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.

CA Indosuez v Afriquia. On Lugano claims and service out, and on jurisdiction for third party claims when the main claim has settled.

CA Indosuez (Switzerland) SA & Anor v Afriquia Gaz SA & Anor [2022] EWHC 2871 (Comm) is largely a case of statutory construction (here: of the amended Civil Procedure Rules – CPR).

It transpires from current judgment that similar issues were discussed (yet eventually did not need determination) in Naftiran Intertrade Company (Nico) Limited and Anor v G.L. Greenland Limited and Anor [2022] EWHC 896 (Comm) (unpublished).

I do not often copy /paste big chunks of judgment let alone the facts parts of them, however here I feel it is quite necessary: [1] ff, in summary:

Gulf Petroleum FZC, the First Part 20 Defendant (“GP”) had trade finance facilities with CA Indosuez (Switzerland) SA (the Claimant: “CAIS”) and with UBS Switzerland AG (the Second Part 20 Defendant: “UBS”).

Afriquia Gaz SA and Maghreb Gaz SA, the Defendants and Part 20 Claimants (“AG” and “MG”), purchased a cargo of butane from GP.  GP assigned to CAIS the debt represented by the purchase price.  GP issued its invoices to AG and MG on 23 July 2020 and CAIS sent notices of assignment on 27 and 28 July 2020.

However on 19 August 2020 AG and MG paid, by SWIFT, the sums due to GP’s account with UBS. The funds were received into one of GP’s accounts with UBS and then transferred to what appears to have been its loan or overdraft account.

GP instructed UBS to transfer the sums received to CAIS. UBS refused. It claimed to have been entitled to set off those sums against GP’s liabilities to it.

By Rule 20.1 of the Civil Procedure Rules, the purpose of Part 20 of the CPR is “to enable counterclaims and other additional claims to be managed in the most convenient and effective manner”. CAIS commenced this claim against AG and MG for the purchase price, a claim in debt. AG and MG denied liability but added (Part 20) claims against GP and UBS for the sums received, and in unjust enrichment and for liability as constructive trustee. Following the exchange of expert reports on Swiss law, AG and MG have accepted that their claim against UBS based on an alleged constructive trust must fail, and that the claim in unjust enrichment will only arise in certain circumstances.

GP is incorporated in the UAE.  The sale contract with AG and MG contained an exclusive jurisdiction agreement in favour of the High Court in London. The Part 20 Claim Form was issued with the following indorsement:

“[AG and MG] are permitted to serve the [Part 20] Claim on [GP] pursuant to CPR r.6.33(2)(b)(v) and Article 25 of the Judgments Regulation because [GP] is a party to an agreement … conferring exclusive jurisdiction within Article 25 of the Judgments Regulation.  [AG and MG] are permitted to serve the [Part 20] Claim on [UBS] out of the jurisdiction pursuant to CPR r.6.33(1)(b)(i) and Article 6(3) of the Lugano Convention.

The reference to Article 6(3) was a mistake for Article 6(2).

The Part 20 Claim Form against GP and UBS was issued on 30 December 2020, before the end of the Brexit transition period. UBS declined to instruct solicitors to accept service in England. AG and MG meanwhile on 20 January 2021 obtained an order from Cockerill J extending the validity of the Part 20 Claim Form. The Part 20 Claim Form was served or purportedly served on UBS, out of the jurisdiction, on 9 March 2021.

Crucially, the Court’s permission for service out of the jurisdiction on UBS was not sought. Counsel for claimant informed the Court that those representing AG and MG considered at the time that no permission would be needed, on the basis that jurisdiction under the Lugano Convention, which existed at the date of issue of the Claim Form, was preserved. Counsel also contented that even if permission to serve out was required and had been sought, it would inevitably have been granted, as questions of appropriate forum (considered in an application for permission to serve out) were not relevant in the context of the Lugano Convention. 

UBS acknowledged service on 26 March 2021, indicating an intention to contest jurisdiction.  Current judgment focuses on that contestation.

Under the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018, implementing the EU Withdrawal Treaty, an implementation period came to an end at 23:00 GMT on 31 December 2020 (a day after the claim form that initiated current litigation was issued; also known as “IP completion day”). During the implementation period, obligations stemming from international agreements to which the EU was party continued to apply. Until IP completion day therefore the Lugano Convention applied to it by reason of the EU’s membership of the Convention. That clearly is no longer the case.

Essentially, E&W CPR was amended to include transitional provisions in relation to service out of the jurisdiction, which specifically maintain the pre-existing position that permission is not required for a claim form issued prior to withdrawal where jurisdiction is based on Brussels Ia. However, there is no equivalent saving for claim forms where jurisdiction exists under the Lugano Convention.

Knowles J [25] on the issue of permission, reaches the same conclusion as Ms Dias QC in Naftiran (above): namely that the widened A6.33(3) CPR rule applies to include Lugano Convention claims. That rule now reads

“6.33(3) The claimant may serve the claim form on a defendant out of the United Kingdom where each claim made against the defendant to be served and included in the claim form is a claim which the court has power to determine other than under [the Convention on Choice of Court Agreements concluded on 30th June 2005 at the Hague], notwithstanding that (a) the person against whom the claim is made is not within the jurisdiction; or (b) the facts giving rise to the claim did not occur within the jurisdiction.”

