Away to Scotland with thee! CA applies forum non conveniens to intra-UK conflicts in Cook & McNeil (v Virgin & Tesco)

A great example of internal forum shopping and the application of forum non conveniens in the Court of Appeal. (Just before Christmas. I am still hacking away at my end-of-year queue).

Claimants claim damages for personal injuries they alleged they sustained in accidents in Scotland as a result of the negligence and/or breach of statutory duty of the defendants. The claims were issued in the Northampton County Court. The registered offices of the defendants are situated in England and Wales. Both claimants are domiciled in Scotland. Liability has been admitted in the case of Cook, but denied in the case of McNeil.  Since the claims related to accidents in Scotland, the claims were allocated to Carlisle County Court, which is the court geographically closest to Scotland. The claims were struck out on forum non conveniens grounds, with Scotland being the appropriate forum.

The most important issue that arises on these appeals (and the reason why Tomlinson LJ gave permission for a second appeal) is whether the doctrine of forum non conveniens can apply in a purely domestic context where the competing jurisdictions are England and Scotland. Put simply, the question is: does the English court have the power in such a case to stay or strike out a claim on the ground that the natural and more appropriate forum is Scotland?

As Floyd MR notes (at 7) it is surprising that there was no authority on this point.

He correctly holds that the ‘international element’ required for the Brussels I regime to apply, as it did in Owusu and Maletic  (but also Lindner) is absent in the case at issue. There is nothing in the facts which renders the case international in the Brussels I (Recast) sense.  Relevant precedent which did have some calling was Kleinwort Benson, Case C-346/93, in which the CJEU refused to interpret the (then) Brussels Convention in a purely domestic UK situation, even if the internal UK rules were modelled on the Brussels regime.

Forum non conveniens could be applied. Though not under appeal, Floyd MR does suggest that in his view the claim in which liability was admitted (Cook), should not have been struck out but rather stayed under the relevant rules.

Geert.

Be careful what you ask for! Barclays v ENPAM: the High Court again employs Article 27/28 to neutralise Italian torpedo.

Barclays v ENPAM has been travelling in my briefcase for some time – apologies. Reminiscent of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Alexandros, and the High Court in Nomura , Blair J in October 2015 employed national courts’ room under Article 27/28 of the Brussels I Regulation (the lis alibi pendens and related actions rules) to refuse a stay of English proceedings in favour of proceedings in (of course) Italy. Litigation like this will be somewhat less likely now that the Brussels I Recast applies. As readers will be aware, the current version of the Regulation has means to protect choice of court agreements against unwilling partners (see however below).

Claimant, Barclays Bank PLC, is an English bank. The defendant, Ente Nazionale di Previdenza ed Assistenza dei Medici e Degli Odontoiatri (“ENPAM”) is an Italian pension fund. A dispute has arisen between them as to a transaction entered into by way of a Conditional Asset Exchange Letter from ENPAM to Barclays dated 21 September 2007 by which ENPAM exchanged fund assets for securities which were in the form of credit-linked notes called the “Ferras CDO securities”. ENPAM’s claim is that it incurred a major loss in the transaction, and that it is entitled in law to look to Barclays to make that loss good.

On 18 May 2015, Barclays issued a summary judgment application on the basis that there is no defence to its claim that the Milan proceedings fall within contractual provisions giving exclusive jurisdiction to the English courts. ENPAM began proceedings against Barclays and others in Milan on 23 June 2014. Barclays says that this was in breach of provisions in the contractual documentation giving exclusive jurisdiction to the English courts. It issued the proceedings reviewed here seeking a declaration to that effect and other relief on 15 September 2014. On 20 April 2015, ENPAM applied pursuant to Article 27 or Article 28 of the Brussels I Regulation for an order that the English court should not exercise its jurisdiction in these proceedings on the basis that Milan court was first seised.

The High Court refused. Reference is best made to the judgment itself, for it is very well drafted. Read together with e.g. the aforementioned Alexandros and Nomura judgments, it gives one a complete view of the approach of the English courts viz lis pendens under the Regulation. (E.g. Blair J has excellent overview of the principles of Article 27 (Article 29 in the Recast) under para 68).

