Below we provide the article published in AELAC (Spanish Association of Lawyers acting as Bankruptcy Administrators and Liquidators) on the direct action of the subcontractor covered by Article 1.597 Civil Code, under which the subcontractors (C3) as creditors, who have been hired by the Contractor (C2) by reason of works carried out on a building site, may require the payment to the main contractor or principal (C1), with the limit of the amount which the developer or main contractor (C1) owes to (C2) the contractor (debtor by contract) at the time.

A continuación reproducimos el artículo publicado en AELAC (Asociación Española de Letrados Administradores Concursales) sobre la acción directa del subcontratista recogida en el artículo 1.597 del Código Civil, según el cual los subcontratistas acreedores del contratista, que les ha contratado por razón de trabajos realizados en una obra, pueden exigirle el pago al contratista principal o al comitente, con el límite de cantidad que el comitente o contratista principal adeude al contratista (deudor por contrato) en ese momento.

Following we publish the article published in AELAC (Spanish Association of Lawyers acting as Bankruptcy Administrators and Liquidators) on the direct action of subcontractor covered by Article 1.597 Civil Code, under which the contractor’s subcontractors (C3) as creditors, who have been hired by the Contractor (C2) by reason of works on a building site, may require the payment to the main contractor or principal (C1), with the limit of the amount which the developer or main contractor (C1) owes to (C2) the contractor (debtor by contract) at the time.

That is to say, our Civil Law has reserved a direct action ensuring the recovery of their credits to the subcontractors (C3) occupying the links in the contracting chain. So they can claim from main contractor or developers (C1) with which they do not have a direct contractual relationship, credits not having been paid for by (C2) those contractors having a contractual obligation to do so. As we will see, such a guarantee, at least so far, is independent of the contractor (C2), which is bound by contract to pay, finds himself in a bankruptcy situation.

The direct action of the subcontractor (C3) is an individual right of the creditor who does not need to be addressed – as would be the case of subrogation or indirect actions – to those bound by contractual relationship, and is entitled to claim against the main contractor or developer (C1), The subcontractor (C3) may be immune to such exceptions that the main contractor or developer (C1) may have against the contractor (C2).

The question is not trivial in cases where the contractor obliged to payment (C2), finds himself in a declared bankruptcy proceedings situation. Since there were no legal guarantee for the subcontractors (C3), they should address themselves to the contractor (C2) to claim the debt, and if he was in a bankruptcy situation, they should demand recognition of the credit in said bankruptcy proceeding. Although the direct action of the subcontractor (C3) allows him to keep him out of the bankruptcy situation of the one obliged to pay (C2), since case law has mainly been of the opinion that the moment that the direct action is understood as exercised is so from the moment of registration of the irrefutable claim, for example through a burofax or notarial notification addressed to the principal or main contractor (C1).

Therefore, if the direct action by the subcontractor (C3) against the main contractor or developer (C1) is exercised prior to the declaration of bankruptcy of the person obliged to payment (C2), this situation cannot be alleged to the principal or main contractor, and C1 is obliged to payment of the claim.

Analyzing the moment in which the subcontractor (C3) exercises the direct action extra judicially, against C1, a distinction must be made regarding the consequences of the fact that the principal or main contractor (C1) pays before or after the bankruptcy declaration of the contractor-debtor (C2) obliged to payment. If payment is made prior to this moment, the credit that the bankruptcy debtor (C2) may have against the principal creditor (C1) obviously expires. But if the payment by C1 is made after the declaration of bankruptcy of C2, it is not clear whether the credit that the contractor in bankruptcy (C2) had against C1 could extinguish. Therefore the credit may be required by the bankrupt person himself (C2) from his creditor-entity or principal or main contractor (C1), despite having paid (C1) the credit to the subcontractor (C3).

In this case, the Spanish Bankruptcy Act (Ley Concursal), as currently drafted, is not clear, having resulted in different judgments with regard thereto. And having given the case by applying the current Bankruptcy Act of a double payment by the principal (C1) both to the subcontractor (C3) as to the contractor in bankruptcy proceeding (C2).

