PIS v Al Rajaan. An intensive Brussels Ia and Lugano choice of court (by incorporation) and anchor defendant discussion.

The Public Institution for Social Security v Al Rajaan & Ors [2020] EWHC 2979 (Comm) engages in lengthy discussion anchor jurisdiction (A6) and choice of court (A23) under the Lugano Convention which of course, albeit with some important mutatis mutandis, echoes Brussels I and Brussels Ia.

Henshaw J summarises the key issues at 74:

i)                    whether the exclusive jurisdiction clauses (‘EJCs’) relied on were agreed between the parties and incorporated into their respective contracts, applying;

a)                  the formal validity requirements set out in Lugano Convention Article 23/Recast Brussels Regulation Article 25, and

b)                 if relevant, the laws governing the contracts i.e. Swiss or Luxembourg law;

ii)                  if so, whether the EJCs satisfy the requirements for material validity under Lugano Convention Article 23/Recast Brussels Regulation Article 25;

iii)                if so, how the EJCs are to be interpreted under their respective governing laws;

iv)                whether, and if so to what extent, the EJCs apply to claims against the applicants;

v)                  if and to the extent that the EJCs apply to only some claims against particular applicants, or apply to some but not all of the applicants, whether this court has jurisdiction over the remainder of the claims pursuant to Lugano Convention Article 6(1)/Recast Brussels Regulation Article 8(1); and

vi)                whether the court should decline jurisdiction over the claims against Pictet Asia and Pictet Bahamas (seeing as they are neither EU or Lugano States domiciled) on forum non conveniens grounds.

 

The judgment is lengthy. These are my highlights:

  • At 107 following review of CJEU authority including Refcomp and Hoszig, the finding that the issue of validity of choice of court by incorporation are to be addressed solely by reference to the requirements of what is now A25 BIa and the corresponding provision in Lugano Convention Article 23. This requires real consent which is discussed with reference ia to Profit Investment Sim at 109 ff.
  • At 127 ff Henshaw J discusses the issue obiter under Swiss cq Luxembourg law as putative leges contracti for choice of court. At 142 the judge concludes that under Swiss law, as under EU law, it is sufficient, in order to incorporate a jurisdiction agreement into the parties’ contract, that the parties have made a written agreement which incorporates by reference general terms including a jurisdiction clause. Ditto with less discussion under Luxembourg law, at 148.
  • At 187 ff: the issue of material validity under EU law. This discussion kicks off with a review of what one of the parties calls the ‘proximity requirement’: per C-214/89 Powell Duffryn (CDC, too, is discussed), the fact that choice of court (only) extends to a ‘particular legal relationship’ (reference here is also made to Etihad, at the time of the judgment this had not yet benefitted from the Court of Appeal‘s judgment). At 201 ff Justice Henshaw takes a broad view:

In principle I would agree that if a jurisdiction clause is not clear, then it may be restrictively construed, consistently with the policy expressed in the relevant EU case law of promoting certainty and avoiding parties being taken by surprise.  On the other hand, I see no reason why parties cannot make a jurisdiction clause in deliberately wide-ranging terms which covers many, or indeed all, of their present and future contractual relationships.  I do not read the Opinion of the Advocate General in Refcomp as indicating the contrary.  Refcomp was essentially concerned with whether a jurisdiction clause could be relied on against a sub-purchaser of goods, and it is notable that the CoJ referred in its judgment to “the principle of freedom of choice on which Article 23(1) is based” (§ 40).  Nor do I read Powell Duffryn as restricting the parties’ ability to choose the scope of the particular legal relationships to which a jurisdiction clause is to apply.

  • Whether the claims at issue meet the ‘proximity’ requirements is then discussed at length, under EU law and again, obiter, under Swiss and Luxembourg law, largely leading to a conclusion of lack of jurisdiction in England and Wales for many of the claims.
  • Anchor jurisdiction is discussed for some of the claims at 403 ff, leading to a classic discussion of the (CJEU Kalfelis introduced) close connection requirement, and at 418 support for the fragile Court of Appeal finding in Privatbank, that that the word “expedient” in the context of the lis alibi pendens provision in Lugano Convention Article 28 must mean “desirable” as opposed to merely practicable or possible. At 427 the issue of fragmentation of proceedings is discussed: what should the court do where a claimant is required to sue a defendant in an overseas jurisdiction under A23 Lugano in relation to some claims, but seeks to pursue in this jurisdiction (a) connected claims against the same defendant, or (b) connected claims against another defendant, in reliance on A6? Henshaw J concludes the E&W courts should not entertain the accessory claims.
  • Forum non is discussed at 480 ff, with the final conclusion being that E&W does not have jurisdiction for any of the claims.

