Maceió victims v Braskem. Rotterdam court refuses application for Article 34 lis pendens stay.

The (first instance) court at Rotterdam has upheld anchor jurisdiction and refused an application for an Article 34 Brussels Ia stay. The case concerns victims of earthquakes in the Brasilian Maceió region, which they argue are caused by the mining activities of Braskem. The judgment is only available in Dutch.

The Dutch anchor defendants are intra-group suppliers of ia specialty chemicals, and finance. The main target of the claim of course is the Brasilian mother holding. Whether the latter can be brought into the proceedings is not subject to Brussels Ia but rather to Dutch residual rules. However just as in e.g. Shell, the Dutch rules are applied with CJEU authority on Article 8(1) Brussels Ia firmly in mind. In much more succinct terms than the English courts in similar proceedings, the Dutch courts [6.16] finds the cases so ‘closely related’ that it is expedient to hear the cases together. It emphasises that while the respective roles and liabilities of the various undertakings concerned is likely to be very different, there is a bundle of legal and factual questions that runs jointly throughout the various claims. [6.18] it emphasises that the decision to base the European headquarters of the group, and the finance activities at Rotterdam, implies that the concern reasonably could have foreseen it would be sued here.

Equally succinctly [6.19 ff] the Court rejects the argument that the use of the Dutch corporations as anchor defendants is an abuse of process. Such abuse must be narrowly construed and  it is far from obvious that the claim against the anchors is entirely without merit.

Seemingly defendants tried to argue forum non conveniens however [6.23] the court points out such construction does not exist in The Netherlands and obiter it adds (like the Court of Appeal in Municipio) that practical complications in either hearing of the case or enforcement of any judgment are not a reason to dismiss jurisdiction.

Request for a stay in the procedures viz the Brasilian corporations [6.26] is rejected on (Dutch CPR) lis pendens rules for the parties in the proceedings are not the same. Article 34 is dealt with in two paras (quite a contrast with the E&W courts). The pending procedures vis-a-vis Article 34 are not, it seems, Brasilian Civil Public Actions – CPAS (these were at issue in Municipio de Mariana (of some interest is that the law firm behind the claims is the same in both cases)). Rather, pending liquidation proceedings are considered as the relevant assessment points. [6.28] obiter the court finds that the cases are most probably not related. It grounds  its decision however on a stay not being in the interest of the sound administration of justice. The court holds that the Brasilian proceedings are not likely to be concluded within a reasonable time. Defendants’ commitment at hearing to speed up the process in Brasil, are met with disbelief by the court given the defendants’ attitude in the Brasilian procedures hitherto.

[6.32] permission to appeal the interim judgment on jurisdiction is denied. This means that, like in Airbus, discussion on the private international law issues is likely only to resurface at the stage of appealing the judgment on the merits, too.

An important judgment: other than Petrobas, there are to my knowledge no continental judgments discussing Article 34 in this intensity (there are E&W judgments, as readers of the blog will know).

Geert.

See also ‘Dude, where’s my EU court? On the application of Articles 33-34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens- light rules’, Journal of Private International Law, forthcoming 2022.

 

Galapagos Bidco v DE. The CJEU fails to clarify whether move of COMI by mere market notice, may be effective.

Krzysztof Pacula reported end of March on CJEU C-723/20 Galapagos Bidco v DE and justifiably highlighted the Brexit issue. The case concerns a move of COMI – centre of main interest within the context of the Insolvency Regulation 2015/848 and it is on the element of impromptu move that my post will focus.

Galapagos SA is a Luxembourg holding company whose centre of administration (‘effective place of management‘ according to the former directors) was moved in June 2019, at least so contend previous directors, to England. At the end of August 2019, they apply to the High Court in England and Wales to have insolvency proceedings opened.

Echos of the tussle are here and of course also in Galapagos Bidco SARL v Kebekus & ors [2021] EWHC 68 (Ch). The day after the move of centre of administration, the former directors were replaced with one other, who moved centre of administration to Dusseldorf and issued relevant market regulation statements to that effect. This move was subsequently recognised  by the Courts at Dusseldorf as having established COMI there. The High Court action in London was never withdrawn and would seem to have been dormant since.

