Stephenson Harwood v MPV (and Kagan). On interpleader (‘stakeholder’) actions and when engagement with the merits of the case leads to submission under Lugano.

In Stephenson Harwood LLP v Medien Patentverwaltung AG & Ors [2020] EWHC 1889 (Ch), proceedings were triggered by funding arrangements and alleged success fee entitlements following patent infringement proceedings. MPV is Swiss-based.

The action is an ‘interpleader’ one, now called a ‘stakeholder’ action: as Lenon DJ at 34 described, it is a ‘means by which a court (at the request of claimant, who typically holds property on behalf of one of the parties, GAVC) compels competing claimants to the subject matter of the application to put forward their claims and have them adjudicated on, thereby enabling the stakeholder to drop out of the picture.’

In the English residual private international law, stakeholder actions ground jurisdiction on the basis of the defendant’s property being present there. This is the kind of assets- based jurisdiction which the EC, but not the other Institutions, had wanted to introduce in Brussels Ia. As a result of the Brussels Convention’s Article 3 (materially the same as Article 3 Lugano), these actions became part of residual rules which could no longer be invoked against EU /Lugano States based defendants.  In the Schlosser report on the UK’s accession to the Brussels Convention, to which the judge refers at 40, it was said

“Interpleader actions (England and Wales) … are no longer permissible in the United Kingdom in respect of persons domiciled in another Member State of the Community, in so far as the international jurisdiction of the English or Scottish courts does not result from other provisions of the 1968 Convention. This applies for example, to actions brought by an auctioneer to establish whether ownership of an article sent to him for disposal belongs to his customer or a third party claiming the article.”

An alternative jurisdictional gateway therefore needs to be found. The discussion turned to submission (aka voluntary appearance) and CJEU C-150/80 Elefanten Schuh GmbH v Pierre Jacqmain. In particular, MPV completed the acknowledgment of service form indicating that it intended to contest Stephenson Harwood’s claim, did not tick the box saying that it intended to dispute jurisdiction and set out its own claim for payment of the Monies which it intended to pursue in the stakeholder application and stating its intention to exchange evidence. It then served and filed two witness statements in support of that claim addressing the merits and rebutting Mr Kagan’s claim. As the judge notes at 49,

MPV’s case that it has not submitted to the jurisdiction depends on the Court accepting the premise that it is open to MPV to distinguish for jurisdictional purpose between Stephenson Harwood’s claim (in relation to which MPV has raised no jurisdictional dispute) and Mr Kagan’s claim made as part of the stakeholder proceedings (in relation to which MPV does dispute jurisdiction). It is on this basis that MPV simultaneously asks the Court to order payment of the Monies to itself, as a disposal of the stakeholder application, while disputing the jurisdiction of the Court to determine Mr Kagan’s claim to the Monies.

However Lenon DJ holds that appearance was entered, as Mr Kagan’s claim is part and parcel of the stakeholder application and cannot be separately rejected at the level of jurisdiction. The level of engagement with the claim amounts to voluntary appearance viz both parties. At 53 obiter discussion of other gateways is pondered but not further entertained for lack of proper discussion by the parties.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 1, Heading 1.3.1,

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