Posts Tagged  EWHC 161 (Comm)
LIC Telecommunications et al v VTB Capital et al. High Court suggests autonomous EU approach to asymmetric choice of court. Also discusses contract and tort distinction, and abuse of process.
In  EWHC 1747 (Comm) LIC Telecommunications et al v VTB Capital et al Moulder J suggests an unorthodox interpretations of Article 25 of the Brussels Ia Regulation. (Note also her very critical view at 22 of one of the experts, whom she found having confused his role as expert with a role as advocate). Much of the lengthy judgment is devoted to intricate discussions of Luxembourgish corporate law (hence the need for expert evidence) and the jurisdictional issues are, somewhat illogically, discussed towards the end of the judgment, at 245 ff.
Maze, one of the defendants, acts as a manager of V2 pursuant to a directorship agreement dated 26 May 2015 (the “Directorship Agreement”). It relies on the effect of clause 19 of the Directorship Agreement and submitted that claims against it are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of Luxembourg pursuant to Article 25 Brussels Ia. Clause 19 provides:
“for the benefit of the Manager, the Shareholder and the Company hereby irrevocably, specially and expressly agree that the courts of Luxembourg city have jurisdiction to settle any disputes in connection with this Agreement and accordingly submits to the jurisdiction of the courts of Luxembourg city. Nothing in this clause limits however the rights of the Manager to bring proceedings against the Company in connection with this Agreement in any other court of competent jurisdiction or concurrently in more than one jurisdiction.”
The clause is asymmetric aka hybrid aka unilateral. (See e.g. my discussion of Rothschild etc.). These clauses as I have noted elsewhere highlight the clear insufficiency of Brussels Ia’s new lex fori prorogati (including renvoi) rule for choice of court. Which court has been prorogated, hence also lex fori prorogati, is not clear when the clause is asymmetric.
Moulder J discusses  EWHC 161 (Comm) Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers as precedent: I reviewed it here and signalled at the time that it would not be the last we would hear of the issue. In that case Cranston J held ‘There is nothing in Article 25 that a valid jurisdiction agreement has to exclude any courts, in particular non EU Courts. Article 17, penultimate paragraph, of the Brussels Convention recognised asymmetric jurisdiction clauses. To my mind it would need a strong indication that Brussels 1 Recast somehow renders what is a regular feature of financial documentation in the EU ineffective.‘ I was never taken by that conclusion viz the Brussels Convention: its Article 17 reference to a party having ‘benefit’ from choice of court does not relate entirely to the same discussion on asymmetric clauses (Peralla v Codere  EWHC 1182 (Comm) which I discussed here illustrates that difference).
At any rate I disagree with Moulder J’s statement at 254 that
It is now common ground that it is a question of autonomous EU law and not a question of national law. (It was I believe accepted that the proviso “unless the agreement is null and void as to its substantive validity” refers to issues such as capacity, fraud and mistake, not whether particular kinds of “choice of court” agreements are permitted under the Regulation).
Asymmetric clauses are the first example often given when highlighting the limited cover of Article 25 Brussels I a (and the need for certainty on the lex causae for choice of court). There is no autonomous interpretation there at all. I do agree however with the conclusion at 261: that Luxembourg courts, applying EU law, would not uphold such clauses was not made out on the evidence. Luxembourgish courts at least when they apply Luxembourgish law, generally uphold the validity of asymmetric choice of court.
At 263 ff then follows discussion of Article 7(1) and 7(2). Much of the authority discussed has been reviewed on this blog. (Including Bosworth (Arcadia) which in the meantime has been held by the CJEU but without the contract /tort element – the CJEU found against a contract of employment). Moulder J holds that Article 7(2) is engaged, not 7(1), and on the former discusses locus delicti commissi with reference to JSC BTA Bank v Khrapunov. At 295: it is not sufficient that there are meetings in England to implement the conspiracy, it is the making of the agreement in England which is to be regarded as the harmful event. Claimants have not supplied a plausible evidential basis that the agreement was made in England. Their evidence is consistent with a case that the conspiracy was implemented in England but that is not sufficient.
As for locus damni, at 298: Even though the share purchase agreement was under English law, it is the loss of the shares in the Luxembourg company which is the pleaded damage not the agreement to sell or the auction. The Vivacom group consists of Bulgarian telecommunications companies which were held by InterV through Viva Luxembourg Bulgaria EOOD (paragraph 3 of the Agreed List of Agreed Issues). Locus damni is Bulgaria, perhaps Luxembourg. But not England.
