Posts Tagged 44/2001

Belo Horizonte: Court at Rotterdam (using English as language of the oral procedure): Access to seized documents is no provisional measure under Brussels I Recast.

Arnold van Steenderen and Milan Simić have complete and concise review here of judgment of the Rotterdam court of December 2017 in re the Belo Horizonte (officially Cefetra et al v Ms ‘IDA’ Oetker Schiffahrtsgesellschaft MbH & Co KG et al). The case is a follow-up to 2015 proceedings. In these the Rotterdam court had first sanctioned seizure, and then rejected further action for claimant had not formally requested access to the documents.

Arnold and Milan summarise the facts very very helpfully – I am much obliged for the judgment is in Dutch (although as the judgment shows, the proceedings were actually conducted in English: a nice example of the use of regulatory competition in civil procedure) and their efforts have saved me a lot of translation time:

The decisions of the Rotterdam Court are a result of the carriage under bill of lading of soya beans on behalf of Cefetra B.V. (Netherlands based) on board of the “Belo Horizonte” from Argentina to the United Kingdom. Cefetra supplies raw materials to the feed, food, and fuel industries. Cefetra Ltd. (UK based) was the holder of the b/l’s and English law applied to the b/l’s. The vessel is owned by MS ‘IDA’ Oetker and is time chartered by Rudolf A Oetker (both German based, together addressed as Oetker). MS ‘IDA’ Oetker is the carrier under the b/l’s. London arbitration is agreed upon for any dispute rising from the contract of carriage and the b/l’s.

Following engine failure, ‘(d)uring the voyage, experts commissioned by both Cefetra and Oetker visited the “Belo Horizonte” to preliminary assess the condition of the vessel and its engines. Further investigation was conducted upon arrival in England. Oetker, however, only granted permission for inspection of the engine room and refused to disclose the documents on board. Crew interviews were not allowed as well. Subsequently, Cefetra obtained leave to attachment for the purpose of preserving evidence in the Netherlands on 27 October 2015. The leave was effected by the bailiff on 28 October 2015 on board of the “Belo Horizonte”. Several documents were seized and handed over to a sequestrator. Cefetra initiated proceedings’ to gain access to the seized documents.

The dispute in the main is arbitrable in London.

Oetker disputes jurisdiction of the court at Rotterdam on the basis of defendants’ domicile in Germany. Cefetra argue in favour of jurisdiction on the basis of Article 7(1), alternatively 7(2) or indeed Article 35 Brussels I Recast:

  • 7(1) forum contractus: for, it is argued, the main agreement between the two parties implies an obligation to provide any relevant evidence; the place of performance for that ‘obligation in question’ lies in The Netherlands since that is where the sequestrator holds them.
  • 7(2) forum delicti: Oetker’s obstruction of truth finding is a tort which is located (locus delicti commissi) at Rotterdam since that is where Oetker opposes disclosure.
  • 35 provisional, including protective measures.

The Court does not at all entertain Cefetra’s arguments on the basis of 7(1) or 7(2). Wrongly so: plenty of not at all obvious contracts or torts could qualify as same under these provisions. To not address them at all does not make them simply go away.

The court first of all (5.7 in fine) rejects relevance of the arbitration exclusion on the basis of C-391/95 Van Uden Deco-Line. It then sticks to a very restrictive approach to Article 35, with the classic provisionary (not covered by Article 35) v provisional (covered) nature of measures, as also discussed in C-104/03 St. Paul Dairy/Unibel (to which the Court refers). In the words of the court: seizure of evidence is provisional; actual access, copy or extract is not (5.8): the court suggests this is not provisional since it allows the party to gauge the evidentiary position of the party and hence is irreversible.

I disagree -and I have at least a shelf in my library to support the discussion.

Ireversibility in fact (once the evidence seen, the party can never wipe it from its memory, so to speak) does not equate ireversibility in law. The court takes a very limited view of Article 35 and I do not believe it is the right one.

There are not that many national judgments covering Article 35 quite so expressly. This is one to treasure.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.15.

 

 

 

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Assens Havn. Privity of choice of court in insurance contracts.

The European Court of Justice held last week in C‑368/16, Assens Havn. It confirmed privity of choice of court in the event of subrogation of the victim in the rights of the insured. The victim is not bound by choice of court between insurer and tortfeasor:

At 41: ‘The extension to victims of the constraints of agreements on jurisdiction based on the combined provisions of Articles 13 and 14 of Regulation No 44/2001 could compromise the objective pursued by Chapter II, Section 3, thereof, namely to protect the economically and legally weaker party.

That the CJEU confirms privity of contractual choice of court is no surprise: see most recently Leventis. In the case of insurance contracts the issue is slightly less obvious for unlike in the case of consumers and employees, the legal presumption of weakness often does not represent commercial reality.

Whether the subrogated party can make use of the choice of court clause in the underlying contract was not sub judice in the judgment.