Discussion of what exactly Barclays could recover from the English cq Italian proceedings, was an important consideration of whether these two proceedings were each other’s mirror image. (see e.g. para 82 ff). This is quite an important consideration for litigators. Statements of claims are an important input in the lis pendens analysis. Be careful therefore what you ask for. Restraint in the statement of claims might well serve you very well when opposed with recalcitrant opposing parties, wishing to torpedo your proceedings. (Let’s face it: the likelihood of such opposition is quite high in a litigious context).

Finally, it is often assumed that precedent value of the case discussed here and other cases with it, has diminished drastically following the Brussels I Recast. It instructs all courts not named in a choice of court agreement, to step back from jurisdiction in favour of the court named (Article 31(2)). Yet what is and what is not caught by a choice of court agreement (starting with the issue of non-contractual liability between the parties) depends very much on its wording and interpretation. Article 31(2) is not the be all and end all of litigation between contracting parties.

Geert.

Jurisdiction for libel over the internet. Ontario’s view in Goldhar v Haaretz.

The exam season is over, otherwise Goldhar v Haaretz would have made a great case for comparative analysis. Instead this can now feed into class materials. This is an interlocutory judgment on the basis of lack of jurisdiction and /or abuse of process. Plaintiff lives in Toronto.  He is a billionaire who owns i.a. Maccabi Tel Aviv. (Chelsea’s first opponent in the Champions League. But that’s obviously an aside). Mr Goldhar visits Israel about five or six times per year. Defendant is Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd. which publishes Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper (market share about 7%).   It also publishes an English language print edition.  Haaretz is published online in both English and Hebrew.

Haaretz published a very critical article on Mr Goldhar in November 2011. The print version was not published in Canada, in either English or Hebrew. However, Haaretz was made available internationally on its website in Israel in both Hebrew and English – the judgment does not say so specifically however I assume this was both on the .co.il site – even if currently Haaretz’ EN site is available via a .com site.

Information provided by the defendants reveals that there were 216 unique visits to the Article in its online form in Canada. Testimony further showed that indeed a number of people in Canada read the article – this was sufficient for Faieta J to hold that a tort was committed in Ontario and thus a presumptive connecting factor exists. Presumably this means that the court (and /or Canadian /Ontario law with which I am not au fait) view the locus delicti commissi (‘a tort was committed’) as Canada – a conclusion not all that obvious to me (I would have assumed Canada is locus damni only). Per precedent, the absence of a substantial publication of the defamatory material in Canada was not found to be enough to rebut the finding of jurisdiction.

Forum non conveniens was dismissed on a variety of grounds, including applicable law being the law of Ontario (again Ontario is identified as the locus delicti commissi: at 48). Plaintiff will have to cover costs for the appearance, in Canada, of defendants’ witnesses. Importantly, plaintiff will also only be able to seek damages for reputational harm suffered within Canada.

I can see this case (and the follow-up in substance) doing the rounds of conflicts classes.

Geert.

Kaupthing: the High Court interprets (and rejects) Lugano insolvency exception viz the Icelandic Banking crisis.

Thank you Eiríkur Thorláksson (whose expert report fed substantially into the Court’s findings) for flagging and for additional insight: In Tchenguiz v Kaupthing, the High Court had to review the insolvency exception to the Lugano Convention, combined with Directive 2001/24 on the reorganisation and winding-up of credit institutions. Directive 2001/24 applies to UK /Iceland relations following the EFTA Agreement. See my earlier post on Sabena, for Lugano context. Mr Tchenguiz is a London-based property developer. He claims against Kaupthing; Johannes Johannsson, a member of Kaupthing’s winding-up committee; accountants Grant Thornton; and two of its partners.

