Ebuy Partners. Anti-suit viz Belgian proceedings re incorporation of e-mailed and /or hyperlinked general terms and conditions, with a serious miss on Rome I.

Ebury Partners Belgium SA/NV v Technical Touch BV & Anor [2022] EWHC 2927 (Comm) discusses ia whether choice of court and law included in general terms and conditions – GTCs, agreed (or not) by inclusion in email and /or e-mailed click-wrapeable hyperlink (this is a factual discussion), justifies an anti-suit injunction against Belgian proceedings.

Pre-Brexit such injunction would not have been possible. It has since of course been granted frequently; my most recent report of one was QBE Europe v Generali. Issuing an anti-suit post Brexit therefore is no longer surprising (commentators continue to suggest the EU should somehow shield EU proceedings from them). The application of the Rome I Regulation under retained EU law however does remain less discussed – and it is poorly executed in current judgment.

Anticipatory proceedings seeking a declaration of non-liability were launched unexpectedly (Belgian CPR requires no prior warning in any circumstance) in Belgium on 4 May 2022. The Belgian court later that month held that Ebury’s jurisdiction challenge  will not be dealt with separately, instead, as is standard, will be reserved for consideration at the same time as the merits.

The English proceedings were launched in July 2022. A critical question is whether Ebury can show, with a high degree of probability, that there is a jurisdiction agreement governing the dispute in question. Was the E&W jurisdiction clause contained in Ebury’s RA standard terms incorporated into the agreement between Ebury and TT? The factual circumstances are not conclusive, for there are suggestions of GTCS with choice of court sent by incorporation in an e-mail and /or by click-wrapeable  hyperlink similarly e-mailed.

The judge is correct to classify Rome I as retained law [83]. However the exclusion of choice of court agreements from that Regulation has somehow entirely escaped him and counsel, it seems.

Rather therefore than considering the issue under English conflict of laws (in EU Member States the issue is now subject to Article 25  Brussels Ia however that is irrelevant here), the judgment ventures into Article 10 Rome I’s putative law /von Munchausen /bootstrap principle, to identify English substantive law as the lex cause for the validity (including the issue of incorporation) of the choice of court. This leads after extensive discussion to a finding of incorporation under English law [102].

[103] ff Belgian law is signalled as a fall-back under Article 3(5) and 10(2) Rome I, however the judge essentially ignores that possibility (although he formally entertains it) by referring to a lack of indication on the facts that the counterparty agreed to the relevant clauses. He uses the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’ formula to reach that conclusion: counterparty did consult or should have consulted the GTCs and there are no factual indications it disagreed with them. Conflicting Belgian law  expert evidence is not discussed.

Anti-suit was eventually granted.

If their apparent lack of raising the proper analysis (ie: no inclusion of choice of court) of the Rome I issue does not prevent defendants from appealing, they clearly should, to the extent the English conflict of laws approach to validity of choice of court, may lead to a finding of non-incorporation.

Geert.

G I Globinvestment. A jurisdiction finding with core shortfalls on Brussels Ia.

In G I Globinvestment Ltd & Ors v VP Fund Solutions (Luxembourg) SA & Ors [2022] EWHC 1872 (Comm) wealthy Italian investors seek to recover losses which they suffered when investments they had made plummeted in value at the outset of the COVID pandemic. Defendants are in various jurisdictions. Most have accepted jurisdiction, two of them, one based in Luxembourg, the other in Liechtenstein, challenge jurisdiction.

The claim against the Liechtenstein defendant is subject to common law rules, the country not being a party to Lugano. I will leave that further undiscussed here, suffice to say the challenge was unsuccessful.

The claim against the Luxembourg based defendant was issued before Brexit implementation date and subject to Brussels Ia. It claims there is an A25 exclusive choice of court clause in the investment fund’s general subscription terms, and Vineall DJ discusses it with reference to the general A25 outline in PIFSS v Piqtet.

Parties are agreed [64] – wrongly, nota bene, that on formal validity, the question is whether there has been an actual consensus between the parties, clearly and precisely demonstrated, and on material validity, the question is whether the dispute between the parties arose or originated from the particular legal relationship in connection with which the clause was concluded. That is the kind of agreement which would see my students fail a Brussels Ia question.

