Exclusive court of choice clause counts against use of court’s room under ‘related actions’

In a case on this point reminiscent of the Supreme Court’s subsequent decision in the Alexandros, the High Court held in Nomura v Banco Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS) against a grant of a stay of the English proceedings in favour of proceedings in Italy. The stay would have been granted on the basis of Article 28’s proviso for ‘related’ actions, in particular Article 28(1): ‘where related actions are pending in the courts of different Member States, any court other than the court first seized may stay its proceedings.’

A ‘mandate’ agreement exists between parties, which includes a non-exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the English courts. The ISDA Master agreement (this is different from the mandate agreement) is subject to English law and as such (see para 16 of the judgment) contains an exclusive choice of court clause. BMPS fired the first shot in litigation, in Italy. The Italian claims are a mixture of contractual liability, liability in tort, and liability ensuing from a criminal offence. BMPS essentially claim that its former senior management colluded with Nomura in covering op losses incurred on financial operations with Nomura. Nomura started proceedings in England with a view to establishing that the agreements at issue are valid and binding. Parties agree that the Italian court was first seized.

As further explained inter alia in my posting on the Alexandros, Article 28 gives the court much more leeway than Article 27’s lis alibi pendens rules. The High Court made full use of this flexibility, inter alia in finding that in reviewing whether actions are ‘related’ within the meaning of Article 28, account must be taken not just of the claims of plaintiff but also the defence raised by defendant. This is in contrast with the ECJ’s position on Article 27 in Gantner Electronic: in deciding identity of action under Article 27, account should be taken only of the claims of the respective applicants, to the exclusion of the defence submissions raised by a defendant.

Eder J held that the two proceedings were not likely to lead to irreconcilable judgments. Nomura’s claims in England are contractual. BMPS’ claims are based mostly on tort (para 26). It should not be excluded that the findings in one court will influence the other. Proximity or convenience does not plead in favour of Italy. Finally and importantly, the High Court found that ‘the case against the grant of a stay is strongly fortified because of the existence of the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the (  ) Master Agreement. (   ) the Court should, so far as possible, give effect to the parties’ bargain and be very slow indeed to exercise a discretion in a manner the effect of which would be to destroy such bargain‘.

The High Court justifiably did not entertain parties’ arguments on the basis of the new Jurisdiction Regulation, which enters into force in January 2015 and includes a new rule, granting better protection to choice of court agreements (priority for the court assigned to have a first go at establishing its jurisdiction).

Geert.

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