Rantos AG in TOTO. Important considerations on lis pendens and provisional measures, and on contractual drafting of choice of court.

Advocate General Rantos opined two weeks ago in C-581/20 Skarb Państwa Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej reprezentowany przez Generalnego Dyrektora Dróg Krajowych i Autostrad v TOTO SpA – Costruzioni Generali et al. – I propose we shorthand the case as ‘TOTO’.

Following public procurement, the Polish treasury granted the works for the construction of a stretch of motorway to an Italian consortium. In the contract, choice of court is made for Poland. The necessary guarantees eg for payment of fines in the event of late completion, were underwritten by a Bulgarian insurance company, whose guarantee is subject to Polish law. The consortium  to no avail sought negative declaratory relief (with a view to obtaining a finding that no fines are due under the contract) and injunctive relief (with a view to prohibiting the Polish authorities from exercising the guarantee) with the Polish court with substance matter jurisdiction. However it subsequently secured the injunctive relief from a Bulgarian court with Article 35 Brussels Ia provisional measures jurisdiction. This relief expressed itself inter alia in custodial attachment of the guarantees which the Polish authorities had sought to exercise with a European Order for Payment form. That Bulgarian relief is now before the Bulgarian Supreme Court.

The questions before the court are  whether the provisional measures can at all be ordered under the A35 gateway given that they might concern acta iure imperii and not civil and commercial matters; and if the matter is within the scope of BIa, whether the A35 court may still order such measures if the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has denied them. Finally, whether if the issue is within the scope of BIa, the ordinarily applicable Bulgarian rule that no such relief may be ordered against public authorities, must be set aside.

The Advocate-General suggests the Court settle the questions mainly by recourse to the lis pendens rule of A29 ff of the Regulation, rather than by the alternative of focusing on the ‘provisional’ nature of the measures imposed by the A35 court. A29 ff do not limit their application to substance matter proceedings hence if and when the lis pendens conditions are met, the court last seized must (identical cases) or may (related cases) relinquish its jurisdiction. The opposite is true, as well: if the A35 court has been seized first, the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has been gazumped at least for provisional measures.

The AG also (55 ff) suggests that choice of court must be read to include authority for the chosen court to issue provisional measures, but not (unless expressly agreed; an issue of contractual interpretation which must be left to the national judge to assess) the exclusion of other courts to exercise their A35 jurisdiction.

Finally if the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has taken a definitive decision viz the provisional measures, that decision travels under Title III BIa and A45 does not seem to offer room to object to recognition and enforcement. Should that decision not yet be definitive, the ordinary lis pendens rules must apply.

This is a case with rather important contractual drafting and civil procedure consequences.

Geert.

EU Private International law, 3rd ed 2021, 2.512ff, 2.550 ff, 5.584 ff.

 

Commerzbank. Sanchez-Bordona AG on the timing of the ‘international’ element required to trigger consumer protection in private international law (here: Lugano).

Sanchez-Bordona AG Opined last week in C-296/20 Commerzbank AG v E.O, a case on the consumer section of the Lugano Convention however in essence on the international element required to trigger consumer protection in private international law. The distinguishing feature of this case lies in the fact that, at the time when the contract was concluded, both parties were domiciled in the same State (Germany), whereas, when recovery was sought through the courts, the customer was domiciled in Switzerland.

The international nature of the situation therefore came about subsequently rather than being present at the outset.

The Advocate General is absolutely right to point to the objective of the consumer section of Lugano, and indeed Brussels Ia, to protect the consumer as the economically weaker party; and in C-98/20 mBank, the Court held that the consumer’s domicile needs to be determined at the time of the instigation of the suit, not the conclusion of the contract (or a later date in the proceedings) even in those circumstances where the consumer failed to inform the professional party of the change of domicile.

The AG however also insists on the predictability of forum both as claimant and as defendant, for the economic operator.

His provisional conclusion therefore (73-74), following analysis of the travaux, is that the international element needs to be present at the outset. However then comes the oddity of A17(3) Lugano, which mirrors A19(3) Brussels Ia:

‘The provisions of this Section may be departed from only by an agreement [conferring jurisdiction]:… 3. which is entered into by the consumer and the other party to the contract, both of whom are at the time of conclusion of the contract domiciled or habitually resident in the same State bound by this Convention, and which confers jurisdiction on the courts of that State, provided that such an agreement is not contrary to the law of that State.’

[With respect to the last element of this Article, it is indeed by no means certain that national law allows for such agreement and the AG (87) notes same].

