Motacus Constructions v Castelli. Choice of court, English lois de police and interim measures under the Hague process, post Brexit.

Motacus Constructions Ltd v Paolo Castelli SpA [2021] EWHC 356 (TCC)  to my knowledge is the first case post-Brexit that shows how a jurisdictional discussion that might have been settled swiftly under Brussels Ia, leads to a lot more chewing over under 2005 Hague Convention (on choice of court) principles. It may not be ‘important‘ in terms of its impact on authority (this is a first instance judgment; and it may be overly enthusiastic in engaging with the issues) yet it nevertheless is a good illustration of what was left behind.

The Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Act 2020 has given the 2005 Convention force of law in the UK.

The ‘Governing Law & Dispute Resolution’ clause (clause 19) of a contract between contractor and subcontractor re a London hotel provided ‘This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of Italy’ and for all disputes to ‘submitted to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of Paris, France’. A payment issue ensued and the contractor started classic English construction sector adjudication proceedings despite the aforementioned clause: the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 is overriding mandatory law /loi de police /loi d’application immédiate in England and Wales [3]. To address cash flow problems in the construction industry, and the shortcomings of the traditional litigation process in serving the needs of the construction industry, Parliament decided there should be a short-form process of adjudication producing binding, and readily enforceable, decisions [25].

The UK has not made a reservation under Hague 2005 viz contracts in the construction sector  [18] (compare the EU’s reservation viz insurance contracts).

Sub-contractor actively took part, yet declined to make the necessary payment which the adjudicator’s decision had instructed. Adjudication enforcement proceedings were started on 12 January 2021. Sub-contractor challenged the enforcement proceedings, arguing the proceedings could only be commenced in Paris under the choice of court.

Claimant’s case is that the High Court should accept jurisdiction and enforce the adjudicator’s decision, notwithstanding the exclusive jurisdiction clause, in light of the provisions in either A6(c) or A7 Hague 2005. It submits that it would be manifestly contrary to the public policy enshrined in the 1996 Act, or alternatively it would be manifestly unjust, to refuse to enforce an otherwise enforceable adjudicator’s decision in reliance on clause 19 of the contract. In any event, it is argued, the enforcement of an adjudicator’s decision is the enforcement of an interim measure of protection. It falls outside the scope of Hague 2005 and so the defendant cannot rely on its provisions.

A6(c) Hague 2005 provides that a court of a contracting state (in this case the UK) other than that of the chosen court (in this case Paris, France), “… shall suspend or dismiss proceedings to which an exclusive choice of court agreement applies unless – (c) giving effect to the agreement would lead to a manifest injustice or would be manifestly contrary to the public policy of the State of the court seised. 

A7 provides that: “Interim measures of protection are not governed by [the Hague] Convention. [That] Convention neither requires nor precludes the grant, refusal or termination of interim measures of protection by a court of a Contracting State and does not affect whether or not a party may request or a court should grant, refuse or terminate such measures.”

Spiliada, Fiona Trust, The Eleftharia etc. are all discussed in what looks like a bonfire of the CJEU authorities. The impact of Italian law as lex contractus, for the construction of the choice of court clause (under BIa this would have to be French law) is also signalled, but not entertained for this is an application for summary judgment in which, in the absence of proof of Italian law, its contents are presumed to be the same as English law [51].

Hodge J at 54 declines the suggestion of A6(c) ordre public. ‘Manifest’ requires a high burden of proof, no reservation has been made and there is no good reason why the parties should not be held to the bargain that they freely made when they incorporated clause 19 into their construction contract.

At 56 ff however claimant’s arguments on interim measures having been carved out, does lead to success: it is held that an application for summary judgment to enforce an adjudicator’s decision is an interim measure of protection within A7 Hague 2005. ‘The concept extends to any decision that is not a final and conclusive decision on the substantive merits of the case…The function of the adjudicator’s decision is to protect the position of the successful party on an interim basis pending the final resolution of the parties’ dispute through the normal court processes (or by arbitration).’ [57] The summary judgment application before the High Court has that same DNA: ‘What is before this court is not the underlying dispute between these parties but whether an interim procedure and remedy have been followed and granted.’