I fully expect there is scope for appeal.

Those criticising the intensity of jurisdiction squabbles will find ammunition in this 497 para judgment.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, big chunks of Chapter 2.

 

ING v Banco Santander. Deferring to extensive discussion of national law on the insolvency exception, and a bit too rich a pudding on privity of choice of court.

The critical point in Monday’s judgment in  ING Bank N.V. & Anor v Banco Santander S.A. [2020] EWHC 3561 (Comm), an application for lack of jurisdiction, is whether this is a case about claims which a syndicate of eight lenders, including ING, had against Marme Inversiones 2007 S.L.U (“Marme”) under a loan agreement and related swap agreements (together “the Marme Agreements”) which were entered into between the lenders and Marme in September 2008, or whether it is about the effect of the ongoing liquidation of Marme in Spain on those claims. The Defendant Applicant says the latter, the Claimant Respondents say the former.

Of note is that on 2 January 2020, Sorlinda, whose agreements are at issue, merged into Santander. As a consequence of the merger, Santander assumed all of Sorlinda’s rights and liabilities.

At 4 Cockerill J summarises ‘the field of battle’ (at 4) as follows:

Santander contends that the court should refuse to exercise jurisdiction or order a stay because:

i) The claim falls within the EU Insolvency Regulation on insolvency proceedings (the “Insolvency Regulation”) and is excluded from the scope of the recast Regulation (EU) No. 1215/2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (the “Brussels Regulation”) pursuant to Article 1(2)(b) of the Brussels Regulation.

ii) Even if the Claim does not fall within the exception under Article 1(2)(b), ING cannot rely upon Article 25 of the Brussels Regulation.

iii) As a matter of Spanish law, ING has not established that Sorlinda became liable to ING for Marme’s liabilities.

iv) There are in any event grounds for the Court to refuse to exercise its jurisdiction and/or to order a stay.

ING contends that:

i) The bankruptcy/winding up exclusion in Article 1(2)(b) of the Brussels Regulation does not apply. The Claim is between two solvent entities in relation to contractual payment obligations under the Marme Agreements, and has no effect on Marme or any of its other creditors. The Claim does not derive directly from Marme’s winding up nor is it closely connected with that winding up.

ii) The question of whether or not Santander is bound by the Marme Agreements is a question of English law having appropriate regard to the effect of the relevant “assumption” of Marme’s obligations by Sorlinda (now Santander) as a matter of Spanish law.

iii) There is (at least) a good arguable case that as a consequence of the “assumption” Santander has a direct liability to ING under the Marme Agreements which are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts.

iv) There are no grounds for the Court to refuse to exercise its jurisdiction and/or to order a stay. (GAVC underlining)

She holds that the jurisdictional challenge succeeds on the A25 BIa point, and also on the Insolvency Regulation point. The other grounds (assumption in Spanish Law and case management stay) would have failed.

Arguments in essence concern Brussels Ia’s insolvency exception. Per CJEU Gourdain, an action is related to bankruptcy only if it derives directly from the bankruptcy and is closely linked to proceedings for realising the assets or judicial supervision. Valach and F-Tex is CJEU authority also discussed.

In general, it is the closeness of the link between a court action and the insolvency proceedings that is decisive for the purposes of deciding whether the insolvency exclusion is applicable (CJEU German Graphics). In the absence of substantive EU insolvency law, the CJEU does not push an autonomous interpretation of the concept and defers largely to national insolvency law.

Whether the action is within the scope of BIa therefore requires examination of the national laws at issue, and that is done at length (featuring ia prof Virgós,  whose expert report clearly impressed Mrs Justice Cockerill).

Core of the decision on the insolvency exception, is at 197:

..the nature of the claim is one which is defined by something which took place in the liquidation, and the dispute effectively cannot be expressed without reference to the conduct of the liquidation. Although there is no challenge to the validity of the liquidator’s actions, the proceedings do necessarily require a consideration of the ambit of those powers and the ambit of actions done as part of those powers. The question of to what extent Sorlinda assumed the relevant liability can only be answered by looking at the deal which was struck in the context of the Liquidation Plan (governed by Spanish insolvency law) and the statutory insolvency framework.

