This is the next in the series of blogs for the Directors Friend.
This is a discussion about a recent case decided in the Chancery Division of the High Court – Officeserve Technologies Ltd (In Liquidation) v Anthony-Mike  EWHC 1920 (Ch) by HHJ Paul Matthews.
In summary, prior to Officeserve Technologies Ltd (In Liquidation) (the ‘Company’) being placed into Compulsory Liquidation and importantly post the presentation of a winding up petition. The director asserted that the right of the Joint Liquidators to bring a Misfeasance claim against him had been compromised by a settlement agreement entered into between the Company and the director post the Petition being presented and prior to the liquidation in respect of what was expressed as the director’s employment by the Company.
Section 127 of the Insolvency Act 1986 (the ‘Act’)
This section of the Act renders void any ‘disposition’ of property made by a company between the presentation of a winding up petition and the winding up order.
Section 129(2) of the Act deems that the winding up commences as a matter of law at the time that the winding up petition is presented (to the Court).
This is to protect the creditors of a company and to ensure that the assets of that company are distributed fairly or ‘pari passu’.
Perhaps surprisingly to those that practice insolvency was that at the time of the negotiation of the settlement agreement post the Petition being presented was that (per paragraph 52) there was no discussion between the two sides of the possible application of section 127 of the Act.
At paragraph 59 the judge found that:
‘The claims put forward in the present litigation against the respondent, however, arise out of the respondent’s holding of an office. I therefore conclude that on its true construction the settlement agreement does not in any event protect the respondent against claims of the kind which are being put forward now.’
At paragraph 90:
‘The mischief against which the section (127) is directed is clear. The destruction, or at least the reduction in value, of a property right belonging to the company, causing an immediate and equivalent accrual in value to another person, is well within that mischief.’
At paragraph 98:
‘I consider that I am therefore free to hold that the release of contractual rights such as a debt by a creditor company in favour of the debtor constitutes a ‘disposition’ of the property of the company within the meaning of s 127.’
At paragraph 99:
‘In my judgment, it is sufficient that identifiable property by some act having legal consequences (so excluding mere effluxion of time) ceases to be in the ownership of the company, so that it is no longer available to the liquidator of the company for the statutory purposes, and the value accrues to some other person (so excluding consumption or waste), even though that other person cannot necessarily be said to become the owner of the same property.’
At paragraph 104:
‘In my judgment, if the settlement agreement on its true construction extended to the claims being made against the respondent in the present application, that agreement would be void pursuant to s 127, to the extent that it operated either to release the respondent from those claims or to create an enforceable promise not to sue on them.’
At paragraph 110:
‘In my judgment, s 127 is not, and is not intended to be, a prescription for the behaviour of company directors in future.’
At paragraph 118:
‘I hold that, on its true construction, the settlement agreement does not release the respondent from his obligations to the company in his capacity as a director, but that, if it did, section 127 of the Insolvency Act 1986 would operate on the releases of such obligations and avoid them, and that I would not validate such releases under the discretion given to the court by section 127 itself.’
The Directors Friend comments
It is clear therefore that the Court is not going to allow a compromise of the company’s claims against a director or former director post the presentation of a winding up petition and pre-liquidation to bind subsequently appointed liquidators from bring a claim against that person in misfeasance.
In order for the actions of the director to be retrospectively validated under section 127 of the Act then at the very least it should be shown by the director that matters have turned out well for creditors. That may also go some way to assist in defending a misfeasance claim.
The fact that it turned out well for creditors is also likely to assist with responding to any subsequent director disqualification / compensation investigation brought by the Insolvency Service.
WHAT TO DO NOW
If you are faced with:
- worrying insolvency issues with your company;
- a winding up petition (and have payments that need to be made);
- a claim against you for misfeasance; and / or
- director disqualification
then please talk to me today on +44 (0)1992 558411. That is in order to protect your position without delay. The earlier that you speak with me the more that I can likely help.
Until the next time…
THE DIRECTORS FRIEND