This situation occurs insofar as it strictly implements the Spanish bankruptcy Act, the principal or main contractor (C1) pays out to C3 by way of direct action, the credit against the debtor (C2) (now in bankruptcy) can be claimed but not compensated with the credit that appears in the active mass of the Debtor. In fact, the bankrupted C2 may require him C1 to pay his credit claim against the principal. And he (C1) may not object the credit compensation insofar as the payment has been made to C3 once bankruptcy is declared and the Law leaves no room for “credit compensation”.

This situation which can be generated given the procedural situation that each party in the process may occupy, has led to some Courts attempting to resolve this conflict with a joint interpretation of the law, and thus:

1. Firstly, from a procedural standpoint, accepting that competence in this case cannot be anything other than the “force or vis of attraction” to the bankruptcy judge both through the accumulation of 51LC, for the case of exercise prior to the declaration as of insolvency, and of 8.1 LC, if at a later date. And so the credit of the active mass can be transferred in favor of the subcontractor, A. P. Barcelona Mercantile Section 15 in Sentence of March 2, 2006. Against this, SAP Valladolid January 5, 2007 maintains the bankruptcy proceeding independent of the civil action of the claim for direct action.

2. Another possibility is to request a precautionary measure while the bankruptcy incident is not resolved requiring the principal defendant (C1) to refrain from any payment to the subcontractor (C3), or even to proceed with the payment but on the account intervened by the Mercantile Court, in order to prevent contradictory situations or even to prevent the payment of credits that do not correspond to them.

An imaginative solution has been proposed by the Judge of the Mercantile Court number 2 of Bilbao who states that by analogy the cooling period for claims against the mass of the Bankruptcy Act (154.2 LC) could be applied, expected to be carried out by the Subcontractor.

This situation, fortunately, could be solved in the case that the Reform Bill of the Bankruptcy Act should be approved, as it introduces a significant change in this respect, as does the prohibition of the Judges of First Instance to admit claims on initiating direct legal actions of Article 1.597 of the Civil Code. Although we believe that during the processing of the approval of the Act a more substantial text is required than what currently appears in the Project.

Es decir, nuestro Derecho Civil ha reservado una acción directa en garantía del cobro de sus créditos a los subcontratistas que ocupan los eslabones de la cadena de contratación. De manera que puedan reclamar a comitentes con los que no tienen una relación contractual directa los créditos que no les han sido pagados por quién tenía la obligación contractual de hacerlo. Y como veremos esa garantía, por lo menos hasta la fecha, es independiente de que el contratista, que está obligado por medio de un contrato al pago, se encuentre en situación concurso de acreedores.

La acción directa del subcontratista es un derecho propio del acreedor que no necesita dirigirse –como sería el caso de las acciones subrogatoria o indirectas- frente al obligado por relación contractual. (1). Por otro lado, el subcontratista puede hacerse inmune a las excepciones que el comitente pudiera tener frente al contratista.

La cuestión no es baladí para los casos en los que el contratista obligado al pago se encuentre en situación declarada de concurso de acreedores. Pues de no existir esta garantía legal de los subcontratistas, éstos deberían dirigirse en reclamación de la deuda al subcontratista, y si éste se encontrara en situación concursal tendrían que pedir el reconocimiento del crédito en dicho Concurso. Si bien la acción directa del subcontratista le permite mantenerse al margen de la situación concursal del obligado al pago, puesto que la jurisprudencia ha venido entendiendo mayoritariamente que el momento en que la acción directa se entiende ejercitada es desde que consta reclamación fehaciente, por ejemplo a través de burofax o notificación notarial dirigida al comitente o contratista principal.

Por lo tanto, siempre que la acción directa se ejercite antes de la declaración de concurso del obligado al pago no cabra alegar esa situación concursal al comitente o contratista principal, debiendo responder del pago de lo reclamado.