[65] a further major error is made with the parties seemingly agreeing that ‘whether the claim falls within the scope of the [clause], that question is to be answered according to Luxembourg law’.

The conclusions are [88] that there is no [forum clause] in the in the Subscription Agreement, although there is choice of law clause; 88.2. There is no EJC in the Offering Document; The Offering Document wrongly asserts that there is a jurisdiction clause in the Subscription Agreement; That is insufficient to establish a clearly and precisely demonstrated consensus; no consensus as to jurisdiction is demonstrated: the result of the conflicting documents is a muddle; therefore there is no exclusive jurisdiction clause on which VP Lux can rely.

I have not got the kind of access to the file to say the outcome is factually wrong – the route to it certainly is and simply wrong in law.

The judge also [89] concludes that whether one of the claimants is a consumer who can sue in England and Wales need not be decided:  ‘That issue does not seem to me to be entirely straightforward and since it is not necessary to resolve it in the light of my conclusions about [choice of court] I prefer not to decide it’: why not?: VP Lux contest jurisdiction and it is the judge’s task under Brussels Ia to assess the existence of jurisdiction on any of the Brussels Ia grounds.

Had the judgment been issued in exam season it would have been obvious material for ‘spot the Brussels Ia errors’.

Geert.

 

(Rejected) appeal in PIFSS v Banque Pictet leads to renewed criticism of the intensity of jurisdictional litigation – as well as continuing uncertainty on anchor jurisdiction.

The appeal in The Public Institution for Social Security v Banque Pictet & Cie SA & Ors [2022] EWCA Civ 29 has been dismissed. I reviewed the first instance judgment here. I conclude that review writing ‘Those criticising the intensity of jurisdiction squabbles will find ammunition in this 497 para judgment.’ The Court of Appeal judgment is another 152 paras and as Andrew Dickinson also notes, Carr LJ, too, is critical: [12]

There will of course be cases where a novel and/or complex point of law needs to be debated fully and decided and, as foreshadowed above, this litigation raises some new, albeit relatively short, legal issues. Further, the sums involved are substantial and the allegations made are serious. However, these features did not create a licence to turn a jurisdictional dispute into an extensive and essentially self-standing piece of litigation. The costs incurred below ran to many, many millions of pounds: the interim payment orders in respect of the Respondents’ costs amounted to £6.88 million against a claimed total of some £13.5 million.

The issues on appeal are listed [41] ff and they of course reflect the discussion I summarised in my post on the first instance findings. I list them below and summarise the Court’s findings.

Article 23 formal requirements (involving Banque Pictet and Mr Bertherat only):

i) For the purposes of the requirement in Article 23(1)(a) that a jurisdiction agreement must be in or evidenced in writing, was the Judge right to conclude that it was unnecessary for the GBCs containing the EJCs (‘exclusive jurisdiction clauses, GAVC) actually to have been communicated to PIFSS?

ii) If so, was the Judge right to find that Banque Pictet did not have the better of the argument that the GBCs were communicated to PIFSS prior to 2012?

Lady Justice Carr is right in my view e.g. [67] that CJEU authority does not require material communication of GTCs etc which contain EJCs. Rather, the judge needs to establish ‘real consent’,  in the spirit of the Raport Jenard with a rejection of excessive formality.

Article 23 material validity (involving all Pictet and Mirabaud Respondents (save for Pictet Asia, Pictet Bahamas and, for the avoidance of doubt, also Mr Amouzegar and Mr Argand)):

i) Was the Judge right to conclude that the “particular legal relationship(s)” in connection with which the EJCs were entered into for the purpose of Article 23 was the totality of the legal relationships between the parties forming part of the banker/customer relationship between them?

ii) Was the Judge right to conclude that the relevant Respondents had the better of the argument that the disputes relating to (a) the Pictet/Mirabaud bribery claims; (b) the Pictet/Mirabaud accessory claims “ar[o]se out of” those “particular legal relationship(s)”?

