Motacus Constructions v Castelli. Choice of court, English lois de police and interim measures under the Hague process, post Brexit.

Motacus Constructions Ltd v Paolo Castelli SpA [2021] EWHC 356 (TCC)  to my knowledge is the first case post-Brexit that shows how a jurisdictional discussion that might have been settled swiftly under Brussels Ia, leads to a lot more chewing over under 2005 Hague Convention (on choice of court) principles. It may not be ‘important‘ in terms of its impact on authority (this is a first instance judgment; and it may be overly enthusiastic in engaging with the issues) yet it nevertheless is a good illustration of what was left behind.

The Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Act 2020 has given the 2005 Convention force of law in the UK.

The ‘Governing Law & Dispute Resolution’ clause (clause 19) of a contract between contractor and subcontractor re a London hotel provided ‘This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of Italy’ and for all disputes to ‘submitted to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of Paris, France’. A payment issue ensued and the contractor started classic English construction sector adjudication proceedings despite the aforementioned clause: the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 is overriding mandatory law /loi de police /loi d’application immédiate in England and Wales [3]. To address cash flow problems in the construction industry, and the shortcomings of the traditional litigation process in serving the needs of the construction industry, Parliament decided there should be a short-form process of adjudication producing binding, and readily enforceable, decisions [25].

The UK has not made a reservation under Hague 2005 viz contracts in the construction sector  [18] (compare the EU’s reservation viz insurance contracts).

Sub-contractor actively took part, yet declined to make the necessary payment which the adjudicator’s decision had instructed. Adjudication enforcement proceedings were started on 12 January 2021. Sub-contractor challenged the enforcement proceedings, arguing the proceedings could only be commenced in Paris under the choice of court.

Claimant’s case is that the High Court should accept jurisdiction and enforce the adjudicator’s decision, notwithstanding the exclusive jurisdiction clause, in light of the provisions in either A6(c) or A7 Hague 2005. It submits that it would be manifestly contrary to the public policy enshrined in the 1996 Act, or alternatively it would be manifestly unjust, to refuse to enforce an otherwise enforceable adjudicator’s decision in reliance on clause 19 of the contract. In any event, it is argued, the enforcement of an adjudicator’s decision is the enforcement of an interim measure of protection. It falls outside the scope of Hague 2005 and so the defendant cannot rely on its provisions.

A6(c) Hague 2005 provides that a court of a contracting state (in this case the UK) other than that of the chosen court (in this case Paris, France), “… shall suspend or dismiss proceedings to which an exclusive choice of court agreement applies unless – (c) giving effect to the agreement would lead to a manifest injustice or would be manifestly contrary to the public policy of the State of the court seised. 

A7 provides that: “Interim measures of protection are not governed by [the Hague] Convention. [That] Convention neither requires nor precludes the grant, refusal or termination of interim measures of protection by a court of a Contracting State and does not affect whether or not a party may request or a court should grant, refuse or terminate such measures.”

Spiliada, Fiona Trust, The Eleftharia etc. are all discussed in what looks like a bonfire of the CJEU authorities. The impact of Italian law as lex contractus, for the construction of the choice of court clause (under BIa this would have to be French law) is also signalled, but not entertained for this is an application for summary judgment in which, in the absence of proof of Italian law, its contents are presumed to be the same as English law [51].

Hodge J at 54 declines the suggestion of A6(c) ordre public. ‘Manifest’ requires a high burden of proof, no reservation has been made and there is no good reason why the parties should not be held to the bargain that they freely made when they incorporated clause 19 into their construction contract.

At 56 ff however claimant’s arguments on interim measures having been carved out, does lead to success: it is held that an application for summary judgment to enforce an adjudicator’s decision is an interim measure of protection within A7 Hague 2005. ‘The concept extends to any decision that is not a final and conclusive decision on the substantive merits of the case…The function of the adjudicator’s decision is to protect the position of the successful party on an interim basis pending the final resolution of the parties’ dispute through the normal court processes (or by arbitration).’ [57] The summary judgment application before the High Court has that same DNA: ‘What is before this court is not the underlying dispute between these parties but whether an interim procedure and remedy have been followed and granted.’

Interesting. Geert.

Choice of court (in tender file) under Brussels I. CJEU confirms Szpunar AG in Hőszig /Hoszig – keeps schtum on Brussels I Recast.

The CJEU has confirmed the views of Szpunar AG in C-222/15 Hőszig /Hoszig, without (much as expected) entertaining the lex fori prorogati rule of the Brussels I Recast.

Can choice of court made in underlying documentation in the context of a tender, for which Hőszig entered a winning bid, be considered valid under Article 23 of the Brussels I Regulation (now: Article 25 Brussels I Recast)? Yes, the Court said, with explicit reference to the AG. Crucial point in the consideration is whether per Case 24/76 Colzani an explicit reference to the choice has been made, reference which can be controlled by a party applying normal diligence and where it is established that the general conditions containing the jurisdiction clause was actually communicated to the other contracting party (at 40 in Hoszig). This was so in the case at issue. The court points out that Article 23 (and now Article 25) includes mostly formal requirements (expression of consent, see the references in my posting on the AG’s Opinion) and only one substantial requirement (choice of court needs to relate to an identified legal relationship between the parties). The remainder of discussion on the substantive requirements with respect to the choice of court agreement, is subject to the lex causae of that separate choice of court agreement (exactly why the current Regulation now includes the lex fori prorogati rule; Szpunar AG’s discussion of this clause however was not required to settle the issue and therefore the Court does not look into it).

