In this article, we cover

  1. the commercial and legal development of ELPs as a PE investment vehicle, and their basic features;
  2. the most important take-aways from the now noticeable trend of decisions on the law and practice of ELP claims in the Cayman Islands over the last few years; and
  3. how the Court deployed receivers to assist in managing complex issues which can arise where claims proliferate across all parts of an ELP structure – as they often will where allegations of fraud are made by investors – in its recent decisions in The Port Fund, L.P.

Exempted Limited Partnerships

The Cayman Islands is the leading offshore jurisdiction for establishing private equity funds, with ELPs long having been the vehicle of choice. The industry has been in a sustained period of growth since the global financial crisis in 2007-2009, and consistent with that, there has been an upward trend in the number of active ELPs registered in Cayman. The number of active ELPs registered with the Cayman Islands General Registry has increased rapidly since at least 2011 – from around 11,000, to almost 37,000 in 2022.[1]

Development of the ELP as an Investment Vehicle

Although the concept of a limited partnership has existed in civil law systems since the Italian middle-ages,[2] it was only as recently as 1907 that limited partnerships were first introduced into English law.[3] As with the civil law concept, the basis of the limited partnership model initially adopted in England was that certain partners’ liability was limited to the amount of their capital contribution, but they were restricted from participating in the partnership’s management which was left to the GP(s), who was in turn liable for all of the debts and obligations of the partnership.

Limited partnerships have existed in the Cayman Islands in some form since at least 1963 based on the English model of 1907.[4] Exempted limited partnerships, however, were first introduced as a new vehicle in 1991. Since then, there have been 21 revisions or amendments to the 1991 Law, with the version currently in force the Exempted Limited Partnerships Act 2021 (the ELPA).

The introduction of ELPs removed previous restrictions on the use of ordinary limited partnerships in the Cayman Islands, making those vehicles available for use by the global mutual fund and private equity markets. The ELP was designed to provide symmetry with the corresponding law in Delaware, which had already developed a modern limited partnership model,[5] and it is now generally accepted that the adoption of the 1991 Law in the Cayman Islands was at least partly inspired by the equivalent Delaware legislation.[6]

The creation of the ELP vehicle in Cayman followed the first private equity boom in the 1980s, where the trend towards the use of limited partnerships, in combination with numerous favorable regulatory and tax changes, saw the flow of capital to private equity deals increase.[7] ELPs continue to offer significant tax advantages to investors:

  1. the Cayman Islands has no corporation, income, capital gains or any other taxes applicable to an ELP conducting offshore business, and
  2. GPs standardly apply to the government for an undertaking that no law which may come into force imposing any tax will apply to that ELP, its assets, or the partnership interest of any of its partners for a period of up to 50 years.[8]

An ELP Structure and Its Key Characteristics

ELPs are formed by at least one GP entering into a partnership agreement with at least one LP.[9]

Like an ordinary partnership, the general rules of equity and common law applicable between partners apply to ELPs,[10] except where they are inconsistent with the ELPA.[11]  Unlike ordinary partnerships, however, ELP LPs owe no fiduciary duties either to the ELP itself or to fellow partners.[12]

As with shareholders in a company, LPs benefit from limited liability capped up to the amount of their contribution. But in order to maintain that limited liability, LPs can have no active involvement in the business of the ELP in their capacity as LPs.[13]

Unlike companies, however, an ELP has no separate legal personality and cannot hold assets or pursue or defend claims in its own right. Instead, those assets, including “any rights or property of every description… including choses in action…” are held by the GP(s) on statutory trust for the LPs, in accordance with the limited partnership agreement.[14] There are therefore aspects of

  1. trust law,
  2. company law,
  3. ordinary partnership law, and
  4. (non-exempted) limited partnership law, which either directly apply, or can be used to provide helpful analogies to new situations as they arise in the ELP context.

The ELP’s business activities are carried out by the GP who enters into all contracts by or on behalf of the ELP, whether itself or through agents or delegates it has appointed. The GP is liable for all debts and obligations of the ELP,[15] and owes statutory, contractual and fiduciary duties to LPs, including an express duty of good faith to act in the interests of the ELP.[16] Unless varied by agreement in the LPA, the GP must provide the LPs with “true and full” information “regarding the state of the business and financial condition” of the ELP.[17]

The Recent Development of Important Areas of Law and Practice in ELP Claims

The sustained increase in ELP disputes in Cayman has now generated an increasing number of Court decisions addressing a number of important practical and legal questions relevant to private equity investors, and disputes involving Cayman ELP structures. We consider the questions addressed by other recent judgments forming part of this trend below, before turning to the matters raised by the most recent judgments involving The Port Fund, L.P. in more detail. Earlier decisions have addressed the following questions:

  1. How broad is the investor’s right to obtain “true and full” information about an ELP and what are the limits to this right? See here.
  2. Is the investor’s right to “true and full” information practically irrelevant where disclosure is to be given in existing legal proceedings in any event?  See here.
  3. What are the main types of substantive claim available to limited partners in the context of an ELP, and in what circumstances can they sue on an ELP’s behalf? See here.
  4. How do (i) investors in, and (ii) creditors of, an ELP, seek to wind up an ELP when it has no separate legal personality and operates through the GP?  See here.
  5. How do the familiar corporate processes of voluntary liquidations, and court-supervised liquidations, work in an ELP context? See here.

