Weco projects: on Yachts lost at sea, anchor jurisdicton (that’s right), lis alibi pendens, carriage, ‘transport’ and choice of court.

In Weco Projects APS v Piana & Ors [2020] EWHC 2150 (Comm),  Hancock J held on a case involving Brussel Ia’s consumer title, including the notion of contract of ‘transport’, Article 25’s choice of court regime, and anchor jurisdiction under Article 8(1) BIa.

The facts of the case are complex if not necessarily complicated. However the presence of a variety of parties in the chain of events led to litigation across the EU. Most suited therefore to be, as WordPress tell me, the 1000th post on the blog.

For the chain of events, reference is best made to the judgment itself. In short, a Yacht booking note, with choice of court and choice of law was made for the Yacht to be carried from Antigua to Genoa. Reference was also made to more or less identical standard terms of a relevant trade association. A clause was later agreed with the identity of the preferred Vessel to carry out the transfer, followed by subcontracting by way of a Waybill.

The Yacht was lost at sea. Various proceedings were started in Milan (seized first), Genoa and England.

At 21, Hancock J first holds obiter that express clauses in the contract have preference over incorporated ones (these referred to the trade association’s model contract), including for choice of court. Readers will probably be aware that  for choice of law, Rome I has a contested provision on ‘incorporation by reference’, although there is no such provision in BIa.

Next comes the issue of lis alibi pendens. Of particular note viz A31(2) [‘Without prejudice to Article 26, where a court of a Member State on which an agreement as referred to in Article 25 confers exclusive jurisdiction is seised, any court of another Member State shall stay the proceedings until such time as the court seised on the basis of the agreement declares that it has no jurisdiction under the agreement’] is the presence of two prima facie valid but competing exclusive choice of court agreements. Hancock J proceeds to discuss the validity of the English choice of court agreement in particular whether the businessman whose interest in sailing initiated the whole event, can be considered a consumer.

The judge begins by discussing whether the contract concerned is one of mere ‘transport’ which by virtue of A17(3) BIa rules out the consumer title all together. At 37 it is concluded that the contract is indeed one of transport and at 37(8) obiter that freight forwarding, too, is ‘transport’. Hancock J notes the limited use of CJEU authority, including Pammer /Alpenhof. In nearly all of the authority, the issue is whether the contracts at issue concerned more than just transport, ‘transport’ itself left largely undiscussed.

Obiter at 75, with reference to CJEU Gruber and Schrems, and also to Baker J in Ramona v Reliantco, Hancock J holds that Mr Piana had failed to show that the business use of the Yacht was merely negligible.

Following this conclusion the discussion turns to the impact of the UK’s implementation of the EU’s unfair terms in consumer contracts regulations, with counsel suggesting that the impact of these is debatable, in light of A25 BIa’s attempt at harmonising validity of choice of court. Readers will be aware that A25’s attempt at harmonisation is incomplete, given its deference to lex fori prorogati). Hancock J does not settle that issue, holding at 111 that in any event the clause is not unfair viz the UK rules.

Next follows the Article 8(1) discussion with reference to CJEU CDC and to the High Court in Media Saturn. Hancock J takes an unintensive approach to the various conditions: they need to be fulfilled without the court at the jurisdictional stage getting too intensively caught up in discussing the merits. At 139 he justifiably dismisses the suggestion that there is a separate criterion of foreseeability in A8(1). On whether the various claims for negative declaratory relief are ‘so closely connected’, he holds they are on the basis of the factuality of each being much the same and therefore best held by one court. Abuse of process, too, is ruled out per Kolomoisky and Vedanta: at 143: there is no abuse of process in bringing proceedings which are arguable for the purposes of founding jurisdiction over other parties.

(The judgment continues with extensive contractual review of parties hoping to rely on various choice of court provisions in the chain).

Quite an interesting set of Brussels Ia issues.

Geert.

