Archive for category Conflict of Laws /Private international law

High Court confirms refusal to sue Google in the UK for its (alleged) assistance to hotlinkers: Wheat v Alphabet /Google Inc and Monaco Telecom.

I have earlier reviewed the decision of Chief Master Marsh in [2018] EWHC 550 (Ch) Wheat v Alphabet /Google Inc and Monaco Telecom. In Wheat v Google LLC [2020] EWHC 27 (Ch), this decision was confirmed upon appeal (on the copyright issues see here).

Google is involved in the litigation because claimant alleges that Google’s search engine algorithm has done little to address hotlinking practice, which, it is said, facilitates copyright infringement.

Both cases are a good example of the standards for serving out of jurisdiction, essentially, to what degree courts of the UK should accept jurisdiction against non-UK defendants (here: with claimants resident in the UK). The Brussels I Recast Regulation is not engaged in either cases for neither Monaco nor Alphabet are EU based. Mr Wheat is resident in England and his business is based in England. Any damage as a result of hotlinkers’ infringement of his copyright is very likely to be and to have been suffered in England; there is in fact evidence that damage has been suffered. It is also clear to Keyser J that England is clearly the appropriate forum and a forum non conveniens argument therefore going nowhere. However the case to answer by Google, like Marsh CM concluded, is simply too weak nay non-existant: following extensive review of secondary EU law and CJEU copyright law, Keyser J holds that the acts complained of against Google cannot be unlicensed communications, because they are not communications to a new public (all potential users of the unrestricted Website constituting one public, so far as concerns a case involving communication via hotlinking) and are not communications by a new technical means (the internet constituting a single technical means).

No case to answer by Google. No service out of jurisdiction.

Geert.

 

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GDE v Anglia Autoflow. Governing law for agency agreements under the Rome Convention.

In GDE LLC & Anor v Anglia Autoflow Ltd [2020] EWHC 105 (Comm) (31) the Rome I Regulation does not apply ratione temporis; the Agency Agreement was concluded on about 9 April 2009 which is a few months before the kick-off date of the Regulation (note there is no default rule for agency in Article 4 Rome I in the event of lack of lex voluntatis). Dias DJ therefore turns to the 1980 Rome Convention.

Parties are in dispute as to the governing law of the Agency Agreement by which the claims should be determined. AAL alleges that the governing law is that of Ontario while the Claimants allege that the Agency Agreement is governed by English law. The point is of critical importance because the Claimants concede that, if AAL is correct, their claim is time-barred under Ontario law: although this, as readers know, assumes statutes of limitation are subject to the governing law – which is far from certain: see Jabir v KIK and Spring v MOD.

Parties’ arguments are at 10 and 11 and of course they reverse engineer. In essence (at 20) claimants say that there was an implied choice of English law. Alternatively, if that is not correct, the presumption in Article 4(2) of the Rome Convention, which would otherwise point to Georgia law, falls to be disapplied in favour of English law. The Defendant says that there was no implied choice and that application of Article 4(2) leads to Ontario law. Alternatively, if (which it denies) the presumption in Article 4(2) leads to any other governing law, the presumption is to be disapplied in favour of Ontario.

At 21 ff follows a rather creative (somewhat linked to the discussion of ex officio Rome Convention application in The Alexandros), certainly unexpected (yet clearly counsel will do what counsel must do) argument that essentially puts forward that under the common law approach of foreign law = fact hence must be proven, any discussion of a law as governing law, not suggested by the parties (here: the laws of (the US State of) Georgia) that is not English law (which clearly the English curia does ‘novit’), cannot go ahead. At 22 Dias DJ already signals that ‘once the wheels of the Convention had been put in motion, they could not be stopped short of their ultimate destination. The idea that the process dictated by the Convention should be hijacked halfway, as it were, on the basis of a pleading point was, to my mind, deeply unattractive.’

At 31 she sinks the argument. I think she is right.

Having at length considered the facts relevant to the contract formation, discussion then turns again to the Rome Convention with at 105 ff a debate on the role to be played by factors intervening after contract formation with a view to establishing [implicit, but certain: see at 117 with reference to the various language versions of the Convention and the Regulation essentially confirming the French version] choice of law or closest connection. (Dias J refers to the Court of Appeal in Lawlor v Sandvik Mining and Construction Mobile Crushers and Screens Ltd, [2013] EWCA Civ 365[2013] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 98 where, at paragraphs 21-27, it pointed out that the common law approach frequently blurred the distinction between the search for the parties’ inferred intention and the search for the system of law with which the contract had its closest and most real connection).