In the recent decisions in The Port Fund, L.P., the Court has now addressed a yet further question:

  • How should a battle for control of a GP be resolved, during the course of legal proceedings involving claims and crossclaims between investor LPs, the GP, the former controllers of the GP, and the ELP itself?


On 25 May 2023, and 16 June 2023, the Grand Court handed down two decisions dealing with that question.  The main protagonists were:

  1. the investor LPs who had brought various claims in respect of the Fund, including in respect of fraud and misappropriation; and
  2. the ultimate beneficial owner (UBO) of the GP who had been involved in promoting and managing the Fund in various capacities, and was himself a defendant to some of the investor LPs’ claims.


The Port Fund L.P. (the Fund) is a private equity fund created to provide investors with the opportunity to invest in port-related assets around the world. The Fund was set up in the Cayman Islands as an ELP in 2007, raising around USD 188 million from a range of investors, including substantial commitments from prominent Middle Eastern state-owned entities.

Disputes have since arisen between a number of the Fund’s LPs and the former directors of its GP, among others.

Multiple sets of proceedings have been raised across a number of jurisdictions by LPs, including a claim in the Cayman Islands for sums in excess of USD 100 million brought by the Kuwait Ports Authority (the KPA) and the Public Institution for Social Security (PIFSS) in 2020,[18] against, among others:

  1. Port Link GP Ltd (the General Partner, also referred to in the proceedings as D1) – a Cayman Islands exempted limited company;
  2. Mr. Mark Williams (Mr. Williams, also referred to as D2) – a US citizen, former authorised representative and UBO of the General Partner/D1;
  3. Wellspring Capital Group, INC (D3); and
  4. KGL Investment Company Asia (D4), both entities related to Mr. Williams.[19]

The UBO of the General Partner/D1 (Mr. Williams/D2) was also involved in the running of the Fund in various capacities.

ELP arrangements with one or a few individuals wearing many different hats across the structure are standard in Cayman Islands PE funds. Such arrangements work well when relations between investors and those running the fund are good. However, and as the Port Fund proceedings demonstrate, matters can become significantly more complicated when those relationships begin to breakdown and claims begin to be asserted by investors.

In circumstances where complaints are made by LPs which then escalate to claims against the GP, often those in control of the GP will appoint independent directors to the GP’s board to try to provide some level of comfort to the complaining investors. Those directors are appointed to act independently of the existing or former management team, or other related individuals, including UBOs of the GP (albeit that they will often be funded by them).

Claims and proceedings by LPs can escalate further and begin to be asserted across, against, and between all parts of the ELP structure including in the form of counterclaims and crossclaims between multiple parties, within the same proceedings, such as:

  1. direct claims by the investor LPs, against the GP;
  2. derivative claims by LPs on behalf of the ELP against the UBO of the GP, and others;
  3. the UBO of the GP, against the GP; and
  4. the GP, against the LPs.

Two potential consequences of this highly complex scenario which have played out in The Port Fund, L.P., are

  1. a lack of funding of the GP’s independent directors, and legal counsel, leaving the GP with a governance void despite its involvement as claimant and defendant to many of the claims being asserted in the proceedings; and
  2. an urgent need to ensure that all claims are asserted and defended fairly and appropriately, including by being controlled by appropriate parties.

In The Port Fund, L.P., Mr. Williams had appointed independent directors to the board of the GP in 2020. The independent directors took over conduct of all relevant litigation since that point, and were funded by a corporate entity which previously owned 100% of the GP.  However, in February 2023, the independent directors and their Cayman Islands attorneys resigned, apparently because the GP was not able to pay their professional fees.

These circumstances created a significant and novel challenge for both:

  1. the Plaintiffs; in having to bring applications to deal with the issues arising from the General Partner’s lack of decision-makers; and
  2. the Court; in considering the best approach in light of all of the applications which followed, as explained below, to ensure that all claims and defences were being asserted and defended fairly and appropriately, by the right parties.

The Receivership and Joinder Applications

The situation which arose at the General Partner/D1 in February 2023, leaving the company without directors or officeholders, was said by the Plaintiffs to be concerning because:

a)   the General Partner/D1 was left unable to prosecute or defend the claims involving it either (i) in its own right, or (ii) in its capacity as General Partner of the Fund, and, therefore, statutory trustee of the Fund’s assets; and

b)   the General Partner/D1 was incapable of acting independently of Mr. Williams/D2 as its UBO.[20]

The GP’s ability to defend the claim being brought against it by Mr. Williams/D2 as its UBO was of particular concern to the Plaintiffs, who each considered themselves to have significant individual economic interests in its outcome; and which, if successful, had the potential to significantly reduce or completely extinguish the investor LPs’ own claims against D2-4. In those circumstances, and in light of the Plaintiffs’ significant majority interest in the Fund, the Plaintiffs took the view that they had the primary economic interest in the outcome of Mr. Williams’ claim against the GP, and for that reason should be allowed to defend it alongside the GP by being formally joined as co-defendants. The Plaintiffs also took the view that independent office holders should be put in place to ensure that the General Partner/D1 could act independently of Mr. Williams/D2, particularly in conducting its defence to the claim brought against it by him, but also in its conduct of the proceedings more broadly.

The Applications

In order to address these concerns, the Plaintiffs filed applications novel in an ELP context seeking:

  1. to appoint Receivers/Managers over the assets of the General Partner/D1 with broad powers to preserve the General Partner/D1 and manage the litigation on its behalf as they see fit, with funding to be provided by the Plaintiffs (the Receiver Application); and
  2. for the Plaintiffs to be joined as defendants to the Crossclaim brought by D2-4 against the General Partner/D1 pursuant to Grand Court Rule (GCR) Order 15, r.6(2)(b) (the Joinder Application) (together, the Applications).

Mr. Williams/D2, D3 and D4 strongly opposed the Applications, expressing concern that the Plaintiffs’ true motivation was to take control of the General Partner/D1, the Fund and the proceedings overall, and that the appointment of receivers was not necessary in circumstances where the alternative, and more conventional, remedy of appointing independent liquidators was available, including because the GP appeared to be cash-flow insolvent. As to the application for the investor LPs’ joinder as co-defendants to their claim against the GP to ensure that was properly defended, Mr. Williams/D2 and D3-4 asserted that this was not permitted by section 14 or section 33 of the ELPA (as impermissible management of the Fund (s14), and impermissible defence of claims against the ELP by those other than the GP (s33)).

The crux of the two Applications was obviously a battle for control of the GP, with each side keen to install their own preferred choice of officeholder to fill the governance void, and each accusing the other of having control of the GP as an ulterior motive.

The Judgment – Receivers Appointed; Joinder Permitted

The Court granted both Applications, first, by appointing the Plaintiffs’ choice of Receivers with powers restricted to the conduct of litigation involving the General Partner and/or the Fund only, commenting: “The crux… is control of the General Partner…”,[21] and secondly, by joining the investor LP Plaintiffs as Co-Defendants to the claim brought by Mr. Williams/D2 and D3-4 against the GP (the Receivership Judgment).


As to joinder, the Court held that neither section 14(1) nor section 33 of the ELPA bar LPs from defending counterclaims or crossclaims brought in the context of derivative claims on behalf of the Fund:

  1. defending claims in their personal capacities did not constitute the LPs impermissibly managing the Fund for the purposes of section 14(1); the Plaintiffs were already litigating derivative claims on behalf of the Fund, having been permitted to do so by the CICA under s.33(3) of the ELPA;
  2. the permission the Plaintiffs have already obtained from the CICA to bring derivative claims under s.33(3) must include the ability to defend any counterclaims or crossclaims within those derivative proceedings, where those counterclaims and cross-claims were “inextricably linked” with the claims themselves:[22] “it would be illogical and unfair if that derivative claim could be pursued on behalf of the partnership, but the limited partner not be permitted to defend a counterclaim or a crossclaim…[that] could stymie the derivative claims from properly proceeding.”[23]

The Court also held in this context:

  1. there is a wide and flexible jurisdiction to permit joinder in the interests of justice, and a wide discretion to do so when appropriate;[24] and
  2. it would not be in the interests of justice for Mr. Williams/D2 to be permitted to both advance the Crossclaim against the General Partner/D1, and to control the General Partner’s/D1’s defence of that same Counterclaim.[25]


Taking a cautious approach, the Court was persuaded that it was just and convenient to appoint Receivers with powers restricted to the conduct of litigation involving the General Partner and/or the Fund, notwithstanding D2-4’s resistance and their suggestion of liquidation as the more natural and appropriate alternative remedy.

It was held that

  1. the purpose of the appointment of the Receivers is “for an independent professional to manage the complex litigation on behalf of the General Partner reasonably and efficiently”[26];
  2. it was just and convenient to appoint Receivers “for the purpose of ensuring that there is a professional, independent, and impartial office holder in place who will regularly report to the Court and… ensure the interests of the General Partner in the litigation are monitored, protected, and advanced appropriately”[27];
  3. “the General Partner’s interests will be advanced on an objective, reasonable, and independent basis free from the improper influence by any of the protagonists in the litigation”[28]; and
  4. “An independent, court-appointed Receiver would be the most appropriate means by which to manage the litigation concerning the [General Partner] and therefore, in this regard, the business and assets of the [Fund].”[29]

The Court preferred the appointment of receivers over the suggested preferable alternative of liquidators as