The term ‘material validity’ is employed both in first instance and at the Court of Appeal although it is not quite correct; what is really meant is what Henshaw J called the ‘proximity’ requirement: which ‘disputes’ ‘relate to’ the matters covered by the EJCs? Here, Carr LJ sides eventually [98] with the judge mostly as a matter of factual analysis: neither CJEU Apple nor CDC require a restrictive approach where parties have formulated the EJC very widely. The judge carefully considered the wording of the clause and on contractual construction was right to find that the disputes at issue fell within it.

Scope of EJCs (as a matter of the relevant domestic law) (involving all Pictet and Mirabaud Respondents (save for Pictet Asia and Pictet Bahamas and again, for the avoidance of doubt, Mr Amouzegar and Mr Argand)):

i) Was the Judge right to find that PIFSS had the better of the argument that, on the true construction of the relevant EJCs, the disputes relating to the wider accessory claims fell outside the scope of the applicable EJCs?

ii) (Mr Mirabaud only): Was the Judge right to conclude that PIFSS had the better of the argument that claims against Mr Mirabaud relating to events after 1 January 2010 fell outside the scope of the relevant EJCs?

This issue relates to whether the EJCs, as a matter of construction under Swiss (or Luxembourg) law – which the judge had discussed obiter, did not extend to cover the wider accessory claims. [101]: in summary the relevant parties suggest that, having correctly recognised that what was alleged by PIFSS were unitary schemes arising out of continuing courses of conduct, the Judge was then wrong to conclude that they did not have the better of the argument that the wider accessory claims also fell within the EJCs.

Carr LJ deals rather swiftly with these discussions, again I feel finding mostly that the judge’s analysis was mostly factual (albeit seen from the viewpoint of Swiss and /or Luxembourg law) and not incorrect.

Article 6: (the number of Respondents to whom the Article 6 challenge is relevant will depend on the outcome of the appeals on the issues above, but on any view the issue of principle arises in relation to Mr Amouzegar and Mr Argand):

i) Was the Judge right to conclude that, for the purpose of Article 6, the Court was not required to consider solely the risk of irreconcilable judgments between the claim against the anchor defendant and the claim(s) against the proposed Article 6 defendant(s) but rather was permitted to consider other relevant circumstances including, in particular, the risk of irreconcilable judgments between the claims sought to be made against the proposed defendant and other claims in other member states?

ii) Did the Judge apply the test correctly in relation to each relevant Respondent?

This I find is the most important part of the judgment for it is in my view the one which most intensely deals with a point of law. Readers may want to refer to my earlier post for a summary of the A6 (Lugano) issues. The judge had found against A6 jurisdiction, also following Privatbank‘s ‘desirability’ approach. Parties upon appeal argue [110] that the Judge’s interpretation results in exclusive jurisdiction clauses having practical effects well beyond the scope of their application, with the collateral effect of conferring on them a “gravitational pull” which is inconsistent with the proper interpretation of A23 Lugano. PIFSS submits that it undermines the drive for legal certainty that motivates the strict approach to A6 identified in the authorities. They also suggested (in oral submission) that for A6 purposes only actual, and not merely potential, proceedings are properly to be taken into account. 

The CA however [112] confirms the relevance of future as well as extant claims and generally supports the flexible approach to A6. Carr J concedes [131] that this approach can be said to give “gravitational pull” to A23 and suggests ‘(t)here is nothing objectionable about that, given the respect to be accorded to party autonomy.’

I do not think this is correct. Including broadly construed ‘related’ claims in choice of court would seem to deny, rather than protect party autonomy: for if parties had really wanted to see them litigated in the choice of court venue, they ought to have contractually include them.

The issue of desirability per Privatbank is not discussed and therefore remains open (compare EuroEco Fuels).

Forum non conveniens: Pictet Asia and Pictet Bahamas:

i) Depending on the outcome of the issues above, was the Judge right to conclude that PIFSS had not shown that England was clearly the appropriate forum for the resolution of the claims against Pictet Asia and Pictet Bahamas?

Here the swift conclusion [143] is that the judge’s finding that PIFSS had not shown that England was clearly the proper forum is unimpeachable.

A lot is riding on this jurisdictional disagreement.  Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was refused by the CA but may still be sought with the SC itself.

Geert.

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

 

Athena Capital Fund v Secretariat of State for the Holy See. Thank Heavens for jurisdictional mercies (here inter alia involving lex fori prorogati and agency for choice of court).

Athena Capital Fund Sicav-Fis SCA & Ors v Secretariat of State for the Holy See [2021] EWHC 3166 (Comm) features as defendant the Secretariat of State of the Holy See  (not the Holy See itself), and relates to a fraud and embezzlement claim of property in Chelsea, London.

Defendant says that from the perspective of Claimants, the purpose and intention of bringing these proceedings is to try to influence the criminal process in Italy, and/or the publicity emanating from the criminal process.

For its jurisdictional challenge, defendant argues [81] i) The claim was not a “civil and commercial matter” within the meaning of A1(1) BIa; ii) one of the claimants was not a party to the relevant Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA) and could not rely upon it [this was summarily dealt with [88] by suggesting an amendment of claim] and, more forcefully, (iii) Defendant was not a party to the SPA for the purposes of A25 BIa.

Salzedo J justifiably in my view held [84] that

whether the claim is a civil or commercial matter does not turn on the subjective intentions of the claimant as to the ultimate effect that a claim might have on its interests, but on an objective reading of the claim itself and the relief that it seeks from the court. On that basis, it is a claim for declarations against the Defendant concerning the Defendant’s entry into commercial transactions with the Claimants.

and that the transaction was not entered into by the Defendant in the purported exercise of public powers: [86]

The Transaction was one that any private person could have entered into if it had the requisite funds. Nothing that was essential to the Transaction required sovereign powers to enter it and nothing that the Defendant did or purported to do was in the exercise of public authority.

As for the defendant not being a party to the SPA, the context here is whether a party involved in the signing accepted the SPA and its choice of court as an agent of the defendant. The judge, confirming the parties’ consensus, points out that that agency issue befalls to be addressed by English law. It is not said why that is the case however it is of course the result of the amended A25 – as others before it, however, the court does not complete the lex fori prorogati analysis with the recital 20 in fine mandated renvoi. On the agency issue the judge holds there is a good arguable case that the relevant agent did bind the defendant.

Next [103] ff follows a CPR-heavy discussion on the amendment of the claim form, seeing as the claimants erroneously assumed [120] that BIa was not engaged as the Vatican is not party to Brussels Ia. At [123] the conclusion is that the claim form may be amended and that defendants’ time spent in dealing with the service out issues under the common law (a wasted exercise as BIa applied), may be met in the costs order.

Once the A25 point rejected, there would have been a most narrow window for any kind of stay, yet the defendants try anyways, with [129] a series of abuse and case management arguments. One particularly poignant one is that the proceedings would interfere with a criminal proceeding. After discussion the judge [159] dismisses the idea on the facts, seeing as none of the declarations sought would involve any assertion as to what does or does not amount to criminality as a matter of the law of the Vatican State.

[163] ff discusses the abuse of process issue which the defendants, I understand, presented more or less as being integrated into the criminal procedure element, discussed above. That was wise, for abuse of process, while entertained among others in Vedanta, is arguably noli sequitur in a BIa claim. [Support for the alternative view here was sought [172ff] in Messier-Dowty v Sabena SA[2000] 1 WLR 2040]

The case-management stay proper is discussed 192 ff with reference ia to Municipio, and Mad Atelier. The judge in current case is very aware of not re-introducing through the back door what CJEU Owusu shut the front door on. He summarily discussed the possibility anyway, only to reject it. He does however eventually order a stay on the grounds that the current claim cannot usefully be pursued as long as the defendant is in a bind about the outcome of the criminal proceedings in Italy, and because the real adversary of the Claimants in relation to the Transaction is not the Defendant, but other organs of the Holy See or the Vatican State itself – the chances of those ever appearing in a civil proceeding in E&W are extremely slim. The claims were therefore held not to serve any useful purpose and where stayed on that basis, and for as long as a material change in circumstances might alter the finding of uselessness.

An interesting case.

Geert.