While Directive 2001/24 evidently is lex specialis vis-a-vis the Insolvency Regulation, much of the ECJ’s case-law under the Regulation is of relevance to the Directive, too. That is because, as Carr J notes, much of the substantial content of the Regulation has been carried over into the Directive. Carr J does emphasise (at 76) that the dovetailing between the Lugano Convention /the Judgments Regulation, and the Insolvency Regulation, carried over into the 2001 Directive does not extend to matters of choice of law. [A bit of explanation: insolvency was excluded from the Judgments Regulation (and from the Convention before it) because it was envisaged to be included in what eventually became the Insolvency Regulation. Consequently the Judgments Regulation and the Insolvency Regulation clearly dovetail when it comes to their respective scope of application]. That is because neither Lugano nor the Judgments Regulation consider choice of law: they are limited to jurisdiction.

On the substance of jurisdiction, the High Court found, applying relevant precedent (German Graphics, Gourdain, etc.), that the claims against both Kaupthing and Mr Johansson are within the Lugano Convention and not excluded by Article 1(2)(b) of that Convention. That meant that Icelandic law became applicable law by virtue of Directive 2001/24, and under Icelandic law proceedings against credit institutions being wound up come not be brought before the courts in ordinary (rather, a specific procedure before the winding-up committee of the bank applies). No jurisdiction in the UK therefore for the claim aganst the bank. The claim against Mr Johansson can go ahead.

[For the purpose of this blog, the jurisdictional issues are of most relevance. For Kaupthing it was even more important that the Bankruptcy Act in Iceland was found to have extra-territorial effect. The Act on Financial Undertakings implemented the winding-up directive and the Icelandic legislator intented it to have extra-territorial effect].

A complex set of arguments was raised and the judgment consequentially is not an easy or quick read. However the above should be the gist of it. I would suggest the findings are especially crucial with respect to the relation between Lugano /Brussels I, Directive 2001/24, and the Insolvency Regulation.

Geert.

Hejduk: Copyright infringement and jurisdiction. The ECJ entertains much less than its AG.

I have reviewed the AG’s opinion in Hejduk here. The AG’s Opinion was exciting for it cited, even if only in a specific (IP; more specifically copyright) context, the difficulty in identifying locus damni. This, I suggested (realistically optimistic) flagged an obvious concern with the ECJ’s ruling in Bier. However the ECJ in its judgment, issued yesterday,  was not having any of this. It applied relevant precedent (all recalled in my earlier posting), did not at all entertain the AG’s concerns with the locus damni assessment, and held that in the event of an allegation of infringement of copyright and rights related to copyright guaranteed by the Member State of the court seised, that court has jurisdiction, on the basis of the place where the damage occurred, to hear an action for damages in respect of an infringement of those rights resulting from the placing of protected photographs online on a website accessible in its territorial jurisdiction. That court has jurisdiction only to rule on the damage caused in the Member State within which the court is situated.

Plaintiff’s difficulties were of no concern to the ECJ. No surprise perhaps given the Brussels I Regulation’s near-exclusive concern for the position of the defendant.

Geert.

 

flyLAL-Lithuanian Airlines – ECJ holds on ‘civil and commercial’, ordre public and Article 22(2)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule all in the context of competition law.

Postscript 21 December 2016: it has been brought to my attention that the Latvian Supreme Court in October 2015 ultimately held that the Lithuanian judgment would not be recognised, on the grounds of ordre public. See here for an overview of the arguments.

flyLAL seeks compensation for damage resulting, first, from the abuse of a dominant position by Air Baltic on the market for flights from or to Vilnius Airport (Lithuania) and, second, from an anti-competitive agreement between the co-defendants. To that end, it applied for provisional and protective measures. The relevant Lithuanian court granted that application and issued an order for sequestration, on a provisional and protective basis, of the moveable and/or immoveable assets and property rights of Air Baltic and Starptautiskā Lidosta Rīga. A relevant Latvian court decided to recognise and enforce that judgment in Latvia, in so far as the recognition and enforcement related to the sequestration of the moveable and/or immoveable assets and property rights of  defendants. Application by flyLAL for a guarantee of enforcement of that judgment was rejected.

