPs acting in an advisory capacity not sufficient to avoid TUPE

Ward Brothers (Malton) Limited v Middleton & Ors (16 October 2013) ([2013] UKEAT 0249)

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2013/0249_13_1610.html

Bulmers Transport Limited ceased to trade on a Friday and on the following Monday Ward Brothers (Malton) Limited started to perform Bulmers’ major contracts using some of its former employees. Before Bulmers had ceased to trade, it had been presented with a winding up petition and had sought the advice of IPs. It seems that, although Administration had been contemplated, this was abandoned around the time that trading ceased. Some ten days later, different IPs were appointed Administrators by the QFCH.

The key question for the Appeal Tribunal was: did the involvement of IPs fit the TUPE exception, “where the transferor is the subject of bankruptcy proceedings or any analogous insolvency proceedings which have been instituted with a view to the liquidation of the assets of the transferor and are under the supervision of an insolvency practitioner” (Regulation 8(7) of TUPE)?

The Appeal Tribunal supported the original Tribunal’s conclusion that the first set of IPs had been acting only in an advisory capacity and that Bulmers had not been under the supervision of an IP at the time of the transfer.

The Appeal Tribunal also appreciated that “it is regrettable that so much uncertainty exists” (paragraph 20) as regards the application of TUPE and acknowledged “the importance of establishing, if possible, a red line”. They felt that the principles in Slater v Secretary of State for Industry, whilst not formally binding, “command considerable respect; and we respectfully agree that what is there set out is an appropriate and sensible red line and is the correct principle to apply. It is consistent with section 388, which, as we have said, provides that a person acts as an insolvency practitioner in relation to a company by acting as its liquidator, provisional liquidator, administrator or administrative receiver; if not appointed as such, then a person is not acting as an insolvency practitioner” (paragraph 23).

In the summary to the decision, it states that “an appointment (formal or informal) was necessary before there could be said to be supervision by an insolvency practitioner”. Personally, I struggle to see how an IP can be informally appointed and acting in a S388 capacity. The body of the decision states: “Clearly, that red line is not an entirely straight line. There may be disputes, for example, as to whether an insolvency practitioner was on the facts, appointed before a formal letter of appointment was provided or even drafted” (paragraph 24), so perhaps that is what is meant by an “informal” appointment.

The consequence of this decision in this case was that the appeal was dismissed: there had been a transfer that was not subject to the TUPE exclusion as regards the transfer of employee claims to the transferor.

Fixed charge receivers’ sale process tainted by agents’ “worrying conduct”

O’Kane & O’Kane v Rooney (12 November 2013) ([2013] NIQB 114)

http://www.bailii.org/nie/cases/NIHC/QB/2013/114.html

The O’Kanes sought an injunction restraining the joint fixed charge receivers from selling a property.

The judge was presented with evidence, albeit most of it hearsay but nonetheless “very strong”, which the judge described as showing “worrying conduct”, “very curious behaviour indeed”, and even “bad faith” (paragraphs 8, 9, and 10). The criticisms were levelled at the joint receivers’ agents who seemed to have discouraged some parties from bidding, provided inaccurate information, and allegedly advised the highest bidder not to increase its bid during the open bidding process, stating that the bidder would win out at the lower figure.

Although the O’Kanes’ proposal was complex and it was argued to be unrealistic, the judge viewed the previous sealed bid process to be tainted. He granted an injunction restraining the sale and directed that the property should be remarketed and sold by way of private treaty, with a bidding book being maintained and exhibited to the court for its approval of the sale. He directed that there should be no involvement of the individuals named, although he did not go so far as to require a new firm of agents to be instructed.

Administration terminated and company handed back to directors despite outstanding fees and expenses

Re Hotel Company 42 The Calls Limited (18 September 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3925 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3925.html

Joint Administrators were appointed on the application of a creditor. All creditors’ claims were paid or waived, although no monies passed through the Joint Administrators’ hands, as they were dealt with by third parties.

The shareholder and director wanted the company returned to them and the administration terminated, given that its purpose had been achieved, but the Joint Administrators were reluctant to rely simply on their statutory charge as regards their unpaid remuneration and expenses as provided by Paragraph 99 of Schedule B1 of the Insolvency Act 1986, given that the appointing creditor had been “given the run around” by an associated company for many years. There was also a separate application ongoing by the shareholder and director under Paragraphs 74 and 75 under a claim that there had been unfair harm and misfeasance by, amongst other things, the charging of excessive remuneration.

Purle HHJ did not consider that the Joint Administrators’ fears were “sufficient to justify their continuing in office when, as they themselves recognise, there is no practical reason for them to do so, and, most importantly, the administration purpose has been achieved” (paragraph 21). It was also his view that the statutory charge, which could be supported by a restriction registered against the company’s property by means of filing an agreed notice with the Land Registry, was ample to protect them.

The judge refused the relief sought by the Joint Administrators to authorise them to grant a charge to themselves and he ordered the termination of the administration. He did not order that the Joint Administrators be discharged, as the misfeasance proceedings remained unresolved.

Does the EC Regulation on Insolvency Proceedings apply when the winding-up petition is based on the just and equitable ground?

Re ARM Asset Backed Securities SA (9 October 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3351 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3351.html

A Luxembourg-incorporated company applied for the appointment of provisional liquidators under a winding up petition presented on the grounds that it would be just and equitable to wind it up.

Mr Justice David Richards was satisfied that the evidence pointed to an England COMI: it was apparent that the decisions governing the Company’s administration and management were taken in London and that this was clear to third parties. However, as the petition was based on the just and equitable ground, rather than on the Company’s insolvency, the judge had to consider whether the EC Regulation on “Insolvency Proceedings” kicked in.

Rather than reach a conclusion on this question, the question of the Company’s solvency was addressed. The circumstances of this case were not cut and dried: although it was likely that there would be insufficient funds to service in full the Company’s issued bonds, the terms of the bonds provided that the holders were entitled to recover sums only to the extent that the Company had available to it certain sums. “As a matter of ordinary language, I would take the view that if a company has liabilities of a certain amount on bonds or other obligations which exceed the assets available to it to meet those obligations, the company is insolvent, even though the rights of the creditors to recover payment will be, as a matter of legal right as well as a practical reality, restricted to the available assets, and even though, as the bonds in this case provide, the obligations will be extinguished after the distribution of available funds. It seems to me it can properly be said in relation to this company that it is unable to pay its debts. A useful way of testing this is to consider the amounts for which bond holders would prove in a liquidation of the company. It seems to me clear that they would prove for the face value of their bonds and the interest payable on those bonds” (paragraphs 31 and 32).

Consequently, although David Richards J has left open the question of whether just-and-equitable petitions are caught by the EC Regulation, he was content that the Company could and should be wound up.

(UPDATE 16/03/14: I recommend a briefing by Tina Kyriakides of 11 Stone Buildings: http://www.11sb.com/pdf/insider-limited-recourse-agreement-march-2014.pdf?500%3bhttp%3a%2f%2fwww.11sb.com%3a80%2fhome%2fhome.asp. This briefing addresses the issue as regards the application of the EC Regulation, pointing out that the decision in Re Rodenstock GmbH held that the winding up of a solvent company is governed by the Judgments Regulation 44/2001 and not by the EC Regulation. More interestingly, this briefing deals with the issue about this case that had niggled me (but which I cowardly avoided): how can liabilities that are expressly restricted to the company’s funds topple the company into insolvency? Personally, I find the conclusions of this briefing far more satisfying.)

Supervisor required to consider effect of set-off despite Adjudicator’s decision

Westshield Limited v Mr & Mrs Whitehouse (18 November 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3576 (TCC))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/TCC/2013/3576.html

The Whitehouses had some work done on their house by Westshield prior to the company entering into a CVA in December 2010. After little exchange, Westshield served a Notice of Adjudication in relation to the work done. The Whitehouses raised the issue of a substantial counterclaim and referred to the terms of the CVA, which included that the Supervisor should address the extent of mutual dealings and consider set-off. The Adjudicator decided that the Whitehouses should pay Westshield c.£133,000, but did not consider the counterclaim. The Whitehouses submitted a claim to the Supervisor of c.£200,000, but the Supervisor was reluctant to deal with it given the Adjudicator’s involvement.