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

 

 

 

Dutch SC applies Nk v PNB Paribas and determines locus damni for Peeters Gatzen suit.

Early July the Dutch Supreme Court followed-up on CJEU C–535/17 NK v BNP Paribas Fortis re the Peeters /Gatzen suit – a judgment I covered here. Roel Verheyden has additional analysis of the SC ruling, in Dutch, here. The SC held that the Dutch courts do not have jurisdiction, identifying Belgium as the Erfolgort per CJEU Marinari and Kolassa. As Roel notes, the SC (other than its AG) attention to potential ‘specific factors’ suggesting The Netherlands as an Erfolgort, is underwhelming and may lead to a general conclusion that Dutch Insolvency practitioners applying the Peeters /Gatzen suit to foreign parties while have to sue these abroad – leading to potential issues in the governing law itself and a disappearance of Peeters /Gatzen altogether.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.4.1, Heading 5.7.

Erfolgsort bij Peeters/Gatzen-vordering

 

Yet more on The Prestige recognition tussle. On service, state immunity and the insurance title of Brussels Ia.

I have twice already reported on The Prestige recognition issue: see here and here. In a further judgment at the end of July, [2020] EWHC 1920 (Comm), Butcher J after helpfully summarising the various claims, considered

  • whether a Member State may be served under the EU Service Regulation 1393/2007, or whether residual PIL (here: the UK State immunity Act) may insist on an alternative. This did not so much engage the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ (CJEU Fahnenbrock being cited) on which both parties agreed. Rather on the exhaustive effect or not of the Service Regulation, in particular, whether Member States may insist on service upon authorities of other Member States via diplomatic means only. Butcher J holding correctly in my view at 45, that service via the means provided for in the Regulation, suffices.
  • next, whether the case engages sovereign immunity of Spain and France which Butcher J held that they do not for the most part. He mostly cites the States’ submission to arbitration in this respect.
  • further, whether the English courts have jurisdiction or whether that is ruled out by virtue of the arbitration exception or the insurance title of the Regulation (at 93 ff; the preceding paras concern claims which fall outside BIA and are to be judged under common law). At 107 Butcher J holds that the arbitration exclusion is not engaged, citing national and CJEU authority as well as recital 12 BIa, and holding at 108 that ‘(t)he present Judgment Claims are a further step beyond what is contemplated by an ‘action or judgment concerning … the enforcement of an arbitral award’ in recital (12).’ As for the insurance heading, with reference to Aspen Underwriting, he holds that the insurance title is engaged, and (at 132) that the States they are entitled to the jurisdictional protections of Section 3, without it having to be shown that they are in fact economically weaker parties. (There is a lingering doubt over one of the claims subrogated to Spain). The insurance title being engaged, this mains that the parties protected by it may only be sued in their jurisdiction (Article 14(2)’s exception to that was held not to be applicable), hence the English Courts for those claims do not have jurisdiction.

The result is a partial jurisdiction in England only – and permission to appeal, I imagine.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.16.

 

‘Like Dassonville on steroids’. Bobek AG in Rheinland on personality v territoriality, the nature of EU harmonisation, and its links with (as well as historic roots of) conflict of laws and regulatory competition.

In advising on a territorial restriction in an insurance clause earlier this month, I studied the CJEU judgment in C-581/18 Rheinland, important for the (limitations to the) reach of Article 18 TFEU, the general non-discrimination requirement on the basis of nationality. Bobek AG had earlier opined, and the Court followed, that in the absence of harmonisation and in a scenario with no EU links, Article 18 TFEU is not engaged. I had missed the AG’s earlier opinion – forgive me if I am late to this party.