Geert.

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

 

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Leventis. CJEU confirms principle of privity of choice of court under Brussels I.

Yesterday in Case C-436/16 Leventis the Court of Justice summarily confirmed the principle of privity of choice of court under the Brussels I Recast. I have looked at this issue before e.g. when I discussed Refcomp and Profit Sim. The tos and fros between the various parties in the case meant they were acquainted with each other in the courtroom and in arbitration panels. It also meant that actions, settlements etc. between one of them and a third party necessarily impacted commercially on the other.

However the Court of Justice essentially held that such a close, voluntary or not, relationship between the two parties does not mean that a jurisdiction clause in a contract between two companies can be relied upon by the representatives of one of them to dispute the jurisdiction of a court over an action for damages which aims to render them jointly and severally liable for supposedly tortious acts carried out in the performance of their duties. The Court simply noted that the referring national court had given no indication of choice of court made between the parties as to the latter issue, employing the classic (now) Article 25 set of criteria.

Of note is that unlike other cases such as Goldman Sachs v Novo Banco, there did not seem to be any kind of theory in relevant national law which would have led to imputability (or potential to call upon) choice of court to a third party under the given circumstances.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9.7.

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Refusal of recognition for failure to serve. ECtHR tests the Brussels regime against Strasbourg in AVOTIŅŠ v Latvia

In  AVOTIŅŠ v Latvia |Avotins v LAtvia, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR at Strasbourg held late May that Article 6 ECHR (right to fair trial) was engaged but not infringed by the Latvian’s Supreme Court’s application of Article 34(2( Brussel I (now Article 45(1) b Brussels I Recast).

The Article reads ‘A judgment shall not be recognised: (…) 2. where it was given in default of appearance, if the defendant was not served with the document which instituted the proceedings or with an equivalent document in sufficient time and in such a way as to enable him to arrange for his defence, unless the defendant failed to commence proceedings to challenge the judgment when it was possible for him to do so;…

In the case at issue applicant sought refusal by the Latvian court of recognition of a Cypriot judgment issued against him. After review of the Regulation’s core pedigree of mutual recognition and mutual trust, burden of proof particularly exercised the Court: at 121:

‘The fact that the applicant relied on that Article (34(2), GAVC) without having challenged the judgment as required necessarily raised the question of the availability of that legal remedy in Cyprus in the circumstances of the present case. In such a situation the Senate was not entitled simply to criticise the applicant, as it did in its judgment of 31 January 2007, for not appealing against the judgment concerned, and to remain silent on the issue of the burden of proof with regard to the existence and availability of a remedy in the State of origin; Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, like Article 34(2) in fine of the Brussels I Regulation, required it to verify that this condition was satisfied, in the absence of which it could not refuse to examine the applicant’s complaint. The Court considers that the determination of the burden of proof, which, as the European Commission stressed (see paragraph 92 above), is not governed by European Union law, was therefore decisive in the present case. Hence, that point should have been examined in adversarial proceedings leading to reasoned findings. However, the Supreme Court tacitly presumed either that the burden of proof lay with the defendant or that such a remedy had in fact been available to the applicant. This approach, which reflects a literal and automatic application of Article 34(2) of the Brussels I Regulation, could in theory lead to a finding that the protection afforded was manifestly deficient such that the presumption of equivalent protection of the rights of the defence guaranteed by Article 6 § 1 is rebutted. Nevertheless, in the specific circumstances of the present application the Court does not consider this to be the case, although this shortcoming is regrettable.’

Those ‘specific circumstances’ include in particular the applicant’s professional background: at 124:

‘the applicant, who was an investment consultant, should have been aware of the legal consequences of the acknowledgment of debt deed which he had signed. That deed was governed by Cypriot law, concerned a sum of money borrowed by the applicant from a Cypriot company and contained a clause conferring jurisdiction on the Cypriot courts. Accordingly, the applicant should have ensured that he was familiar with the manner in which possible proceedings would be conducted before the Cypriot courts (…). Having omitted to obtain information on the subject he contributed to a large extent, as a result of his inaction and lack of diligence, to bringing about the situation of which he complained before the Court and which he could have prevented so as to avoid incurring any damage’. 

I am not convinced by the Court’s view on the burden of proof and on the national court’s duty to assess the law in the State of origin sua sponte. Judges Lemmens and Briede, jointly concurring but for different reasons as the court, in my view have the better argument where they say

‘If the applicant wanted to argue that no remedy had in fact been available to him in Cyprus, in our opinion it would have been for him to raise this issue explicitly before the Supreme Court. We question whether he could expect the Supreme Court to raise that issue of its own motion. And we definitely consider that he cannot complain under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the lack of an explicit response to an argument that was not explicitly made.’

The end result is the same at the ECtHR. For future application of the Brussels I (Recast) Regulation however it makes a big difference.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16, Heading 2.2.16.1.4 (p.198).

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