Fairfield Sentry Ltd ((in Liquidation)) v Migani and Others

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
JudgeLord Sumption
Judgment Date16 April 2014
Neutral Citation[2014] UKPC 9
Date16 April 2014
Docket NumberAppeal No 0061 of 2012 and Nos 0058, 0059, 0060 and 0061 of 2013
CourtPrivy Council
Fairfield Sentry Limited (in Liquidation)
(Appellant)
and
Migani and others
(Respondents)
Lombard, Odier & Cie and others
(Appellants)
and
Fairfield Sentry Limited (in Liquidation)
(Respondent)
Credit Suisse London Nominees Limited and another
(Appellants)
and
Fairfield Sentry Limited (in Liquidation)
(Respondent)
Quilvest Finance Limited and others
(Appellants)
and
Fairfield Sentry Limited (in Liquidation)
(Respondent)
UBS AG New York and others
(Appellants)
and
Fairfield Sentry Limited (in Liquidation)
(Respondent)

[2014] UKPC 9

before

Lord Neuberger

Lord Mance

Lord Clarke

Lord Sumption

Lord Toulson

Appeal No 0061 of 2012 and Nos 0058, 0059, 0060 and 0061 of 2013

Privy Council

Lombard, Odier & Cie and others

David Lord QC

Robert Christie

(Instructed by Blake Lapthorn)

Fairfield Sentry Ltd (in Liquidation)

Jonathan Crow QC

Andrew Westwood

Stephen Midwinter

(Instructed by Macfarlanes LLP)

Credit Suisse London Nominees Ltd and another

Laurence Rabinowitz QC

Arabella di Iorio

Maximilian Schlote

(Instructed by Herbert Smith Freehills LLP)

UBS AG New York and others

Lord Falconer QC

Paul Webster QC

(Instructed by Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP)

Quilvest Finance Ltd and others

Mark Hapgood QC

Phillip Kite

Alan Roxburgh

(Instructed by Latham & Watkins)

Heard on 18 and 19 March 2014

Lord Sumption
Introduction
1

Bernard L. Madoff and his company Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC ('BLMIS') ostensibly operated as fund managers, principally from New York. Over a period of at least seventeen years he operated what seems likely to be the largest Ponzi scheme in history, accepting sums variously estimated between US$17 billion and US$50 billion for investment. It appears that from at least the early 1990s there had been no trades and no investments. Returns to investors were fictitious and the corresponding documentation fabricated. As with any Ponzi scheme, net withdrawals from funds under management were paid from new money placed with BLMIS for investment. In December 2008 Madoff was arrested, and in March 2009 he pleaded guilty in a New York court to a number of counts of fraud. He was later sentenced to 150 years imprisonment.

2

Fairfield Sentry Ltd is a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands as a mutual fund. I shall, like most of the formal documentation, call it "the Fund". From 1997 to 2008, it was the largest of a number of feeder funds which placed money with BLMIS for investment. Over that period, about 95% of its assets, amounting to some US$7.2 billion was placed with BLMIS. Investors participated indirectly in these placements by subscribing for shares in the Fund at a price dependent on the Fund's net asset value per share ('NAV'), and were entitled to withdraw funds by redeeming their shares under the provisions of the Fund's Articles of Association. The net addition to or reduction of its funds arising from subscriptions or withdrawals over any month was reflected in corresponding additions or reductions of funds placed with BLMIS. The shares were also transferrable, subject to certain restrictions in the Articles, but we were told that there was no secondary market in them. On 18 December 2008, shortly after Madoff's frauds came to light, the Directors of the Fund suspended the determination of the Fund's NAV per share, thus effectively terminating the redemption of shares. On 21 July 2009, the High Court of the British Virgin Islands ordered the Fund to be wound up.

3

It is inherent in a Ponzi scheme that those who withdraw their funds before the scheme collapses escape without loss, and quite possibly with substantial fictitious profits. The loss falls entirely on those investors whose funds are still invested when the money runs out and the scheme fails. Members of the Fund who redeemed their shares before 18 December 2008 recovered the NAV which the Directors determined to be attributable to their shares on the basis of fictitious reports from BLMIS. The loss will in principle be borne entirely by those who were still Members of the Fund at that date.

4

These proceedings are brought by the Fund at the instance of its liquidators against a number of financial institutions who were Members of the Fund but redeemed some or all of their shares before December 2008. Their purpose is to recover from the Defendants the amounts paid out to them on redemption, on the footing that they were paid out in the mistaken belief that the assets were as stated by BLMIS, when there were in fact no such assets. Any recoveries made on this basis can then be distributed rateably between all Members, irrespective of when or whether they redeemed.

5

Similar proceedings have been brought by the Fund in other jurisdictions against other Members and former Members to recover redemption payments. They include more than 300 actions in the United States, in which the Fund is claiming more than US$6 billion. The United States actions have been stayed pending the outcome of these proceedings.