Applicant in the proceedings is Galapagos BIDCO Sarl, a creditor of Galapagos SA. It is I understand (but I am happy to be corrected by those in the know) Luxembourg based. As Krzysztof reports, it contests that the German move has effected move of COMI which it argues lies in England (although I fail to see how its reasoning should not also apply to the earlier instant move from presumably Luxembourg to England).

The question that arises is whether, in the determination of the centre of a debtor company’s main interests, specific requirements must be imposed to prevent abusive conduct. Specifically, in the light of the Regulation’s stated aim of preventing forum shopping, whether ‘on a regular basis’ in the second sentence of the first subparagraph of Article 3(1) Insolvency Regulation 2015, presupposes an adequate degree of permanence and is not present if the establishment of a centre of administration is pursued at the same time as a request to have insolvency proceedings opened. Respondents in the appeal, which include the insolvency administrator (trustee) contend that the requirement of administration ‘on a regular basis’ is fulfilled if the administration is permanent.

The CJEU unfortunately fails to answer that question, choosing to reply instead with a hierarchical answer which encourages race to court: [36]

the court of a Member State with which a request to open main insolvency proceedings has been lodged retains exclusive jurisdiction to open such proceedings where the centre of the debtor’s main interests is moved to another Member State after that request is lodged, but before that court has delivered a decision on that request, and that, consequently, where a request is lodged subsequently for the same purpose before a court of another Member State, that court cannot, in principle, declare that it has jurisdiction to open such proceedings until the first court has delivered its decision and declined jurisdiction.

However in the case at issue, the Withdrawal Agreement has the effect that if the High Court has not, as it would seem, taken its decision on the opening of proceedings prior to the end of Brexit Implementation Day 1 January 2021 (CET), the German courts need no longer apply that consequence of mutual trust and are at liberty to determine the existence of COMI.

The CJEU ends by suggesting Q1 no longer needs answering. Yet I think it does. Perhaps not so much for the case at issue (which explains why the judicially economical CJEU does not offer a reply). The German courts, as Zacaroli J notes in his decision [14], held in October 2019 that COMI for GAS has successfully moved to Germany as from 25 August 2019, the day the capital market and bondholders were informed that the centre of administration had been moved to Düsseldorf. Yet the file does not suggest that COMI prior to the attempted move, existed in either the UK or Germany: it was allegedly established in Germany following the new director’s decision, which reversed an earlier impromptu decision by the former directors to ostensibly at least move COMI to the UK. In accordance with the Regulation’s presumptions, COMI would have previously existed in Luxembourg. The element of ‘on a regular basis’ therefore still matters. Is the CJEU suggesting that a mere information of the capital markets suffices to move COMI?

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 5.6.1.

Jamieson v Wurttemburgische Versicherung. On being seized for lis alibi pendens purposes, and on whether the protected categories regimes ought to gazump torpedo actions.

Jamieson v Wurttemburgische Versicherung AG & Anor [2021] EWHC 178 (QB) has been in my draft folder for a while – Master Davison refused an application for a stay on the basis of A29 Brussels I’a’s lis alibi pendens rule, holding that the issue of which court was being seized first, was properly sub judice in the German courts, as is the issue whether litigation subject to the protected categories, should rule out a stay in cases where the weaker party is being disadvantaged.

James Beeton has the background to the case here. Claimant was injured in a road traffic accident in Munich. He was working as a commodities broker for the second defendant. He was attending the Oktoberfest with clients, whom he was entertaining. He was walking from the beer hall to his hotel. He crossed a busy highway and was struck by a taxi, sustaining very severe injuries. The precise circumstances of the collision are in dispute. The taxi was insured by the first defendant, against whom the claimant has a direct right of action.

I tell students and pupils alike that too strong a hint of judicial action in pre-litigation action may trigger a torpedo suit in a court not preferred by client. That is exactly what happened in this case. In pre-action correspondence the insurers for the taxi were asked to confirm that they would not issue proceedings in another jurisdiction – to which they never replied other than by issuing proceedings in Germany for a negative declaration, i.e. a declaration that they were not liable for the accident. Those proceedings had been issued on 18 July 2017. Claimants then issued protectively in England on 10 May 2018. The to and fro in the German proceedings revealed that the correct address for the English claimant was not properly given to the German courts until after the English courts had been seized. 

Hence two substantive issues are before the German courts: when were they properly seized (a discussion in which the English courts could formally interfere using A29(2) BIa); and if they were seized first, is A29 subordinate to the protected categories’ regime: for if the German torpedo goes ahead, claimant in the English proceedings will be bereft of his right to sue in England.

The suggestion for the second issue is that either in Brussels Ia, a rule needs to be found to this effect (I do not think it is there); or in an abuse of EU law (per ia Lord Briggs in Vedanta) argument (CJEU authority on and enthusiasm for same is lukewarm at best).  Despite Master Davison clear disapproval of the insurer’s actions at what seems to be an ethical level, he rules out a stay on the basis of comity and of course CJEU C-159/02 Turner v Grovit: the English High Court must not remove a claim from the jurisdiction of the German courts on the basis of abuse of EU law before those courts.

A most interesting case on which we may yet see referral to the CJEU – by the German courts perhaps.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, Heading 2.2.9.4, 2.2.15.1.

The CJEU in Wikingerhof on distinguishing tort from contract between contracting parties. No Valhalla for those seeking further clarification of Brogsitter, let alone De Bloos.

Update 25 November 10:38 AM:  Readers  may want to refer to the discussion posted to Tobias Lutzi’s view on the case, which I will not copy /paste here save for my initial reply: ‘I believe Tobias’ biggest take-away from the judgment is the Court’s emphasis on ‘indispensability’ of contractual interpretation for A(7)1 to be triggered (he will correct me if I am wrong).
As I argue in my review of the judgment, I think that’s a change of emphasis viz Brogsitter and e.g. Apple v eBizcuss rather than a change in nature of the CJEU approach.
However assuming one applies the authority that courts must not dwell too long on merits in assessing jurisdictional gateways, it does follow that A7(1) will only be engaged in those cases where the contract prima facie is overwhelmingly needed to solve the underlying dispute. This still leaves room for manoeuvre for the creative claimant (see also the AG’s points on forum shopping), but not as much as might have been expected prior to this judgment.’

 

The CJEU held yesterday (Tuesday) in C-59/19 Wikingerhof v Booking.com. I reviewed the AG’s Opinion here and the Court follows the AG’s minimalist interpretation. The case was held in Grand Chamber, which might have provoked expectations yet the judgment is not exactly a bang. Neither however can it be described a whimper. As I note in my review of the Opinion, the case in my view could have been held acte clair. The AG did take the opportunity in his Opinion to discuss many issues which the CJEU was bound not to entertain, at least not in as much detail as the AG did.

Let me first signal what I believe might be the biggest take-away of the litigation, if at least the referring court is followed. That is the Bundesgerichtshof’s finding that  there is no durable record of the alleged consent by Wikingerhof of the amended GTCs, including choice of court, effected via amendments on the ‘Extranet’, which is the portal via which the hotel may update its information and retrieve reservations. Booking.com claimed these amounted to a ‘form which accords with practices which the parties have established between themselves’ pursuant to Article 25(1)(b). Parties will still argue on the merits whether the initial consent to the primary GTCs was strong-armed because of booking.com’s dominant position.

With respect to to the jurisdictional issue, the CJEU in a succinct judgment firstly points to the need for restrictive interpretation. It points at 29 to the claimant being the trigger of A7(1) or (2). Without a claimant’s decision to base a claim on the Articles, they simply do not get to be engaged. That is a reference to the forum shopping discussion of the AG. Still, the court hearing the action must assess whether the specific conditions laid down by those provisions are  met.

At 32, with reference to Brogsitter, ‘an action concerns matters relating to a contract within the meaning of [A7(1)(a) BIa] if the interpretation of the contract between the defendant and the applicant appears indispensable to establish the lawful or, on the contrary, unlawful nature of the conduct complained of against the former by the latter’.  ‘That is in particular the case of an action based on the terms of a contract or on rules of law which are applicable by reason of that contract’ (reference to Holterman and to Kareda, with the latter itself referring to De Bloos). At 33  ‘By contrast, where the applicant relies, in its application, on rules of liability in tort, delict or quasi-delict, namely breach of an obligation imposed by law, and where it does not appear indispensable to examine the content of the contract concluded with the defendant in order to assess whether the conduct of which the latter is accused is lawful or unlawful, since that obligation applies to the defendant independently of that contract, the cause of the action is a matter relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict’.

