This post was written by Lucy Newcomb.
Although the judgement in the Cablevisión case is unlikely to be repeated in an English court, the case will have implications for the negotiation of lender transfer provisions going forward.
We have already shared our general thoughts on this case in a prior post, so I won’t get into all the details again here. What is most important to note from a UK-law perspective is that there is no general doctrine of good faith in English common law. This difference has important implications in terms of the enforcement of contracts, since the English common law is biased in favour of predictability of commercial transactions and certainty of common law. This means that parties contracting under English law can specify rights and obligations in some detail and be confident that they will be enforced as stated.
Therefore, as the law currently stands, any similar dispute under an English law governed credit agreement would have to be decided solely on the grounds that the participation agreement was for all relevant purposes a disguised but un-consented to assignment that breached the credit agreement, and not that it violates concepts of good faith and fair dealing.
On this point, it is worth noting that, as described in the court’s decision, as a result of the would-be participant’s requested changes to the participation agreement, and in particular after the lender rejected a request to enter into side letters empowering the participant to direct any lender decisions regarding amendments and waivers to the credit agreement, the lender amended the recitals to the participation agreement to explicitly refer to the lender’s direct relationship with the borrower and to reaffirm its sole discretion with respect of amendments and waivers under the credit agreement. These amendments indicated to the court that the lender had attempted to ensure that the participation agreement was consistent with the credit agreement — and indeed believed it to be consistent.
No ruling on the point was made in this case, but Judge Rakoff’s comment (in response to the lender’s claim that the participation agreement was technically consistent with the credit agreement) that “[s]uperficially, this may be correct” suggests it is possible that an injunction application made on these grounds only — absent application of the doctrine of good faith and fair dealing — would have been unsuccessful. Without seeing the actual text of the credit agreement, it is not possible to give a definitive view on the point. However, it is our view that careful drafting of the relevant provisions of participation agreements should ensure that the risk of a successful challenge by a borrower on these grounds is remote.
Moreover, this case has highlighted a weakness, from the borrower’s perspective, of the transfer provisions in the UK Loan Market Association (‘LMA’) standard form documents. Namely, that any protection that a borrower is able to persuade a lender to grant in the form of consent rights to certain assignments can be circumvented by the lender entering into a participation agreement instead. Historically, lenders have been extremely reluctant to accept any changes to the LMA transfer provisions – consent rights are viewed as a “top of the market” term by most lenders active in the UK market, and fettered rights to sub-participate are rarer still. However, with the risk this poses to the borrower being so starkly exposed by this recent New York case, this is likely to be an area of hot debate in the future.