It is important to sketch the context: Bobek AG had summarised the facts as

A German patient received, in Germany, defective breast implants manufactured by Poly Implant Prothèse SA (‘PIP’), a French undertaking that is now insolvent. The patient seeks compensation before the German courts from Allianz IARD SA, the French insurer of PIP. In France, manufacturers of medical devices are under a statutory obligation to be insured against civil liability for harm suffered by third parties arising from their activities. That obligation led PIP to conclude an insurance contract with Allianz, which contained a territorial clause limiting the cover to damage caused on French territory only. Thus, PIP medical devices that were exported to another Member State and used there were not covered by the insurance contract.

In this context, the Oberlandesgericht Frankfurt am Main (Higher Regional Court, Frankfurt am Main, Germany) enquires whether the fact that PIP was insured by Allianz for damage caused by its medical devices on French territory only, to the exclusion of that potentially caused in other Member States, is compatible with Article 18 TFEU and the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality contained therein.

This post is not on Article 18 TFEU. Rather, consider the excellent (and eloquent) discussion by Bobek AG at 109 ff. Does the imperative of equal protection of all European citizen-consumers, in the absence of EU harmonising law on the issue, preclude a national rule that, in effect, limits insurance cover to persons who undergo surgery on the territory of the Member State, thus indirectly limiting the cover to citizens of that Member State? Bobek AG emphatically and despite moral sympathy for the victims, says no. The alternative would be ‘like Dassonville on steroids’ (at 111), it would ‘turn regulatory competence within the internal market on its head’ (at 109).

Consider his link with conflict of laws at 114-115:

In other words, the fact that goods once came from another Member State is not a sufficient reason to suggest that any matter later concerning those goods is covered by EU law. If that logic were to be embraced, by a questionable interpretation of Article 18 TFEU, the movement of goods in Europe would become (once again) reminiscent of medieval legal particularism, [at footnote 78 he refers to the excellent work by my legal history colleague Randall Lesaffer] whereby each product would, like a person, carry its own laws with it. Goods would be like snails, carrying their homes with them in the form of the legislation of their country of origin, to be applicable to them from their production to their destruction.

Such a consequence would not only displace any (normal) territoriality in the application of laws, but would also generate conflicts of regulatory regimes between the Member States. Indeed, such an expansionist interpretation of Article 18 TFEU could make the legislation of any of the Member States potentially applicable on the same territory without any clear and objective criteria as to which legislation should prevail in a given dispute, with the victim being able to choose the most favourable legislation.’

Most delightful analysis.

Geert.

 

Avonwick Holdings. The High Court awkwardly on locus damni, and on ‘more closely connected’ in Rome II.

In Avonwick Holdings Ltd v Azitio Holdings Ltd & Ors [2020] EWHC 1844 (Comm), Picken J among quite a few other claims, at 146 ff discussed a suggested defrauding by misrepresentation of the best available market price for a bundle of stocks. Toss-up was between Ukranian law and English law and, it was suggested, was only relevant with respect to the issue of statute of limitation. Counsel for both parties agreed that the material differences between Ukranian and English law were minor.

They omitted, it seems, to discuss the relationship between statute of limitations and the carve-out in Rome II for procedural issues.

At 151:

It was not in dispute…that the default applicable law under Article 4(1) is the law of Cyprus in that this was the country in which the event giving rise to the damage occurred since, although Avonwick was incorporated in the BVI and its entry into the Castlerose SPA was formally authorised in Ukraine, Avonwick’s directors were based in Cyprus and the steps necessary to transfer its shares in Castlerose to Azitio and Dargamo would, therefore, have been taken by those directors in Cyprus.

Here I am simply lost. A4(1) does not suggest locus delicti commissi (‘country in which the event giving rise to the damage occurred’) rather it instructs specifically to ignore that. Even if a locus damni consideration was at play, for purely economic loss as readers will know, there is considerable discussion on that exact location. How the judgment could have ended up identifying locus delicti commissi is a bit of a mystery.

At 153 then follows a discussion of a displacement of Cypriot law by virtue of A4(3)’s ‘manifestly more closely connected’ rule, including interesting analysis of any role which Article 12’s culpa in contrahendo provision might play.