At 32 therefore the CJEU would seem to confirm De Bloos’ awkward (given the Regulation’s attention to predictability) support for forum shopping based on claim formulation yet corrected by what is more akin to Sharpston AG’s approach in Ergo and the Court’s approach in Apple v eBizcuss, a judgment not referred in current judgment: namely that the judge will have to consider whether contractual interpretation is strictly necessary (the Court uses ‘indispensable’) to judge the case on the merits. Update 25 November 2020 as Tobias Lutzi notes here, it is the repeated (after its first use in Brogsitter) emphasis on ‘indispensable’ which might be the core clue of the CJEU: it would make the threshold for the 7(1) gateway in cases like these, high. A change in emphasis compared to Brogsitter, rather than one in substance.

Here, Wikingerhof rely on statutory German competition law (at 34-36): therefore the claim is one covered by Article 7(2).

The judgment confirms the now very fine thread between jurisdictional and merits review for the purposes of tort-based litigation between two contracting parties.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9. 3rd ed. 2021 para 2.469.

 

Wikingerhof v Booking.com. Saugmandsgaard AG on the qualification in contract or tort of alleged abuse of dominant position between contracting parties. Invites the Court to confirm one of two possible readings of Brogsitter.

Saugmandsgaard AG opined yesterday in C-59/19 Wikingerhof v Booking.com (no English version of the Opinion at the time of writing). At issue is whether allegations of abuse of dominant position create a forum contractus (Article 7(1) Brussels Ia) or a forum delicti (A7(2) BIa).

I published on jurisdiction and applicable law earlier this year and I am as always genuinely humbled with the AG’s (three) references to the handbook.  Wikingerhof submits inter alia that it only ever agreed to Booking.com’s general terms and conditions (‘GTCs’) because Booking.com’s dominant position leaves it no choice. And that it had most certainly not agreed to updates to the GTCs, effected via amendments on the ‘Extranet’, which is the portal via which the hotel may update its information and retrieve reservations.

At 16 of its referral, the Bundesgerichtshof holds acte clair and therefore without reference to the CJEU that there is no durable record of the alleged consent by Wikingerhof of the amended GTCs, including choice of court. Booking.com claimed these amounted to a ‘form which accords with practices which the parties have established between themselves’ pursuant to Article 25(1)(b). This finding echoes the requirements of housekeeping which I signalled yesterday.

In my 2020 paper I point out (p.153) inter alia that in the context of Article 25’s choice of court provisions, the CJEU in C-595/17 Apple v eBizcuss suggested a fairly wide window for actions based on Article 102 TFEU’s prohibition of abuse of dominant position to be covered by the choice of court. At 28 in Apple v eBizcuss: ‘the anti-competitive conduct covered by Article 102 TFEU, namely the abuse of a dominant position, can materialise in contractual  relations that an undertaking in a dominant position establishes and by means of contractual terms’. The AG as I note below distinguished Apple on the facts and applicable rule.

In the request for preliminary ruling of the referring court, CJEU C-548/12 Brogsitter features repeatedly. The Bundesgerichtshof itself is minded to hold for forum delicti, given that (at 24 of its reference)

‘ it is not the interpretation of the contract that is the focus of the legal disputes  between the parties, but rather the question of whether the demand for specific contractual conditions or the invoking of them by a company with an — allegedly — dominant market position is to be regarded as abusive and is therefore in breach of provisions of antitrust law.

In fact on the basis of the request, the court could have held acte clair. It referred anyway which gives the AG the opportunity to write a complete if  to begin with concise précis on the notion of ‘contract’ and ‘tort’ in BIa. At 38, this leads him to conclude inter alia that despite the need strictly to interpret exceptions to the A4 actor sequitur forum rei rule, these exceptions including the special jurisdictional fori contractus ut delicti, must simply be applied with their purpose in mind.