Interesting. Geert.

Premier Cruises v DLA Piper Russia and UK. Textbook ‘arbitration’ exception under Brussels Ia.

Premier Cruises Ltd v DLA Piper Rus Ltd & Anor [2021] EWHC 151 (Comm) is a textbook case for the relationship between arbitration and the Brussels Ia regulation, as well as relevance of lex arbitri on what is within the scope of an arbitration agreement.

Claimant is Premier Cruises Limited (“PCL”), a company originally domiciled in the British Virgin Islands and now domiciled in the Seychelles, which owns or operates two vessels. Defendants are entities within the DLA Piper Group of legal practices. The First Defendant is DLA Piper Rus Limited (“DLA Russia”), an English company with operations in Russia. The Second Defendant is DLA Piper UK LLP (“DLA UK”), an English LLP.  On 29 January 2020 (within the scope of Brussels Ia, therefore, at least as against DLA UK), PCL commenced proceedings against DLA in the Commercial Court claiming damages in contract and/or in tort for professional negligence.

DLA Russia argues the claim is within the scope of its arbitration agreement included in the engagement letter (International Commercial Arbitration Court at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation). DLA UK accepted it was not included in that agreement and applied for a case-management stay.

PCL argue its action against DLA Russia is in respect of advice allegedly given and work allegedly carried out by DLA Russia prior to 26 May 2015 when the Engagement Letter came into force.

At 52, Edward J identified Russian law as both lex contractus and lex arbitri, and held at 138 after hearing the Russian law experts, that upon contractual construction, PCL’s claim was not included in the clause for it was not meant to apply retroactively.

At 147 ff he agreed with PCL that a case-management stay for the claim against DLA UK is not possible given, with reference to Recital 12 BIa, that the arbitration exception is not engaged: ‘The claim made against DLA UK in this action is not one in respect of which PCL and DLA UK have entered into an arbitration agreement [161]; Arbitration is not the principal focus of the English proceedings against DLA UK; the essential subject matter of the claim made against DLA UK does not concern arbitration; and the relief sought in the proceedings is not ancillary to or an integral part of any arbitration process [163] (reference is made to The Prestige].

The claim being within BIa, Owusu rules out a case management stay. The judge should have outright rejected the additional suggestion ([158 juncto [164]) of a temporary stay being within the Owusu confines.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.3.4, para 2.110 ff.

 

Okpabi v Shell. The Supreme Court reverses the Court of Appeal and the High Court on jurisdictional hurdles in parent /subsidiaries cases. Guest blog by professor Robert McCorquodale.

Those who combine my excitement of having professor McCorquodale contribute to the blog, with his enthusiasm at the end of his post, may find themselves in a perennial game of complimentary renvoi.

Robert, who represented interveners CORE in Okpabi v Shell (one-line summary in live tweeting here), signals the jurisdictional take-aways. The wider due diligence context of the case is considered by Ekaterina Aristova and Carlos Lopez here, Lucas Roorda signals ia the merits bar following the jurisdictional findings and Andrew Dickinson expressed his hope of an end to excessively lengthy jurisdictional proceedings here.

 

Okpabi v Shell: Judges’ Approach to Jurisdictional Issues is Crucial

In Okpabi v Shell [2021] UKSC 3, Nigerian farmers brought a claim against Shell’s parent company (RDS) and its Nigerian subsidiary (SPDC) for environmental and human rights impacts of oil pollution. The claim had been struck out at the initial state on the basis of lack of jurisdiction in relation to the actions of SPDC, and this decision had been upheld by the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court unanimously swept aside these decisions. It held that when considering issues of the court’s jurisdiction over such a claim, a court must start from the basis that the alleged facts of the claim are true and from there determine if the claim has a real prospect of success.  The defendant should not bring evidence of its own to dispute the alleged facts unless the facts are demonstrably untrue or unsupportable, as otherwise it risks showing that there is an issue to be tried.  If a judge engages with the evidence and makes findings on it in a summary judgment, the more likely it is that the decision to strike out will be overturned. Further, the Court considered that there was a danger of a court determining issues which arise in parent/subsidiary cases without sufficient disclosure of material documents in the hands of the defendants. Both courts below had acted incorrectly and conducted a “mini-trial”, and so the appeal by the claimants was successful.