The Jenard Report viz the Brussels 1968 Convention explains that that rule was included for reasons of equity to benefit a seller or lender domiciled in the same State as the buyer or borrower in the case where the latter establish themselves abroad after the contract has been concluded. The AG opines that the purely domestic setting of A17(3) must not be extended to the remainder of the consumer section, instead keeping it confined to the particular circumstances of that subsection.

In subsidiary fashion, the AG proposes that if the CJEU does not follow him on the generally required international element at the outset, it limit the extensive  application of the consumer section to cases where the economic operator pursues in the State of the consumer’s new domicile a trade or profession such as that which gave rise to the conclusion of the contract.

Interesting.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.222 ff.

Yet again on distinguishing contract from tort (and on enforcement jurisdiction). Saugmandsgaard Oe reigns in forum delicti and forum contractus in HRVATSKE ŠUME.

Saugmandsgaard Oe AG opined (no English version at the time of writing) last week in C‑242/20 HRVATSKE ŠUME on the classic conflict of laws issue of distinguishing contract from tort.. He, oddly perhaps, unless some technical reason for it escapes me, does not entertain the question on the scope of Article 24(5) Brussels Ia’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for ‘proceedings concerned with the enforcement of judgments’.

The Opinion is a Qualificationfest.

The case concerns actions for recovery of sums unduly paid, in other words, undue enrichment. This enrichment came about by a Croatian court having  earlier ordered Hrvatske Šume, debtor of  Futura, both of Croatia, to pay its debt to Futura directly to BP Europe SA, successor to Burmah Oil, both domiciled in Germany. Hrvatske appealed that order however that appeal did not halt the payment. Now that the appeal has turned out to be successful, Hrvatske want their money back yet so far Croatian courts have held that they do not have jurisdiction under Article 7(2) BIa (the case actually went under the the predecessor, Brussels I however there is no material difference).

As the referring court notes, there is no delicti commissi in the case of unjust enrichment: it is a non-contractual obligation in which no delict is committed. (This is the very reason Rome II includes a separate heading for unjust enrichment). One might suggest this would leave forum damni only under A7(2), however the AG correctly in my view re-emphasises the seminal statements in CJEU Kalfelis, that actions under A7(2) concern ‘all actions which seek to establish liability of a defendant  and which are not related to a ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article [7](1)’. Unjust enrichment not seeking to establish liability, A7(2) is not engaged. Along the way, note his discussion of linguistics and his seeking support in Rome II.

At 71 ff the AG distinguishes the wide interpretation of ‘establishing liability’ in CJEU Austro Mechana.

A clear implication of the Opinion is that it confirms a disjoint in BIa /Rome II: not all non-contractual obligations for which Rome II identifies a lex causae, are caught by A7(2) BIa’s forum delicti rule.

The AG also engages with the possibility of Croatia being forum contractus  (he kicks off his Opinion with this issue) and dismisses it, seeking support inter alia in CJEU Handte and also in Rome II specifically providing for an unjust enrichment heading. This part of the Opinion is more optimistically straightforward than one might have expected. Following flightright, Wikingerhof etc., A7(1) has been (unduly, in my view) stretched and it would be good to have the CJEU further clarifying same. (C-265/21, in which I have been instructed, might be just the case).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.419 ff.

Flowers v Centro Medico. Brussels Ia’s insurance issues stayed pending CJEU authority, and disputable conclusions on the consumer section.

Flowers & Ors v Centro Medico Salus Baleares SL & Anor [2021] EWHC 2437 (QB) is a case packed with jurisdictional complication under Brussels Ia. In early February 2020, Mrs Yvonne Flowers, then 67 years of age, was admitted on an emergency basis to a private hospital facility in Benidorm, Spain, with significant back discomfort and pain arising from spinal disc herniation. Nine days later she died in the same hospital from multiple organ failure having contracted sepsis. T

The principal issues at stake concern the level of proof required for a jurisdictional challenge; determination of domicile; the existence of a consumer contract and who can all avail themselves of the consequential jurisdictional rules; and when a matter ‘relates to’ insurance’.

Starting with the latter, Wood J stayed judgment on much of the issues until the CJEU will have ruled in C-708/20 Betty Tattersall,  on which James Beeton reports here and which engages similar issues as CJEU Cole, settled before judgment, and Hutchinson. Betty Tattersall will be a crucial judgment.

The level of proof for jurisdictional challenges was discussed at an extraordinary length in Brownlie, and the SC’s ruling is applied here as detailed in the judgment.