  1. liquidation is not the natural or obvious remedy to the incapacity issue at the General Partner/D1 in circumstances where was no evidence of any creditor’s petition against the General Partner, or that it is cash flow insolvent;[30]
  2. a liquidation would result in a statutory stay of all proceedings concerning the General Partner/D1;[31]
  3. in instances where the Court must choose between liquidation and receivership, liquidation would be the more invasive remedy;[32]
  4. liquidation would sound the ‘death knell’ for the General Partner/D1, and liquidators would assume full control going forward;[33]
  5. A liquidator is a remedy of last resort and the Court has formed the view that it is not appropriate, necessary or desirable at present”;[34] and
  6. the issue which concerned the Court was the incapacity of the General Partner/D1 in the context of claims and crossclaims in litigation, not, “at least on presently available evidence” insolvency.[35]

Subsequent events

Shortly after the hearing of the Applications, but before the Receivership Judgment was handed down, Mr. Williams in his capacity as UBO of the General Partner/D1 chose to place the General Partner/D1 into voluntary liquidation and appoint his own choice of joint voluntary liquidators (JVLs), an action which had been somewhat foreshadowed in D2-4’s submissions.

This development was known to the Judge before the Receivership Judgment also appointing the Receivers was delivered, as a result of a related injunction application by the Plaintiffs which was refused at the time it was heard (the Injunction Application).[36]

The judgment giving reasons for the refusal of the Injunction Application was published on 16 June 2023 (the Injunction Judgment).  By that decision, the Court held that that Mr. Williams/D2 had not breached an undertaking given to the Plaintiffs by appointing the JVLs when he did, because the undertaking in question had expired by the time of the appointment, and there was therefore no serious issue to be tried – one of the key principles for granting injunctive relief.[37]

There are therefore now both JVLs and Receivers in place at the General Partner/D1 at the same time, with the same Judge reserving any matters arising from the appointment of the JVLs to himself.[38]

The Receivers are appointed to conduct legal proceedings involving the Fund or General Partner, and the effect of the voluntary liquidation is to set the Cayman Islands corporate winding up regime in motion in parallel.

Therefore, and despite all of the Court’s best efforts to react effectively to and help manage the legal complexities arising from a proliferated set of disputes which have arisen across this standard private equity structure, the issues arising from the resignation of the General Partner’s independent directors remain unresolved.

A key factor is clearly the power which can be wielded by UBOs in these structures, as Mr. Williams’ decision to place the General Partner/D1 into voluntary liquidation presents the Court with yet another layer of complexity to grapple with, likely in the context of a contested application by the JVLs to bring the liquidation under court supervision.


Given the structure in The Port Fund, L.P. is relatively standard across Cayman Islands private equity funds, the current increase in ELP related-disputes, and the potential for aggressive complaints/litigation by investor LPs then leading to a proliferation of claims and crossclaims across an ELP structure; the practical approach taken by the Court in these decisions in The Port Fund, L.P. now form an important part of what is a rapidly-growing Cayman Islands tool-kit for future complex ELP disputes.

[1] Partnerships Statistics – Cayman Islands General Registry | An official website of the Cayman Islands Government (
[2] According to the leading text of Lindley & Banks on Partnership ([1.04] – [1.13]), as a means for the nobility to engage in trade, without ‘disgracing’ themselves by direct involvement (and allowing indirect investment in a commercial enterprise with, trusted merchants, sharing profits, but without liability beyond their contributions).
[3] By the enactment of the English Limited Partnerships Act 1907.
[4] When the Revised Edition (Laws of the Cayman Islands) Law included at Chapter 118 a law passed in Jamaica in 1853 named “The Partnerships (Limited) Law.”
[5] Via the Delaware Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act.
[6] A Cohen and C Williams: “A Comparison by Practitioners of Delaware and Cayman Islands Limited Partnerships” (2011, Bloomberg Law Reports) at page 3.
[7] The Economics of the Private Equity Market, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1995), pg. 11.
[8] Section 38, ELPA.
[9] Section 4(2), ELPA.
[10] As modified by the Partnership Act (2013 Revision) but excluding sections 31, 45 to 54 and 56 to 57.
[11] Section 3, ELPA.
[12] Section 19(2), ELPA.
[13] Section 14(1), ELPA.
[14] Section 16(1), ELPA.
[15] Section 4(2) and 20, ELPA.
[16] Section 19(1), ELPA.
[17] Section 22, ELPA.
[18] Kuwait Ports Authority et al v Port Link GP et al (FSD 236 of 2020 (RPJ)).
[19] Note that the Plaintiffs have since amended their pleadings to add further Defendants D5 – 9, but it is not necessary to consider those amendments for present purposes.
[20] This is because, in the absence of directors, any decisions by the General Partner had to be made by its sole shareholder, a US entity controlled by Mr. Williams/D2.
[21] [110] of the Receivership Judgment.
[22] [77], ibid.
[23] [79], ibid.
[24] [84] ibid.
[25] [90], ibid.
[26] [110], ibid.
[27] [111], ibid.
[28] [111], ibid.
[29] [112], ibid.
[30] [124], ibid.
[31] Section 97, Companies Act (2023 Revision).
[32] [126] of the Receivership Judgment.
[33] [126], ibid.
[34] [128], ibid.
[35] [129] – [130], ibid.
[36] [137], ibid.
[37] [24] – [25] of the Injunction Judgment.
[38] [141] of the Receivership Judgment.


