Race to the Alps. Swiss Supreme Court relaxes its attitude to negative declarations in Swatch.

In 4A_417/2017 (litigants’ names per usual unnecessarily anonimysed; Ganzoni reveal it to be Swatch AG) the Swiss Federal Supreme Court (at 2) first of all correctly reminds us that neither the Lugano Convention nor Brussels I (or indeed the Recast) capture the procedural interest required for a party to request a negative declaration (of liability; in tort, contract or otherwise). In C-113/11 Folien Fischer the CJEU held that negative declarations are covered by Article 7(2); the national court can, indeed must examine its jurisdiction under that provision (and the corresponding one in Lugano) but that does not say anything about standing requirements vis-a-vis interest. (As far as I am aware there is no similar judgment viz 7(1) but the rule must be the same).

Such negative declarations are often part of the race to court; via the lis alibi pendens rules they undercut the forum which the counterparty might have preferred.

As Walderwyss summarise, Hitherto the Swiss Supreme Court had a rather strict approach to the interest required for a negative declaration. Race to court (or ‘forum running’ as the SC calls it) alone was not a sufficient reason. With the March 2018 judgment, that has now been relaxed: Swatch Group AG’s interest in securing a Swiss forum  in a dispute against an English counterparty, was considered sufficient to grant it interest: at 5.4: ‘Zusammenfassend ist festzustellen, dass jedenfalls im internationalen Verhältnis das Interesse einer Partei, bei einem bevorstehenden Gerichtsverfahren einen ihr genehmen Gerichtsstand zu sichern, als genügendes Feststellungsinteresse zu qualifizieren ist.

With race to court following Swatch no longer hindered by a restrictive approach to standing, the Swiss surely must have an advantage in this time-sensitive part of international litigation. (Not a great pun, I realise. But I am nearing the end of yet another long working week).


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

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