The claim is not covered by BIa. English courts do not have jurisdiction over it.

Article 25 BIa is discussed first in fact, at 113 ff. However I would have thought (although Cockerill J suggest quite the reverse) that the A25 arguments must be obiter, with the insolvency exception findings logically coming first. This may be at issue when this judgment is appealed and /or referred to later.

On A25, ING must demonstrate a good arguable case either as to succession to choice of court, or as to specific consent. It was clear that the latter was not established hence discussion focused on novation /succession.  Authority discussed was of course Refcomp, Coreck Maritime, Tilly Russ etc.

This section of the judgment does not have the same clarity as the discussion on insolvency. Much reference is made to the relevance of either Spanish or English law on the issue of privity of choice of court, however this seems to be mostly done with reference to those laws being potential lex contractus (of the underlying contract). Even if the issue is not completely dealt with autonomously by EU law (which is arguable; and would have ended reference to any national laws), discussion of national law arguably should be to lex fori prorogati per the new rule in Brussels Ia (even a putative lex fori prorogati). At any rate, no succession or novation is established.

Something to clear out in my head over the end of year break.

This was most probably my last posting for the year.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and Guten Rutsch. Be safe, and remember this nice thought.

 

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed., 2021, Heading 2.2.3.1 (2.73 ff) and Heading 2.2.10.7 (2.355 ff).

 

JK Fabrications. Unbolted choice of court in GTCs simply cannot lead to proper forum consent.

JK Fabrications Ltd v Fastfix Ltd & Anor [2020] NIQB 63 is a good illustration of how not to draft choice of court (and governing law, in fact) provisions generally, let alone in general terms and conditions – GTCs. Albeit with a shaky obiter suggestion on identifying a court.

Tobsteel GmbH domiciled in Őhringen, Germany seeks to set aside a third party notice served on it on the ground that the Northern Irish courts have no jurisdiction to determine the third party proceedings brought by Fastfix, domiciled in Ireland.  Fastfix is the defendant in proceedings brought by JK Fabrications, domiciled in Northern Ireland.  In separate proceedings JK Fabrications Limited is sued by SMBJV, an unincorporated joint venture in respect of a major sewerage project in London.  Bolts are the common element in dispute in both cases; the bolts supplied by Tobsteel to Fastfix who in turn supplied these bolts to JK Fabrications.

As justifiably held by Larkin J, the choice of court upon which Tobsteel bases its argument, itself was not properly bolted. The clause at issue is included in a  “General Terms of Supply and Payment for TOBSTEEL GmbH” document which  General Terms of Delivery and Payment document in which clause VIII reads

“VIII. Place of performance, choice of forum, applicable legislation. 

 1.        The place of performance and choice of forum for deliveries and payments (including complaints regarding cheques or bills) and for all disputes arising between us and the purchaser from the purchase contracts concluded between us and him or her shall be Öhringen.  However, we shall be entitled to file a complaint against the purchaser at his or her residence or registered business address.

2.         The legal relationship between us and our customers or between us and third parties shall be governed exclusively by the legislation of the Federal Republic of Germany”

The judgment shows that Tobsteel itself in fact did not initially see clear as to which GTCs applied. In earlier affidavits, two more, and different, versions of GTCs were said to apply.

The first level of discussion was whether there had at all been consent to the GTCs. The judge held there had not been. At 16:

The instrument on which Tobsteel relies as the vehicle of agreement is a combination of the words “Subject to our general terms of business if requested a print can be provided” and Mr Connolly’s [of Fastifx, GAVC] email containing the words “Alex, this is O.K.”. This combination is too fragile to bear that weight.

This was not so much (at 17) because it could not be established that the clause had actually been consulted by Mr Connolly. Larkin J, in line with the Report Jenard:

While it is often a commercially necessary fiction that a party has ‘agreed’ terms that he may not have seen in advance, far less read, based on his signature indicating his consent to be bound by such terms or some other manifestation of acceptance, …

Rather, it has to be clear which version of what is actually referred to: at 17:

..it is observable that in those cases in which this commercially necessary fiction operates, it will be clear what the applicable terms are.