Defendants submit that the recognition and enforcement of the judgment are contrary to both the rules of public international law on immunity from jurisdiction and the brussels I Regulation. They argue that the present case does not fall within the scope of that regulation. Since the dispute relates to airport charges set by State rules, it does not, they submit, concern a civil or commercial matter within the meaning of that regulation.

On the scope of application issue (‘civil and commercial‘), the ECJ held with reference to previous case-law, that the provision of airport facilities in return for payment of a fee constitutes an economic activity. (This is different from the foundation judgment in Eurocontrol, which in turn was cross-referred in Sapir (to which the ECJ in current judgment refers repeatedly): Eurocontrol is a public body and the use of its services by airlines is compulsory and exclusive). The amount of shares held by government in the relevant airlines is irrelevant.

That the exclusive jurisdictional rule of Article 22(2) may be at issue (which might have led the court with whom enforcement is sought, to refuse such) was clearly a desperate attempt to rebuke jurisdiction. The national court should not have entertained it, let alone sent it to Luxemburg. (The Court replies courteously that ‘seeking legal redress for damage resulting from alleged infringements of European Union competition law, must (not) be regarded as constituting proceedings which have as their object the validity of the decisions of the organs of companies within the meaning of that provision.’) One assumes the flimsiest of arguments might have been that the board or a director would have had to approve the actions leading to the infringement.

Finally, according to Article 34(1), a judgment is not to be recognised if such recognition is manifestly contrary to public policy in the Member State in which recognition is sought. The referring court is unsure, first, as to the consequences to be drawn from the failure to state reasons for the methods of determining the amount of the sums concerned by the provisional and protective measures granted by the judgment in respect of which recognition and enforcement are sought and, second, as to the consequences linked to the amount of those sums.

With respect to the alleged failure to state reasons, the ECJ confirms (at 51 ff) that the observance of the right to a fair trial requires that all judgments be reasoned in order to enable the defendant to understand why judgment has been pronounced against him and to bring an appropriate and effective appeal against such a judgment (see ia Trade Agency). However that was not the case at issue: there is no lack of reasoning, since it is possible to follow the line of reasoning which led to the determination of the amount of the sums at issue. Parties concerned moreover had the opportunity to bring an action against such a decision and they exercised that option.  Therefore, the basic principles of a fair trial were respected and, accordingly, there are no grounds to consider that there has been a breach of public policy.

As regards the amount of the sums, the concept of ‘public policy’ within the meaning of Article 34(1)seeks to protect legal interests which are expressed through a rule of law, and not purely economic interests. The mere invocation of serious economic consequences does not constitute an infringement of the public policy of the Member State in which recognition is sought (at 58).

Once again the Court’s emphasis is on the exceptional nature of the ordre public exception.

Geert.

 

 

Sabbagh v Khoury. The High Court considers the ‘wills and succession’ exception, (reflexive application of) the exclusive jurisdictional rule for company matters, and anchor defendants under the Jurisdiction Regulation.

Sabbagh v Khoury is great for oral exam purposes. Hand the student a copy of the case and ipso presto, there is plenty to talk about for at least half an hour.

Sana Sabbagh, who lives in New York, claims that the Defendants have variously, since her father’s stroke, conspired against both him and her to misappropriate his assets (“the asset misappropriation claim”) and, since her father’s death, to work together to deprive her of her entitlement to shares in the group of companies which her father ran (“the share deprivation claim”). Wael, first defendant, is the anchor defendant for jurisdictional purposes. He resides and has at all material times resided in London. The other Defendants live or are based abroad.

Defendants contend in essence  (at 83):

a) that the claims against Wael (as noted, the anchor defendant) are so weak that there is no risk of irreconcilable judgments from separate proceedings and so no basis for joinder under Article 6(1) of the Brussels I Regulation (“the merits issue”);

b) that the claims fall outside the Brussels Regulation because the Regulation does not apply to “wills and succession” within the scope of Article 1(2)(a) (“the succession issue”), or challenges to the validity of CCG’s organs within the scope of Article 22(2) (“the Article 22 issue”), and the natural and appropriate forum for determining them is Lebanon (“the forum issue”);

c) that the claims are subject to an arbitration clause (or several arbitration clauses) such that a stay is required by s. 9(4) of the Arbitration Act 1996 (“the stay issue”). Any disputes against parties not bound by the arbitration clause should be stayed as a matter of discretion.

