Belo Horizonte: Court at Rotterdam (using English as language of the oral procedure): Access to seized documents is no provisional measure under Brussels I Recast.

Arnold van Steenderen and Milan Simić have complete and concise review here of judgment of the Rotterdam court of December 2017 in re the Belo Horizonte (officially Cefetra et al v Ms ‘IDA’ Oetker Schiffahrtsgesellschaft MbH & Co KG et al). The case is a follow-up to 2015 proceedings. In these the Rotterdam court had first sanctioned seizure, and then rejected further action for claimant had not formally requested access to the documents.

Arnold and Milan summarise the facts very very helpfully – I am much obliged for the judgment is in Dutch (although as the judgment shows, the proceedings were actually conducted in English: a nice example of the use of regulatory competition in civil procedure) and their efforts have saved me a lot of translation time:

The decisions of the Rotterdam Court are a result of the carriage under bill of lading of soya beans on behalf of Cefetra B.V. (Netherlands based) on board of the “Belo Horizonte” from Argentina to the United Kingdom. Cefetra supplies raw materials to the feed, food, and fuel industries. Cefetra Ltd. (UK based) was the holder of the b/l’s and English law applied to the b/l’s. The vessel is owned by MS ‘IDA’ Oetker and is time chartered by Rudolf A Oetker (both German based, together addressed as Oetker). MS ‘IDA’ Oetker is the carrier under the b/l’s. London arbitration is agreed upon for any dispute rising from the contract of carriage and the b/l’s.

Following engine failure, ‘(d)uring the voyage, experts commissioned by both Cefetra and Oetker visited the “Belo Horizonte” to preliminary assess the condition of the vessel and its engines. Further investigation was conducted upon arrival in England. Oetker, however, only granted permission for inspection of the engine room and refused to disclose the documents on board. Crew interviews were not allowed as well. Subsequently, Cefetra obtained leave to attachment for the purpose of preserving evidence in the Netherlands on 27 October 2015. The leave was effected by the bailiff on 28 October 2015 on board of the “Belo Horizonte”. Several documents were seized and handed over to a sequestrator. Cefetra initiated proceedings’ to gain access to the seized documents.

The dispute in the main is arbitrable in London.

Oetker disputes jurisdiction of the court at Rotterdam on the basis of defendants’ domicile in Germany. Cefetra argue in favour of jurisdiction on the basis of Article 7(1), alternatively 7(2) or indeed Article 35 Brussels I Recast:

  • 7(1) forum contractus: for, it is argued, the main agreement between the two parties implies an obligation to provide any relevant evidence; the place of performance for that ‘obligation in question’ lies in The Netherlands since that is where the sequestrator holds them.
  • 7(2) forum delicti: Oetker’s obstruction of truth finding is a tort which is located (locus delicti commissi) at Rotterdam since that is where Oetker opposes disclosure.
  • 35 provisional, including protective measures.

The Court does not at all entertain Cefetra’s arguments on the basis of 7(1) or 7(2). Wrongly so: plenty of not at all obvious contracts or torts could qualify as same under these provisions. To not address them at all does not make them simply go away.

The court first of all (5.7 in fine) rejects relevance of the arbitration exclusion on the basis of C-391/95 Van Uden Deco-Line. It then sticks to a very restrictive approach to Article 35, with the classic provisionary (not covered by Article 35) v provisional (covered) nature of measures, as also discussed in C-104/03 St. Paul Dairy/Unibel (to which the Court refers). In the words of the court: seizure of evidence is provisional; actual access, copy or extract is not (5.8): the court suggests this is not provisional since it allows the party to gauge the evidentiary position of the party and hence is irreversible.

I disagree -and I have at least a shelf in my library to support the discussion.

Ireversibility in fact (once the evidence seen, the party can never wipe it from its memory, so to speak) does not equate ireversibility in law. The court takes a very limited view of Article 35 and I do not believe it is the right one.

There are not that many national judgments covering Article 35 quite so expressly. This is one to treasure.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.15.

 

 

 

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