Westshield then issued proceedings seeking to enforce the Adjudicator’s decision, but the Whitehouses maintained that the Supervisor would need to deal with the counterclaim.

The judge believed that Westshield had been entitled to pursue the pre-CVA debt and that, had the cross-claim not intervened, the Adjudicator’s decision would have been enforceable. However, the Whitehouses had become bound by the CVA and therefore the CVA condition requiring an account to be taken of mutual dealings and set off to be applied could be carried out by the Supervisor. “Once that exercise is done, if it shows money due to Westshield, that can be paid subject to the right which the Whitehouses have to refer the matter to Court within a short time. The Court can then consider what effect (if any) the adjudication decision may have on its decision as to what should be done. If the accounting shows money due to the Whitehouses, they will get however many pennies in the pound as are available to creditors from the CVA” (paragraph 27).

Consequently, the judge dismissed the application for summary judgment, staying any further steps until the outcome of the Supervisor’s account was known.


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Solicitors’ fees for unsuccessfully opposing a winding-up petition allowed in priority to Liquidators’ fees, but not in priority to Administrators’ fees

Neumans LLP (a firm) v Andronikou & Ors [2012] EWHC 3088 (Ch) (2 November 2012)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2012/3088.html

Although there is case precedent – Re a Company (No 004055 of 1991) [1991] 1 WLR 1004 – for allowing the company’s costs for seeking to strike out a winding-up petition to be a Liquidation expense, personally this seemed a new thought to me: that the category of Liquidation expenses at R4.218(3)(h), “the costs of the petitioner, and of any person appearing on the petition whose costs are allowed by the court”, could include the insolvent company’s costs for seeking to avoid the winding-up order.

Of course, these pre-Liquidation costs do not automatically rank in priority to the Liquidator’s fees – they have to be “allowed by the court” – but it seems to me that this case highlights yet more pre-appointment liabilities of which Liquidators need to be aware.

In contrast, the judge decided that the solicitors’ fees should not be allowed as an Administration expense.

It is perhaps important to note that the Liquidators did not object to the result (because there was no Administration surplus from which to discharge the costs).  However, the judgment provides some valuable comment on the application of the Lundy Granite principle in Administrations and what kind of costs the court will allow as Liquidation expenses.

Background: In December 2009, Portsmouth City Football Club Limited (“the company”) instructed solicitors to act for it in connection with a winding-up petition presented by HMRC.  The solicitors continued to act on the matter until c.12 February 2010 when the company’s instructions were withdrawn.  At that time, the petition had reached an appeal stage.  Administrators were appointed on 26 February 2010 and thus the winding-up petition was suspended automatically.  On considering the Administrators’ (revised) proposals, the creditors approved that the company should exit Administration via Compulsory Liquidation. The original HMRC winding-up petition was restored to a hearing on 24 February 2011 when the winding-up of the company was ordered and this resulted in the ending of the Administration.

The company’s former solicitors had received part-payment from a person connected with the company, but there remained c.£267,000 owing in fees and disbursements.  The solicitors sought a determination that the costs should be an expense of the Administration; alternatively, that they should be an expense of the Liquidation; and further alternatively, that they should be an expense of the CVA (which existed whilst the company was also in Administration).

Are the solicitors’ fees an Administration expense?

The solicitors’ first argument was that the court could order that the costs be paid as an Administration expense under S51 of the Senior Courts Act 1981.  In part, that section states that: “the court shall have full power to determine by whom and to what extent the costs [of proceedings] are to be paid”.  Morgan J decided that this did not help the solicitors: “An order for costs under section 51 is for the benefit of the company. At most, it would involve a payment by the company to the company. It would not involve the administrators making a payment to the solicitors…  Section 51 does not authorise the court to order the administrators to make a payment to the solicitors. As I have explained, they did not incur costs and no order for costs is to be made in their favour” (paragraph 68).

