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

The lex causae for transfer of title in movable property. A gem of an award by the Iran-US claims tribunal, generally discussing choice of law in arbitration.

I am most grateful to Hans Baron van Houtte, my predecessor in the conflicts chair at Leuven, for alerting me to the partial award of the Iran-US claims tribunal of 10 March last (case No. A15 (II:A)). Hans is a former President of the tribunal, which was established by the ‘Algiers declarations’ following the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis.

The award (a mere 691 pages) and separate opinions can best be accessed here. In the 10 March award, the Tribunal discussed at length the issue of the applicable law for transfer of title in movable property. In doing so, however, it also gives scholars a most wonderful insight and expose on the private international law /choice of law process in arbitration.

The issue is relevant for under the Algiers Declarations, the US is obliged to transfer to Iran, ‘Iranian properties’ subject to the jurisdiction of the United States on 19 January 1981. Hence what exactly constitutes ‘Iranian properties’?

From p.67 (para 135) onwards of the main award, the Tribunal discusses the general process of choice of law in arbitration, referring to a wealth of scholarship on the issue, going back to the mixed arbitral tribunals of the early 20th century etc. For anyone interested in the issue, this is most compelling reading. Many greats of PIL are cited, including the late prof Francois Rigaux (pictured here at Leuven in 2010 with profs Weizuo Chen, Jacques Herbots, Marc Fallon, and myself).

The Tribunal’s conclusion on the issue is that under the ‘general principles of private international law’, the lex rei sitae of the movable governs the passing of title in movable property.

The Tribunal does not hide the further complexities of this rule, including of course the very determination of that situs, and the role of lex contractus.

Indeed for instance on p.272 ff (para 967 ff) the Award discusses one particular claim concerning a case where, under the default rule of the lex rei sitae —- here, the goods were manufactured by, and in the possession of, Zokor, which was situated in the State of Illinois, United States. The applicable lex rei sitae is therefore the law of Illinois  —-property is passed by delivery, and where, under the default rule of the lex contractus –– here arguably Iranian law –– title is already passed by the conclusion of the sales contract or as soon as the goods are manufactured.

At 973 the Tribunal notes the choice of law pro Iranian law, made by the parties, However, it holds ‘the situs was and remained, during all relevant points in time, Illinois. Consequently, according to the general principle of private international law, as identified earlier in this Partial Award, it was for Section 2-401(2) UCC in connection with other contract law of the situs to determine whether the parties had agreed to derogate from the fallback rule.’ (which the Tribunal found, they had not).

That is not entirely crystal clear, and indeed in his separate Opinion prof van Houtte, while generally happy with the Tribunal’s approach, points out some inadequacies:

At 13: ‘The Parties assumed for years that the determination of whether property was “Iranian” as between the seller and the buyer was a contractual issue between those parties governed, inter alia, by the proper law of the contract (lex contractus). It was only at the Hearing session on 9 October 2013 that – in response to a question from the bench – the Parties’ argumentation focused on the lex rei sitae; from that point on, the lex contractus was virtually no longer considered. (…) I regret that the contractual aspects of the transfer of property rights inter partes and the impact of the law of the contract thereupon were not further explored at the Hearing’.

at 15: ‘I observe that the Parties could also have further elaborated on the extent to which the legal situs necessarily coincides with the geographical location of assets in export sales or turn-key contracts.’

And at 18, specifically with respect to the Zokor case that I mention above, ‘One may wonder, de lege ferenda, whether in Claim G-111 (Zokor) it was necessary for the Tribunal to construe and apply its own “general principles of international private law”’ and whether it should not instead adopt the approach which Iranian courts would have applied. These would have had jurisdiction pre the 1979 agreement and the transfer of jurisdiction to the Tribunal, van Houtte argues, does not imply it should settle contractual disputes under different principles than the Iranian courts would have applied’.

A most, most interesting read.

Geert.

 

Anti-suit and arbitration. Court of Appeal overturns in Enka v OOO “Insurance Company Chubb” et al.