‘(T)he Paris Courts [have exclusive and final jurisdiction]’ is sufficient for the CJEU to determine the choice of court with precision: it is perfectly acceptable that it will subsequently be French civil procedure laws that will determine precisely which court will have jurisdiction.

A sensible judgment following clear Opinion of the Advocate General, together further completing the choice of court provisions of Brussels I.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9 Heading 2.2.9.4. Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.2 .

 

 

Once again: Choice of court (this time in tender docs) under Brussels I. Szpunar AG takes the sensible route in Hőszig /Hoszig.

In C-222/15 Hőszig /Hoszig, Advocate General Szpunar opined using the sensible route, on the application of Article 23 of Regulation 44/2001 . His excursus though on Article 25 of the Brussels I Recast and the new lex fori prorogati rule is the part of his judgment which I read with most interest.

First things first: can choice of court made in underlying documentation in the context of a tender, for which Hőszig entered a winning bid, be considered valid under Article 23 of the Brussels I Regulation (now: Article 25 Brussels I Recast). Pursuant to Clause 23.1 of these ‘general conditions of purchase’, headed ‘applicable law and settlement of disputes’, ‘[t]he Order shall be governed by and interpreted in accordance with French law. The application of the United Nations Convention on the International Sale of Goods dated April 11, 1980 is excluded. Any dispute arising out of or in connection with the validity, construction, performance or termination of the Order, which the parties are unable to settle amicably shall be finally and exclusively settled by the courts of Paris, including in the case of a summary procedure, injunctions or conservatory measure.’

Hőszig tried to sue instead in what it considered to be the place of performance of the contract, per Article 5(1) (now 7(1) in the Recast). Its torpedo of the choice of court included in the general conditions of purchase, was based on recourse to Article 10(2) Rome I, which holds that the putative law of the contract does not apply to consider a party’s consent if it would not be reasonable to do so. In such case the law of the habitual residence of said party applies. Here this would lead to Hungarian law rather than French law and Hungarian law, it is argued, would not accept such incorporation of general terms and conditions. Szpunar AG however simply refers to the fact that choice of court agreements are excluded from the Rome I Regulation. Recourse to Article 10(2) is barred by that exclusion.

What needs to be considered under Article 23 Brussels I is whether parties have reached consensus, ‘clearly and precisely demonstrated’, the AG suggests. This wording is typically associated with choice of law under Rome I however I would support its use in the context of the Brussels I (and Recast) Regulation, too, for that is what the Court’s case-law on the Article amounts to. Applying Case 24/76 Colzani mutatis mutandis, and taking into account that express reference to the general terms and conditions in documents exchanged between the parties prior to the tender being awarded, the AG concludes that agreement had been reached.

Now, is the expression ‘courts of Paris’ sufficiently precise? Szpunar AG suggests it is and I would concur, albeit that the last word on  that is probably not yet said. The Advocate General refers to Capotorti AG in Case 23/78 Meeth, who had advised that a clause worded such as here, refers by implication to the system of rules of territorial jurisdiction (typically on the basis of a combination of value and subject-matter) to determine precisely at which court proceedings must be instituted. The Court itself did not at all elaborate in the eventual judgment. Szpunar AG suggests it must have taken Capororti’s suggestion for granted. Therefore (at 44 of the Opinion) it is French procedural law which governs the question of precisely which Paris court is competent.

This leaves open the question, though (which I understand is not sub judice here) whether parties can employ choice of court to trump national rules of civil procedure. What if they agree that the courts of say province X in Member State A are preferable to settle the issue, e.g. because of perceived know-how, even if national civil procedure would ordinarily assign the case to province Y? Not an issue which to my knowledge has been settled by EU case-law.

By way of sign-off, the Advocate General then reviews whether the new text, Regulation 1215/2012, has in any way altered or added to the discussion on choice of court agreements. Readers will be aware (via this blog or the Handbook or otherwise) that the new Regulation refers to the lex fori prorogati to determine the validity of the choice of court agreement:  ‘[i]f the parties, regardless of their domicile, have agreed that a court or the courts of a Member State are to have jurisdiction to settle any disputes which have arisen or which may arise in connection with a particular legal relationship, that court or those courts shall have jurisdiction, unless the agreement is null and void as to its substantive validity under the law of that Member State’ (emphasis added by Szpunar AG).

Under Brussels I, various options were defended. Szpunar AG refers to Slynn AG having defended lex fori prorogati in Case 150/80 Elefanten Schuh,  and Szpunar AH himself suggest (at 47 in fine) lex fori additi under the former Brussels I Regulation (44/2001).

The AG is most certainly correct in my view that the lex fori prorogati is not meant to cover all aspects of the validity of the agreement. In my Handbook I distinguish between the expression of consent (harmonised by Article 25), and the formation of consent (not touched upon by Brussels I and now subject to the lex fori prorogati). He then suggests that the insertion of lex fori prorogati was meant to align the Brussels I (Recast) with the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements, to which the EU have now acceded. I do not recall any such reference in the travaux preparatoires of Regulation 1215/2012 – however it has been a while since I consulted them extensively and the AG presumably has.

The Court of course will be much more succinct than its AG.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9 Heading 2.2.9.4. Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.2 .