Worldwide: Courts In New York And Singapore Reach Opposite Conclusions On The Validity Of Interpleader Applications Arising Out Of The OW Bunker Bankruptcy

Last Updated: July 13 2015
Article by Andrea Pincus, Charles G. Weller, Sally-Ann S. Underhill, Siân Fellows and Danielle Anderson

Most Read Contributor in United States, October 2017

On 7 November 2014, OW Bunker A/S ("OW"), a global supplier and trader of marine fuel, filed for bankruptcy in Denmark. Further bankruptcies of OW subsidiaries and affiliates swiftly followed, including the bankruptcy of certain U.S. and Singapore-based OW entities.

Protective interpleader proceedings were brought in the U.S. and Singapore by vessel owners and charterers who found themselves the subject of competing claims by third-party physical suppliers of the fuel, OW entities and/or ING, the bank to which it is alleged that OW assigned its rights under certain fuel supply contracts in December 2013.

Interpleader proceedings are designed to protect a party facing multiple claims in respect of a single obligation, by asking the court to determine the entitlement of competing claimants and, in the interim, granting equitable relief by making a form of anti-suit injunction to restrain the competing claimants from proceeding elsewhere. OW, which had contracted to supply fuel to various vessel owners and charterers, often sub-contracted with third-party fuel suppliers who would physically deliver the bunkers to the vessel. In the wake of the bankruptcy, some suppliers sought to enforce maritime liens directly against vessels, regardless of whether the shipowners or charterers had already paid the amounts owed to the OW entities with whom they had contracted.

In two recent decisions, the Federal District Court in New York (New York Court) and the High Court of Singapore ("Singapore Court") reached opposing conclusions on whether interpleader proceedings relating to: (i) contractual (or 'in personam') claims; and (ii) maritime lien (or 'in rem') claims that were asserted against the vessels that had received the fuel, could be brought in those courts.

New York Proceedings

In the New York proceedings, in which this firm is acting, the third-party fuel suppliers argued that the New York Court lacked jurisdiction to give interpleader relief and adjudicate on the maritime lien claims against the vessels because:

  • The maritime lien in rem claims against the vessels were distinct from the in personam contractual claims against the shipowners and charterers, so the claims were not competing.
  • Not all the vessels had been arrested or present in the jurisdiction when actions were commenced and injunctions issued, and the relevant parties had not consented to the substitution of the amounts paid to the court in place of their maritime liens.

On 2 July 2015, the New York Court found that the contractual (in personam) claims and the claims against the vessel (in rem) were merely "alternative procedural devices to obtain the same relief", citing extensive U.S. precedent on the scope of federal interpleader jurisdiction The judge found that in each of the 24 pending interpleader cases before her, the proceedings in contract and the proceedings against the vessels had, at their source, the same obligation for the payment of fuel and were "inextricably interrelated".

Notably, in the course of her judgment, the judge emphasised that the third-party suppliers were effectively attempting to jump the queue of OW creditors by proceeding directly against the vessel to collect the amounts owed, even though there were claims by other creditors directly competing on the very same legal basis. The judge further pointed out the irony that the fuel suppliers were seeking to rely on an equitable argument when their case relied on the inequitable premise that it was more fair for the shipowners to pay twice, or even three times, for the same fuel than for the fuel suppliers, who had effectively extended credit to OW, to take whatever 'haircut' might be imposed upon them in the bankruptcy proceedings or to wait to receive their portion of the interpleaded funds.

Having concluded that she had jurisdiction to adjudicate the claims, the judge went on to find that she had broad statutory authority to restrain the parties from instituting any proceedings that might affect the subject matter of the interpleader application in order to protect the vessel owners and charterers from parallel proceedings. Most significantly, the judge found her orders to be proper and necessary in each case. Among other things, her orders, upon deposit of funds into court, enjoined vessel arrests, as well as any other actions against the vessel owners and charterers to collect payment for the bunker supplies.

Singapore Proceedings

In the earlier judgment in Singapore proceedings, which concerned ING (asserting the right to pursue OW's claims) and a third-party fuel supplier, the interpleader application was dismissed. ING was pursuing a contractual (in personam) claim against the shipowners who had purchased the fuel, while a third-party fuel supplier sought to rely on a maritime lien (in rem) claim, a retention of title clause and the laws of agency.

On 24 April 2015, in a short decision, the Singapore court concluded that the contractual (in personam) claim for payment brought by ING and the in rem claims asserted by the third-party fuel supplier through the retention of title clause and under the maritime lien were of a different nature, did not concern the same debt and, as such, could not be the subject of an interpleader application. The fact that there was a slight difference in the amount claimed by each party was described by the judge as indicative, but not determinative, that the subject matter debt was different.

As regards the agency claim, it was held to be too weak to amount to a prima facie claim and, therefore, could not be the subject of an interpleader application.

Conclusion

As the industry attempts to navigate the fallout from OW's bankruptcy, the conflicting outcomes of the interpleader decisions in the U.S. and Singapore illustrate the difficulty that comes from a bankruptcy in which contractual claims and maritime lien claims interact, and the added complexity that comes from differences in the governing laws of different jurisdictions hearing similar proceedings.

While the Singapore court chose to focus more on the technical equivalence of the claims, the U.S. court drew on U.S. precedent for the broad application of interpleader relief to claims related to the same transaction or debt, regardless of whether they were brought in rem or in personam, and also addressed the legal fiction that an in rem claim could somehow be divorced from the actual person or legal entity that would pay the claim if due.

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Emails

From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.