How broad is the investor’s right to obtain “true and full” information about an ELP and what are the limits to this right?

In a series of recent decisions helpful to investors, the Grand Court has so far interpreted the right to “true and full” information afforded to LPs under the ELPA very broadly. The Court has also confirmed that this broad right can be limited or excluded by the limited partnership agreement, applying the standard approach to contractual interpretation and implication of terms as apply to any contract to the limited partnership agreement.

Sections 21 and 22 of the ELPA

As LPs are unable to play any active role in the business of an ELP, they will not be privy to information about its day-to-day operations and business unless otherwise provided with that information.

Section 22 of the ELPA seeks to address this information imbalance by providing:

Subject to any express or implied term of the partnership agreement each limited partner may demand and shall receive from a general partner true and full information regarding the state of the business and financial condition of the exempted limited partnership.”

Section 21(1) of the ELPA provides:

A general partner shall keep or cause to be kept proper books of account including… material underlying documentation including contracts and invoices, with respect to
(a) all sums of money received and expended by the exempted limited partnership and matters in respect of which the receipt of expenditure takes place;

(b) all sales and purchases of goods by the exempted limited partnership; and
(c) the assets and liabilities of the exempted limited partnership.”

In Dorsey Ventures Limited v. XIO GP Limited,[39] the GP attempted to resist requests for information from LPs under section 22 arguing:

  • the general right to receive information under section 22 is subject to any express or implied term of the relevant limited partnership agreement;
  • the limited partnership agreement in Dorsey expressly conferred LPs with the right to receive certain specified information, such as audited accounts;
  • the parties had therefore impliedly excluded any more general rights to information which would otherwise have been available under section 22; and
  • alternatively, a term to that effect should be implied in order to give business efficacy to the limited partnership agreement.

The Court was not persuaded and ordered the GP to provide the information requested by the LPs, holding that section 22 is a general and unqualified right, and therefore qualitatively different from the specific rights granted under a limited partnership agreement, which did not on their proper construction, or by implication, exclude the general section 22 right. In reaching that conclusion, the Court applied the standard approach to contractual interpretation and implication of terms as apply to any contract, to the limited partnership agreement establishing the ELP in Dorsey.

In the Matter of Gulf Investment Corporation v. The Port Fund L.P.:[40]

In Gulf Investment Corporation, certain LPs sought provision by the GP of a number of documents relating to allegations of wrongdoing against various parties, including a number of associates of the GP itself. The GP refused, arguing:

  • the section 22 entitlement had been qualified by the limited partnership agreement;
  • that the LPs would misuse the information; and
  • that the GP should not be required to produce proprietary working papers or papers which would contain privileged material.

The Court, following Dorsey, rejected the GP’s arguments, holding:

  • section 22 is very wide and unqualified and includes all documents maintained by the GP as required under section 21;
  • section 22 is, however, wider than section 21 in that it requires information to be provided, as well as documents, and that information has to be “true and full;”
  • this makes logical common sense, as the LPs were partners in the business and had in effect paid for all of the activity undertaken on their behalf;
  • the alleged qualification in the limited partnership agreement concerned only the keeping and provision of books and records, which did not amount to an exclusion of the section 22 entitlement;
  • the motives of the LPs were irrelevant, and their right to information was not dependent on any ability to prove any alleged wrongdoing;
  • unless the provisions of the limited partnership agreement modified or cut down the wide and otherwise unqualified obligation in section 22, it should be applied; and
  • there was no qualification or condition in the ELPA or the relevant partnership agreement which would exclude the need to provide privileged or proprietary material.
[39] FSD 38 of 2018, Unreported 22 October 2018.
[40] [2020] (2) CILR Note 6] – these proceedings are related to the various claims currently involving the Port Fund L.P.

Is the investor’s right to “true and full” information treated as practically irrelevant where disclosure is to be given in the claim in any event?

The Grand Court has recently confirmed that the right of LPs to “true and full” information under section 22 of the ELPA prevails as a substantive right, even where procedural rights to disclosure may already be available through pre-existing and ongoing substantive litigation between the parties.

Section 22 of the ELPA

As LPs are unable to play any active role in the business of an ELP, they will not be privy to information about its day-to-day operations and business unless provided with that information.

Section 22 of the ELPA seeks to address that information imbalance, providing:

Subject to any express or implied term of the partnership agreement, each limited partner may demand and shall receive from a general partner true and full information regarding the state of the business and financial condition of the exempted limited partnership.”

