The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably disrupted the performance of contracts. Although the Paris Commercial Court has ruled the pandemic to be a force majeure event in a commercial contract, this characterisation may not be retained in all situations. This article provides helpful tips to keep in mind when analysing a contractual situation, in light of French law specificities that might be unknown to foreign companies or counsel involved in arbitration proceedings to which French law applies.
The First Civil Chamber of the Court of Cassation recently overruled a Paris Court of Appeal decision and determined that there was no basis for the argument that Antrix Corporation Ltd had not made certain procedural objections during arbitration and therefore could not raise them in enforcement proceedings. The decision raises interesting questions about the nature of the 'waiver' contemplated in the Code of Civil Procedure.
The International Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal recently rendered five decisions on setting-aside proceedings against five awards issued in the same arbitration. It was alleged that the tribunal had been improperly constituted as a party-appointed arbitrator had failed to disclose information that affected his independence and impartiality. Although this decision confirms the existing jurisprudence, the question of the exact scope of arbitrators' duty to disclose remains.
The Paris Court of Appeal recently clarified the scope of application of Article 1466 of the Code of Civil Procedure and for the first time confirmed that Article 1466 can also limit a party's ability to seek annulment based on a variety of arguments, whether relating to procedural irregularities or otherwise, that could have been raised in the arbitration.
The Court of Cassation recently confirmed the quasi-absolute priority given to arbitral tribunals to determine questions relating to their jurisdiction, even when this involves rules of French public order. Although this is well established in French case law, it is the first time that the court has upheld an arbitration clause that conferred on a tribunal the statutory power to value shares in lieu of a party-appointed or judicially appointed expert.
The French Aircraft Registry, previously located in Paris, recently moved to Athis-Mons, approximately 20km south of Paris. Due to this relocation, the registry has been closed from 9 November 2020 until 13 November 2020 (however, the registry may be in a position to answer to emails as of 12 November 2020). Applicants to the registry that wish to register aircraft, and any related leases and mortgages, will have to use new registration forms which will refer to the registry's new location.
The French Civil Aviation Authority's Registration Office recently moved from Paris to Athis-Mons. As a result, aircraft mortgage beneficiaries must elect domicile in the jurisdiction of the Evry Tribunal Judiciaire. This will not prove too difficult for French banks, which may elect domicile at a branch in the Court of Evry's territorial jurisdiction; however, foreign lenders and non-banking mortgagees will have to find someone (eg, a notary) who will accept such election of domicile on their behalf.
The Court of Cassation recently rendered a decision concerning an AirAsia Airbus A320 which crashed in the Java Sea in December 2014, killing all crew and passengers on board. Notably, this decision reaffirms that, under French law, a manufacturer's liability cannot be limited or excluded on the grounds that another party or some other cause contributed to the damage if the product was defective and caused the damage.
French drone legislation was recently updated to require telepilots who fly drones for leisure purposes to undergo specific training. In addition, Law 2016-1428 on enhancing drone operational safety recently entered into force. Among other things, the law requires telepilots who fly drones weighing more than 800g to undergo mandatory training and requires certain civil drones to be registered.
In 2016 French contract law was restructured to render it more predictable and commercially attractive. The reform extended to the currency limitation rule, which was considered both restrictive and unclear. A recently passed implementing law is expected to provide greater flexibility for aviation transactions, as the currency limitations no longer apply to transactions between professionals where payment in a foreign currency is common practice in the relevant industry.
The Court of Cassation recently clarified its position on first-demand guarantees. Considering the significant consequences for the beneficiary of a guarantee (depending on whether it is characterised as a first-demand guarantee or suretyship), the court's reasoning should be looked at carefully by any drafter of a first-demand guarantee.
The government recently adopted Ministerial Order 2019-75, which aims to ensure that International Swap Derivatives Association-type master agreements on financial services continue to be used. To enable EU clients to pursue their existing contractual relationships after a no-deal Brexit, the order offers a simplified method of replicating a master agreement with an EU entity that belongs to the same group of companies as the UK financial institution with which that client had an existing contractual relationship.
In January 2019 France passed Act 2019-75, which authorised the government to take measures to prepare for the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union without a deal by way of ministerial orders, particularly in the area of financial services. Subsequently, in February 2019 the government adopted a ministerial order which, among other things, aims to ensure that International Swaps and Derivatives Association-type master agreements on financial services continue to be used.
As part of a range of emergency measures to help businesses meet the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the government adopted Ordinance 2020-318 on 25 March 2020. The measures temporarily extend deadlines in the financial reporting and accounts approval process of listed and unlisted companies alike. In addition to commercial and civil companies, the new rules apply to partnerships, cooperatives, mutual companies, charities and foundations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on business operations. Companies are having to adapt quickly to social distancing measures and travel restrictions and many are now dispensing with face-to-face board meetings in favour of virtual meetings or written procedures. Thus, an ordinance was recently adopted to relax the rules around virtual board and shareholder meetings.
Law 2019-744 of 19 July 2019 seeks to simplify and update wide-ranging aspects of company law. The measures include changes to the approval process that public limited companies must follow in order to issue, in favour of a third party, a guarantee of the obligations of a subsidiary that they control. These changes aim to enable foreign subsidiaries of French companies to respond more quickly to international tender processes.
The Commercial Division of the Supreme Court has clarified how an assignment of business receivables, known as a 'Dailly assignment', operates. Through this decision, the Supreme Court has reinforced the effectiveness of the Dailly assignment mechanism by giving full effect to the assigned debtor's actual knowledge of the assignment and by giving no effect to contractual provisions that restrict assignment.
The new law on the duty of vigilance for parent companies and principal contractors aims to improve the accountability of multinational companies, prevent serious incidents in France and abroad and allow parties to obtain compensation for losses which they suffer as a consequence of non-compliance. To achieve these aims, the law requires companies to draft an awareness plan and implement a monitoring and whistleblowing system. It also introduces penalties for non-compliance.
In acquisitions of group companies, the agreements entered into by the parties are often subject to termination clauses. If the conditions of a termination clause are met, the beneficiary of such clause can choose between terminating the agreement and waiving its termination right in order to obtain the contract's performance. A recent case before the Paris Court of Appeal provides an example of the issues that may arise when a termination clause is insufficiently accurate.
In April 2020 the Financial Markets Regulator (AMF) heavily penalised a hedge fund for omitting to disclose its objectives regarding a takeover bid after it had purchased large amounts of equity swaps in shares of the company subject to the takeover. This decision confirms that the mere fact that equity swaps can give the equity swap holder access to shares of a company that is the subject of a takeover bid is enough for them to fall within the scope of the takeover bid legislation.
Closing is the ultimate stage in an M&A transaction where all parties meet to seal – and celebrate – their agreement; however, it can be a traumatic process due to the time spent in meeting rooms signing and initialising contracts. Lawyers and clients have long hoped for change in this regard. During the COVID-19 lockdown, signs of a change emerged in the form of electronic signatures, as contracts could not be signed in person and scheduled closings were either dematerialised or delayed.
In the context of the worldwide economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU authorities issued guidelines to reinforce the protection of strategic sectors and vulnerable companies from foreign investment. However, the measures taken by France are not as far reaching as in other EU countries, as the French authorities chose to extend the measures to biotechnologies and take precautionary temporary measures with respect to listed companies.
Following the introduction of EU Regulation 2019/452 and the Action Plan for Business Growth and Transformation law, a new decree and ministerial order were published and will enter into effect on 1 April 2020. This new set of regulations takes into account the complexity of the existing structures of investment in private M&A transactions and allows a better understanding of the context of a contemplated transaction by the French administration.