The Court affirmed Vedanta that parent companies can have a duty of care towards those affected by a subsidiary’s actions, and that the Caparo test was inapplicable to these types of cases. The Court also clarified the scope of the duty of care by making clear that control is not determinative, it is the level of management involvement by the parent which is crucial. A parent company’s group-wide policies and standards were relevant in this respect. The Court, unfortunately, did not refer in its decision to any comparative law cases or international developments, even though these had been drawn to its attention.

This decision embeds the position that parent companies can have a duty of care towards those affected by a subsidiary’s actions, and that de facto management is a factor to consider. It examined the legal process by which courts consider these jurisdictional issues and made it much harder for a judge to strike out a case at the jurisdictional stage unless the facts on which the claim is based are demonstrably untrue or unsupportable. This could enable quicker proceedings towards the merits in these types of cases.

 

—Robert McCorquodale – it is my honour to contribute to this excellent blog.

 

Gategroup: A seminal and questionable judgment on gatekeeping viz restructuring ‘Plans’ under the Lugano Convention, Insolvency Regulation.

Zacaroli J this morning held in Gategroup Guarantee Ltd, Re [2021] EWHC 304 (Ch) on whether ‘part 26A’ English restructuring ‘Plans’ (see my review of ia Deep Ocean) are within the scope of the Lugano Convention’s insolvency exception (Lugano rather than Brussels Ia was engaged).

He held they are, leading to neutralisation of an exclusive choice of court agreement in the relevant bonds, and making the courts of England and Wales have jurisdiction despite this choice of court.

Oddly Kaupthing was not referred to. Neither was Enasarco.

The judge relied unconvincingly in my view on the dovetail discussion (most recently discussed by me viz Alpine Bau) under the Brussels IA Recast and the EU Insolvency Regulation (‘EIA’)- neither of course applicable to the UK anymore, as indeed is the case for the Lugano Convention.

All in all this is a case in which the  reasoning has a potentially long term impact. The claim form in this case was issued on 30 December 2020. As such, by reason of Regulation 92(1), (2)(d) and (3) of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgment (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, the Lugano Convention continues to apply.

The Plan Company was incorporated on 8 December 2020 as a wholly owned subsidiary of gategroup Holding AG (the ‘Parent’, a company incorporated in Switzerland. At [55] , if Lugano applies to applications under Part 26A, then the Plan Company accepts that by reason of A23(1) Lugano and the exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of Zurich in the Bonds, this court has no jurisdiction. That acceptance is made notwithstanding that the Deed Poll contains a non-exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of England. The Plan Company acknowledges that since the purpose of the Plan is to effect amendments to the terms of the Bonds, the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the Bonds is engaged.

The usual modus operandi of assuming application of Brussels Ia arguendo (see viz schemes of arrangement most recently KCA Deutag and viz Plans Deep Ocean and Virgin) did not fly here for as noted the Plan Company accepts that the exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the Zurich courts is a complete bar to this court assuming jurisdiction if the Lugano Convention applies (in the preceding cases the point need not be decided, since jurisdiction under BIa could be established arguendo as in none of them was there adversarial argument on the point).

At 70 Justice Zacaroli introduces effectively an amicus curiae by Kirkland & Ellis, opposing the view that the insolvency exception applies.

At 73 ff a first point is considered: Part 26A Plans have not been notified under the EIA Annex. This refers to the so-called dovetailing between Brussels Ia, Lugano and the EIR. The suggestion is that if a procedure is not listed in Annex A EIR, it is conclusively not an insolvency proceeding and “that is the end of the matter” because the dovetailing principle leads inexorably to the conclusion that it falls within the Recast (‘and thus within the Lugano Convention’  [73]). At 82 the judge incidentally is under the impression that the older, heavier procedure of amendment by (EP and Council) Regulation applies – which it no longer does since the EIR 2015.