The claimants’ domicile is not ordinarily relevant under BIa but it is for the consumer and insurance title and its determination is subject to national law. Seeing as the judge finds a good arguable case that domicile is indeed established in England, no consideration of Spanish domicile rules is necessary.

The ‘newer’ elements of the case are first of all the existence of a consumer contract. There are 3 issues [67]: (i) Was there a contract between the late Mrs Flowers and Centro Medico? (ii) If there was, was it a consumer contract within the meaning of section 4 BIa? (iii) Does the Claimant’s claim against Centro Medico fall outside the scope of the consumer contracts section because it has not been brought by the “consumer” within the meaning of the section?

Ia Committeri is relied on and the judge has little hesitation [115] to find the existence of a contract. (Much about that has been written in German scholarship in the specific area of medical services).

Surprisingly though, the question whether there is a contract which meets with the A17 requirements is brushed over when it comes to the question whether the hospital directs its activities to England and Wales, which the court established as the relevant  domicile. Particularly in the context of emergency care, this does not seem to be a given.

The judge does enquire as to whether the claim which can no longer be pursued because the contracting (and thus weaker) party is now deceased, can be picked up by heirs in the same jurisdictional gateway and pursued on the basis of the domicile of either the deceased or the heirs. Schrems and KABEG are discussed, however unlike the first instance judge in Bonnie Lackey, Justice Wood [126] adopts a much less wide approach. There must be scope for a lot more discussion on this, for the scenario in Bonnie Lackey, of which I was critical, is quite different from that of the heirs who step in the  litigation shoes of the deceased.

Geert.

EU Private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, big chunks of Chapter 2.

Bank Melli Iran: How corporate social responsibility reports may act as a shield in export controls law.

A short (and late – I am in mopping-up mood it seems) post on the AG’s Opinion in Case C‑124/20 Bank Melli Iran – in which he also cites my former colleague proximus Cédric Ryngaert. Hogan AG’s Opinion addresses the rock and the hard stone, or the devil and the deep blue sea dilemma facing corporations in the light of diverging export laws /sanctions law. May a German bank refuse to do business indeed end business with an Iranian bank, under pressure from US secondary export control laws?

More on the external relations aspects of the case is ia here and of course in the Opinion itself. My interest here lies in part of the Opinion: the AG’s view that an EU undertaking seeking to terminate an otherwise valid contract with an Iranian entity subject to the US sanctions must demonstrate to the  satisfaction of the national court that it did not do so by reason of its desire to comply with those sanctions. It must show other motives, such as ethical reservations about doing business with Iran. These reservations may be documented by a genuinely rolled-out CSR compliance program: (88)

‘In order, however, to establish that the reasons given in respect of any decision to terminate a contract on this ground were in fact sincere, the person referred to in Article 11 of the EU blocking statute in question − in the present case Telekom Deutschland – would need, in my view, to demonstrate that it is actively engaged in a coherent and systematic corporate social-responsibility policy (CSR) which requires them, inter alia, to refuse to deal with any company having links with the Iranian regime.’

CSR programs have been used as carrot ia in Trafigura and as stick ia in Vedanta. The view here is very much the carrot or if one likes, the shield function: CSR policies as a defensive weapon against the rock and hard stone dilemma. That is most interesting for the EU corporations concerned and likely to draw the attention of export sanctions practitioners (both in-house and out) to part of the corporation’s blurb which they may otherwise ignore. Yet it may put too much emphasis on fairly unregulated CSR policy drafting, and compliance issues.

Geert.

Nestle & Cargill v John Doe at the US Supreme Court. A further restriction of jurisdiction under ATS, with encouragement on corporate culpability as a pudding.

Update 8 September 2021 note the French Supreme Court’s less restrictive approach to ‘aiding and abetting’ in the (criminal law) judgment re Lafarge yesterday. It held complicity in a crimes against humanity case does not require hands-on assistance. As Philip Grant reports, in the view of the French SC it is necessary and sufficient to have had knowledge of the preparation or commission of such acts and that aid or assistance facilitated them; it is not necessary to belong to the criminal organization nor to subscribe to the conception or execution of the criminal plan.

A most late flag on Nestlé & Cargill v John Doe at the US Supreme Court, back in June. I reported on the case here and if you follow Lucas’ thread on the case, there is further interesting and impromptu analysis. Readers of the blog may know I have published on the issue before – search tag ‘ATS’ should give you all cases referred to below.