Court Amsterdam on the impact of the lex fori prorogati’s consumer laws for choice of court. A high net value Australian businessman sails away from Dutch jurisdiction.

I am catching up a little on recent case-law and am focussing it seems on the consumer section (see also yesterday’s post). This Court Amsterdam judgment published on 8 September caught my eye for it discusses choice of court, applicable law for the substantive validity of same, and ‘consumers’ in the context of buying yachts (now that I write that, in my exams I often have consumers buying yachts). Thank you Haco van der Houven van Oordt for signalling the case.

A purchase agreement for a yacht worth €5.4 million was signed in Singapore between buyer, an Australian living in Australia, and a Dutch shipyard. Seller’s GTCs mention

‘Article 17 – Settlement of disputes 1. Each agreement between [claimant] and the other party is subject exclusively to the laws of the Netherlands. 2. Any disputes which arise between the other party and [claimant], including disputes relating to the interpretation of these terms and conditions, will be put exclusively before the competent judicial body in Amsterdam.’

Pre-delivery was scheduled for December 2018 in Italy. Buyer changes his mind a week after signature, saying he will not be able to honour the agreed price. Vendor pursues the contractual penalty clause of 25% of the sale price. 

The judge finds the consent to choice of court to have been validly expressed on the basis of A25 BIa, under the classic Colzani formula. References to the GTCs had been properly made in the written contract. A duly diligent contracting party could and should have read these GTCs. Defendant’s argument that the choice of court clause in the GTCs should have been the subject of specific negotiation, is rejected [4.3.3].

As for the substantive validity of choice of court, the Dutch court (unlike eg the Belgian Supreme Court in Happy Flights) does add renvoi to the mix per recital 20 BIa. Dutch private international law (like the BE rules, nota bene) makes Rome I applicable to contracts even for the subject-matter excluded of its scope of application, among which choice of court agreements. Lex voluntatis therefore rules and the court holds that the choice of law for Dutch law for the contract as a whole, extends to choice of law for the forum clause [4.3.7].

The defendant finally alleges invalidity of the choice of court agreement on the basis of the lex fori prorogati’s rules on ‘potestative’ (unreasonably onerous) clauses. On this point, the defence succeeds: [4.3.9]: the defendant has to be qualified as a consumer under Dutch law, despite his high net value and the object of purchase, and the GTCs per article 6.236 n BW should have included a clause giving the consumer the option to opt for the default court with jurisdiction (which one that would be is not clear to me and the judgment does not specify it).

Seeing as the choice of court agreement is held to be invalid, that the defendant is domiciled in Australia, and in the absence of a relevant bilateral agreement between the two countries, Dutch residual rules are applied to assess alternative grounds for jurisdiction. There is no Dutch forum contractus, given delivery in Italy [4.5.1, with reference ia to CJEU Car Trim] and no other jurisdictional grounds have any traction.

Conclusion: no jurisdiction for the Dutch courts. The case is good material for the lex fori prorogati rule and for the realisation that even outside the context of the consumer title of Brussels Ia (defendant not being domiciled in the EU, that title was not triggered), consumer law plays an important role in choice of court.

Geert.

Trappit v American Express Europe. On choice of court in NDAs, privity, and lis pendens viz provisionally closed Spanish proceedings.

Trappit SA & Ors v American Express Europe LLC & Anor [2021] EWHC 1344 (Ch) confirms an application to strike out or stay proceedings claiming infringement of intellectual property rights in a computer programme called ARPO (relevant to fare re-booking), and breach of non-contractual obligations of confidence that are said to have arisen when ARPO was made available by claimants (Panamanian and Spanish special purpose vehicles of 2 software engineers) to first Defendant AmEx (a Delaware corporation with a registered branch in England), for assessment. AmEx after inspection declined to take a licence. AmEx reorganised and second defendant GBT UK (a joint AmEx and private equity venture) acquired AmEx Europe’s travel management services business in the UK. GBT use an alternative software which claimants argue is effectively an ARPO rip-off facilitated by AmEx’ consultation of ARPO.

