Potential Pitfalls for Hedge Fund Managers in the Ever-Expanding Use of English Schemes of Arrangement

The English scheme of arrangement has surged in popularity in recent years as distressed hedge fund managers tackle Europe.  The appeal of this procedure is easy to identify.  First, the scheme is predictable: its legal requirements and parameters are clearly set forth in a robust body of law, and it is administered by sophisticated and commercially-minded courts in the United Kingdom.  Second, the scheme permits the company to continue operating (and its management to remain in control) throughout the restructuring – a feature that is prevalent in the United States but which is lacking in many other jurisdictions.  From the perspective of fund managers with American roots, the English scheme has the added benefit of familiarity as it resembles in many ways a “pre-packaged” chapter 11 procedure.  Due to a series of recent rulings in which English courts broadly interpret the scope of their own jurisdiction, the English scheme also has become ever-more accessible.  The courts, for example, have permitted companies with no UK presence to bind creditors under a scheme where the sole jurisdictional nexus to the UK was that the governing law clause of the debtor’s financing documents provided for the choice of English law.  Within the past few months, one English court went a step further and held that even when the foreign debtor’s financing documents originally were governed by foreign law, English jurisdiction could nevertheless be established through the amendment of the governing law clause to provide for English law.  As the English scheme becomes the preferred method of restructuring European companies, it is important to consider whether a scheme that has been “sanctioned” (or confirmed) by an English court will be given effect in other jurisdictions where the debtor has assets or where the debtor’s creditors might reside.  Indeed, before an English court will sanction a scheme, it must be satisfied that the terms of the sanctioned scheme will be respected in all of the relevant jurisdictions.  In a guest article, Solomon J. Noh and Edmund M. Emrich, partner and counsel, respectively, in the Financial Restructuring & Insolvency Group of Shearman & Sterling LLP, identify a potential blind-spot where a foreign company with assets or creditors in the U.S. seeks to restructure its debts through an English scheme of arrangement solely on the basis of the governing law being English law, and discuss potential ways to resolve issues that might arise.

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