At 120: the hurdle is high: choice of law implicitly made must have nevertheless been made: ‘The court is not looking for the choice that the parties probably would have made if they had turned their minds to the question.’ at 122: In the present case the evidence established that there was no reference by the parties to the question of governing law at all. Choice of court for England (discussed ia with reference to Rome I and to Brussels Ia Article 25) does not change that. At 160 ff therefore follows the discussion of Article 4 of the Rome Convention, leading to a finding of the laws of Ontario as the lex contractus under Article 4(1). Article 4(5) does not displace it.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.4, Heading 3.2.6.

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Forum shopping and personal insolvency. The High Court (briefly) in Wilson and Maloney (in re McNamara). Is this the last UK reference to the CJEU?

[2020] EWHC 98 (Ch) Wilson and Maloney (bankruptcy trustees of Michael McNamara), concerns mostly Article 49 TFEU (freedom of establishment) and Article 24(1) of the Citizens’ Rights Directive 2004/38 (equal treatment). (At 114) the critical question is whether the exclusion of pension rights on bankruptcy is something that can impact on the right of establishment, or is otherwise within the scope of Art 49 TFEU.

The substantive case at issue concerns the inclusion or not of in investment in a certain pension scheme, into the bankruptcy. My interest in the judgment lies in the succinct reference to forum shopping under insolvency regimes.

Mr McNamara was made bankrupt on 2 November 2012 on his own petition, presented that day. Prior to his bankruptcy Mr McNamara had been a high profile property developer operating primarily, if not exclusively, in the Republic of Ireland. But he and his wife had moved to London in July 2011, and the Court accepted that he had moved his centre of main interests (or COMI) from Ireland to England by the date of presentation of the petition.

Nugee J decided to refer to the CJEU for preliminary review (this having happened on 23 January, clearly one of the last if not the last UK reference to go up to the CJEU). Whether COMI was moved for forum shopping purposes is not likely to feature in the eventual judgment – for there does not seem to be any suggestion that the move of COMI to England had not been properly established.

Geert.

 

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Lenkor Energy: Textbook application of the (common law of) recognition and assessment of ordre public. (Re: Dubai judgment).

In [2020] EWHC 75 (QB) Lenkor Energy Trading v Irfan Iqbal Puri, Davison M rejected the ordre public arguments made by claimant against recognition of a money judgment of the Dubai First Instance Court.

Reflecting global understanding of ordre public, it is the judgment and not the underlying transaction upon which the judgment is based which must offend (here: English) public policy. That English law would or might have arrived at a different conclusion is not the point (Walker J in Omnium De Traitement Et De Valorisation v Hilmarton [1999] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 222).

The ordre public arguments made, were (1) illegality, (2) impermissible piercing of the corporate veil and (3) penalty.

Re (1), the argument is that the underlying transaction is illegal. Master Davison acknowledged there are circumstances where an English court might enquire into the underlying transactions which gave rise to the judgment. However such court must do so with extreme caution and in the case at issue, defendant’s familiarity with Dubai and its laws argued against much intervention by the English courts.

On (2), the veil issue, submission was that defendant was being made personally liable for the debts of IPC Dubai, which was the relevant party (as guarantor) to the Tripartite Agreement and the holder of the account upon which the cheques were drawn. The cheques had not been presented or had been presented out of time – or there was at least an issue about that. The combination of these matters was, it was suggested, to impose an exorbitant liability on Mr Puri for sums which he had not agreed to guarantee – in contravention of established principles of English law.

Here, too, Davison M emphasised defendant’s familiarity with Dubai law. The case against Mr Puri in Dubai was resolved according to the rules which the laws of Dubai apply to Dubai companies and to individuals who write cheques on Dubai accounts. Dubai law may be different than English law on this point, but not repugnantly so.

Finally on (3) the sums in particular the interest charged were suggested to be exorbitant hence a form of unenforceable punitive damages. However, 9% interest is only 1% higher than the judgment debt rate in England and only ¼% higher than the current rate under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998. (At 31) ‘In the light of this, to characterise the interest rate of 9% as amounting to a penalty is unrealistic.’

Geert.

 

 

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The French Supreme Court on fraus (abuse) and international adoptions.

Thank you Pailler Ludovic for signalling the French Supreme Court’s judgment in 18-24.261  A and X v et al B and Y et al. The Court annulled the Court of Appeal’s (Versailles) decision which had accepted for recognition and enforcement a Cameroonian judgment in a Cameroonian-French adoption case.

