Court Amsterdam on the impact of the lex fori prorogati’s consumer laws for choice of court. A high net value Australian businessman sails away from Dutch jurisdiction.

I am catching up a little on recent case-law and am focussing it seems on the consumer section (see also yesterday’s post). This Court Amsterdam judgment published on 8 September caught my eye for it discusses choice of court, applicable law for the substantive validity of same, and ‘consumers’ in the context of buying yachts (now that I write that, in my exams I often have consumers buying yachts). Thank you Haco van der Houven van Oordt for signalling the case.

A purchase agreement for a yacht worth €5.4 million was signed in Singapore between buyer, an Australian living in Australia, and a Dutch shipyard. Seller’s GTCs mention

‘Article 17 – Settlement of disputes 1. Each agreement between [claimant] and the other party is subject exclusively to the laws of the Netherlands. 2. Any disputes which arise between the other party and [claimant], including disputes relating to the interpretation of these terms and conditions, will be put exclusively before the competent judicial body in Amsterdam.’

Pre-delivery was scheduled for December 2018 in Italy. Buyer changes his mind a week after signature, saying he will not be able to honour the agreed price. Vendor pursues the contractual penalty clause of 25% of the sale price. 

The judge finds the consent to choice of court to have been validly expressed on the basis of A25 BIa, under the classic Colzani formula. References to the GTCs had been properly made in the written contract. A duly diligent contracting party could and should have read these GTCs. Defendant’s argument that the choice of court clause in the GTCs should have been the subject of specific negotiation, is rejected [4.3.3].

As for the substantive validity of choice of court, the Dutch court (unlike eg the Belgian Supreme Court in Happy Flights) does add renvoi to the mix per recital 20 BIa. Dutch private international law (like the BE rules, nota bene) makes Rome I applicable to contracts even for the subject-matter excluded of its scope of application, among which choice of court agreements. Lex voluntatis therefore rules and the court holds that the choice of law for Dutch law for the contract as a whole, extends to choice of law for the forum clause [4.3.7].

The defendant finally alleges invalidity of the choice of court agreement on the basis of the lex fori prorogati’s rules on ‘potestative’ (unreasonably onerous) clauses. On this point, the defence succeeds: [4.3.9]: the defendant has to be qualified as a consumer under Dutch law, despite his high net value and the object of purchase, and the GTCs per article 6.236 n BW should have included a clause giving the consumer the option to opt for the default court with jurisdiction (which one that would be is not clear to me and the judgment does not specify it).

Seeing as the choice of court agreement is held to be invalid, that the defendant is domiciled in Australia, and in the absence of a relevant bilateral agreement between the two countries, Dutch residual rules are applied to assess alternative grounds for jurisdiction. There is no Dutch forum contractus, given delivery in Italy [4.5.1, with reference ia to CJEU Car Trim] and no other jurisdictional grounds have any traction.

Conclusion: no jurisdiction for the Dutch courts. The case is good material for the lex fori prorogati rule and for the realisation that even outside the context of the consumer title of Brussels Ia (defendant not being domiciled in the EU, that title was not triggered), consumer law plays an important role in choice of court.

Geert.

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