At 19-20:

If Tobsteel wished, as I find it did, to secure agreement on Clause VIII.1 with Fastfix it needed an adequate mechanism or instrument for obtaining that agreement.  In the event, and taking the evidence for Tobsteel at its reasonable height, Tobsteel sought to bind Fastfix in the documents referred to above to Tobsteel’s “general terms of business”.  Clause VIII.1 of June 2014 is not contained in a document entitled “general terms of business” but in a document entitled “General Terms of Supply and Payment for TOBSTEEL GmbH”.  One might properly say, further, that in 2017  Herr Gebert, insofar as he thought specifically about the matter, meant to refer to the June 2004 text, but whether he meant to or not, he did not refer to it so as to permit the creation of an agreement between Tobsteel and Fastfix that Clause VIII.1 should apply.

In none of the cases on Article 25 or its antecedents is there an example of a term incorporating X by reference being held to incorporate Y by reference and thus satisfy the requirements of [A25].

In conclusion, consent had not been clearly and precisely demonstrated. Again, this is a clear emphasis on the need for proper GTC filekeeping.

At 21 ff the judge obiter but in this case in my view wrongly, holds that even if he had found there to have been consent to the clause, it did not meet with the requirements of A25 BIa. As a reminder, the clause reads

 1.        The place of performance and choice of forum for deliveries and payments (including complaints regarding cheques or bills) and for all disputes arising between us and the purchaser from the purchase contracts concluded between us and him or her shall be Öhringen.  However, we shall be entitled to file a complaint against the purchaser at his or her residence or registered business address.

2.         The legal relationship between us and our customers or between us and third parties shall be governed exclusively by the legislation of the Federal Republic of Germany”

The judge argues that the proviso at 1 does not identify a court at all and that the choice of law proviso in 2 cannot come to the rescue (it could conversely, under Rome I) for choice of court and law as recently emphasised in Enka Insaat are to be looked at differently.

I agree 1 is an odd mix of anchoring locus solutionis typically done under A7(1) BIa, with what seems to be a unilateral choice of court pro Tobsteel; and that on that basis it might be vulnerable as choice of court under A25 (but it could be rescued under A7(1). I disagree that the name of a town that has a court (let alone a court; which the judge agrees with) needs to be included for it to be proper choice of court: name any town and local civil procedure rules will tell you the relevant court.

‘(A)n agreement on ‘Derry Recorder’s Court’ would satisfy the requirement of Article 25 that a court be agreed but that an agreement on ‘Derry’ would not.’: I do not think that is correct.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. Feb 2021, 2.296, 2.315 ff

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.

 

Ryanair v DelayFix. The CJEU dots some i’s on choice of court and unfair terms in consumer contracts; defers to national law on the assignment issue; and keeps schtum on renvoi in Article 25 Brussels Ia.

In C-519/19 Ryanair v DelayFix, the CJEU held yesterday. The case echoes the facts in Happy Flights v Ryanair at the Belgian Supreme Court.

Following inter alia  CJEU Jana Petruchova, the (absence of) impact of substantive European consumer protection rules on the consumer section of European private international law is now fairly settled. The separation between the two sets of laws seems quite clear for the application of the consumer section itself.

However under A25 BIa, EU consumer law might still play a role in those circumstances where the conditions of the consumer Section are not met (dual-use contracts, contracts for transport (such as here) etc.) yet where one of the parties may qualify as a consumer under substantive EU consumer protection law.

A core issue of contention is the consideration of the EU unfair terms in consumer contracts Directive 2019/2161 and its predecessor Directive 93/13 , which was applicable in Ryanair v DelayFix. Via Article 25’s lex fori prorogati rule on substantive validity for choice of court, the Directive plays an important role.

In the case at issue at the CJEU, Passenger Rights, now DelayFix, a company specialised in the recovery of air passengers’ claims under the EU Regulation on air passenger rights, has requested the courts at Warsaw to order Ryanair,  to pay EUR 250 in compensation, a passenger on the relevant flight having assigned DelayFix their claim with respect to that airline.

The CJEU first of all looks at the issue from the limited extent of what is actually materially regulated by A25: the requirement of ‘consent’ (as well as the formal expression of that consent. It holds, not surprisingly, that in principle of course a jurisdiction clause incorporated in a contract may produce effects only in the relations between the parties who have given their agreement to the conclusion of that contract (referring ex multi to Refcomp).  In the case at issue,  a jurisdiction clause incorporated in the contract of carriage between a passenger and that airline cannot, in principle, be enforced by the latter against a collection agency to which the passenger has assigned the claim.

However, at 47, there is a gateway for the choice of court nevertheless to extend to third parties, namely when the third party not privy to the original contract had succeeded to an original contracting party’s rights and obligations, in accordance with national substantive law. At 49, referring to A25(1), that law is the lex fori prorogati. Here: Irish law.

Recital 20 BIa in fact instructs to include the lex fori prorogati’s conflict of laws rules (in other words: an instruction for renvoi) to be part of the referral. In the aforementioned Belgian SC ruling in Happy Flights, renvoi was simply ignored. Here, the CJEU does not mention renvoi, even if it does not expressly exclude it.

The CJEU does point out that Directive 93/13 on unfair terms in consumer contracts of course is part of the Irish lex fori prorogati, as it is of all the Member States. In making that reference it would seem to have answered in the negative the question whether the ‘consent’ provisions of that Directive have not been superseded in the context of the ‘consent’ requirements of Article 25 Brussels Ia, as recently discussed obiter in Weco Projects.

Per previous case-law, the capacity of the parties to the original agreement at issue is relevant for the application of the Directive, not the parties to the dispute.  Further, a jurisdiction clause, incorporated in a contract between a consumer and a seller or supplier, that was not subject to an individual negotiation and which confers exclusive jurisdiction to the courts in whose territory that seller or supplier is based, must be considered as unfair under Article 3(1) of Directive 93/13 if, contrary to requirement of good faith, it causes significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations arising under the contract, to the detriment of the consumer. Reference is made in particular to Joined Cases C‑240/98 to C‑244/98 Océano Grupo (at 58).

It will be up to the national courts seised of a dispute, here: the Polish courts, to draw legal conclusions from the potential unfairness of such a clause (at 61). DelayFix therefore are not quite yet home and dry.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. February 2021, Chapter 2, para 2.240.

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.

 

Weco projects: on Yachts lost at sea, anchor jurisdicton (that’s right), lis alibi pendens, carriage, ‘transport’ and choice of court.

In Weco Projects APS v Piana & Ors [2020] EWHC 2150 (Comm),  Hancock J held on a case involving Brussel Ia’s consumer title, including the notion of contract of ‘transport’, Article 25’s choice of court regime, and anchor jurisdiction under Article 8(1) BIa.

The facts of the case are complex if not necessarily complicated. However the presence of a variety of parties in the chain of events led to litigation across the EU. Most suited therefore to be, as WordPress tell me, the 1000th post on the blog.

For the chain of events, reference is best made to the judgment itself. In short, a Yacht booking note, with choice of court and choice of law was made for the Yacht to be carried from Antigua to Genoa. Reference was also made to more or less identical standard terms of a relevant trade association. A clause was later agreed with the identity of the preferred Vessel to carry out the transfer, followed by subcontracting by way of a Waybill.

The Yacht was lost at sea. Various proceedings were started in Milan (seized first), Genoa and England.

At 21, Hancock J first holds obiter that express clauses in the contract have preference over incorporated ones (these referred to the trade association’s model contract), including for choice of court. Readers will probably be aware that  for choice of law, Rome I has a contested provision on ‘incorporation by reference’, although there is no such provision in BIa.

Next comes the issue of lis alibi pendens. Of particular note viz A31(2) [‘Without prejudice to Article 26, where a court of a Member State on which an agreement as referred to in Article 25 confers exclusive jurisdiction is seised, any court of another Member State shall stay the proceedings until such time as the court seised on the basis of the agreement declares that it has no jurisdiction under the agreement’] is the presence of two prima facie valid but competing exclusive choice of court agreements. Hancock J proceeds to discuss the validity of the English choice of court agreement in particular whether the businessman whose interest in sailing initiated the whole event, can be considered a consumer.

The judge begins by discussing whether the contract concerned is one of mere ‘transport’ which by virtue of A17(3) BIa rules out the consumer title all together. At 37 it is concluded that the contract is indeed one of transport and at 37(8) obiter that freight forwarding, too, is ‘transport’. Hancock J notes the limited use of CJEU authority, including Pammer /Alpenhof. In nearly all of the authority, the issue is whether the contracts at issue concerned more than just transport, ‘transport’ itself left largely undiscussed.