For the reasons listed at 166 ff, the judge agrees that A4(3) applies to replace Cypriot law with Ukranian (not: English) law. Those reasons do seem to make sense – yet despite this, the A4(1) analysis should have been carried out properly.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.5.2.

 

CJEU in Novo Banco: confirms mere presence of a natural person’s core immovable asset (the ‘family home’) does not in itself determine COMI (in insolvency).

When I reviewed Szpunar AG’s opinion, I pointed out that the crux of this case is the determination of ‘centre of main interests’ in the context of natural persons not exercising an independent business or professional activity, who benefit from free movement. The CJEU has now held.

With respect to natural persons outside of a profession, the Insolvency Regulation 2015/848 (‘EIR 2015’) determines ‘(i)n the case of any other individual, the centre of main interests shall be presumed to be the place of the individual’s habitual residence in the absence of proof to the contrary. This presumption shall only apply if the habitual residence has not been moved to another Member State within the 6-month period prior to the request for the opening of insolvency proceedings.’

‘Habitual residence’ is not defined by the EIR 2015. The CJEU runs along the usual themes: need for predictability and autonomous interpretation; emphasis on the Regulation generally defining COMI as ‘the place where the debtor conducts the administration of his interests on a regular basis and is therefore ascertainable by third parties’ (at 19 and referring to recital 13 of the previous Regulation); among those third parties, the important position of (potential) creditors and whether they may ascertain said centre (at 21); to agree with the AG at 24 that

relevant criteria for determining the centre of the main interests of individuals not exercising an independent business or professional activity are those connected with their financial and economic situation which corresponds to the place where they conduct the administration of their economic interests or the majority of their revenue is earned and spent, or the place where the greater part of their assets is located.

Like the AG, the CJEU holds that the mere presence of a natural person’s one immovable asset (the ‘family home’, GAVC) in another Member State than that of habitual residence, in and of itself does not suffice to rebut COMI (at 28).

At 30, the Court specifically flags that COMI in effect represents the place of the ’cause’ of the insolvency, i.e. the place from where one’s assets are managed in a way which led the insolvent into the financial pickle: 

In that regard, although the cause of the insolvency is not, as such, a relevant factor for determining the centre of the main interests of an individual not exercising an independent business or professional activity, it nevertheless falls to the referring court to take into consideration all objective factors, ascertainable by third parties, which are connected with that person’s financial and economic situation. In a case such as the one in the main proceedings, as was observed in paragraph 24 above, that insolvency situation is located in the place where the applicants in the main proceedings conduct the administration of their economic interests on a regular basis or the majority of their revenue is earned and spent, or the place where the greater part of their assets is located.

As in all other scenarios of rebuttal, the ascertainability in particular by (potential) creditors is key and is a factual consideration which the national courts have to make.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.

The Hungarian Supreme Court on conduct in litigation resulting in implied choice of law.

An overdue post on the Hungarian Supreme Court’s judgment 2020.3.72.a, finding an implied choice of law pro Hungarian law, made by a Serbian and Hungarian party to a contract for agency and business counseling. In the absence of choice of law, per Article 4 Rome I, applicable law would have been Serbian law. Yet the SC held that the conduct of the Serbian business party in the litigation, made for implicit choice of law.

Under Rome I, choice of law may be made and changed at any time during the course of the contract. Whether it can also be made by conduct of litigation is somewhat disputed. Arguments pro rely heavily on a parallel with impromptu choice of court in Brussels Ia, by submission. The Hungarian courts had assessed the merits of the case on the basis of Hungarian law, and the Serbian defendant had engaged in that discussion in a detailed, substantive statement of defence without any objections to Hungarian law being the lex contractus. This, the courts held and the SC agreed, meant parties had made an implied choice of law by their conduct. A change of heart by defendant upon appeal was a unilateral change of law, which cannot bind the parties.

