The claimant in this action and the respondent to the appeal, Airbus, claims declarations (1) that it is not liable to the defendant insurers for losses incurred in relation to an incident which occurred on 29 September 2013 in which an aircraft which it had manufactured sustained damage when landing in Rome and (2) that proceedings commenced against it by the defendants in Italy have been commenced contrary to the terms of an English exclusive jurisdiction clause. The clause in question is contained in an Airframe Warranties Agreement dated 8 July 2010 (“the Warranties Agreement”) concluded between (among others) Airbus and the defendants’ insured, the Italian airline company Alitalia. The issue on this appeal is whether the English court has jurisdiction over these claims by virtue of the jurisdiction clause. Moulder J held that it does and the defendant insurers (henceforth “the appellants”) now appeal.
Appellants contend, in outline, that the jurisdiction clause is of limited scope and does not extend to Airbus’s claims in this action, that the claim for a negative declaration falls within an arbitration clause in a different agreement, a Purchase Agreement dated 31 October 2005 which provides for ICC arbitration in Geneva, and that their own proceedings in Italy under articles of the Italian Civil Code are not within the scope of either clause. They say in addition that they cannot be in breach of an exclusive jurisdiction clause to which, as insurers, they were never parties and that, regardless of the true construction of the clause, there is no basis on which the English court can make a declaration against them (essentially, per Turner v Grovit and West Tankers).
Males LJ at 49: The standard of proof to be applied in determining whether the English court has jurisdiction under Article 25 of the Brussels Recast Regulation is that of a good arguable case. Kaifer Aislimentos was discussed as relevant authority. However, at 52: ‘sometimes it will be sensible, when a question of law arises on an application to challenge jurisdiction, for the court to decide it rather than merely deciding whether it is sufficiently arguable.’ Discussion of the contractual construction of the choice of court clause then follows at 62 ff and concludes in favour of a wide application in casu.
At 77 ff: The question whether the appellants’ claim in Italy falls within the scope of the English jurisdiction clause. Males LJ notes correctly that this depends on the nature of the claim brought in Italy, not on the defences which may be or have in fact been raised by Alitalia. At 82 he fairly swiftly concludes that even though the Italian claim is for breach of non-contractual obligations under articles of the Italian Civil Code, it is sufficiently connected to the Warranties Agreement to be within the scope of the exclusive jurisdiction clause. At 83 therefore: the commencement and pursuit of the Italian proceedings was contrary to the terms of that clause and that the English court has jurisdiction to determine that claim.
That then brings us to the discussion of what the English courts might potentially do to assist the party relying on the choice of court clause – given the unavailability of anti-suit per West Tankers. Noteworthy is that the new lis alibi pendens rule protecting choice of court following Brussels Ia, seemingly was not deployed or discussed in the Italian proceedings – at any rate there is no reference to any such discussion in the Court of Appeal judgment (other than perhaps at 84 which seems to suggest that amendment of claims brought the issue to the surface and this may not yet have been the case at the time of the discussion of the Italian proceedings).
A statement by the English courts finding infringement of the clause, would not just have an impact on cost rulings but would also ground a delictual claim. At 97 Males LJ settles the discussion whether such a declaration might be possible: ‘I can see no valid basis on which West Tankers can be distinguished. If it is held that commencement of the Italian proceedings by Alitalia would have been a breach of the jurisdiction clause in the Warranties Agreement, it follows that their commencement by the appellant insurers is a breach of an equivalent obligation in equity which Airbus is entitled to enforce and that the English court has jurisdiction to grant a declaration to say so.’
Interesting and highly relevant authority.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 126.96.36.199.2., Heading 2.2.9, Heading 188.8.131.52.