This case reconfirms the mood viz the Alien Tort Statute,  a popular (if not the only!) vehicle for corporate social responsibility litigation: since Kiobel, the USSC has seriously reigned in the scope of application of the ATS. In Nestlé, it would seem to impose a further squeeze on the ATS jurisdictional gateway. In Apartheid and Jesner Bank, ‘aiding and abetting’ by the US corporate headquarters of culpable conduct by their subsidiaries abroad, seemed to be a burden of proof claimants had to meet in order for the action to be admissible under the ATS. In Nestlé the Court in its current composition (sub III of the majority Opinion) suggests that aiding and abetting in that interpretation risks becoming a court-introduced (hence in its view noli sequi) action in tort.

Sub II, the Court is not at all clear what the jurisdictional hurdle might be, except that it is a very high one: ‘Nearly all the conduct that [claimants] say aided and abetted forced labor—providing training, fertilizer, tools, and cash to overseas farms—occurred in Ivory Coast… allegations of general corporate activity—like decisionmaking—cannot alone establish domestic application of the ATS.’ (Interesting contrast here with the UKSC in ia Vedanta).

Not only could one debate whether this decision represents the intention of the ATS (which, even if one applies it in limited fashion, did historically mean to catch at least in part activities outside of the US). One also immediately sees the most unattractive consequence of this judgment: as long as the dirty work is left for foreign affiliates to carry out overseas, one escapes the reach of ATS. As Lucas points out, it is not clear what kind of headquarter engagement could still trigger a suit under the ATS.

There is little solace in the indication that the Court (both in majority opinion and minority concurrence) accepts that corporations are not as such immune from suit under the ATS (which links to the issues currently discussed in Nevsun Resources). Update 8 September 2021 more on that issue by Doug Cassel here.

There will be more attempts to further refine the ATS scope. At the same time one imagines claimants will study in even greater detail than before, the possibility to bring the suit under more recent US federal laws with clear extraterritorial intent, such as in the field of corruption of export controls. As past (but now gone) ATS litigation shows, human rights and /or environmental suit need not necessarily label themselves as such.

Nomen non est omen. It is the end goal of human rights or environmental protection or, say, environmental justice which determines a suit’s character, no matter what prima facie subject matter the suit addresses. If one can advance these causes by suing under the by-laws of the World Philately Federation, say, one should have a good go at it.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 7.

Forever chemicals, and suing 3M for PFAS pollution in Europe. A flag on applicable law.

On Friday, together with my learned colleague at both Bar and Faculty Isabelle Larmuseau, I was asked to put my environmental law hat on at the Flemish Parliament. I was heard  on the current scandal hitting Flanders following PFAS (‘forever chemicals’) emissions by 3 M at the port of Antwerp. For background to PFAS see here.

Isabelle’s slidedeck for same is here (updated at 09:28 on 31 August to correct earlier pdf which contained an earlier version of the slides), and mine here. Both are in Dutch, with Isabelle’s focusing on the Flemish environmental law angle (albeit with strong EU law influence, necessarily) and mine on the EU and international law context).

Focus of the debate is on environmental /public health law however for my conflicts followers there is a treat. A civil law suit by Belgian and /or other [the port of Antwerp is very close for instance to the Dutch border. Emissions in air, water and soil (for the latter, particularly if exported) clearly impact Dutch citisens, say] claimants against 3M’s Belgian corporate presence is easily pursued both in Belgium (Article 4 Brussels Ia) and in other Member States (Article 7(2) locus damni). Residual private international law in all these States would fairly straightforwardly allow for the suit to be extended to 3M’s corporate mother, based at St Paul, Minnesota.

The more exciting bit is applicable law. The impact of common US (State) law on forever chemicals suits is well documented. Despite EU courts not willing to apply the punitive damages elements of these suits, an application of the other elements of US tort law may well be very attractive to claimants here. Those US laws are certainly within reach of claimants, using Article 7 Rome II. There is no question the damage ‘arises out of’ environmental damage (unlike the hesitation in Begum v Maran). There is certainly merit in the suggestion that locus delicti commissi is in St Paul, Minessota. Like with its fellow manufacturers and industrial users of PFAS, 3M’s worldwide grip on corporate communication and legal strategy on the issue is tight. More importantly, the decision tree on the manufacture, use and emissions of PFAS is arguably equally located at holding level. Reference here can be made to the relevance of Shell’s holding policy in lex causae determination in the recent climate ruling.

Clearly, via A17 Rome II, Flemish and of course European environmental law would play a role (cue Isabelle’s slidedeck for an excellent starter).