He calls it an application ‘assouplie’, best translated perhaps as ‘accommodating’ (readers may check this against the English version when it comes out) (viz tort, too, the AG uses the term assouplie, at 45, referring eg to CJEU C-133/11 Folien Fisher).

Further, the AG notes that in deciding whether the claim is one in contract, necessarily the claimant’s cause of action has an impact, per CJEU C-274/16 Flightright (at 61 of that judgment, itself refering to C‑249/16 Kareda which in turn refers to 14/76 De Bloos). The impact of claimant’s claim form evidently is a good illustration of the possibility to engineer or at least massage fora and I am pleased the AG openly discusses the ensuing forum shopping implications, at 58 ff. He starts however with signalling at 53 ff that the substantive occurrence of concurrent liability in contract and tort is subject to the laws of the Member States and clearly differs among them, making a short comparative inroad e.g. to English law, German law and Belgian /French law. (Michiel Poesen recently wrote on the topic within the specific context of the employment section).

The AG’s discussion of CJEU authority eventually brings him to Brogsitter. He he firmly supports a minimalist interpretation.  This would mean that only if the contractual context is indispensable for the judge to rule on the legality or not of the parties’ behaviour, is forum contractus engaged. This is similar to his Opinion in Bosworth, to which he refers. He rejects the maximalist interpretation. This approach puts forward that contractual qualification trumps non-contractual (arguably, a left-over of CJEU Kalfelis; but as the AG notes at 81: there is most certainly not such a priority at the applicable law level between Rome I and II) hence the judge regardless of the claimant’s formulation of claim, must qualify the claim as contractual when on the facts a link may exist between the alleged shortcomings of the other party, and the contract.

The maximum interpretation, at 76 ff, would require the judge to engage quite intensively with the merits of the case. That would go against the instructions of the CJEU (applying the Brussels Convention (e.g. C-269/95 Benincasa)), and it would (at 77) undermine a core requirement of the Brussels regime which is legal certainty. That the minimalist approach might lead to multiplication of trials seeing as not all issues would be dealt with by the core forum contractus, is rebuked at 85 by reference to the possibility of the A4 domicile forum (an argument which the CJEU itself used in Bier /Mines de Potasse to support the Mozaik implications of its ruling there) and by highlighting the Regulation’s many instances of support for forum shopping.

The AG then discusses abusive forum shopping following creative claim formulation at 88 ff. This  is disciplined both by the fact that as his comparative review shows, the substantive law of a number of Member States eventually will not allow for dual characterisation and hence reject the claim in substance. Moreover clearly unfounded claims will be disciplined by lex fori mechanisms (such as one imagines, cost orders and the like). This section confuses me a little for I had understood the minimalist approach to lay more emphasis on the judge’s detection of the claim’s DNA (along the lines of Sharpston AG in Ergo) than on the claim’s formulation.

The AG then continues with further specification of the minimalist approach, including at 112 a rejection, correct in my view (for the opposite would deny effet utile to A7(2), of the suggestion to give the A7(1) forum contractus the ancillary power to rule of over delictual (A7(2)) issues closely related to the contractual concerns.

Applying the minimalist test to the case at issue the AG concludes that it entails forum delicti, referring in support to CDC and distinguishing Apple v eBizcuss (which entails choice of court and relies heavily on textual wording of the clause).

It will be interesting to see which of the two possible interpretations of Brogsitter the CJEU will follow and whether it will clarify the forum shopping implications of claim formulation.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9.

 

Comity and ‘domestic illegality’. Colt v SGG.

International comity underlies the rule of both Ralli Brothers v Compania Naviera Sota y Aznar (‘Ralli Bros’) [1920] 2 KB 287 and Foster v Driscoll [1929] 1 KB 470, jointly known as ‘illegality under foreign law’. They both engage lois de police of the place of performance, and the English courts’ attitude towards not assisting with contractual performance that would go against such lois. Per Cockerill J in Magdeev v Tsvetkov [2020] EWHC 887 at 307:

The Foster v Driscoll and Ralli Bros principles differ in this way: the latter is concerned only with whether the contract between the parties necessarily involves performance of an act which is illegal by the law of the place of performance, irrespective of the object and intention of the parties; the former is only concerned with whether the object and intention of the parties is to perform their agreement in a manner which involves an illegal act in the place of performance, and is not concerned with whether the contract necessitates the undertaking of such an act…’

At issue in Colt Technology Services v SG Global Group SRL [2020] EWHC 1417 (Ch), is an injunction to restrain SGG (of Italy) from presenting a winding-up petition against it. SGG claims that Colt UK is indebted to it in the sum of US$4,936,619.93 plus interest. Colt UK contends that the debt is bona fide disputed on substantial grounds, such that the Companies Court is not an appropriate forum to determine the dispute and the presentation of a winding-up petition would be an abuse of process. Colt UK says that SGG was not the true supplier of the services under the relevant agreement, but was a shell company acting as a front for another supplier and was engaged in a form of VAT “missing trader” fraud with the Italian authorities as victims.

After due consideration Wicks J holds that Colt UK has a properly arguable illegality defence to the sums claimed by SGG, based on the Ralli Bros principle. Held: the presentation of a winding-up petition against Colt UK would be an abuse of process and in all the circumstances it is right to restrain SGG from taking that step.

Another interesting example of international comity in private, commercial litigation.

Geert.

Choice of court and lis alibi pendens in Generali Italia v Pelagic Fisheries. Article 31’s anti-torpedo mechanism further put to the test.

In Generali Italia & Ors v Pelagic Fisheries & Anor [2020] EWHC 1228 (Comm) the claimants-insurers commenced proceedings seeking declarations that they are not liable to the Insureds. Pelagic had already commenced proceedings in Treviso, Italy on the basis of what it claims to be choice of court in favour of Italy. The first instance Italian court stayed the Treviso Proceedings (the insureds have appealed; the appeal is yet to be heard) pending a determination by the English court as to whether the Treviso Policies are subject to an exclusive English jurisdiction clause. The Italian stay order reads in relevant part:

‘the lis alibi pendens defence which has been raised requires that these proceedings are suspended in order to allow the High Court of London to rule on the exclusive English jurisdiction clause pursuant to art 31.2 of EU Reg 1215/2012. That since, in the light of what is established by the said provisions, it is irrelevant that the Italian Judicial Authority has been seised first, …. Indeed article 31 of the above mentioned regulation represents an exception to the operation of the ordinary rule of priority in matter of lis alibi pendens, in order to allow the judges chosen by the parties in contractual terms (cover notes) to be the first to rule on the validity of the clause itself (according to the law chosen by the parties). In the concerned case all the cover notes, in the special insurance conditions, contain the clause ‘English jurisdiction. Subject to English law and practice”, with consequent waiver to the general insurance conditions provided in Camogli Policy 1988 form”.’

Other parties are part of the proceedings, too – readers best refer to the facts of the case. They clarify that chunks of the proceedings bear resemblance to the kind of split stay scenario applied by the CJEU in C-406/92 The Tatry.

Foxton J refers to the good arguable case test viz Article 25 Brussels Ia of BNP Paribas v Anchorage, recently also further summarised by the Court of Appeal in Kaefer Aislamientos and further in Etihad Airways PJSC v Flöther.

The case essentially puts Article 31 BIa’s anti-torpedo mechanism to the test in related ways as the first instance judge and the Court of Appeal did in Ablynx. There is a dispute between the parties as to whether A31(2) obliges the English Court to stay proceedings unless and until there is a determination in the Treviso Proceedings that the Italian courts do not have jurisdiction. There are 3 core questions: i) Should the English Court proceed to determine whether there is an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of this Court, in circumstances in which Pelagic is contending in Italy that the Italian courts have jurisdiction, or should it await a ruling on jurisdiction in the Treviso Proceedings? ; ii) If it is appropriate to determine the issue, is there an English exclusive jurisdiction agreement in the Treviso Policies for the purposes of Article 25?; iii) Should the Court stay the remainder of the proceedings under Article 30?

At 65 counsel for the insureds take a similar position as Ms Lane did in Ablynx: he argues that the only issue which the High Court should consider is whether it is satisfied that there is a prima facie case that the Italian court has jurisdiction (which he says there is on the basis that the parties agreed that both the English and Italian courts would have jurisdiction) and that if it is so satisfied, it should stay the English proceedings, pending the outcome of Pelagic’s appeal in the Italian proceedings.