I have since long submitted that there is no such dovetail. It is also clear that there cannot be identity of interpretation between the Lugano Convention’s insolvency exception and the Brussels regime given that non-EU Lugano States are not part of the EIR. The judge confirms as much at 81 and at 91 ff  and, in a first approach, revisits the principles of modified universalism and the origin of the insolvency exception in particular in the Jenard report. He holds at 103 that the ratio behind the insolvency exception in the Rapport Jenard is the same as the ratio behind Plans, hence that the exception applies.

In a second (presumably subsidiary) approach, the judge queries whether proceedings under Part 26A comply with the abstract requirements for an ‘insolvency’ procedure under of A1(1) EIR and finds at 133 that they do. I am really not convinced by the relevance of that analysis. He includes at 134 ff an argument that the Dutch ‘WHOA’ (Wet homologatie onderhands akkoord) proceedings are to be included in Annex A. Again I am not convinced that serves much purpose. Member States populate the Annex and a Member State proposal for inclusion is not checked against A1(1) EIR.

Conclusion on the jurisdictional issue at 137: ‘proceedings under Part 26A are within the bankruptcy exclusion in the Lugano Convention. This court accordingly has jurisdiction notwithstanding the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the Bonds.’

A most relevant judgment, on which the issues are not at all clear. Expect appeal lest the restructuring timing has made this nugatory – settling these issues would most certainly be welcome.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, paras 2.73 ff (2.81 ff in particular) and 5.35 ff.

 

Benkel v East-West German Real Estate Holding. Potential future proceedings should not frustrate anchor jurisdiction.

In Benkel v East-West German Real Estate Holding & Anor [2021] EWHC 188 (Ch), Morgan J was asked to join a party on the basis of Article 8(1) Brussels Ia’s anchor defendant mechanism, and obliged. Mr Dikautschitsch (domiciled in either Spain or Germany) is to be one of a number of defendants. One of the existing defendants, East-West UK, is domiciled in England and Wales.

Casio Computer Co Ltd v Sayo & Ors [2001] EWCA Civ 661 was the authority mostly relied on, as was, via the link with Article 30, Sarrio SA v Kuwait Investment Authority. Expediency to add the second defendant to the proceedings was found to be present given the possibility of conflicting findings of fact [59]. Morgan J rejected [64] a rather novel argument that given the possibility of the E&W courts’ findings of fact clashing with potential future proceedings elsewhere, he should refrain from exercising his discretion to consolidate.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.13.1.

Duffy v Centraal Beheer Achmea. Interim payments qalified as procedural, not within the scope of Rome II.

Update 23 February 2021 see Gilles Cuniberti here on a related issue of the application of the lex causae to interim proceedings, with the French Supreme Court reversing decades of case-law to hold that interim measures are included in the lex causae, not subject to lex fori.

I am busy on many fronts and not complaining, yet I am sorry if some posts are therefore a little later than planned. A quick flag of Duffy v Centraal Beheer Achmea [2020] EWHC 3341 (QB) in which Coe J noted parties agreed that interim payments are included in the Rome II exemption of evidence and procedure: at 8:

The claim is brought in the English Court against a Dutch motor insurer and it is agreed that the law of the Netherlands applies to this claim in tort. The claimant, as a result of Dutch law has a direct right of action against the insurer and, following the decision in FBTO v Odenbreit [2007] C 463-06, the jurisdiction of the English Court is not an issue. The law of the Netherlands applies (pursuant to Article 41(1) of the Rome II Regulation on applicable law in tort (Regulation 864/2007)). Dutch law will govern limitation, breach of duty and causation as well as the existence of, the nature of and the assessment of damages to which the claimant might be entitled. Matters of procedure and evidence are nonetheless reserved to the forum court (see Article 15 (c) of the Rome II Regulation and Article 1(3)). This is an application for an interim payment which is a procedural application and thus governed by English law. However, when it comes to any assessment of the damages to which the claimant might be entitled on which to base the interim payment decision, Dutch law has to be applied.