The application is made by the Defendants, who argue Claimants are contractually bound to litigate the claims in Spain rather than England (an A25 Brussels Ia argument), or that in light of proceedings that have already been brought and provisionally determined against the Second Claimant in Spain, the E&W  should decline jurisdiction (A29 BIa) or strike out the English proceedings as an abuse of process.

First on the issue of choice of court and privity under A25 BIa. Relevant authority discussed includes CJEU CDC and UKSC AMT Futures v Marzillier. At 6 ff the genesis of choice of court and law provisions in the NDA is mapped (drafts had been sent to and fro). As Snowden J notes at 76,

it is the parties related to Trappit SA who are the claimants, who sought the NDA before making ARPO available to AmEx Europe, and who asked for a Spanish law and jurisdiction clause. However, it is those parties who now contend that the jurisdiction clause does not bind them and that they are free to issue proceedings in England for breach of confidence and copyright infringement arising (so they say) from the unauthorised copying of the source code to ARPO. In contrast, it was the parties related to AmEx Europe who would most naturally be the defendants to any claim under the NDA and who originally proposed an English law and jurisdiction clause. But it is those parties who are now contending that the jurisdiction clause in the NDA binds all parties and requires all of the claims made in the English Proceedings to be litigated in Spain.

The eventual clause reads “18. Governing law and jurisdiction. This Agreement (including any non-contractual obligations arising out of or in connection with the same) shall be governed in all respects by the laws of Spain without regard to conflict of law principles. Any dispute or controversy arising in connection with this Agreement shall be submitted before the courts of the city of Madrid, Spain.”

At 77 the judge notes that the scope and the circumstances in which persons other than Trappit SA and AmEx Europe might become a party to the NDA are matters to be determined in accordance with Spanish law as the governing law of the NDA. This underestimates the impact of A25 itself and discussion of in particular CJEU Refcomp rather than the tort /contract discussion in CDC would have been appropriate. Snowden J relies on expert reports on Spanish law with respect to (i) the proper approach to contractual construction, and (ii) the circumstances in which third parties can be bound by contracts.

Conclusion on these report is that a narrow construction of the clause must be rejected: [94] ‘all types of claims arising from misuse of the information which the NDA envisaged would be provided by one party to the other. This would include claims based upon unauthorised copying and infringement of intellectual property rights as well as claims for breach of confidence,..’ (At 97-98 a side-argument based on A8 Rome II is dismissed).

As for the privity element, Snowden J finds there was no contractual intention for other corporate entities also to be parties entitled to enforce the agreement and there was no indication that any other company was intended to acquire rights (or be bound) under the NDA. Spanish (statutory) law on assignment, subrogation and the like does not alter this.

Conclusion [138]: ‘the jurisdiction clause in the NDA applied to all the claims in the English Proceedings, but that it only binds AmEx Europe and Trappit SA as the original signatories to the NDA. The effect of Article 25 is that the English courts therefore have no jurisdiction over the claims brought by Trappit SA against AmEx Europe in the English Proceedings.’ Proceedings against GBT on that basis may continue on a A4 BIa basis (neither of the UK Defendants were named defendants to the Spanish Proceedings, hence an A29 ff lis alibi pendens argument against them has no object).

Obiter viz AmEx Europe yet of relevance to the UK defendants, on Article 29 lis pendens, of note is first of all that the Spanish proceedings are criminal ones, with an embedded civil liability claim. The English Proceedings were issued prior to the provisional dismissal of the Spanish Proceedings but after the delivery of the Expert Report in those proceedings whose findings were part incorporated into the Spanish judge’s provisional dismissal.

The first, threshold issue on A29 is whether the Spanish courts are still seised of the Spanish Proceedings seeing as there is a provisional dismissal in the Spanish criminal proceedings. Authority discussed was Easygroup v Easy Rent a Car [2019] EWCA Civ 477 and Hutchinson v Mapfre was also referred to. A29 only applies where there are concurrent proceedings before the courts of different member states at the time when the court second seised makes its determination [147]. Following the reasoning in Hutchinson, the judge decides  that the Spanish courts are no longer seized of the case: experts are agreed that the case has been closed and archived, and that it is unlikely in the extreme that any new evidence would come to light so as to justify reopening the case after more than five years of extensive investigatory proceedings in Spain [158].