Foxton J however at 68 ff highlights the inadequate nature and limitations of A31(2), as also pointed out by the last para of recital 22 which accompanies it: in the face of conflicting choice of court provisions (typically, as a result of overlapping clauses in overlapping contractual relations between the parties), A31(2) loses its power and the more classic lis alibi pendens rules take over. At 70 he points to the ping-pong that threatens to ensue:

in circumstances in which the Italian court has stayed its proceedings to allow the English court to determine if it has exclusive jurisdiction, it would be particularly surprising if the English court was then bound to stay its proceedings pending a decision on jurisdiction by the Italian court. This approach, in which the dispute might become caught in the self-perpetuating politeness of an Alphonse and Gaston cartoon, is not consistent with enhancing “the effectiveness of exclusive choice-of-court agreements” and avoiding “abusive litigation tactics” which Article 31(2) is intended to achieve. It does not matter for these purposes that the decision of the Italian court granting such a stay is presently under appeal.

He holds therefore at 79 that his task is essentially to review whether there is a good arguable case that the Treviso Policies (the ones subject of the English litigation, GAVC) are subject to exclusive jurisdiction agreements in favour of the English court which satisfy the requirements of A25 BIa. At 95 he finds there is such case. At 113 ff he holds obiter he would have stayed the remainder of the claims under A30, had he held in favour of a stay under A31(2).

Fun with conflict of laws.

Geert.

(Handbook of ) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.7, Heading 2.2.9.5.

 

SAS Institute v World Programming. A complicated enforcement saga continues.

Update 15 June 2020 as Gilles Cuniberti notes, enforcement jurisdiction (see towards the end of this post) ought to have involved some discussion of A24(5) Brussels Ia.

I reported earlier on complex enforcement issues concerning SAS Institute v World Programming. In [2020] EWCA Civ 599 SAS Institute Inc v World Programming Ltd Flaux J gives an overview of the various proceedings at 4:

The dispute between the parties has a long history. It includes an action brought by SAS against WPL in this country in which SAS’s claims were dismissed; a decision by WPL, following an unsuccessful challenge on forum non conveniens grounds, to submit to the jurisdiction of the North Carolina court and to fight the action there on the merits; a judgment in favour of SAS from the North Carolina court for some US $79 million; an attempt by SAS to enforce the North Carolina judgment in this jurisdiction which failed on the grounds that enforcement here would be (a) an abuse of process, (b) contrary to public policy and (c) prohibited by section 5 of the Protection of Trading Interests Act 1980 (“the PTIA”); and a judgment from the English court in favour of WPL for over US $5.4 million, which SAS has chosen to ignore.’

A good case to use therefore at the start of a conflicts course to show students the spaghetti bowl of litigation that may occur in civil litigation. There are in essence

  • English liability proceedings, decided in the end following referral to the CJEU (Case C-406/10);
  • North Carolina liability proceedings, in which WPL submitted to jurisdiction after an earlier win on forum non grounds was reversed on appeal and the NC courts came to the same conclusions as the English ones despite a finding they were not (clearly) under an obligation to apply EU law;
  • next, an SAS enforcement attempt in England which failed (with permission to appeal refused): my earlier post reviews it;
  • next, enforcement proceedings of the NC judgment in California. That CAL procedure includes an assignment order and WPL sought an anti-suit injunction to restrain SAS from seeking assignment orders as regards “customers, licensees, bank accounts, financial information, receivables and dealings in England”: it was not given the injunction for there was at the time no CAL assignment order pending which could be covered by anti-suit.
  • Currently, it seems, there is, and it is an anti-suit against these new assignment orders which is the object of the current proceedings.