(Point c falls outside the scope of current posting).

Logically looking at point b) first (the exclusion of ‘wills and succession’, the High Court first of all considered the proposition that exceptions to the scope of application need to be applied restrictively.

To my knowledge this has not as such been held by the ECJ. Carr J expresses sympathy with the view that the findings of the ECJ in C-292/08 German Graphics in particular (that the insolvency exception not be given an interpretation broader than is required by its objective), could be given broader application, for all exceptions. I am more convinced by defendants’ argument that one needs to be careful to extend the reasoning of German Graphics outside the insolvency context, given that its ruling is inevitably influenced by the existence of the Insolvency Regulation.

However Mrs Justice Carr suggested that whether or not restrictive interpretation ought to be followed, is not quite the determinant issue: rather, that the exceptions should be applied in similar fashion as the exclusive jurisdictional rules of Article 22 (Article 24 in the recast).  Those jurisidictional rules, which are an exception to the general rule of Article 2 (4 in the recast), Carr J notes, only apply where the action is ‘principally concerned with’ the legal issue identified in the Article. ‘Have as their object’ is the term used in the Regulation, for 3 out of 5 of the Article 22 exceptions. (For the other two, including those with respect to intellectual property, the term is ‘concerned with’. In fact in other language versions the term is ‘concerned with’ throughout – which has not helped interpretation). ‘Have as their object’ was indeed applied by the ECJ as meaning ‘whose principal subject-matter comprises’ in BVG, viz the Article 22(2) exception. (Not in fact as Carr J notes, ‘principally concerned with’ , which the ECJ only referred to because it is the language used in Article 25’s rule on examination of jurisdiction).

The stronger argument for siding with the High Court’s conclusion lies in my view not in the perceived symmetry between Article 22 (exclusive jurisdictional rules) and Article 1 (scope), but rather in the High Court’s reference in passing to the Jenard report. At C/59/10: ‘matters falling outside the scope of the Convention do so only if they constitute the principal subject-matter of the proceedings. They are thus not excluded when they come before the court as a subsidiary matter either in the main proceedings or in preliminary proceedings.’ Granted, the result is the same, however the interpretative route is neater. Like other things in life (it’s single Malt, not so much general tidiness I am referring to), I like my statutory interpretation neat.

Eventually Carr J held that Ms Sabbagh’s action is principally concerned with assets and share misappropriation, in short, with conspiracy to defraud. If successful, the action will of course impact on Ms Sabbagh’s inheritance. However that does not justify the exclusion of Brussels I to her claim.

[The court was also taken on a short comparative tour of the Succession Regulation, with a view to interpreting the succession exception in Brussels I. Interestingly, Carr J noted that indeed that Regulation may serve as a supplementary means of interpretation of the Jurisdiction Regulation, even though the UK is not bound by the Succession Regulation.]

 

Next came the potential application of Article 22(2). This issue not only raised the question of whether the action would at all fall within the Article 22(2) remit; but also, whether in that case that Article needs to be applied reflexively, given that the companies concerned are incorporated in Lebanon. Here inevitably reference was made to Ferrexpo. The High Court however held that no question of reflexive application arises, under the same reasoning as above, with respect to the succession exception: the challenge to the corporate decisions was not one of ultra vires or other ‘corporate’ validity: rather, one of their proper characterisation or correctness. They are not therefore substantially concerned with the Article 22(2) exceptions.

 

The High Court preceded its application of Article 6(1) (joinders /use of an anchor defendant: first defendant is domiciled in London) with a very thorough review of the merits of each of the cases. (At 5, the Court notes that the other defendants live ‘abroad’, most of them seemingly in Greece. However the relevant companies at least seem to be domiciled in Lebanon. Article 6 can only be used against defendants already domiciled in another Member State. For those outside, national conflicts law decides the possibility of joinder).