Neoma Manager (Mauritius) Limited, in its capacity as the manager of Neoma Private Equity Fund IV L.P. v Abraaj ABOF IV SPV Limited & Ors:[41]

In this 2023 decision, certain LPs were awarded summary judgment in seeking true and full information from the GP under section 22, in the context of ongoing substantive litigation. Key arguments made by the manager and the GP in resisting the applications were:

  • that the documents/information sought would be provided in any event, at the discovery stage of the substantive proceedings; and
  • if the documents/information were not provided on discovery, the LPs could then proceed with their section 22 applications.

The Court rejected those arguments and confirmed that section 22 prevails as a substantive right, even where procedural rights to discovery may already be available through pre-existing and ongoing substantive litigation between the relevant parties.

Appleby’s detailed article about the Neoma decision can be accessed here.

[41] FSD 322 of 2020, FSD 141 of 2021 and FSD 52 of 2022, Unreported 10 March 2023.

What are the main types of substantive claim available to limited partners in the context of an ELP, and in what circumstances can they sue on an ELP’s behalf?

The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal (the CICA) has recently shed some light on the circumstances in which LPs can bring both:

a)   direct claims in their own right against:

i.    the GP of an ELP – where it was confirmed that such direct claims can be brought provided that the LPs have a cause of action in their own right;

ii.    third parties related to an ELP – where a preliminary view was given that such claims are also possible, subject to confirmation that an order can be made to restore the assets of the ELP, as opposed to any payments made directly to only some of the LPs; and

b)   derivative claims on behalf of the ELP against:

i.    third parties – provided that the test provided by section 33(3) of the ELPA is met – discussed in detail below; and

ii.    the GP – which is to be confirmed, as the CICA judgment leaves somewhat of an open question as to whether a derivative claim against a GP will be permitted, as ELPs may not be found to have suffered their own loss and LPs are likely to have alternative remedies in the form of direct claims against the GP.

  • Section 33 of the ELPA

Section 33 of the ELPA provides that, ordinarily, proceedings for and on behalf of an ELP must be brought by the GP:

(1) Subject to subsection (3), legal proceedings by or against an exempted limited partnership may be instituted by or against any one or more of the general partners only, and a limited partner shall not be a party to or named in the proceedings…

(3) A limited partner may bring an action on behalf of an exempted limited partnership if any one or more of the general partners with authority to do so have, without cause, failed or refused to institute proceedings.”

Claims by LPs on behalf of the ELP (derivative actions)

The exception to this general rule is that LPs may bring claims for and on behalf of an ELP if the section 33(3) test is satisfied.

This type of derivative action is similar to claims brought derivatively by shareholders on behalf of companies in a corporate context, in that it is an exceptional claim which can be brought on behalf of the entity itself, but only in specific circumstances.

The scope and application of the section 33(3) test has recently been considered and clarified by the CICA in the decision of Kuwait Ports Authority,[42] which is the first case to consider claims brought by LPs derivatively on an ELP’s behalf.

In determining appeals by the GP and other defendants who had unsuccessfully sought to strike-out the claims against them at first instance, [43] the CICA refused to strike-out the derivative claims brought against three out of four defendants (referred to as D2-4) on the basis that the LPs had met the section 33(3) test in respect of those claims.

A relevant consideration was that although the GP (referred to as D1 in the proceedings) had investigated and ultimately chosen not to pursue the claims against D2-4 on behalf of the ELP, it had done so in circumstances where the GP (D1) and its associates (D2-4), including the GP’s ultimate beneficial owner (D2) and other companies he is ‘deeply involved’ with (D3 and D4), were also implicated in the alleged wrongdoing. These were found to be ‘special circumstances’ which gave rise to a conflict of interest inhibiting the GP from suing ‘without cause’ for the purposes of section 33(3).

In reaching this decision, the CICA considered the extent to which the Court could derive assistance from developed principles in other contexts, such as companies, trusts and limited partnerships. It held that considering whether there are ‘special circumstances’ as established in the context of trusts and English limited partnership law is likely to be of particular assistance in determining whether the GP has failed to bring proceedings ‘without cause’ for the purposes of section 33(3).[44] However that consideration is not conclusive of itself and “simply a step on the road to determining the statutory test”.[45] The statutory test under the ELPA is not the same as the equivalent tests in the companies, trusts or partnerships contexts, but an ELP’s own sui generis test in the form of section 33(3), drawing the various threads together as follows[46]:

  • unlike derivative actions by shareholders in a company context,[47] LPs do not need to seek leave to bring derivative proceedings against an ELP;
  • the basis for why claims meet the section 33(3) test forms part of the cause of action and must be set out by LPs in their pleadings;
  • the standing of an LP to bring a derivative claim can be challenged either by a strike-out application, or by seeking the trial of a preliminary issue;
  • the decision of the court is determinative, subject to appeal;
  • the court should not conduct a mini trial in making its determination, but make its decision based on the affidavit evidence before it;
  • the onus is on the LP to show that the test is satisfied;
  • the court must determine whether the LP has brought itself within the terms of section 33(3);
  • in applying section 33(3), it may be helpful for the court to consider whether there are ‘special circumstances’;
  • the court’s task is an evaluative one, balancing the need to avoid injustice with the fact that a derivative action should be the exception to the rule under the ELPA;
  • reference to a ‘good arguable case’ may be a helpful indicator of the level of comfort which the court should have when deciding whether the requirements of section 33(3) are met;
  • the court should consider:
    • the strength of the evidence that the GP failed or refused to institute proceedings without cause;
    • the strength of the underlying claim;
    • the likelihood and nature of any injustice if the derivative claim is not permitted;
  • the court should reach its decision based on the circumstances at the date of the hearing of the strike-out application or preliminary issue; and
  • the court retains a discretion whether to permit a derivative claim to continue, even when the requirements of section 33(3) are met.

The CICA did strike-out the derivative claim brought by the LPs against the GP, holding that the ELP had not suffered any separate loss, and so there was no claim for the GP to have failed or refused to bring. The LPs were also found to have an alternative remedy in the form of their direct claims against the GP.

Given that an ELP may be said never to have suffered any loss separate to its LPs in these circumstances, as well as the likely availability of direct claims as alternative remedies, this leaves somewhat of an open question as to whether LPs will ever be able to satisfy the section 33(3) test and bring derivative claims on behalf of an ELP against GPs specifically.

Direct claims by LPs

In Kuwait Ports Authority, the CICA also considered an LP’s ability to bring direct claims in its own right, against both the GP,[48] and third parties:[49]

  • Direct claims against the GP

The GP had argued that LPs could not bring direct claims against it and were restricted to the procedure of the taking of partnership accounts, as is the case in ordinary partnerships, by which the court can direct certain enquiries to be carried out and accounts given by the GP in relation to discrete issues such as, for example, certain payments made out of ELP funds.

The CICA rejected this argument, concluding that the differences between ordinary partnerships and ELPs mean that it is not appropriate for LPs to always be required to initially bring direct claims against the GP by way of partnership accounts.[50]  Among other things, an ELP does not have the “mutuality and reciprocity of obligations that is the hallmark of an ordinary partnership” because the LPs do not owe any fiduciary duties to each other.

In addition, as an ELP has no separate legal personality and assets of the ELP are held by the GP on statutory trust, the Court found assistance in comparing the position in a trust context. The beneficiary of a subsisting trust is entitled to bring a claim against the trustee to recover loss suffered by the trustee’s breach, and the remedy is for an order to restore the trust.[51] The CICA found that approach and remedy to be “equally applicable” in the case of a statutory trust under the ELPA,[52] and so also took the opportunity to clarify that the likely remedy in the event of a successful direct claim against the GP would be an order to restore the fund, rather than compensation payable directly to the relevant LP(s).[53]

  • Direct claims against third parties

The CICA provided only a preliminary view on this question as there was no relevant application before the court.

The CICA determined that the relevant question in circumstances where an LP seeks to bring direct claims against a party other than the GP is whether it is open to the court to order defendants other than the GP to restore the ELP, rather than pay plaintiff LPs direct (which it accepted could risk prejudice to the ELP’s creditors and/or other LPs) in circumstances where the defendants are held liable for breach of statutory, equitable and other obligations.[54]

Drawing again on equivalent considerations and authorities in a trusts context where third parties can be ordered to restore the trust in similar circumstances,[55] the CICA gave the preliminary view that plaintiff LPs may bring direct claims against parties other than the GP, concluding:

“It will be for the court hearing the claims to decide whether they are in fact made out on the merits and, if they are, whether… an order to restore the fund should be made…”[56]

[42] CICA (Civil) Appeal Nos 2 and 3 of 2022 Kuwait Ports Authority et al -v- Port Link GP Ltd et al – an interlocutory appeal in proceedings involving the Port Fund L.P. which are discussed in detail later in this article.
[43] Kuwait Ports Authority and another v. Port Link GP Ltd et al (FSD 236 of 2020), Unreported, 25 November 2021.
[44] [96]-[97].
[45] [98].
[46] [140].
[47] Where leave to bring proceedings on behalf of the company is required under Grand Court Rule Order 15, r.12A.
[48] [53] – [64].
[49] [65] – [72].
[50] [53].
[51] [57].
[52] [59].
[53] [64].
[54] [66].
[55] [69] – [71].
[56] [72].

How do (i) investors in, and (ii) creditors of, an ELP, seek to wind up an ELP when it has no separate legal personality and operates through the GP?

The Grand Court has recently clarified that (i) LP investors can present winding up petitions on just and equitable grounds against ELPs directly. However, due to some recent conflicting case law, some uncertainty remains as to (ii) whether unpaid creditors of an ELP can also present winding up petitions against the ELP, or whether in those particular circumstances such petitions must be presented against the GP due to an ELP’s lack of separate legal personality.