Legal basis for the refusal is Article 34 of the relevant 1974 FR- Cam Treaty. Specically, the classic ordre public international hurdle to recognition and enforcement: ‘Elle ne contient rien de contraire à l’ordre public de l’Etat où elle est invoquée ou aux principes de droit public applicables dans cet Etat.’

The Supreme Court held that absence of Agrément does not infringe French ordre public international (Agrément is required by French adoption law and needs to be sought by the prospective adoptant). Yet fraus (fraude à la loi) might and needs to be properly examined, which the Court of Appeal had failed to do. Suggestion is made in the case that the adoption was engineered with the sole purpose of facilitating the French rights of residence of the adopting father’s partner, who is the mother of the children.

The case emphasises the relevance of fraus omnia corrumpit. Whether of course fraus will be proven in the new proceedings before the Paris Court of Appeal remains to be seen.

Geert.

 

 

 

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Hong Ziyun v Chan Kwan Ming. A reminder of the one-stop shop principle in Hong Kong.

In Hong Ziyun v Chan Kwan Ming [2019] HKCFI 2125, Chan J at the end of August summed up the Hong Kong approach (as it is that of the common law) to consolidation of jurisdiction at 31: ‘the approach of the courts should be to favor resolution of all disputes associated with a transaction in one jurisdiction.’ That is the so-called one stop shop or one stop principle (whether or not hyphenated).

As Herbert Smith Freehills note, in a host of related loan documents only one of the documents contained an express jurisdiction clause (in favour of the court of Xiamen in Mainland China). The defendants applied for and obtained a stay of proceedings in Hong Kong in favour of Mainland China. HSF summarise the reasoning (the judgment itself is not too long and logically structured) helpfully as follows:

  1. When there is no express jurisdiction clause, the applicable law is that which has the “closest and most real connection” with the transaction.
  2. Most of the defendants’ business was in Mainland China. They also spent most of their time in Mainland China. On the evidence presented, the court was unable to place significant reliance on the permanent “residence” of any of the defendants in Hong Kong as showing any real or closest connection with Hong Kong.
  3. The location of the debt, currency, and place of performance of the loans as well as the execution of and governing law clause in the SA all had a strong connection with Mainland China.

Geert.

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Heiploeg: Transfer of undertakings, employee protection and pre-packs. The Dutch Supreme Court Advocate-General on the implications of CJEU Smallsteps.

I am no expert in all things insolvency and restructuring. I have an interest in it because of the conflict of laws issues (see the Insolvency Regulation) and the relationship with Brussels Ia. I am also interested in the labour law implications of corporate restructuring. These trigger highly relevant ethical, economic, and legal concerns.

Directive 2001/23 protects employees’ rights in the event of transfer of undertakings. The position of employees of course may be seen by potential investors as a hurdle to get onboard. Employees are inevitably on their cost cutting horizon. (For emperical Dutch research see Aalbers et al here and review in NL of same on Corporate Finance Lab).

The Directive exempts (Member States may provide otherwise) bankruptcies ‘proper’ and analogous insolvency proceedings. (They have to be under the management of what the Insolvency Regulation now calls an insolvency practitioner: an insolvency trustee, in other words). In C-126/16 Smallsteps, the Court held that pre-packs also known as ‘hushed bankruptcies’ do not qualify: since such a procedure is not ultimately aimed at liquidating the undertaking, the economic and social objectives it pursues are no explanation of, or justification for, the employees of the undertaking concerned losing the rights conferred on them by Directive 2001/23 (at 50).

Frederik De Leo reported here more extensively and with more knowledge of the issues, on the implications of Smallsteps, including implications for both the Dutch and the Belgian Statutes and proposals on pre-packs and corporate restructuring. On the Dutch implications, Robert van Moorsel had interesting insight here (in Dutch).

In Heiploeg, which was initiated before judgment in Smallsteps but is still being litigated (by Trade Unions), the Dutch Supreme Court /Hoge Raad is now essentially asked to apply the various conditions which the Court of Justice imposed for the bankruptcy exception of Directive 2001/13 to apply. Its procureur-generaal (essentially here fulfilling the role of an Advocate-General at the CJEU) opined in a well-documented Opinion on 1 November 2019 (apologies for late reporting: the Opinion traveled all sorts of corners in my briefcase) and proposes that the Supreme Court annul the lower court’s application of Smallsteps (which had found that the conditions for exception from the employees’ rights Directive did apply).

The Opinion is not I fear accessible to non-Dutch speakers – I am hoping proper experts will report more extensively once the Hoge Raad’s judgment is out.

Geert.

 

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