Aspen Underwriting: When the domicile ship has sailed, litigation splinters. And distinguishing between contract and tort.

Aspen Underwriting v Kairos Shipping et al [2017] EWHC 1904 illustrates the splintering of claims which may well occur when plaintiff chooses to ignore Brussels I’s core jurisdictional rule of domicile of the defendant. Evidently such splintering often is the strategic intention of a plaintiff and even if it does inconvenience them, having part of the claims settled by one court rather than another may still be its overall preference. The case however also highlights important crossed wires between the common law and EU law on the qualification of ‘tort’, and the relation between Rome II and Brussels I (Recast).

The vessel ATLANTIK CONFIDENCE  sank in the Gulf of Aden in 2013. It had earlier been held in a limitation Action commenced by her Owners, the First Defendant, that the Vessel was deliberately sunk by the master and chief engineer at the request of Mr. Agaoglu, the alter ego of the Owners. In the current action the Hull Underwriters of the Vessel, who paid out on the hull and machinery policy (“the Policy”) in August 2013 but who now consider, on further investigation, that the Vessel was deliberately cast away by her Owners, claim recovery of the insurance proceeds which were paid to Owners and the Vessel’s mortgagees, Credit Europe Bank NV, the Third Defendant (“the Bank”).

The Bank is domiciled in the Netherlands. and maintains that under the Brussels Regulation the High Court has no jurisdiction to hear and determine the claim against the Bank. It must be sued in the courts of the Netherlands where it is domiciled. The Hull Underwriters maintain that the High Court does have such jurisdiction for three reasons. First, it is said that Bank is bound by a Settlement Agreement which confers exclusive jurisdiction on the court. Second, it is said that the Bank is bound by the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the Policy. Third, it is said that the claims brought against the Bank are matters which relate to tort, delict or quasi-delict and the harmful event occurred in England.

Teare J rejected the first and second argument on the basis of analysis of the settlement. He then looks into Article 7(2) Brussels I Recast. The insurance heading of the Regulation does not apply as the relations concern those between two professional parties (at 72 the High Court refers to C-347/08 Voralberger; the CJEU confirmed later in C-521/14 Sovag).

Whether the claim of misrepresentation leading to the settlement, is one in tort or one in contract depends on how closely one finds it to be connected to the contract at issue (the Settlement). Plaintiff suggests that where such misrepresentations induce a contract, in this case the Settlement Agreement, the resulting claims are not matters relating to tort within the autonomous meaning of Article 7(2) but are matters relating to a contract within Article 7(1).

Teare J settles on the basis of the following convincing argument, at 76: ‘The court is concerned with a claim between the Hull Underwriters and the Bank. The Hull Underwriters allege that misrepresentations made by the Bank induced the Hull Underwriters to enter into the Settlement Agreement with the Owners. They seek to recover damages suffered by the Hull Underwriters as a result of the Bank’s misrepresentations. Whilst there is a factual connection between the claim and the Settlement Agreement I do not consider that that is enough to make the claim a matter relating to a contract and so within Article 7(1). Where there is a claim against the contracting party and it is alleged that the contract should be rescinded on the grounds of misrepresentations made by that party because such misrepresentations induced the contract it can sensibly be said that the subject-matter of the claim is the contract. But in the case of the claim against the Bank I do not consider that it can be fairly said that the subject-matter of the claim is the Settlement Agreement.

Oddly no reference here is made to relevant CJEU precedent including recently Granarolo and Kareda.

Now, the claim for damages based upon misrepresentation can be brought in England so long as the “harmful event” occurred in England (at 79; with reference to Bier /Mines de Potasse split into locus delicti commissi and locus damni). Jurisdiction for the claim based on misrepresentation can be brought fully in England because (at 79) ‘either the damage occurred in England (where Norton Rose Fulbright signed the Settlement Agreement and/or where the $22m. was paid to Willis’ bank account in London) or the event giving rise to the damage occurred in London (being the place where the misrepresentations were made and/or the place where the Hull Underwriters were induced).’

At 78 the High Court highlights the difficulty of the qualification viz conflict of laws of restitution based on unjust enrichment. The common law has the precedent of the House of Lords in Kleinwort Benson v Glasgow [1999] 1 AC 153.  Teare J summarises ‘In that case Lord Goff, with whom the other members of the court agreed on this point, said that a claim in restitution based upon unjust enrichment does not, save in exceptional circumstance, presuppose a harmful event and so is impossible to reconcile with the words of Article 7(2). He was not deterred from reaching this conclusion by the decision in Kalfelis. The claim for restitution in this case is based upon a mistake; it does not require a harmful event, though there might in fact be one as suggested by [plaintiff]. I consider that I am bound to follow the decision of the House of Lords and to hold that the claim in restitution based upon mistake is not within Article 7(2). It must follow that this court has no jurisdiction over that claim and that if it is to be pursued it must be pursued in the Netherlands where the Bank is domiciled.

The claim for unjust enrichment cannot be brought in England. Teare J observes the consequence of the Brussels I Regulation (at 80): ‘On case management grounds it is unsatisfactory to reach the conclusion that the tort claim may be brought in England but that the restitution claim may not be brought in England. However, this is the consequence of the Brussels Regulation as was accepted in Kalfelis. Of course, the entirety of the Hull Underwriters’ case against the Bank could be brought in the Netherlands but in circumstances where the Hull Underwriters’ case against the Owners and Managers is being brought in England that also is not satisfactory. The court cannot however base its jurisdictional decisions when applying the Brussels Regulation on considerations of forum conveniens.’

Of note finally is that Kleinwort Benson was issued post Kalfelis but prior to Rome II, which contains a specific heading on unjust enrichment. Notwithstanding its clear non-contractual nature (‘non-contractual’ being the generic title of Rome II which therefore encompasses more than just torts), it is not generally considered a tort: this continues to create issues in the application of Rome II.

A good case to illustrate the lasting challenges in distinguishing contracts from torts.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: