The Prestige litigation before the CJEU. A tricky Opinion on court-sanctioned arbitral awards as judgments under Brussels Ia.

I give background to Collins AG’s Opinion in C-700/20 The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Limited v Kingdom of  Spain here. The Court of Appeal nota bene in the meantime has held that the High Court should have never referred, as I report here.

Does an English ‘Section 66’ (Arbitration Act) judgment, which confirms an arbitral award is enforceable in the same way as a judgment in ordinary, qualify as a judgment under the recognition and enforcement Title of Brussels Ia? If it does, the Spanish judgment contradicting the award is unlikely to be recognised.

The case at issue in essence enquires how far the arbitration exception of Brussels Ia stretches. Does the arbitration DNA of the case once and for all means any subsequent involvement of the courts is likewise not covered by Brussels Ia (meaning for instance that it must not have an impact on the decision to recognise and enforce an incompatible judgment issued by another Member State in the case); or should the  involvement of the courts in ordinary be judged independently against the Regulation’s definition of ‘judgment’.

The case therefore echoes the High Court’s later intervention in the infamous West Tankers case, and the recent CJEU judgment in C-568/20 J v H Limited (on third country judgments).

(44) the 1958 New York Convention does not come into play in the proceedings for the reason that those proceedings do not involve, as Article I(1) of that convention requires, the recognition and enforcement of an arbitral award in a State other than that in which that award was made: the award was made in the UK.

The AG suggests a broad scope of the exclusion, seeking support in the Jenard and Schlosser Reports. He also confirms the exclusion of arbitration has the effect, in particular, of making it impossible to use that regulation to enforce an arbitral award in another Member State by first turning it into a judgment and then asking the courts of the other Member State to enforce that judgment under Chapter III.

However, in the case at issue he suggests the proceedings are not caught by the arbitration exception, for 3 reasons:

(53) the notion of ‘judgment’ needs to be interpreted broadly;

(54) CJEU Solo Kleinmotoren instructs that for a finding to be a ‘judgment’,  ‘the decision must emanate from a judicial body of a Contracting State deciding on its own authority on the issues between the parties’;  that is the case here for (55) the S66 court does not rubberstamp; it discusses and settles a range of substantive issues between the parties;

(57) there is no requirement that a court must determine all of the substantive elements of a dispute in order to deliver a judgment that satisfies the purposes of that provision; reference here is made to CJEU C-394/07 Gambazzi (see the Handbook 2.576).

In the view of the AG (62) A1(2) is not determinative as to whether a judgment under the recognition and enforcement Title comes within the scope of the Regulation. Those provisions, he suggest, were enacted for different purposes and pursue different objectives: they aim to protect the integrity of a Member State’s internal legal order and to ensure that its rule of law is not disturbed by being required to recognise a foreign judgment that is incompatible with a decision of its own courts. A1(2) on the other hand is firmly part of the free movement of judgments rationale of the Regulation (and limitations thereto).

I think the CJEU judgment could go either way and if I were a betting man (which I am not) I suspect the Court will not follow and instead will take the same holistic approach towards protecting the application of Brussels Ia by the courts in ordinary, as it did in CJEU West Tankers. By the very nature of s66 (and similar actions in other Member States), the ‘issues between the parties’ are different in actions taking place entirely in courts in ordinary, and those in arbitration awards which are subsequently sanctioned (in the sense of ‘approved’) by a court. The latter proceedings do not discuss ‘the issues’ between the parties. They only engage a narrow set of checks and balances to  ensure the soundness of the arbitration process.

Neither do I follow the logic (63) that if the UK were not allowed to take account of the s66 judgment in its decision to recognise, it would mean that Member States would have to ignore all internal judgments with res judicata in an excluded area, including insolvency, social security etc., in favour of other Member States judgments ‘adjudicating upon the same issue’ (63): if they truly adjudicate upon ‘the same issue’, the judgment of the other Member State will be exempt from Brussels Ia. This is unlike the case at hand which clearly did involve a Spanish judgment on a subject matter covered by the Regulation. The arbitration exemption is the only exemption that relates to a modus operandi of conflict resolution: all the others relate to substantive issues in conflict resolution.

Commercial arbitration enjoys a peculiar privilege in the CJEU’s view on ADR (see CJEU Komstroy). I do not think however the Court will give it a forum shopping boost in the context of Brussels Ia.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, ia 2.120.

 

Cryptoassets, non-fungible tokens and consumer protection. The High Court rejects jurisdiction in Soleymani v Nifty, re-igniting the opaqueness of the arbitration exception under Brussels Ia.

In Amir Soleymani v Nifty Gateway LLC [2022] EWHC 773 (Comm) Abrose J largely rejected jurisdiction for the English courts in a claim following auction brought by a UK-based digital artwork collector. Another part of the claim was stayed pending arbitration in New York.

Faced with a clause in Nifty’s general terms and conditions that provide for binding arbitration in New York and for New York law to be the governing law of the contract, claimant seeks a declaration that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable due to it being unfair under the UK Consumer Rights Act 2015. Alternatively, he argued the governing law clause is invalid on the same statutory ground, and that a contract arising from the auction is void for illegality pursuant to the UK Gambling Act 2005.

Of note is that the US based arbitrator, in the proceedings initiated by Nifty, is considering himself (with procedural and discovery orders having been issued) broadly similar issues under consumer protection provisions of the ADR provider.

At [34] the qualification of NFTs as ‘art’ or merely ‘technology’ [‘the nature of NFTs as assets, and whether they are artwork, with the Claimant’s position being that he was trading in digital art whereas the Defendant maintained that an NFT is merely a unique string of code stored on a blockchain ledger that makes a digital artwork accessible, and marks authenticity’] is announced as potentially relevant for substance but not for current application.

The discussion largely takes place under retained EU law (s15b of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 (as amended)). The judge holds [55] that the claim falls within the arbitration exception of (retained) Brussels Ia seeing as, as she qualifies it

The principal focus and subject matter of Mr Soleymani’s claim is whether he is legally obliged to arbitrate.

Recital 12 BIa is called upon in support. Claimant ([49]-[50] in particular are a good summary of the position) essentially argues such a view is incompatible with the effet utile of the consumer title. I believe that point has merit and one imagines it will be on this point that appeal will be sought (Bitar v Banque Libano-Francaise was offered in some support).

Whether the contract is a ‘consumer’ contract is still discussed [62] ff viz the claim for declaratory relief regarding the unfairness of the arbitration clause under the Gambling Act. The judge holds [79] that on the evidence put forward, Claimant has the better of the argument as to whether the Defendant was directing commercial activities to England (and the UK more generally). However she decides to grant the defendant a stay (which would not have been possible pre-Brexit) in favour of the unfairness issues being discussed in the New York arbitration. (These issues may later return to a UK court in the shape of an ordre public opposition to enforcement of the award in the UK).

I will of course notify if and when permission to appeal will have been granted.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.3.2, and 2.2.9.2.

Paris Court of Appeal reverses ruling on arbitrators’s liability: holds it falls outside Brussels Ia.

I did say I was mopping up the queue this week so here’s a post reminding us of the Paris Court  of Appeal overturning an earlier judgment which had held that an arbitrator’s liability falls within Brussels Ia. I have analysis and further reference to the first instance judgment here, and Gilles Cuniberti’s approving view on the Court of Appeal’s decision is here.

The ruling means the court of the locus arbitri, the curial seat as agreed between the parties, is the natural home for any subsequent disputes involving liability of the arbitrators. I agree with Gilles that this makes a lot of sense from a consolidation and neutrality point of view. I do not however feel for a moment that it clearly follows from Brussels Ia, including its arbitration recital (which has the trimmings of an encyclopaedia, weighing in at more than half a page and 4 paragraphs).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.3.4, para 2.110 ff..

The continuing enigma that is the Brussels Ia arbitration exception. The Paris CFI on liability claims against arbitrators.

Update 29 April 2021 prof Peters and Meester Bakker argued differently here, in 2020 (in Dutch), in summary and with strong arguments (as well as in contrast with the French Court) pointing to the locus arbitri, the curial seat as agreed between the parties, as the natural home for any subsequent disputes involving liability of the arbitrators.

Thank you indeed Gilles Cuniberti for flagging and discussing the end of March decision (Press Release only) by the Paris Court of First Instance in which it held that an action against an arbitrator for damages following his failure to disclose a conflict of interests, which led to the annulment of the award, fell within Brussels Ia despite its arbitration exception.

I have more sympathy for the decision than Gilles. At the very least I am not surprised national courts should be confused about the demarcation. Brussels Ia inserted the Smorgasbord of confusion following West Tankers, by collating an even prima facie conflicting array of ins and outs in its recital 12. Even before the entry into force of Brussels Ia, Cooke J in Toyota v Prolat held that recital 12 is of no use. Other than in fairly straightforward cases such as Premier Cruises v DLA Piper Russia, good argument might exist on many conceivable cases.

Deciding the demarcation with help from the New York Convention itself (one might have suggested that what is included in New York, should not be included in Brussels Ia) does not help in the case at issue for as ia Tadas Varapnickas notes, Uncitral and New York are silent on the status of the arbitrator.

Assuming BIa applies, there must be little doubt there is a contractual relation, even between the arbitrator and the party who did not appoint her or him, in the BIa Article 7(1) sense, following CJEU flightright.

Curial seat was Paris, yet hearings and deliberations had taken place in Germany. Forum contractus as a provision of services was held to have been Germany.

This is where Burkhard Hess, at the request of Gilles, took over: Burkhard further discusses the findings on arbitration, agrees with Germany as the forum contractus per ia CJEU Wood Floor Solutions, and suggests (see similarly Mann J in Philips v TCL) the German courts are bound by the Paris’ court’s findings per CJEU Gothaer.

Much relevant. I do not know whether appeal is being sought.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.3.4, para 2.110 ff.;

PWC Landwell v LY. The French SC on the EU consumer rights Directive and arbitration agreements.

Many thanks Alain Devers for alerting us back in October to the French Supreme Court’s judgment in PWC Landwell v LY, on agreements to arbitrate and the consumer rights Directive 93/13. Apologies for late posting.

The Supreme Court held [20 ff] that the contract between a client, domicoled at France, and PWC Landwell’s Spanish offices (Landwell used to be the trading name of the law firm side of this multidisciplinary practice), fell within the consumer title of Brussels IA. The Court of Appeal’s judgment had clearly run through the CJEU-sanctioned ‘directed at’ test and found it satisfied in the case at issue (the Landwell website boasting international coverage of its services as well as international contact numbers as strong indicators).

The SC also held that the requirement to turn to arbitration was incompatible with the Consumer Rights Directive 93/13, in particular its A6 which per CJEU C‑147/16 Karel de Grote — Hogeschool Katholieke Hogeschool Antwerpen confirmed in C-51/17 OTP Bank et OTP Faktoring is of ordre public character. The SC agreed with the CA that the clause, despite the client having been in the presence of a bank employee when the contract was put to her, was not properly negotiated and qualifies as a clause abusif.

Geert.

EU Private International Law 3rd ed 2021, para 2.277.

 

Premier Cruises v DLA Piper Russia and UK. Textbook ‘arbitration’ exception under Brussels Ia.

Premier Cruises Ltd v DLA Piper Rus Ltd & Anor [2021] EWHC 151 (Comm) is a textbook case for the relationship between arbitration and the Brussels Ia regulation, as well as relevance of lex arbitri on what is within the scope of an arbitration agreement.

Claimant is Premier Cruises Limited (“PCL”), a company originally domiciled in the British Virgin Islands and now domiciled in the Seychelles, which owns or operates two vessels. Defendants are entities within the DLA Piper Group of legal practices. The First Defendant is DLA Piper Rus Limited (“DLA Russia”), an English company with operations in Russia. The Second Defendant is DLA Piper UK LLP (“DLA UK”), an English LLP.  On 29 January 2020 (within the scope of Brussels Ia, therefore, at least as against DLA UK), PCL commenced proceedings against DLA in the Commercial Court claiming damages in contract and/or in tort for professional negligence.

DLA Russia argues the claim is within the scope of its arbitration agreement included in the engagement letter (International Commercial Arbitration Court at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation). DLA UK accepted it was not included in that agreement and applied for a case-management stay.

PCL argue its action against DLA Russia is in respect of advice allegedly given and work allegedly carried out by DLA Russia prior to 26 May 2015 when the Engagement Letter came into force.

At 52, Edward J identified Russian law as both lex contractus and lex arbitri, and held at 138 after hearing the Russian law experts, that upon contractual construction, PCL’s claim was not included in the clause for it was not meant to apply retroactively.

At 147 ff he agreed with PCL that a case-management stay for the claim against DLA UK is not possible given, with reference to Recital 12 BIa, that the arbitration exception is not engaged: ‘The claim made against DLA UK in this action is not one in respect of which PCL and DLA UK have entered into an arbitration agreement [161]; Arbitration is not the principal focus of the English proceedings against DLA UK; the essential subject matter of the claim made against DLA UK does not concern arbitration; and the relief sought in the proceedings is not ancillary to or an integral part of any arbitration process [163] (reference is made to The Prestige].

The claim being within BIa, Owusu rules out a case management stay. The judge should have outright rejected the additional suggestion ([158 juncto [164]) of a temporary stay being within the Owusu confines.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.3.4, para 2.110 ff.

 

Choice of law and arbitration: the UK SC in Enka v Chubb unlikely to settle the issue.

I discussed the first instance judgment in Enka Insaat here and the Court of Appeal’s findings here. The Supreme Court’s judgment, Enka Insaat Ve Sanayi AS v OOO Insurance Company Chubb [2020] UKSC 38 attempts to settle one of the many issues which choice of law in arbitration provokes, as I first flagged in a post on Sulamerica here: one needs to determine lex arbitri (the law that governs the arbitration agreement; it decides issues such as what issues are arbitrable, and whether the agreement to arbitrate is valid at all); the curial law or the ‘law of the seat’ (the procedural law which will guide the arbitration proceedings; despite the latin curia not commonly referred to as lex curiae); the ‘proper law’, the law that governs the actual contract (lex contractus) of which the agreement to arbitrate is only one part; and the locus arbitri and the lex locus arbitri:  the venue of the arbitration and its laws, which may or may not interact with the proceedings. That 2013 post on Sulamerica contains many further references, including comparative ones. Further case-law may be found by using the search tag ‘Sulamerica’ on the blog.

The Supreme Court held 3-2 in favour of dismissing the appeal, but only on the facts. Lord Burrows dissented in part, Sales dissented. The Supreme Court has now effectively held that unlike the Court of Appeal’s suggestion,  in the absence of express contractual provision there is no “strong presumption” of an implied term for the lex curiae, the law of the seat of the arbitration, to be  the lex arbitri (the law that governs the arbitration agreement), instead pushing the lex contractus (of the agreement of which the arbitration agreement is part) as the lex arbitri.

There has been plenty of analysis since the 9 October judgment and I shall let readers find that for themselves (Google search ‘proper law arbitration Enka v Chubb’ should do the trick). Ex multi I found Peter Ashford’s analysis very useful, including his use of the term ‘host contract’.

As the discussion here shows, with 2 strong dissenters and open discussions on the determination of implied choice of law, I do not think judgment in Enka v Chubb has truly settled the issue. Per inspiratio Steven Barrett’s quote, this might be one of those authorities one can drive a coach and horses through.

Geert.

Koksokhimtrans v Cool Consulting. The Dutch SC on E-mail proof and dispute resolution.

An interesting exchange with fellow practitioners on Twitter yesterday reminded me of this post which I have had in the draft folder since some time in June.  Back in February, the  Dutch SC confirmed the approach of the lower courts and the Court of Appeal on the correct approach to e-mail evidence and the existence of specific dispute resolution clauses. Here: an agreement to arbitration. The result is that a London-issued arbitral award cannot be enforced in The Netherlands.

When I flagged the case on Linked-in in June I observed there were two approaches to the judgment. Some emphasise the Courts’ refusal to recognise the validity of the agreement to arbitrate made by e-mail, in the face of what is common and very informal practice in the shipping industry /charterparty; others point more practically to parties having to be prepared to prove the authenticity of electronic correspondence.

Defendant did not enter an appearance but the lower Court in earlier ruling was alarmed by the print-out of e-mails allegedly containing the ‘agreement’ in the charterparty looking dodgy (there were for instance various white blots). It proprio motu pursued originality research. In subsequent rulings confirmed and completed by the Court of Appeal, the courts were not satisfied by the originality research, among others because the claimant’s ‘independent’ expert was an ICT employee with the law firm involved in the case.

Procureur Generaal Vlas with the Hoge Raad in his Opinion in December 2019, discussed the slight differences between the 1958 New York Convention and the Dutch law on the evidence required (with the Dutch rules in fact being more relaxed), and the nature and content of guidelines issued for the interpretation of the Convention. He advised to follow the lower court’s approach not because of some grand statement in principle but rather because he could not see fault in the courts’ factual observation of lack of independent and objective proof of authenticity. The Supreme Court followed in the most succinct of ways, without justifying rejection of the appeal. It is entitled to do so in cases where its findings have no impact on the unity in application of the law, indicating that the factual observations swayed the SC.

‘Before e-mail’ (my kids would respond to that ‘yes dad, when you got to work on horse and cart’) printers and warehouse assistants where a key link in the chain of general terms and conditions – GTCs. They needed to ensure the right content ended up on the right printed, blank order forms, and ended up with the right wholesalers, sales agents etc. – to be repeated every single time these GTCs were amended; and many a litigation has begun with sales agents continuing to use old forms ‘because it would be a shame to throw all that paper’. Fast forward to electronic correspondence, and website managers and general ICT staff have now assumed that role. In the context of any dispute resolution, they need to ensure everyone has the right e-mail footer, properly functioning link to the right version of the GTCs on the website, etc. They also need to have protocols in place to ensure authentication is thought of proactively. Lack of such proper electronic housekeeping leads to results no different than when sales agents continued to use the old paper forms.

Geert.

 

 

The Prestige recognition tussle – ctd. On arbitration and state immunity.

A short update on the Prestige litigation. I reported earlier on the disclosure order in the recognition leg of the case. In that review I also listed the issues to be decided and the preliminary assessment under Title III Brussels Ia. That appeal is to be heard in December 2020 (see also 21 ff of current judgment). In The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v Spain (M/T “PRESTIGE”) [2020] EWHC 1582 (Comm) Henshaw J on 18 June held on yet another set of issues, related to arbitration and State Immunity.

He concluded after lengthy analysis to which it is best to refer in full, that Spain does not have immunity in respect of these proceedings; that the permission to serve the arbitration obligation our of jurisdiction, granted earlier to the Club should stand; and that the court should appoint an arbitrator.

I am pondering whether to add a State immunity chapter to the 3rd ed. of the Handbook – if I do, this case will certainly feature.

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.

Alexander bros v Alstom. A reminder of the relevance of EU law for New York Convention refusal of recognition of arbitral awards on ordre public grounds.

In Alexander Brothers Ltd (Hong Kong SAR) v Alstom Transport SA & Anor [2020] EWHC 1584 (Comm) Cockerill J discussed inter alia (at 177 ff) the impact of EU law on the ordre public assessment for potential refusal of recognition of an arbitral award under section 103 of the 1980 New York Convention.

CJEU authority are C-126/ 97 Eco Swiss (concerning EU competition law) and C-168/ 05 Claro (unfair terms in consumer contracts). At 183 Cockerill J does not suggest the CJEU authority should no longer stand. Indeed she suggests obiter that there is no reason to suggest the CJEU’s line of reasoning should not apply to wider issues than just competition law or consumer law. However, the burden of proof of showing that particular parts of EU law are of a nature to justify the ordre public exception, lies upon the party objecting to recognition. In casu Alstom have fallen short of that duty. Yes, there is scant reference to anti-corruption in the private sector; and yes there is EU money laundering law. However (at 186) ‘the EU has, in general terms, set its face against corruption. But aside from the area of money laundering it has not put in place mandatory laws or rules. In the context of international corruption of the kind in focus here it has left it to the individual member states to adopt what measures seem good to them. There is, in short, no applicable mandatory rule or public policy.’

An interesting discussion.

Geert.

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