Y siguiendo con el momento en el que se ejercita extrajudicialmente por el subcontratista la acción directa, hay que diferenciar que consecuencias tiene el hecho de que el comitente o contratista principal pague antes o después de la declaración de concurso del contratista-deudor obligado al pago. Si se realiza con anterioridad el pago se extingue evidentemente el crédito que pudiera ostentar el deudor concursal para con su acreedor principal. Pero si el pago se realiza posteriormente a la declaración de concurso en ese caso no queda claro que el crédito que ostentaba la contratista en concurso se pueda extinguir. Pudiendo ser exigido por la propia concursada el crédito a su entidad acreedora –comitente o contratista principal-, a pesar de haberse pagado el mismo al subcontratista.

En este caso la Ley Concursal, según su actual redacción, no es clara, habiendo habido diferentes resoluciones judiciales al respecto. Y habiéndose dado el caso por aplicación de la actual Ley Concursal de un pago doble por el comitente tanto al subcontratista como al contratista en concurso.

Esta situación ocurre por cuanto en estricta aplicación de la ley concursal, el comitente o contratista principal que haya desembolsado por vía de la acción directa la deuda que tenía con el deudor (ahora en concurso de acreedores) solamente puede solicitar en vía de regreso que se le tenga por comunicado el crédito, pero no habría por contra una extinción del crédito que aparece en la masa activa del concurso. Es más, la concursada le puede exigir el pago del crédito que ostenta frente al comitente. Y éste no podrá oponer tampoco compensación de créditos alguna por cuanto el pago se ha producido una vez declarado el concurso y no cabe con ello “compensación de créditos”.

Pues bien, esta situación que puede generarse dada la situación procesal que puede ocupar cada parte en el proceso, ha dado lugar a que algunos Juzgados y Salas de las Audiencias Provinciales hayan intentado resolver este conflicto con una interpretación conjunta del Derecho, y así:

1.    En primer lugar, desde un punto de vista procesal, aceptando que la competencia en este caso no puede ser otra que la de la “vis atractiva” al juez del concurso tanto por la vía de la acumulación del 51 LC, para el caso del ejercicio anterior a la declaración del concurso, como del 8.1 LC, si es con posterioridad. Y así puede trasladarse el crédito de la masa activa a favor del subcontratista, A. P de Barcelona, sección mercantil 15ª, en Sentencia de 2 de marzo de 2006. En contra de esto, SAP Valladolid de 5 de enero de 2007 mantiene el procedimiento concursal independiente de la acción civil de reclamación de la acción directa.
2.    Otra posibilidad es que se pida como medida cautelar y en tanto no se resuelva el incidente concursal requerir al comitente demandado para que se abstenga de realizar pago alguno al subcontratista, o incluso que se proceda al pago pero en la cuenta intervenida del juzgado de lo mercantil. Para no darse situaciones contradictorias o incluso que se paguen créditos que no corresponden.
Imaginativa ha sido la solución que propone el Juez de lo Mercantil 2 de Bilbao que manifiesta que se podría aplicar por analogía el período de enfriamiento para los créditos contra la masa por la Ley Concursal (154.2 LC). Espera que tendrá que realizar el subcontratista.

Esta situación, afortunadamente, podría resolverse para el caso de que saliera aprobado el Proyecto de Ley de Reforma de la Ley Concursal puesto que introduce una modificación importante en este aspecto, tal cual es la prohibición a los Jueces de Primera Instancia de admitir demandas en las que se entablen acciones directas del artículo 1.597 Código Civil. Si bien consideramos que en fase de tramitación de la aprobación de la Ley se requiere un texto de mayor calado que el que por ahora aparece en el citado Proyecto.

Artículo de Ángel Marcos publicado en AELAC.

That is, our Civil Law has reserved a direct action ensuring the recovery of their credits to the subcontractors (C3) occupying the links in the contracting chain. So they can claim from main contractor or developers (C1) with which they do not have a direct contractual relationship, credits not having been paid for by (C2) those contractors having a contractual obligation to do so. As we will see, such a guarantee, at least so far, is independent of the contractor (C2), which is bound by contract to pay, finds himself in a bankruptcy situation.

The direct action of the subcontractor (C3) is an individual right of the creditor who does not need to be addressed – as would be the case of subrogation or indirect actions – to those bound by contractual relationship, and is entitled to claim against the main contractor or developer (C1), The subcontractor (C3) may be immune to such exceptions as the main contractor or developer (C1) may have against the contractor (C2).