Obiter at 75, with reference to CJEU Gruber and Schrems, and also to Baker J in Ramona v Reliantco, Hancock J holds that Mr Piana had failed to show that the business use of the Yacht was merely negligible.

Following this conclusion the discussion turns to the impact of the UK’s implementation of the EU’s unfair terms in consumer contracts regulations, with counsel suggesting that the impact of these is debatable, in light of A25 BIa’s attempt at harmonising validity of choice of court. Readers will be aware that A25’s attempt at harmonisation is incomplete, given its deference to lex fori prorogati). Hancock J does not settle that issue, holding at 111 that in any event the clause is not unfair viz the UK rules.

Next follows the Article 8(1) discussion with reference to CJEU CDC and to the High Court in Media Saturn. Hancock J takes an unintensive approach to the various conditions: they need to be fulfilled without the court at the jurisdictional stage getting too intensively caught up in discussing the merits. At 139 he justifiably dismisses the suggestion that there is a separate criterion of foreseeability in A8(1). On whether the various claims for negative declaratory relief are ‘so closely connected’, he holds they are on the basis of the factuality of each being much the same and therefore best held by one court. Abuse of process, too, is ruled out per Kolomoisky and Vedanta: at 143: there is no abuse of process in bringing proceedings which are arguable for the purposes of founding jurisdiction over other parties.

(The judgment continues with extensive contractual review of parties hoping to rely on various choice of court provisions in the chain).

Quite an interesting set of Brussels Ia issues.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, big chunks of Chapter 2.

 

 

 

The CJEU in Reliantco on’consumers’ and complex financial markets. And again on contracts and tort.

C-500/18 AU v Reliantco was held by the CJEU on 2 April, in the early fog of the current pandemic. Reliantco is a company incorporated in Cyprus offering financial products and services through an online trading platform under the ‘UFX’ trade name – readers will recognise this from [2019] EWHC 879 (Comm) Ang v Reliantco. Claimant AU is an individual. The litigation concerns limit orders speculating on a fall in the price of petrol, placed by AU on an online platform owned by the defendants in the main proceedings, following which AU lost the entire sum being held in the frozen trading account, that is, 1 919 720 US dollars (USD) (around EUR 1 804 345).

Choice of court and law was made pro Cyprus.

The case brings to the fore the more or less dense relationship between secondary EU consumer law such as in particular the unfair terms Directive 93/13 and, here, Directive 2004/39 on markets in financial instruments (particularly viz the notion of ‘retail client’ and ‘consumer’).

First up is the consumer title under Brussels Ia: Must A17(1) BIa be interpreted as meaning that a natural person who under a contract concluded with a financial company, carries out financial transactions through that company may be classified as a ‘consumer’ in particular whether it is appropriate, for the purposes of that classification, to take into consideration factors such as the fact that that person carried out a high volume of transactions within a relatively short period or that he or she invested significant sums in those transactions, or that that person is a ‘retail client’ within the meaning of A4(1) point 12 Directive 2004/39?

The Court had the benefit of course of C-208/18 Petruchová – which Baker J did not have in Ang v ReliantcoIt is probably for that reason that the case went ahead without an Opinion of the AG. In Petruchová the Court had already held that factors such as

  • the value of transactions carried out under contracts such as CFDs,
  • the extent of the risks of financial loss associated with the conclusion of such contracts,
  • any knowledge or expertise that person has in the field of financial instruments or his or her active conduct in the context of such transactions
  • the fact that a person is classified as a ‘retail client’ within the meaning of Directive 2004/39 is, as such, in principle irrelevant for the purposes of classifying him or her as a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of BIa,

are, as such, in principle irrelevant to determine the qualification as a ‘consumer’. In Reliantco it now adds at 54 that ‘(t)he same is true of a situation in which the consumer carried out a high volume of transactions within a relatively short period or invested significant sums in those transactions.’

Next however comes the peculiarity that although AU claim jurisdiction for the Romanian courts against Reliantco Investments per the consumer title (which requires a ‘contract’ to be concluded), it bases its action on non-contractual liability, with applicable law to be determined by Rome II. (The action against the Cypriot subsidiary, with whom no contract has been concluded, must be one in tort. The Court does not go into analysis of the jurisdictional basis against that subsidiary, whose branch or independent basis or domicile is not entirely clear; anyone ready to clarify, please do).