Coe J has little reason to disagree however I imagine she would have entertained the issues more had the distinction between Dutch and English law on the interim payment issue been materially different, hence had counsel made diverging noise. For as I have signalled before, the extent of the evidence and procedure exemption is not clear at all.

Geert.

EU Private International Law. 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.8.

 

Lyle & Scott v American Eagle. The High Court holds the applicable law for passing off does not fly under IPR wings.

Lyle & Scott Ltd v American Eagle Outfitters, Inc [2021] EWHC 90 (Ch) entertains ia the question whether the governing law for passing-off claims involving an eagle trademark, fall under Article 6 or 8 Rome II. The application is for an earlier order allowing service of jurisdiction, to be set aside.

Parties had agreed a ‘memorandum’ (which may or may not be a ‘contract’ – it is further referred to in the judgment as a ‘contract’) following a disagreement on whether each corporation’s eagle (L&S’s being trademarked in the UK and various EU Member States; AEO’s not being trademarked here, I understand) incorporated in apparel involved infringement of trademark and passing off.

Image 1

AEO are domiciled in the US  and have no physical presence in the UK (or, one assumes, anywhere in the EU (the litigation was initiated pre-Brexit); their apparel is offered via online sales.

Jurisdiction is decided on the basis of the laws of E&W. Applicable law comes into the discussion for per Lord Mance at 46 in VTB v Nutritek,

“The governing law, which is here English, is in general terms, a positive factor in favour of trial in England, because it is generally preferable, other things being equal, that a case should be tried in the country whose law applies. However, that factor is of particular force if issues of law are likely to be important and if there is evidence of relevant differences in the legal principles or rules applicable to such issues in the two countries in contention as the appropriate forum…”.

Miles J discusses the governing law issue at 64 ff. Claimant argue the claim comes under A8 Rome II: infringement of intellectual property rights, English law, lex loci protectionis. Defendants argue they fall under A4 (by way of A6(2): Act of unfair competition), and that A4(3) is engaged to make the applicable law that of the state of Pennsylvania, because of the ‘contractual’ relationship.

At 72 Miles J agrees with the classification under A6, holding ia that ‘(t)he cause of action protects the goodwill of traders against deceptive conduct; goodwill is not an intellectual property right; and passing off is not the infringement of a right.’ Unlike the judge I do not think Rome II’s recital is of much help here and I suspect more can be made of the comparative law insights (common law and civil law) offered.

The next question is whether the claim falls within A6 (2). In Miles J’s succinctly expressed view it does, at 73: ‘The act of unfair competition alleged (passing off) affects exclusively the interests of a specific competitor (L&S). It follows that Art. 4 applies.’ As I have often noted, I find it very difficult to think of acts of unfair competition do not ultimately also impact the consumers of those involved.

The final hurdle then is whether A4(3) is engaged to displace E&W law as the lex loci damni, which at 75 the judge holds is not the case. Parties have not agreed on a governing law for the ‘contract’, they have conducted previous proceedings on the basis of that law being the laws of Pennsylvania. However even if the lex contractus is probably Penn law, and English law probably the lex causae for the passing off claim, Miles J holds this should not have an impact at the jurisdictional level: particularly seeing as there is no immediate reason to assume E&W courts will have great difficulty in applying Penn law to what on the contractual substance does not seem an overly complicated case.

Application dismissed, service out of jurisdiction stands.

This case once again highlights the level of complication resulting from having inserted different heads of applicable law into Rome II – a phenomenon which as I recently reported, might soon be expanded upon.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.5.2, 4.6.2, 4.6.4.

Szpunar AG in All in one Star ltd. The corporate mobility jigsaw continues to be laid.

This post has been in my draft folder a long time for First Advocate General Szpunar opined Mid-October in C-469/19 All in One Star Ltd. Still worth a flag, with the CJEU presumably soon issuing judgment. The case concerns the refusal of German authorities to enter a branch of a UK-incorporated company, in the German commercial register.  C-106/16 Polbud is the most recent major case on the issue.