Richard Schmidt sent me the judgment and has additional analysis here– on which I relied for I do not read Hungarian. Scholarship has engaged with the issue and this SC judgment will be highly relevant material for that discussion.

Geert.

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

 

 

Forum non and infringing copyright in the air: The Performing Rights Society v Qatar Airways.

Performing Right Society Ltd v Qatar Airways Group QCS [2020] EWHC 1872 (Ch) concerns the infringement or not of copyright via Qatar Airways’ inflight entertainment system known as “Oryx One”. Holding on an application for a stay on grounds of forum non conveniens or alternatively on case management grounds, Birss J on Friday first of all noted the relevance of Lucasfilm Limited v Ainsworth [2011] UKSC 39 that the English court can have jurisdiction over claims for infringement of copyright by non-UK acts and under non-UK law where there is a basis for in personam jurisdiction. Which there is because of the presence of the aircraft on the ground or in the territorial airspace of the UK – the airline was served at the London address of the UK branch (defendant, QATAR Airways Group Q.C.S.C. is not domiciled in the UK, I gather). Lucasfilm did not itself deal with forum non.

I flag this case for Birss J gives a good summary of the approach to forum non, building of course on Spiliada but also with reference to Vedanta, Okpabi etc., all reviewed on the blog. Note at 16-17 claimant’s and defendant’s alternative formulations of the Stage 1 cq 2 tests following Spiliada.

The defendant has summarised the test in Spiliada as follows:

“(1) Is there another available forum which is clearly and distinctly the natural forum, that is to say, the “forum with which the action has the most real and substantial connection”?

(2) If there is, is England nevertheless the appropriate forum, in particular because the court is not satisfied that substantial justice will be done in the alternative available forum?”

At: claimant’s rival formulation is:

“Stage 1: Qatar Airways bears the burden of satisfying the Court that the Qatari court is an available forum with competent jurisdiction to determine PRS’s claim and is clearly or distinctly a more appropriate forum than England for the trial of the issues. If it fails to satisfy the Court of these matters, a stay should be refused.

Stage 2: If the Court determines that the Qatari court is prima facie more appropriate, it must nevertheless refuse to grant a stay if PRS demonstrate that, in all the circumstances of the case, it would be unjust for it to be deprived of the right to trial in England.”

The distinctions may seem trivial. However they relate to, firstly, burden of proof and secondly, which factors need to be considered in which stage (and therefore, proven by whom). In particular, it is suggested that issues such as the location of witnesses arose at the first stage yet that at least aspects of the points which were debated about expert witnesses (of foreign law) arose at the second stage not the first.

Birss J ends up summarising Stage 1 as entailing the following headings:

i) the personal connections the parties have to the countries in question; ii) factual connections which the events relevant to the claim have with the countries; iii) applicable law; iv) factors affecting convenience or expense such as the location of witnesses or documents.

I will leave readers to digest the arguments under the various headings themselves, Birss J concludes that Qatar is not clearly a more appropriate forum and does not therefore consider Stage 2.

Readers will remember that the CJEU in Owusu objected to forum non on the basis of its unpredictability. Now, I am not one for arguing that following Spiliada and Vedanta, and given the authority rule to which common lawyers and judges are attuned, forum non be unpredictable. Neither can one posit however, seeing the intensity of the discussion here and in many other cases, that it is an entirely clear exercise.

Geert.

 

 

 

 

Google and the jurisdictional reach of the Belgian DPA in right to be forgotten cases. Another piece misplaced in the puzzle?

Thank you Nathalie Smuha for first signalling the €600,000.00 fine which the Belgian Data Protection Authority (DPA) issued on Tuesday against Google Belgium, together with a delisting order of uncertain reach (see below) and an order to amend the public’s complaint forms. The decision will eventually be back up here I am assume (at vanished yesterday) however I have copy here.