A final set of arguments by the defendants, based on issue estoppel (the Expert Report had found that there had been no plagiarism or copying of the ARPO source code by the Defendants), Henderson v Henderson abuse, and vexatious ligation (all under an ‘abuse of process‘ heading) is dismissed.

Conclusion [195]: no jurisdiction to entertain any of the claims made in the English proceedings between Trappit SA and AmEx Europe by reason of the application of A25 BIa. The case against the UK defendants may continue.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.296 ff (2.355 ff), 2.532 ff.

 

Axis Corporate Capital v Absa. On poorly worded choice of court and the possibility of anti-suit to protect Brussels Ia jurisdiction against non-European proceedings.

Axis Corporate Capital UK Ltd & Ors v Absa Group Ltd & Ors [2021] EWHC 225 (Comm) is a good illustration of choice of court and law clauses that are a gift to conflict of laws practitioners. Choice of law and in particular choice of court was as Calver J put it [35] ‘somewhat poorly worded’. This is what the clauses look like in the various (re)insurance agreements [36 ff]

The primary reinsurances contain the following provision: “Any disputes concerning the interpretation of the terms, conditions, limitations and/or exclusions contained in this policy is understood and agreed by both the Reinsured and the Reinsurers to be subject to England Wales Law. Each party agrees to submit to a worldwide jurisdiction and to comply with all requirements necessary to give such court jurisdiction.”

The excess reinsurances contain the following provision: “Any dispute concerning the interpretation of the terms, conditions, limitations and/or exclusions contained in this policy is understood and agreed by both the insured and the insurers to be subject to England and Wales. Each party agrees to submit to the jurisdiction of England and Wales to comply with all requirements necessary to give such court jurisdiction. In respect of claims brought against the Insured and indemnified under this policy, as more fully described herein, the choice of law applicable is Worldwide and the choice of jurisdiction is Worldwide.”

Thirdly, the ARR [aggregate retention reinsurance, GAVC] contains the following two provisions: “Supplemental Clauses … “Policy Interpretation, Jurisdiction and Service of Suit Clause.” And then: “Choice of Law and Jurisdiction. “Any dispute concerning the interpretation of the terms, conditions, limitations and/or exclusions contained in this policy is understood and agreed by both the (re)insured and the (re)insurers to be subject to England and Wales. Each party agrees to submit to the jurisdiction of Worldwide to comply with all requirements necessary to give such court jurisdiction.”

The policy interpretation, jurisdiction and service of suit clause, which is specifically referred to as a supplemental clause, provides as follows and was contained in a schedule: “Any dispute between the Reinsured and the Reinsurer alleging that payment is due under this reinsurance shall be referred to the jurisdiction of the courts of the England and Wales and the meaning of this reinsurance policy shall be decided by such courts in accordance with the law of England and Wales.”

Claimant submits that, on the proper construction of the reinsurance contracts, the defendants were obliged to submit to and to submit any dispute arising under or in connection with any of the reinsurances contracts to the exclusive (A25 BIa imposes exclusive choice of court in principle: [56]) jurisdiction of the English courts. Calver J agrees that that is the case with a high degree of probability (this is an interlocutory stage). Generali Italia v Pelagic features as authority. Note the ‘worldwide’ reference in some of the clauses means that parties agree that all courts worldwide should ensure that the dispute be referred to the English courts.

The formulation in the excess reinsurance agreements, include what is construed as a carve-out of worldwide jurisdiction, which is non-exclusive, for claims brought against the insured and indemnified under the excess reinsurance. This is taken by the judge to mean that for all other claims, choice of court for E&W is, a contrario, exclusive.

At 81 ff, the judge grants an interim anti-suit injunction against proceedings in South Africa. The very possibility for this is not discussed at all (possibly as a result of the nature of the proceedings). It is not established that anti-suit to protect jurisdiction of a court in the EU, against that of courts outside the EU, is at all possible. In Gray v Hurley the Court of Appeal suggested it is not possible within the context of A4 BIa, yet referred to the CJEU where the case was withdrawn. This might become a contested issue.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.24, para 2.296 ff.

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

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