Article 6 requires that “the claims are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings.”  ECJ Case-law (in particular Roche Nederland, C-539/03) has it that it is not sufficient that there be a divergence in the outcome of the dispute: that divergence must also arise in the context of the same situation of law and fact (Case C‑539/03 Roche Nederland and Others [2006] ECR I‑6535, paragraph 26). In Freeport, Case C-98/09, the ECJ added that It is for the national court to assess whether there is a connection between the different claims brought before it, that is to say, a risk of irreconcilable judgments if those claims were determined separately and, in that regard, to take account of all the necessary factors in the case-file, which may, if appropriate yet without its being necessary for the assessment, lead it to take into consideration the legal bases of the actions brought before that court. (at 41). It added that where claims brought against different defendants are connected when the proceedings are instituted, (which implies that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings), there is no further need to establish separately that the claims were not brought with the sole object of ousting the jurisdiction of the courts of the Member State where one of the defendants is domiciled (Freeport, at 54).

Whether the likelihood of success of an action against a party before the courts of the State where he is domiciled is relevant in the determination of whether there is a risk of irreconcilable judgments for the purposes of Article 6(1), was raised in Freeport but not answered by the ECJ for such answer was eventually not necessary for the preliminary review at issue. In Sabbagh, with reference to precedent in the English courts, the High Court does carry out a rather thorough merits review, effectively to review whether the claim against Wael might not be abusive: ie invented simply to allow him to be used as anchor defendant. Carr J’s extensive merits review hinges on ‘to take account of all the necessary factors in the case-file‘ per Freeport. Whether such detailed review might exceed what is required under Article 6(1) is simply not easily ascertained. (The High Court eventually did decide that Article 6(1) applied on account of one of the pursued claims).

Did I say ‘half an hour’ in the opening line of this posting? An exam using this judgment might take a bit longer…

Geert.

Jurisdiction, intellectual property and the internet. Might CRUZ VILLALÓN AG in Pez Hejduk introduce the end of Bier?

Let me answer the question immediately: that is unlikely. It is however an interesting prospect and, who knows, might be a start. CRUZ VILLALÓN AG’s Opinion in Pez Hejduk, case C-441/13 (at the time of writing available in plenty of languages but not in English), provides an excellent tour d’horizon of the application of the special jurisdictional rule of Article 5(3) [following the recast, Article 7(3)] Brussels I, to cases involving infringements of an intellectual property right.

For trademarks, the most recent case is Coty, Case C-360/12, reviewed by Alberto Bellan here. Pez Hejuk concerns copyright: an intellectual property right for which no formality (such as registration) is required for it validly to exist. Pinckney, Wintersteiger, Football Dataco: the application of Article 5(3) [and the delineation with leges specialis in the IP field] is not exactly crystal clear and the need for distinguishing very high. This resulted in this particular case in the Handelsgericht Wien requesting ECJ back-up on the application in the case of Ms Hejduk, a professional photographer, suing EnergieAgentur for unauthorised use on its .de website of photographs which had only been authorised for one-off use during a conference.

In view of Pinckney et al, the AG splendidly and concisely distinguishes the various strands of case-law and the raison d’etre for their consecutive jurisdictional criteria – please refer to the opinion itself for a summary by me would not do it justice. Encouraged in particular by Portugal and the EC, the AG then further distinguishes current case. As noted by Eleonora Rosati here, the AG emphasises that not only would it be difficult for the defendant having potentially to face actions in multiple Member States, but also the plaintiff would have limited benefits from seeking limited damages in more jurisdictions, and would find it difficult to prove such damage given the accessibility of the site.

Which is why the AG suggests that further distinguishing is needed for what he calls cases involving ‘delocalised damages’ involving IP, leading to the suggestion that in such case, only the judges of the Member State in which the causal event occurred should have jurisdiction on the basis of Article 5(3) (general jurisdiction for the domicile of the defendant not withstanding, obviously: per Article 2 JR). In other words: only the locus delicti commissi would be upheld. Not the locus damni.