A collective action procedure in say The Netherlands in my view would be an ideal strategy to test these most murky waters.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd. ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.3 (4.54 ff).

Which ‘Dubai’? Guest post on Goel v Credit Suisse. The DIFC Court of Appeal on choice of court for ‘the Courts of Dubai’.

This guest  post was written by Ahmed Alzaabi, a legal researcher based at Abu Dhabi. It is great material for comparative conflicts purposes, as it highlights issues like ‘clearly demonstrated’ choice of court, hybrid jurisdiction clauses, and lex contractus for choice of court. Geert.

Introduction

The Dubai International Financial Center Court of Appeal (DIFC CA) delivered an interesting judgment in Goel and others v Credit Suisse (Switzerland) Limited [CA-002-2021} on 26 April 2021, which addresses the DIFC Courts opt-in jurisdiction. It is the most important decision since the opt-in clauses came into force in 2011. The case deals with personal guarantees entered into by Goel and others as Guarantors, and Credit Suisse AG as Lender. A term of the guarantee agreements refers to the jurisdiction of the “Courts of Dubai”.

An ex parte application was filed before the DIFC Court of First Instance (CFI) and was dismissed by H.E. Justice Ali Al Madhani on ground that the words “Courts of Dubai” were not specific, clear and express as required by Article 5(A)(2) of the DIFC Judicial Authority Law[i] (“JAL”) to opt-in into the DIFC jurisdiction.

The application was appealed and determined by Justice Wayne Martin, who ruled that the DIFC CFI has the jurisdiction to hear and decide any substantive claim filed by the Respondent. Justice Wayne Martin issued a world-wide freezing order (WFO) against the Guarantors and the order was appealed on the basis that the jurisdiction term in the Guarantee Agreements refers to the Courts of Dubai, and not to the DIFC Courts, therefore, the DIFC Courts shall have no jurisdiction to decide on this matter. The DIFC CA dismissed the appeal and upheld the ruling of Justice Wayne Martin.

Overview of the dispute:

  • Description of the parties. Credit Suisse AG (was a DIFC Establishment), and Credit Suisse (Switzerland) LIMITED (Respondent) are both subsidiary banks wholly owned by a Credit Suisse Group (a company registered in Switzerland). Goel and others (Appellants) are shareholders and directors of GP FZC (a parent company of GP Group of companies and offices all over the world).
  • Facts. On 13 May 2016, the Appellants entered into Guarantee Agreements with the Credit Suisse AG guarantying the performance of various borrowers of GP Group under a Credit Facility Agreement. Furthermore, on September 2016, Guarantee Transfer Agreements were signed between the Credit Suisse AG and the Appellants providing for the transfer of the rights and obligations of the guarantees to benefit the Respondent. The Appellants undertook to perform their obligations toward the Respondent as if the Respondent has been a party to the original Guarantee Agreements. At the time of signing the Guarantee and Transfer Agreements, the Credit Suisse AG was a “DIFC Establishment” within the definition of DIFC JAL. Neither Appellants nor Respondent were a DIFC Establishment.

The Guarantee Agreements provide in its clause 16 that the governing law is the Law of the Emirate of Dubai and the Applicable Federal Law of the United Arab Emirates. Clause 17 of the Guarantees (enforcement provision) refers to the jurisdiction of the Courts of Dubai, and clause 17.1 entitles the lender, Credit Suisse AG, to initiate legal proceedings before any other competent court. On the other hand, clause 7 of the Guarantee Transfer Agreements[ii] refers to the applicable law and jurisdiction, which states that any contractual or non- contractual obligations of the Transfer Agreements shall be governed by the Laws of the Emirate of Dubai, and the applicable Federal Laws of the United Arab Emirates. In addition, any dispute arising out of the Transfer Agreements which relates to any provisions of the Guarantees (as transferred and amended) shall be subject to the same jurisdictional provisions of the Guarantee Agreements.