At 59 ff follows a discussion of the situs of a debt; at 64 ff the same for jurisdiction re enforcement judgments, holding at 72

Applying these internationally recognised principles to the present case, the North Carolina and California courts have personal jurisdiction over WPL but do not have subject matter jurisdiction over debts owed to WPL which are situated in England. That is so notwithstanding that the losses for which the North Carolina court has given judgment were incurred by SAS in the United States. Nevertheless the effect of the proposed Assignment Order would be to require WPL to assign debts situated in England to SAS which would at least purport to discharge its customers from any obligation owed to WPL, while the effect of the proposed Turnover Order would be to require WPL to give instructions to its banks in England which would discharge the debts situated in England currently owed by the banks to WPL. In substance, therefore, the proposed orders are exorbitant in that they affect property situated in this country over which the California court does not have subject matter jurisdiction, thereby infringing the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.

Update 15 June 2020 as Gilles Cuniberti notes, enforcement jurisdiction ought to have involved some discussion of A24(5) Brussels Ia.

Which is later confirmed at 83. Consequently the earlier order is overturned: at 89: ‘it follows also that the judge’s conclusion that the Assignment and Turnover Orders were not “markedly exorbitant” was based upon a mistaken premise.’

The anti-suit and anti-enforcement applications are dealt with in particular with reference to comity, and largely granted with some collateral notices of intention by SAS not to seek a particular kind of enforcement.

Someone somewhere must have made partner on this litigation.

Geert.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Punjab National Bank. In a complex set of claims, Owusu is never easily applied and material non-disclosure severely punished by the High Court.

In [2019] EWHC 3495 (Ch) Punjabi National Bank v Ravi Srnivasan et al three loan transactions lie at the core of the case. They were made between 29th March 2011 and 1st December 2014, and totaled some US$45 million. They were made for the purposes of oil re-refining and wind energy generating projects in the USA. Most defendants are all allegedly guarantors domiciled either in India or the USA. The borrowers themselves, with the exception of two defendants, both ex-EU, are not party to the proceedings because they are insolvent.

Proceedings concern both the enforcement of the loans but also allegations of fraud, and have also been started in the US and in India however these were not disclosed to the court at the time the original permission was sought to serve out of jurisdiction.

At first glimpse the case might be easily held, along the lines suggested by lead counsel for claimant: at 5 (iii). ‘A combination of the exclusive jurisdiction clauses and the strongly arguable claims in fraud pointed towards the need to try the whole matter in one jurisdiction. England was the only possible jurisdiction. The omission to disclose the US proceedings and the Chennai proceedings caused the defendants no prejudice as they knew from the loan documentation that PNB was at liberty to bring parallel enforcement proceedings in different jurisdictions. The Chief Master ought to have placed strong reliance on articles 3 and 5 of the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements (the “Hague Convention”), and article 25 of The Recast Brussels Regulation (“Brussels Recast”), which obliged the court to accept jurisdiction where there were such exclusive jurisdiction clauses.’

Owusu v Jackson would suggest no entertainment at all of forum non conveniens. However the fraud allegations initially opened the door to a point of entry for forum non seeing as none of the defendants are EU based. Sir Geoffrey Vos at 63 lists the relevant factors: ‘the most important being the choice of jurisdiction clauses in both loan agreements and guarantees, the effect of Brussels Recast and the Hague Convention, the fact that some parallel proceedings can be necessary where enforcement against real property is required, and the centre of gravity of the lending relationship which was indeed in London. In addition, the US and Chennai proceedings did not cover the Pesco loans at all, so that disallowing English jurisdiction for those contractual claims prevented PNB from bringing proceedings in its main chosen jurisdiction in respect of that lending and the guarantees given in respect of it.’

In the end however Vos agreed with the initial assessment of the High Court which emphasised non-disclosure (undoubtedly an example of procedural fraus): notwithstanding England being the most appropriate forum for those contractual claims without clear choice of court, and without a doubt the English jurisdiction guarantees of the other loans, but also for the fraud claims, had they been (which they were not) seriously arguable as presently pleaded, (at 72) jurisdiction must be dismissed in light of the need to protect the administration of justice and uphold the public interest in requiring full and fair disclosure.

That is a strict approach in light of the choice of court made and an awkward way around the forceful nature of Article 25 Brussels Ia. An outcome of my discussion with Andrew Dickinson and Alex Layton, is (per Alex’ suggestion) that the High Court seems to have applied an Elefteria approach to choice of court rather than Article 25 BIa.

Geert.

 

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