The Opinion follows the (slow) progress of positive harmonisation of EU company law, with Directive 2017/1132 core to the questions. The AG opined that that Directive does not preclude a national provision under which the managing director of the company has to provide an assurance that there is no barrier to his personal appointment under national law in the form of a prohibition, ordered by a court or public authority, on practising his profession or trade. However he suggests the Treaty provisions on free movement oppose the authorities of destination requesting the director provide assurances that a notary, a representative of a comparable legal advisory profession or a consular officer has confirmed such absence of obstacle to him.

The AG was asked by the CJEU not to discuss the other question: whether a Member State may insist upon indication of the amount of share capital or a comparable capital value, for a branch of a limited liability company with registered office in another Member State to be entered in the commercial register. Presumably because the answer is clearly ‘No’ in light of earlier case-law.

Clearly following Brexit (the TCA as far as I am aware has no straight free movement principles for corporations) the issue will be different for UK corporations however it will continue to present itself in light of the intra-EU competition in corporate law.

Geert.

EU Private international law, 3rd ed 2021, Chapter 6.

Deep Ocean. A presumably last judgment confirming Brussels Ia UK jurisdiction over continental restructuring using ‘Restructuring Plans’.

Trower J confirmed mid-December (judgment was not published until earlier this week) jurisdiction for England and Wales courts over continental corporations using ‘Restructuring Plans’, in an echo of his earlier findings in Virgin Atlantic.  The plan has in the meantime also been sanctioned. Mother holding is a Dutch BV. Plan companies are all UK incorporated. Creditors in part UK based, largely non-UK based. However the presence of a sizeable number of them in E&W is held (36-38) to be sufficient to serve as anchor using A8(1) BIa.

As I flagged in my review of Virgin Atlantic, pre-Brexit and of course even more so post Brexit, jurisdiction for these Plans let alone their recognition and enforcement in the EU, involves additional challenges to Schemes of Arrangements. I have a paper on the issues forthcoming.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, paras 5.35 ff

 

TOT and TOP v Vodafone. An awkward emphasis on the potential for submission in deciding a stay for related cases.

In Top Optimized Technologies SL (A Company Incorporated Under the Laws of Spain) & Anor v Vodafone Group Services Ltd & Ors [2021] EWHC 46 (Pat) Smith J is asked to stay proceedings on the basis of Article 30 Brussels Ia’s related actions rule.

Three sets of proceedings are pending: one in Madrid; two in the UK. Parties, even some of them are of similar corporate blood, are not the same. Hence an Article 29 lis alibi pendens application is not possible. Arguments advanced at 39 ff in favour of a stay, are in the main, the same facts and matters being traversed (with an immediate indication of Smith J that the applicable law being different counts against, there being a ‘danger in overstating the overlap’); the danger of relitigating earlier proceedings elsewhere, and of consequential double recovery.

Smith J at 40 ff is in favour of what he calls the ‘wide approach’ to A30 (unlike a more narrow approach under A29 and incidentally under A45), to which I can subscribe. At 45 he sums up his reasons for declining the stay which of course are largely discretionary. However, among them is one oddity: at 45(4):

Moreover, this is a case where Vodafone has avoided – entirely properly – the jurisdiction of the Spanish courts by invoking the exclusive jurisdiction clauses in favour of England and Wales. Vodafone could have submitted to the jurisdiction of the Spanish courts under Article 26, but instead elected to invoke Article 25. As a result, proceedings involving all relevant parties (Vodafone and Huawei) and so eliminating any risk of irreconcilable judgments have not been possible. No criticism can be made of Vodafone in this: but, conversely, it seems to me perverse now to prevent the progression of the Second UK Proceedings in circumstances where the fragmentation of the originally constituted Madrid Proceedings against Huawei and Vodafone has occurred at Vodafone’s insistence. (emphasis in the original)

This echoes the findings of Lord Briggs in Vedanta, that the potential for submission carries a lot of weight in ultimate jurisdictional decisions. I am not convinced Brussels Ia supports this.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.15.2 (para 2.521 ff)