Another argument was that the court could order that the costs be “treated” as an Administration expense.  In considering this, Morgan J reviewed the list of Administration expenses at R2.67 and reflected on the impact of the Lundy Granite principle, i.e. a liability under a contract entered into before Liquidation could be treated as if it were an expense of the Liquidation, where the Liquidator had retained the benefit of the contract for the purposes of the winding-up.  He stated: “If the company is under a liability to pay a sum under the Lundy Granite principle, then it seems to me that, as a matter of fact, payment of such a sum will be a necessary disbursement within rule 4.218(3)(m)” (paragraph 91) and thus it followed that “a liability which is payable in full under the Lundy Granite principle can be a necessary disbursement within rule 2.67(1)(f). Further, such a liability can be a liability incurred by the administrator under rule 2.67(1)(a)” (paragraph 93).

So were the solicitors’ costs in this case a liability under the Lundy Granite principle?  Morgan J decided that they were not, as the company’s contract of retainer of the solicitors ended before the Administration began and the Administrators “did not do anything to elect to retain the benefit of the contract of retainer for the purposes of the administration. Further, if they had so elected, they would only have been liable for charges in relation to the period from the time of such election” (paragraph 95).

Morgan J concluded that the solicitors’ fees came under no category of Administration expenses per R2.67 and they were not to be “treated” as if they came within that rule.

Are the solicitors’ fees a Liquidation expense?

One of the significant differences between R2.67 for Administration expenses and R4.218 for Liquidation expenses is that the latter includes (at (3)(h)): “the costs of any person appearing on the petition whose costs are allowed by the court”.  Morgan J stated: “The company comes within the reference to ‘any person’ in rule 4.218(3)(h). The company incurred costs in that it contracted, before the presentation of the winding up petition, to pay fees to the solicitors. Thus, the decision for the court is whether to ‘allow’ the costs of the company as costs within rule 4.218(3)(h)” (paragraph 115).

“On the evidence and the submissions in this case, and having regard to the fact that there was no real opposition to this course, I consider that I am able to hold: (1) the solicitors were duly instructed on behalf of the company; (2) those directing the affairs of the company at the relevant time considered that it was in the best interests of the company for the company to oppose the winding up petition in the way, and on the grounds, on which it did; (3) those directing the company were not acting in their own interests in a way which was in conflict with the best interests of the company; (4) the work done by the solicitors on behalf of the company was in fact in the best interests of the company; (5) there is no factor which would justify the court in refusing to allow the company’s costs to be an expense of the liquidation” (paragraph 128).

Which elements of the solicitors’ fees are Liquidation expenses?

In addition to the solicitors’ fees and disbursements directly related to the opposing of the winding-up petition, Morgan J considered whether the solicitors’ other fees and disbursements also should be allowed:

  • Costs incurred prior to the presentation of the petition: allowed to the extent that the “work ultimately proved of use and service in the application which the company later made to strike out the petition” (paragraph 133).
  • Costs in dealing with another creditor’s petition: allowed from the date that this petition and HMRC’s petition were ordered to be considered together; work prior to this event related to a separate matter.
  • Costs in advising on a possible application for a S127 validation order: Morgan J felt that these costs were “very closely bound up” with the costs of dealing with the HMRC petition and thus they were allowed.
  • Costs in dealing with a First-tier Tribunal regarding the company’s VAT position: the company had been pursuing a credit, which it alleged would result in a substantial cross-claim supporting its application to strike out HMRC’s petition.  Morgan J felt that the arguments as to whether to allow these costs as a Liquidation expense were “very evenly balanced”, but he chose not to allow them, viewing them as “sufficiently different from the direct costs of responding to the HMRC winding up petition so that it would be wrong to give them the priority which would follow from allowing them as an expense of the liquidation” (paragraph 136).

UPDATE: Neumans’ appeal was heard on 24 July 2013 (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/916.html). Lord Justice Mummery dismissed the appeal, stating that the order made by Morgan J was “dead on” (paragraph 33).