  • Proceedings. The Respondent filed an application before the DIFC CFI requesting for a world-wide freezing order (WFO) to restrain the Appellants from dealing or disposing of their assets until the determination of the Respondent’s substantive claim. The CFI dismissed the claim on the ground that it has no jurisdiction, and stated that the order sought would have been granted if the court has the jurisdiction, as the Respondent made all the grounds for making such order. The Respondent appealed that decision, and the CA allowed the appeal and upheld that the judge of CFI should have granted that order on the basis that there is a good arguable case to the extent that the court has the jurisdiction. The CA added that, the CFI judge should have leave it open to the Appellants to challenge the court’s jurisdiction. Following this decision, the WFO was issued on 13 September 2020 and served on the Appellants. The Appellants filed an application to challenge the court’s jurisdiction arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction to issue that decision, and requested to dismiss the proceedings. Justice Martin, the assigned judge to hear the Appellants’ application, dismissed the application and held that DIFC Courts had the jurisdiction to hear and determine the Respondent’s substantive claim and the WFO against the Appellants, and he published his interesting reasoning for that decision on 4 October 2020.
  • CFI Decision. It was common ground for the judge and the parties that the applicable law governing the guarantees are the laws of the Emirate of Dubai and the applicable Federal Law of the United Arab Emirates. Justice Martin referred to Article 6 of the JAL, which provides that “the Court shall apply the DIFC Laws and Regulations, except where the parties have explicitly agreed to another law to govern the dispute, provided that that law doesn’t contradict with the public policy and morals”. Accordingly, he pointed that this article clarifies that the parties may select another governing law than DIFC Laws. However, the choice made by the parties will not place the dispute outside the DIFC Courts jurisdiction.

Justice Martin then focused on whether the Court has the jurisdiction to enter the WFO in support of the Respondent’s substantive claim. He had to determine a question of if the Respondent could establish that the claim against the Appellants passed through one or other of the “gateways” to the jurisdiction of the CFI as stipulated in Article 5 of the JAL. His finding was that the only available “gateway” is Article 5(A)(2) of the JAL, which states the following: “the Court of First Instance may hear and determine any civil or commercial claims or actions where the parties agree in writing to file such claim or action with it whether before or after the dispute arises, provided that such agreement is made pursuant to specific, clear and express provisions”. He further noted that the Respondent submitted and Appellants denied that clauses 17.1 and 17.2 of the Guarantee Agreements constitute an agreement in writing within the meaning of Article (5)(A)(2) of the JAL.

Justice Martin analysed the UAE Civil Transactions Code as a governing law applied to the contract and cited Articles 258 and 265, which address the intention of the parties to a contract. He also looked at a commentary on the Civil Transactions Code approved by the Ministry of Justice. The result of his analysis is that: “the both UAE legal system and the common law require the Court to confirm the join intention of the parties. The joint intention could be ascertained by interpreting words which the parties have used to record their agreement objectively, as they would be understood by a reasonable business person having the knowledge of the circumstances known to the parties at the time they entered into their contract”.

Justice Martin then referred to three prior decisions of DIFC Courts (Sunteck, Taalem, and IGPL), in which the CA rejected the proposition that the words “Dubai Courts” mean only non-DIFC Courts. He extracted from these three decisions the following propositions:

(a) it is not mandatory for the contract to specifically refer to the jurisdiction of the “DIFC Courts” to consider the gateway to the jurisdiction specified by Article 5(A)(2) of the JAL;

(b) the Court is to determine the question whether the joint intention of the parties meant to select the jurisdiction of DIFC Courts to hear such kind of dispute;

(c) that question could be resolved by referring to the natural and ordinary meaning of the jurisdictional words as the parties would have been mutually understood them having regard to the circumstances, the nature of the agreement and the context in which the words are used;

(d) if the Court concluded that the parties intended to refer to the DIFC jurisdiction when using the words recorded in their contract, those words will satisfy the requirements set by Article 5(A)(2) ““specific, clear and express provisions”;

(e) the words (Dubai Courts) or (Courts of Dubai) in their natural and ordinary meaning refer to all courts established in the Emirates of Dubai, including the DIFC Courts and the non-DIFC Courts;

(f) if one of the parties was a DIFC establishment at the time of signing a jurisdiction agreement, the other party would have taken into consideration and understood that the DIFC Courts, by default, would have the exclusive jurisdiction within Dubai to hear and determine any dispute arising out of that agreement. It would require a clear and express words to come to the result that the parties’ mutual intention is to exclude the jurisdiction of DIFC Courts.

Justice Martin selected the IGPL among the other two decisions, although it was an opt-out and not op-in case, but it shares common facts which are relevant to the question that the judge has to decide. The similarities with IGPL being (a) the relevant agreements were governed by the applicable Laws of UAE; (b) the words used in the jurisdiction agreements were identical (c) one of the party was a DIFC establishment at the time that the jurisdiction agreements were signed. Given those similarities, Justice Martin was bound to apply the reasoning in IGPL to conclude that clause 17.1 of the Guarantee Agreements indicates the mutual intention of the parties at the time that the agreements were signed. He highlighted that Credit Suisse AG was a DIFC Establishment at the time the guarantee agreements were signed. This constitutes a strong indication that the mutual intention of the parties was to include DIFC Courts within the meaning of the words “Courts of Dubai”. There was no indication of mutual intention of the parties to exclude DIFC Courts jurisdiction.