Nauta Dutilh’s Peter Craddock and Vincent Wellens have very good summary and analysis up already, and I am happy to refer. Let me add a few things of additional note:

  • The one-stop shop principle of the GDPR must now be under severe strain. CNIL v Google already put it to the test and this Belgian decision further questions its operationalisation – without even without for the CJEU to answer the questions of the Brussels Court of Appeal in the Facebook case. At 31, the DPA refers to a letter which Google LLC had sent on 23 June 2020 (a few days therefore after the French decision) to the Irish DPA saying that it would no longer object to national DPAs exercising jurisdiction in right to be forgotten cases. Of note is that in ordinary litigation, deep-pocket claimants seeking mozaik jurisdiction seldom do that because it serves the general interest.
  • Having said that, the Belgian DPA still had to establish jurisdiction against Google Belgium. Here, CJEU Google v Spain, Google v CNIL, and Wirtschaftsakademie led the DPA to take a ‘realistic’ /business plan approach (such as Jääskinen AG in Google Spain) rather than a legally pure approach: at 80 following extensive reference to CJEU authority, and to the effet utile of the GDPR, the DPA holds that it matters little whether the actual processing of the date takes places outside of the EU, by Google employees ex-EU, and that Google Belgium’s activities are supportive only. A Belgian resident’s right to be forgotten has been infringed; a Google entity is available there: that would seem to suffice.
  • That left the issue of the territorial reach of the delisting request. The DPA arguably cuts a few corners on the Google Belgium issue; here, it is simply most vague: at 81 ff it refers to the jurisdictional decision in e-Date Advertising, that for infringement of privacy within Brussels Ia, the courts of the person’s centre of interests are best placed to hear the case in its entirety, holding this should be applied mutatis mutandis in GDPR cases and removal orders. It then holds at 85 that neither Google v CNIL nor Belgian law give it specific power to impose a worldwide delisting order, yet at 91 that an EU-wide delisting order would seem an effective means of redress, to end up in its final order (p.48-49) not identifying a territorial scope for delisting.

I am confused. I suspect I am not the only one.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed.2016, chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.5.

 

The CJEU in Movic on enforcement of unfair trading practices and the less than abstract determination of ‘civil and commercial’.

I reviewed Szpunar AG’s Opinion in C-73/19 Belgische Staat v Movic BV et al here. The CJEU held this morning. At the time of posting an English version of the judgment was not yet available. The case at issue concerns enforcement of Belgium’s unfair trading act by the public authorities of the Member State. Movic BV of The Netherlands and the others defendants practices ticket touting: resale of tickets for leisure events.

The Court is more succinct than the AG in its analysis yet refers repeatedly to points made by Szpunar AG without itself therefore having to refer to so extensive an analysis.

The fact that a power was introduced by a law is not, in itself, decisive in order to conclude that the State acted in the exercise of State authority (at 52). Neither does the pursuit of the general interest automatically involve the exercise of public powers (at 53). With respect to the authorities’ powers of investigation, it would seem that the Court like the AG reads (at 57) C‑49/12 Sunico as meaning that to exclude proceedings from the scope of ‘civil and commercial matters’, it must be determined, in concreto, whether the public authority uses evidence which it has in its possession as a result of its public powers of investigation, hence putting it in a different position as a person governed by private law in analogous proceedings. Collecting evidence in the same way as a private person or a consumer association could, does not fall within that category (at 58).

Neither the request for penalty payments nor an application for an injunction makes the proceedings drop out off Brussels Ia: both instruments are available to private parties, too. That is not however the case for the observation of continued infringement by mere civil servant oath as opposed to bailiff certification. This, the Court holds like the AG, does amount to exercise of public authority (at 62) however (at 63) that element alone escapes BIA, it does not so taint the other part of the proceedings.

As I noted in my review of first Advocate General Szpunar’s Opinion, the need for highly factual considerations sits uneasily with the Regulation’s expressed DNA of predictability. However this squares with the CJEU case-law on ‘civil and commercial’.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2.