Now, no reference is made to the case in the AG’s Opinion, however, surely this amounts to no less than a reversal of Bier /Mines de Potasse d’Alsace, case C-21/76. the ECJ’s extension in Bier, away from the literal meaning of Article 5(3) has, as I often have emphasised, triggered a long series of cases in which the ECJ has had to massage the ripple effect of the locus damni rule. If it were (which of course is not at all certain) to take up the AG’s suggestion here, and drop locus damni, might it not eventually have to concede that in many if not all cases, it is difficult for the defendant having potentially to face actions in multiple Member States, and for the plaintiff to have to prove and seek limited damages in more jurisdictions.

On that basis (that however narrowly distinguished, siding with the AG would mean acknowledging the weakness of the locus damni rule), I find it very likely that the ECJ will not run with it. Whence it might either not distinguish Hejduk from Pinckney, or assimilate it with eDate Advertising, or further distinguish and add an alternative, Hejduk rule, in the event of ‘delocalised damages’.

One to look out for!

Geert.

Nickel & Goeldner: Not the procedural context but the legal basis of the action determines the insolvency exception.

It is always useful to have the Court of Justice remind us of (some might say: fine-tune) what it has decided in precedent. This is no different in Nickel & Goeldner– Case C-157/13. (Which also deals with Article 71’s rule on the relation between Brussels I and the Convention for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMRT)).

This blog has reported earlier on the difficulties in applying the ‘insolvency exception’. (E.g. in Sabena and Enascarco). In Nickel & Goeldner, the insolvency administrator of Kintra applied to the relevant Lithuaian courts for an order that Nickel & Goeldner Spedition, which has its registered office in Germany, pay its debt in respect of services comprising the international carriage of goods provided by Kintra for Nickel & Goeldner Spedition, inter alia in France and in Germany. According to the insolvency administrator of Kintra, the jurisdiction of the Lithuanian courts was based on Article 14(3) of the Lithuanian Law on the insolvency of undertakings. Nickel & Goeldner Spedition disputed that jurisdiction claiming that the dispute fell within the scope of Article 31 of the CMR and of the Brussels I Regulation.

The Courts instructs how its earlier case-law (Gourdain; Seagon; German Graphics; F-Tex) needs to be applied (at 26-27):

It is apparent from that case-law that it is true that, in its assessment, the Court has taken into account the fact that the various types of actions which it heard were brought in connection with insolvency proceedings. However, it has mainly concerned itself with determining on each occasion whether the action at issue derived from insolvency law or from other rules.

It follows that the decisive criterion adopted by the Court to identify the area within which an action falls is not the procedural context of which that action is part, but the legal basis thereof. According to that approach, it must be determined whether the right or the obligation which respects the basis of the action finds its source in the common rules of civil and commercial law or in the derogating rules specific to insolvency proceedings.

The action at issue is an action for the payment of a debt arising out of the provision of services in implementation of a contract for carriage. That action could have been brought by the creditor itself before its divestment by the opening of insolvency proceedings relating to it and, in that situation, the action would have been governed by the rules concerning jurisdiction applicable in civil and commercial matters.  The fact that, after the opening of insolvency proceedings against a service provider, the action for payment is taken by the insolvency administrator appointed in the course of those proceedings and that the latter acts in the interest of the creditors does not substantially amend the nature of the debt relied on which continues to be subject, in terms of the substance of the matter, to the rules of law which remain unchanged.

Hence, there is no direct link with the insolvency proceedings and the Brussels-I Regulation continues to apply.

(On the application of Article 71, the Court holds that, in a situation where a dispute falls within the scope of both the regulation and the CMR, a Member State may, in accordance with Article 71(1) of the Regulation, apply the rules concerning jurisdiction laid down in Article 31(1) of the CMR.).

Not the procedural context (in particular, whether the liquidator takes the action) but the legal basis of the action determines the insolvency exception. A useful alternative formulation of the Gourdain et al case-law.

Geert.