At 68 the CJEU holds that the culpa in contrahendo action is indissociably linked to the contract concluded between the consumer and the seller or supplier, and at 71 that this conclusion is reinforced by A12(1) Rome II which makes the putative lex contractus, the lex causae for culpa in contrahendo. At 72 it emphasises the need for consistency between Rome II and Brussels IA in that both the law applicable to a non-contractual obligation arising out of dealings prior to the conclusion of a contract and the court having jurisdiction to hear an action concerning such an obligation, are determined by taking into consideration the proposed contract the conclusion of which is envisaged.

Interesting.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

 

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.

 

Terre Neuve v Yewdale. A Lugano /Brussels I jurisdictional fest.

In Terre Neuve SARL & Ors v Yewdale Ltd & Ors [2020] EWHC 772 (Comm), Bryan J entertains almost the entire jurisdictional chapter of the Handbook.

The proceedings are concerned with the alleged misappropriation of a sum of €10.6 million paid by the First Claimant (“Terre Neuve”) to the First Defendant (“Yewdale”) between July 2009 and September 2012, and thereafter allegedly misapplied with the alleged participation of other Defendants. The sums were paid pursuant to a tax optimisation scheme ultimately for the benefit of the Third Claimant (“Mr. Zahut”), who beneficially owned Terre Neuve and the Second Claimant (“Largely”). The scheme was allegedly created by a Mr. Sasson (now deceased), who gave tax advice through his company, the Third Defendant (“GPF”) and controlled Yewdale (an English company) and the Second Defendant (“REDS”) (a New York company).

In this preliminary judgment, plenty of the defendants challenge jurisdiction, even if as discussed at 11 ff, following judgment by Hancock J in [2019] EWHC 1119 (Comm), confirmed in [2019] EWHC 1847 (Comm), the action is already proceeding in England against Yewdale (which has been found to be a valid anchor defendant per Article 4 Brussels Ia) as well as a number of the overseas defendants: both those domiciled in Switzerland, and elsewhere. Co-defendants in current case were not involved in those earlier hearings.

Firstly, GPF, third defendant, challenges jurisdiction under Article 23 Lugano, more or less but not quite the same as Article 25 BIa. At 22 ff Bryan J cuts too many corners in my view. He extends CJEU precedent on Brussels I and Ia without question to Lugano construction. He unhesitatingly adopts English law (with Fiona Trust in the authority driver’s seat and with reference to the recent Etihad case) as the lex causae for the choice of court agreement. This is as lex fori additi I assume; the actual text of the choice of court agreement is not included in the judgment lest I looked over it however one can deduct the choice points to Switzerland. He is right in holding that the answer to the contractual construction of the choice of court agreement cannot be found in either Lugano or Brussels itself.

At 44 ff he decides that Claimants’ claims do not fall within the scope of any of the jurisdiction clauses in the Written Agreements, pointing away from England.

Next, a group of co-Defendants, who the Claimants allege were involved in and/or benefited from the misappropriation, challenge the jurisdiction of the English Court on various grounds, inter alia: that the claims against them are not sufficiently closely connected to be heard with the claims against the other Defendants in this jurisdiction, pursuant to Article 6(1) Lugano, and should instead be tried in Switzerland pursuant to Article 2 Lugano; that the claims against them would be more conveniently heard in Switzerland; that bringing proceedings against them in England is an abuse of process; that they should be tried in Switzerland pursuant to Article 5 Lugano; that proceedings against them in England are a breach of their rights under Article 6 ECHR; and that various agreements contain jurisdiction clauses which prevent the English Court from hearing the case against them.

In short (note all the authority he employs has been reviewed on this blog, both CJEU (e.g. Melzer) and English) Bryan J finds the cases are clearly related under Article 6 Lugano; forum non conveniens must not be entertained; and there is no abuse of EU law (a popular part of jurisdictional challenge following Vedanta); some of the defendants have submitted; Article 5 Lugano’s forum contractus is irrelevant for it only brings additional, not exclusive jurisdiction; Article 6 ECHR is clearly not breached (practical difficulties of attending, for instance, may be solved by modern means); arbitration in New York first of all does not engage an EU court and secondly of course arbitration is exempt from Lugano.

Finally the one co-defendant domiciled in Israel is nevertheless pulled into the English jurisdictional bath by application of residual English rules (serious issue to be tried; necessary and proper party).

Quite a lot to discuss by way of preliminary jurisdictional issue…

Geert.