Finally, abuse of process considerations are linked to English procedural law (whether claims should have been brought sooner).
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 126.96.36.199, Heading 188.8.131.52 .
Asymmetric clauses, exclusivity, torpedoes and lis alibi pendens: The High Court in Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers.
Many of the issues in  EWHC 161 (Comm) Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers were also raised in Perella v Codere, albeit there, as I reported, obiter. In current case, they were very much dicta, and they amount to the English courts viewing (properly constructed) asymmetric clauses as being exclusive. As such they fall under the new anti-torpedo provisions of Article 31(2).
Applications of defendants Liquimar Tankers (registered in Liberia but with head office in Athens) are being made in the course of proceedings in London by Commerzbank in two separate actions in relation to the repayment of loans which the Bank extended for the building of a number of ships. There are ongoing proceedings taken by the defendants against the Bank in Piraeus, Greece concerning the same and/or related issues.
The Liquimar guarantee contained a governing law and an asymmetric jurisdiction clause, which was essentially similar in the other loan agreements. It provided:
“16 Law and Jurisdiction
16.1 This Guarantee and Indemnity shall in all respects be governed by and interpreted in accordance with English law.
16.2 For the exclusive benefit of the Lender, the Guarantor irrevocably agrees that the courts of England are to have jurisdiction to settle any disputes which may arise out of or in connection with this Guarantee and Indemnity and that any proceedings may be brought in those courts.
16.3 Nothing contained in this Clause shall limit the right of the Lender to commence any proceedings against the Guarantor in any other court of competent jurisdiction nor shall the commencement of any proceedings against the Guarantor in one or more jurisdictions preclude the commencement of any proceedings in any other jurisdiction, whether concurrently or not.
16.4 The Guarantor irrevocably waives any objection which it may now or in the future have to the laying of the venue of any proceedings in any court referred to in this Clause and any claim that those proceedings have been brought in an inconvenient or inappropriate forum, and irrevocably agrees that a judgment in any proceedings commenced in any such court shall be conclusive and binding on it and may be enforced in the courts of any jurisdiction …”.
Article 31(2) of the Brussels I Recast reads:
‘where a court of a Member State on which an agreement as referred to in Article 25 confers exclusive jurisdiction is seized, any court of another Member State shall stay the proceedings until such time as the court seized on the basis of the agreement declares that it has no jurisdiction under the agreement.’
Cranston J held that the concept of ‘exclusivity’ should be autonomously interpreted under the Brussels I (Recast) regime. He did not however refer for preliminary reference to the CJEU: as such, the High Court’s finding continues to be vulnerable until we have precedent from Luxembourg. The judgment as a whole is worth a read – readers in for concise summary, please refer to Herbert Smith’s analysis.
Summing up is done in para 70, with justifiable emphasis on parties’ and the Regulation’s intentions (but as noted with considerable reference to precedent and principles of statutory interpretation): Thus with the asymmetric jurisdiction clauses in the present case, the defendants agreed to sue only in the courts of one EU Member State, England. Instead, they have enabled another court, the Greek court, to be seized of the matter. It would undermine the agreements of the parties, and foster abusive tactics, if the jurisdiction clauses in these agreements were to be treated not as exclusive, but as non-exclusive.’
Of note is also the discussion on the role of recitals (eg. at 69; also at 77 ff). Justice Cranston’s arguments are supported by reference to a number of recitals. Defendant in my view has a valid point in principle where they argue at 77 that ‘a recital cannot constitute a rule when it is not reflected in the words of Article 31(2).‘ (Although they were wrong on substance).
A subsidiary argument in the case also merits further attention. Defendants argue that Article 25 requires the parties to have designated the courts of a Member State to enable the law applicable to the substantive validity of a jurisdiction clause to be identified and to provide certainty as to the forum in which a putative defendant can expect to be sued. That, they submit, is not achieved by a clause which designates the courts of all other competent states, including those of non-Member States, outside the territorial competence of the EU, which could mean suits in multiple jurisdictions. Although the argument could be phrased more precisely, I do agree with it: in the absence of a nominatim lex contractus for the choice of court clause specifically, the new lex fori prorogati rule in Article 25 Brussels I Recast, combined with recital 20 (yet again the troublesome habit of EU private international law to include substantive rules in recitals only) does create a vacuum in the case of hybrid, asymmetric or even non-exclusive choice of court.
An important case. Not the last we have heard of the issues.
(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Ch.2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 184.108.40.206.1, Heading 220.127.116.11.