The question is not trivial in cases where the contractor obliged to payment (C2), finds himself in a declared bankruptcy proceedings situation. Since there were no legal guarantee for the subcontractors (C3), they should address themselves to the contractor (C2) to claim the debt, and if he was in a bankruptcy situation, they should demand recognition of the credit in said bankruptcy proceeding. Although the direct action of the subcontractor (C3) allows him to keep him out of the bankruptcy situation of the one obliged to pay (C2), since case law has mainly been of the opinion that the moment that the direct action is understood exercised is as from the moment of registration of the irrefutable claim, for example through a burofax or notarial notification addressed to the principal or main contractor (C1).

Therefore, if the direct action by the subcontractor (C3) against the main contractor or developer (C1) is exercised prior to the declaration of bankruptcy of the person obliged to payment (C2), this situation cannot be alleged to the principal or main contractor, and C1 is obliged to payment of the claim.

And following with the moment in which the subcontractor (C3) exercises the direct action extra judicially, against C1, a distinction must be made regarding the consequences of the fact that the principal or main contractor (C1) pays before or after the bankruptcy declaration of the contractor-debtor (C2) obliged to payment. If payment is made prior to this moment, the credit that the bankruptcy debtor (C2) may have against the principal creditor (C1) obviously expires. But if the payment by C1 is made after the declaration of bankruptcy of C2, it is not clear whether the credit that the contractor in bankruptcy (C2)  had against C1 could extinguish. Therefore the credit may be required by the bankrupted itself  (C2) from its creditor-entity or principal or main contractor (C1), despite having paid (C1) the credit to the subcontractor (C3).

In this case, the Spanish Bankruptcy Act (Ley Concursal), as currently drafted is not clear, having resulted in different judgments with regard thereto. And having given the case by applying the current Bankruptcy Act of a double payment by the principal (C1) both to the subcontractor (C3) as to the contractor in bankruptcy proceeding (C2).

This situation occurs insofar as it strictly implements the Spanish bankruptcy Act, the principal or main contractor (C1) pays to C3 by way of direct action the debt owed to the debtor (C2) (now in bankruptcy) can apply only way back to he has the credit statement, but there would be no credit against extinction that appears in the active mass of the Debtor. In fact, the bankrupted C2 may require him C1 to pay the credit claim against the principal. And he (C1) may not rise as objection the credit compensation insofar as the payment has been done to C3 once declared the bankruptcy and the Law leaves no room for “credit compensation”.

Well, this situation which can be generated given the procedural situation that each party in the process may occupy, has led to some Courts have attempted to resolve this conflict with a joint interpretation of the law, and thus:

1. First, from a procedural standpoint, accepting that competence in this case cannot be other than the “force or vis of attraction” as regards the bankruptcy judge both through the accumulation of 51LC, for the case of exercise prior to the declaration as of insolvency, and of 8.1 LC, if later. And so the credit of the active mass can be transferred in favor of the subcontractor, A. P. Barcelona Mercantile Section 15th in Sentence of March 2, 2006. Against this, SAP Valladolid January 5, 2007 maintains the bankruptcy proceeding independent of the civil action of the claim for direct action.

2. Another possibility is to ask a precautionary measure while the bankruptcy incident is not resolved requiring the principal defendant (C1) to refrain from any payment to the subcontractor (C3), or even to proceed with the payment but on the account intervened by the Mercantile Court, in order to prevent contradictory situations or even that not corresponding credits are paid.

An imaginative solution has been proposed by the Judge of the Mercantile Court number 2 of Bilbao who states that by analogy the cooling period for claims against the mass of the Bankruptcy Act (154.2 LC) could be applied. The waiting which the subcontractor will have to make.

This situation, fortunately, could be solved for the case the Bill to Reform the Bankruptcy Act should be approved, as it introduces a significant change in this respect, as is the prohibition to the Judges of First Instance to admit claims on bringing direct legal actions of Article 1.597 of the Civil Code. Although we believe that during the processing of the approval of the Act a more substantial text is required than which now appears in the Project.