The judge stated the following circumstances which support the proposition that the words ‘Courts of Dubai’ should hold ordinary meaning to include DIFC Courts: “(a) the agreements are all in English language (the DIFC Courts operate in English); (b) Credit Suisse AG is a Foreign Company, incorporated in Switzerland; (c) a number of the borrowers under the Credit Facility Agreement were incorporated in foreign jurisdictions; (d) the Guarantors are all Indian nationals with Indian passports; and (e) clause 17.3 of each Guarantee expressly recognises the prospect of enforcement proceedings in foreign jurisdictions. These circumstances support the proposition that the parties have intended to refer to a court within the Emirate of Dubai which has an international characteristic as well as an onshore court of Dubai.

  • DIFC CA Decision. The Appellants challenged the CFI decision after the permission of appeal has been granted and provided that the CFI does not have jurisdiction to determine the substantive claim against the Appellants including the WTO application. The appeal was unsuccessful. The CA upheld that the jurisdiction clause used in the contract was a solid agreement to opt-in to the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction in accordance with article 5 (A)(2) of the JAL. The CA added that when the term “the courts of Dubai” is used in an agreement, it has an ordinary meaning that refers to all courts incorporated within the Emirate of Dubai, including DIFC’s and non-DIFC’s Courts. Furthermore, the CA confirmed that the intention of the parties when they signed the agreement with a DIFC Establishment did not change the obligations on the Appellants when the Guarantee Transfer Agreements are signed in favour of a non DIFC Establishment. The CA then looked at the question of whether the clarity of the term “the courts of Dubai” is enough for the purposes of the gateway to jurisdiction within Article 5(A) (2) of the JAL.  The CA added that if as a matter of contractual construction, the parties had intended to agree that the DIFC Courts should have jurisdiction over their disputes, it would be a triumph of form over substance to hold that they failed because they did not use the term “DIFC Courts. On that note, the CA ruled that the parties’ contract was “specific, clear and express” enough to opt-in to the jurisdiction of the DIFC Court.

The CA highlighted in its conclusion that the construction of terms such as “courts of Dubai” will rely upon their context. Moreover, the transactions’ history matter in this case is significant to the constructional conclusion.

  • Conclusion. This case points out that the parties wishing to include or exclude DIFC jurisdiction should use a clear and express language in their contract to minimise jurisdictional disputes risk and avoid any ambiguity.

Royal Carribean v Browitt. On agency, consumer consent and choice of court Down Under.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd v Browitt [2021] FCA 653 is a great addition to the comparative conflicts binder, particularly from the angle of ‘consent’ in business to consumer contracts. It also engages a classic tripartite relation between the consumer, signing a contract with a travel agent, whose GTCS in turn incorporate the GTCS of the carrier.

The case follows on from the December 2019 volcanic eruption at Whakaari.  (Mrs Browitt), for herself and as representative of the deceased estates of her late husband Paul and late daughter Krystal, and Stephanie (Ms Browitt), a daughter who survived the eruption with horrific injuries, are suing Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCCL), a Liberian registered company headquartered and operating in Miami, Florida, in the courts at Miami. There are applicable law and procedural advantages (incl discovery and trial (both on culpability and level of damages) by jury).

RCL Cruises Ltd (RCL) and RCCL apply for anti-suit in the FCA arguing that the Browitts were passengers on the Ovation of the Seas pursuant to a contract of carriage between the Browitts and RCL as the disponent owner and operator of the vessel. They seek a declaration that it was a term of the contract, signed at Flight Centre in Victoria, Australia, that any disputes between the parties would be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of New South Wales.

The list of issues to be determined is long but I repeat it here anyways for they highlight the complexity of issues following a routine purchase of a cruise:

(1)    Was Flight Centre the agent of Mrs Browitt, RCL or both?

(2)    Were the RCL AU terms, including the exclusive jurisdiction clause, incorporated into the contract of carriage by: (a)    reference in the Flight Centre terms and conditions signed by Mrs Browitt on 14 February 2019? (b)    the text of a Royal Caribbean brochure? (c)    links on the RCL AU website? (d)    links in emails? (e)    links in the electronic guestbook?