Section 36 of the ELPA

When the ELPA was enacted, rather than including a comprehensive section on dissolution and winding up relevant specifically to ELPs, the legislature adopted an omnibus provision in the form of section 36, applying the Cayman Islands regime for corporate insolvencies to ELPs as if they were companies, subject to certain exceptions.

Section 36(3) provides:

“Except to the extent that the provisions are not consistent with [the ELPA], and in the event of any inconsistencies, [the ELPA] shall prevail, and subject to any express provisions of [the ELPA] to the contrary, the provisions of Part V of the Companies Act… and the Companies Winding Up Rules… shall apply to the winding up of an [ELP]…”

The drafting of this section has led to some uncertainty as to how the corporate insolvency regime applies in an ELP context, for example:

  • Winding up an ELP: should petitions be presented against the ELP or, its GP?
    • In the Matter of Padma Fund L.P.[57] the Grand Court held that it has no jurisdiction to wind up an ELP on a petition presented by a creditor, as this is inconsistent with the ELPA. Instead, the Court found that the appropriate course was for unpaid creditors to present a petition against the GP (as opposed to the ELP directly). This represented a significant departure from the position as understood in Cayman at the time, where creditors had routinely applied to wind up the ELP itself: see e.g. In the Matter of Primus Investment Fund L.P.[58]
    • However, subsequently, in Re Formation (Cayman) Fund I, L.P.[59] the Court held, notwithstanding Padma, that a winding up petition may be brought against an ELP directly, albeit in the slightly different context of an LP’s petition to wind up the ELP on just and equitable grounds. In Re Formation the Court found that section 36(3) expressly permits a winding up petition to be presented against an ELP, and that an ELP can be wound up in the same manner as a company under Part V.
    • Given that Padma and Re Formation considered winding up petitions against an ELP in different contexts, and both are first instance decisions, authority is likely to be required from the CICA in order to formally clarify the position, albeit we would expect the CICA to confirm the position to be as understood prior to Padma and more consistent with the approach in Re Formation – i.e. that all petitions are properly presented against the ELP itself (acting through its GP), rather than petitioning to wind-up the GP.
[57] FSD 201 of 2021, Unreported, 8 October 2021.
[58] FSD 76 of 2020, Unreported, 16 June 2020.
[59] FSD 366 of 2021, Unreported, 21 April 2022.

How do the familiar corporate processes of voluntary liquidations, and court-supervised liquidations, work in an ELP context?

The Grand Court has recently confirmed that the voluntary winding up of an ELP can be brought under court supervision, in the same manner as a company.

In the decision of In the Matter of ECM Straits Fund I, LP,[60] an ELP with only one known LP had reached the end of its term and the GP was appointed as voluntary liquidator, consistent with section 36(13) of the ELPA and the limited partnership agreement. The fund was then effectively abandoned by the GP, which was ultimately struck off the company register and no longer able to act as voluntary liquidator. The LP then applied to appoint official liquidators to wind up the ELP’s affairs under sections 36(3)(g) and 36(13) of the ELPA, which does not provide any express mechanism for bringing a voluntary liquidation of an ELP under the supervision of the Court.[61]

Section 36(13) provides:

“Following the commencement of the winding up of an [ELP] its affairs shall be wound up by the general partner or other person appointed pursuant to the partnership agreement unless the court otherwise orders on the application of any partner, creditor or liquidator of the [ELP] pursuant to subsection (3)(g)”.

Section 36(3)(g) provides:

“On application by a partner, creditor or liquidator, the court may make orders and give directions for the winding up and dissolution of an [ELP] as may be just and equitable”.

It was therefore submitted by the LP in seeking to appoint official liquidators that:

  • provided the winding up of an ELP has already commenced,[62] an application may be brought under section 36(3)(g) for an ELP to be wound up by a person other than the GP on just and equitable grounds;[63]
  • section 36(3)(g) provides the court with a broad jurisdiction to “fill in the gaps” because of the lack of meaningful framework in this area;
  • that broad jurisdiction includes the ability to:
    • appoint replacement liquidators under s.36(13);[64] and
    • make directions similar to a supervision order.[65]
  • The Court, making the orders sought by replacing the GP with the LP’s chosen liquidators and bringing the liquidation under court supervision, accepted the applicant’s submissions commenting that they were of considerable assistance “in this new area of law as it relates to [ELPs], by analogy with the Court’s powers to make orders and directions in making supervision orders in respect of companies in voluntary liquidation…”[66]
[60] FSD 230 of 2022, Unreported, 20 December 2022.
[61] This is because, as recognised in ECM Straits [at 34], “section (3)(d) of the ELPA disapplies the majority of Part V to voluntary liquidations, with limited savings. The provisions disapplied include the entire scheme for applications to bring a voluntary liquidation of a company under the supervision of the Court (sections 124, 131, 132 and 133 of the Companies Act)”.
[62] The commencement of which is provided for by section 36(1)(a) and section 36(10) of the ELPA.
[63] [27] – [29].
[64] [29].
[65] [38].
[66] [45].
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