6

On 20 April 2011, Bannister J in the Commercial Division of the High Court of the British Virgin Islands ordered four preliminary issues to be tried. The first three issues have together been called the "Article 11" question. These issues were all concerned with the question whether certain transaction documents issued to Members of the Fund recording the NAV per share or the redemption price upon redemption were binding on the Fund under Article 11 of its Articles, which deals with the effect of certain "certificates". It is now accepted, and rightly accepted, by the Fund that if they were binding the present claims must fail. The fourth issue was whether the Defendants have a defence on the ground that by their surrendering their shares they gave good consideration for the money that they received on redemption. This has been called the "Good Consideration" question. The two questions were argued separately below and before us. But for reasons which will be explained, they are closely related and have to be considered together.

7

Bannister J decided the Article 11 question in favour of the Fund. He held that the documents relied upon by the Defendants as binding were not "certificates" for the purpose of Article 11. But he held in favour of the Defendants on the Good Consideration question, and on that basis summarily dismissed the action. He was affirmed on both points by the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal.

The contractual documentation
8

Subscribers for shares in the Fund complete a Subscription Agreement, by which they subscribe for shares to be offered by the Fund at the NAV per share as the opening of business on the effective date of purchase "pursuant to the terms herein, the Memorandum, and the Fund's Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association (collectively 'the Fund Documents')": see clause 1.

9

Of these three documents, the "Memorandum" means the Private Placement Memorandum by which the Fund offers a stated number of shares. Its main function is to convey information about how the Fund is managed and how its assets are invested, and to define certain expressions used in the Subscription Agreement. It describes the investment strategy of the Fund, and explains that it is implemented by BLMIS. A section headed "Transfers, Redemptions and Termination" describes the procedure for redemption.

10

The Subscription Agreement binds the subscriber to his subscription and to the terms of the Fund Documents, but is otherwise concerned entirely with acknowledgements, representations and warranties as to his understanding of the investment and of associated procedures and risks, mostly for regulatory purposes. For present purposes, what matters is not the subscriber's acknowledgements, representations and warranties, nor the factual statements of the Fund, but the terms of the subscriber's membership of the Fund, which govern the redemption of its shares. These terms are to be found in the Articles of Association of the Fund. The relevant provisions are Articles 9, 10 and 11 and the associated definitions in Article 1. These operate by reference to the "Valuation Day" and the "Dealing Day". A Valuation Day is the last business day of any month (or such other date as the Directors may determine); and with respect to redemptions a Dealing Day is a Valuation Day.

11

Article 9 deals with the issue and allotment of shares. Article 9(1) provides for shares to be issued to those applying for them on the Dealing Day following the application. Article 9(1)(b) provides:

"The issue of Shares pursuant to this Article shall be effected at not less than the Subscription Price determined in accordance with paragraph (2) of this Article but in no event shall a Share be allotted or issued at a price less than its par value."

Article 9(2) provides that the Subscription Price per share is to be the

"Net Asset Value of each Share (as determined in accordance with Article 11) as at the close of business in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on the Valuation Day immediately preceding the Dealing Day on which such issue is made."

12

Article 10 deals with redemptions. It is in some respects the mirror image of Article 9. Article 10(1) provides that

"Subject to the provisions of the Memorandum, these Articles and the Act and subject as hereinafter provided, the Company shall on receipt by it or its authorised agent of a request in writing (or in such other form as the Directors may determine) by a Member ('the Applicant') specifying the number and class of Shares to be redeemed redeem or purchase all or any portion of the Shares registered in the Applicant's name, PROVIDED THAT:

(a) subject as hereinafter provided, the redemption or purchase of Shares pursuant to this Article shall be made on the Dealing Day on which, or...

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10 firm's commentaries
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2 books & journal articles
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    • Construction Law. Volume I - Third Edition
    • 13 April 2020
    ...Building Contractors Co Ltd v Waltham Holy Cross UDC [1952] 2 All ER 452 at 455–456, per Romer LJ. Compare Fairield Sentry Ltd v Migani [2014] UKPC 9 at [27] (Lord Sumption). 307 Walker v Black (1879) 5 VLR (L) 77. 308 BMD Major Projects Pty Ltd v Victorian Urban Development Authority [2007......
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    • United Kingdom
    • Wiley The Modern Law Review No. 80-6, November 2017
    • 1 November 2017
    ...it is accepting their implications, and relyingon matters independent of them’.5248 Fairfield Sentry Ltd (In Liquidation) vMigani [2014] UKPC 9; A. Burrows, A Restatement of theEnglish Law of Unjust Enrichment (Oxford: OUP, 2012) 32–33 (Restatement). It is unclear whetherthis qualification op......

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