(3)    As to the construction of the RCL AU terms: (a)    is RCL entitled to invoke the exclusive jurisdiction clause to restrain the Florida proceedings? (b)    is RCCL entitled to rely on the exclusive jurisdiction clause? (c)    did the purchase of insurance exclude the operation of the terms (cl 1)? (The respondents later dropped reliance on the purchase of insurance as excluding the operation of the exclusive jurisdiction clause, so this issue fell away.) (d)    does the contract of carriage apply to shore excursions (cl 25)? If not, does the exclusive jurisdiction clause nonetheless operate to restrain the Florida proceedings? (e)    does the exclusive jurisdiction clause permit a proceeding to be brought in the Federal Court of Australia sitting in New South Wales, and if not, what consequence follows from the commencement of this proceeding (cl 1, cl 37/38)? (f)    does the exclusive jurisdiction clause cover the Florida proceeding?

(4)    Is RCCL entitled to relief on the basis of the RCL AU terms?

(5)    Is the Florida proceeding vexatious and oppressive such that RCL and RCCL are entitled to an anti-suit injunction?

The judge held that although the Browitts were bound by the RCL AU terms, the Florida proceeding is not in breach of the exclusive jurisdiction agreement in those terms because RCCL is not a party to the agreement and RCCL does not enjoy the benefit of it. Also, there is no basis for the alternative case that the Florida proceeding is in any event vexatious and oppressive such as to justify an order restraining Mrs Browitt and Ms Browitt from pursuing it.

Terms and conditions were available on relevant websites and brochures, shown to and browsed by Mrs Browitt but not for the purposes of terms and conditions. Rather, as one would expect, for details of the journey, vessels etc. Unlike a quote, the eventual invoice included as part of the document three pages of booking terms and conditions. Some of those were highlighted in the copy made available to Mrs Browitt  Mrs Browitt could have read the GTCS but there was no inidcation she had or had been specifically pointed to them. Nothing in either version of the invoice, i.e., that which was printed for and signed by Mrs Browitt and that which was emailed by the agency, identifies which of RCCL and RCL was offering the cruise or operating the vessel.

The judgment, which I would invite readers to consult, eventually boils down to limitations of ‘agency’, privity of contract, and clear determination of contractual clauses. It does not decide for the Browitts on the basis of a particular concern for the weaker party in a classic B2C transaction, rather on the need for parties clearly to think through their spaghetti bowl of overlapping arrangements and GTCs when hoping to rely on them in court.

Geert.

C – A Child. The Family Court rejects reflexive application of the Maintenance regulation’s lis pendens rules.

C (A Child) [2021] EWFC 32 involves an application brought by a mother (M) against the father (F) in relation to their daughter (C). M was born in Russia and is a citizen of Finland. Her mother and step-father live in France, where C was born in August 2014. F was born in Sweden and is resident in Monaco. Does the English court have jurisdiction to hear M’s application?

F had made his own, clearly pre-emptive application (ia involving a denial of fatherhood – later corrected by the DNA testing) in Monaco about a week earlier than M’s. That application is translated at [3] and it unfortunately illustrates the quasi inevitably acrimonious nature of these kinds of applications. In March 2021 the courts at Monaco declared they had jurisdiction for the father’s parentage and subsidiary maintenance claim. The father incidentally in late December 2020 also issued pre-emptive proceedings in Grasse, France, with a view to establish an EU court being seized prior to Brexit date.

F cites a wide variety of CJEU authority re the maintenance regulation’s forum shopping potential which eventually fails, inter alia for [47] it is the maintenance creditor, not the debtor, which the EU system aims to protect (reference also to Villiers v Villiers).

At 15 ff counsel for F argues reflexive effect of the Maintenance Regulation’s lis pendens rule, referring pro inspiratio to Ferrexpo. Munby J adroitly describes the theory of reflexive effect as being one of domestic, i.e. English law, not EU law. He rejects reflexive effect of the lis pendens rules, mostly [57] because of the very different nature of maintenance obligations. (For similar reasons he distinguishes [58] the Court of Appeal’s reflexive effect of the Lugano lis pendens rules in Privatbank – which in my view was wrongly decided).

Argument rejected therefore for reflexive effect of the EU Maintenance Regulation 4/2009.  Habitual residence of M was found to be in E&W, amongst an acrimonious parties’ to and fro on abusive forum shopping and maintenance tourism.

An interesting judgment.

Geert.