Update 04 July 2020 the Supreme Court will hear appeal in this case in July, as reported by Milbank.

The Court of Appeal in [2020] EWCA Civ 574 Enka Insaat Ve Sanayi AS v OOO “Insurance Company Chubb” & Ors has overturned Baker J in [2019] EWHC 3568 (Comm) Enka Insaat ve Sanayi v OOO “Insurance Company Chubb” et al. which I reviewed here.

The case is mostly about the proper law of the arbitration agreement (Flaux J using the shorthand the ‘AA law’) aka the lex arbitri. Given that this is excluded from Rome I, residual rules apply which of course under English common law has Sulamerica as its main authority. In this case Enka contends that the AA law is English law, and Chubb Russia that it is Russian law. It is common ground that the lex contractus is Russian law, but the route to that conclusion is also in issue.

The dispute in this case raises the question of the relative weight to be given to the curial law (that is, the law of the seat, GAVC) of the arbitration agreement and the main contract law, where they differ, in determining the AA law. At 69:  ‘It is a question on which it would be idle to pretend that the English authorities speak with one voice. It would appear that there are also differences of approach between other jurisdictions in international arbitration generally’.

At 109 Flaux J concludes that parties have impliedly chosen that the proper law of the arbitration agreement should coincide with the curial law and be English law, and further, at 119 that ‘there has been no delay by Enka in this case which provides any good reason for not granting injunctive relief. I would treat this as a classic case, like The Angelic Grace, in which the court should grant an injunction to restrain the further conduct of proceedings brought in breach of an English law arbitration agreement.’

Anti-suit therefore granted.

For those interested in choice of law in arbitration, the judgment is required reading.  None of the Rome I (let alone Brussels Ia) issues discussed at the High Court are further discussed here, hence for the purposes of this blog I shall leave the analysis here.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.1. 

Province of Balochistan v Tethyan promises to highlight multilevel regulation issues in arbitration.

Province of Balochistan v Tethyan Copper Company [2020] EWHC 938 (Comm) concerns mostly a challenge to an arbitration tribunal ruling for reasons beyond the interest of the blog. In the underlying ICC arbitration (which has not yet concluded but has been stayed pending the present claim), the Defendant to the present claim (“TCC”), an Australian mining company, brings claims against Balochistan, a province of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, arising out of a mining joint venture. More specifically, the claims arise out of a contract known as the Chagai Hills Exploration Joint Venture Agreement dated 29 July 1993 and governed by the law of Pakistan.

POB seek to contend that the ICC tribunal lacked jurisdiction because the contract containing the arbitration agreement was void for a number of reasons, one of which is that it was allegedly procured by corruption. POB also alleges serious procedural irregularity in a number of respects.

However the challenge is not just an ordinary challenge to an arbitration award. At 67 Henshaw J signals interesting private international law /arbitration /multilevel governance cum regulation issues. Claimants suggest ia that the arbitration

gives rise to a number of complex issues, such as questions of private international law raised in section III of the arbitration claim form about whether applying the English law concept of issue estoppel in the ICC arbitration to certain issues determined in the ICSID arbitration (which is governed by a hybrid of laws including international investment law, US law and public international law) is consistent with the parties’ agreement to apply the law of Pakistan to the substance of their dispute in respect of the CHEJVA. POB suggests that an exchange of pleadings to identify the precise issues in dispute is likely to be of real benefit to the parties and the court: otherwise there is a risk that, if the case proceeds on the basis of the three or so relevant pages of the arbitration claim form and the three or so relevant pages of the responsive witness statement of Ms Reid, the parties will fully understand the detail of each other’s cases only when they exchange skeleton arguments just before the final hearing.

(A solution suggested is ia to hold bifurcation of the issues considered in the challenge to the award). Henshaw J held that the issues are too complex to be held at the current stage and orders there should be a hearing on the substantive issues.

That promises to be an interesting hearing.

Geert.