Having decided the issue of permission, the judge still had to decide whether Lugano conveys jurisdiction in this case. A 6(2) Lugano provides that a person domiciled in the state bound by the Convention may be sued “as a third party in an action on a warranty or guarantee, or in any other third party proceedings, in the court seised of the original proceedings, unless these were instituted solely with the object of removing him from the jurisdiction of the court which would be competent in his case;”

A core issue in current case is that the main claim is settled [12]; can the third party proceedings still continue in the main claim’s forum? The judge refers to CJEU C-365/88 Kongress Agentur (a Lugano case) and [44] holds that there is sufficiency of connection between the claims for jurisdiction to be established; that there is no authority for defendants’ proposition that only ‘exceptional circumstances’ may justify third-party proceedings to continue when the main claim is settled, and that in essence [41] sufficiency of connection between the third party claims and the main claim suffice for the former to continue in the latter’s jurisdictional home.

There are echoes here of potential for abuse per CJEU CDC, however that route was seemingly not pursued and on the facts would seem challenging to substantiate.

Geert.

QBE Europe v Generali. Move over, West Tankers!

Update 16 September 2022 see Francisco Quintay, mine and others’ pondering on the enforcement implications, here and here. I agree the position of EU-based parties faced with an ASI, is interesting. Ignoring an ASI leads to a contempt judgment, infringement of which is a criminal offence. Unlike Francisco I am not convinced that enforcement of a contempt order would fail under ordre public in the EU.

QBE Europe SA/NV v Generali Espana De Seguros Y Reaseguros [2022] EWHC 2062 (Comm) is not a surprising judgment of course. I flagged it on Twitter early August and I post it here for the sake of blog completeness.

The judgment grants an urgent anti-suit injunction (ASI) to restrain proceedings brought by the Defendant (Generali) against QBE UK in Spain, and to prevent Generali from commencing similar proceedings against QBE Europe. The proceedings in Spain assert a direct claim against QBE UK under a Spanish statute, by reference to a liability insurance policy. The judgment is exactly the kind of ASI outlawed by CJEU West Tankers and will reinforce the position of London in the arbitration market.

Geert.

Simon v Tache. Interesting issues on post-Brexit Brussels lis pendens, and on moment of seizure in amended claims.

Simon v Tache & Ors [2022] EWHC 1674 (Comm) is an interesting judgment which one assumes is very appealable given the untested Withdrawal Agreement and other angles.

At issue is i.a. whether Article 67 Withdrawal Agreement requires both sets of proceedings which are a candidate for Brussels Ia’s Article 29-30 lis pendens /related cases provisions, to have been pending prior to Brexit Implementation Date and what date needs to be considered the date of seizing.

Claimants argue, that the Belgian Proceedings, which I outline below, could only have become related on 3 May 2021 by the lodging of the 3 May Submissions, and that the English Court only became seized of the English proceedings after 31 December 2020, either on the making of Service Out Application or on the subsequent issue of the English Proceedings. On this basis it would not be open to the Defendants in the English proceedings to rely upon Article 67 as applying Articles 29 and 30 of Brussels Recast to the English Proceedings.

Claimant is a French national living in London. She is a medical doctor who previously practiced. She now focuses on art and design. Defendants are Belgian nationals, contemporary art dealers with a gallery website in English. This element notably raises issues whether the contract could qualify as a consumer contract. Defendants deny this, citing the very example I often give in class when teaching the relevance of language in the context of the Pammer Alpenhof criteria: the very use of English on websites, particularly in the art, design or hospitality sector in cities like Brussels are hardly an indication of direction of activities outside the location. The contract being a consumer contract seemingly was not flagged in claim form or submissions, it only came up at hearing.

Claimant and defendants having met in Paris, various artworks were delivered to claimant’s Paris address. Lex contractus is disputed [20]. The relationship soured and Belgian libel proceedings by defendants in the E&W proceedings were initiated end of October 2020. End of March 2021 Dr Simon was given permission to serve out. Her application mentioned the Belgian proceedings but argued that these were unrelated, ia in light of the different (non)contractual basis of those proceedings [35]. A claim form was sent to defendants’ lawyers early April 2021 and the claim form was filed 10 May 2021. On 3 May the defendants in the E&W proceedings amended thier Belgian claim, adding a request for declaration of non-liability: in other words they requested the Belgian court to declare that there was no wrongdoing on their part in the contractual relationship.

End of October 2021 the first instance Belgian court held it does have jurisdiction, but that no damage was proven. That court however declined to rule on the claim for a negative declaration because the allegations were before the English court. The Belgian court’s dictum on that issue is very brief, declaring only ‘“Whereas the ensuing dispute was never resolved and is currently the subject of a lawsuit in London, such that this court will refrain from commenting on the merits of that case.” : it did not specify why which clearly is a failure on its part.

[50] it is the Defendants’ case that the Belgian court was first seized on 3 May 2021, before the E&W Court was first seized on 10 May 2021 on the issue of proceedings. On the other hand, it is Dr Simon’s case that the E&W Court was first seized on the making of the Service Out Application and/or the making of the Service Order on 30 March 2021, alternatively on the issue of the Claim Form on 10 May 2021, but that the Belgian court was only seized when the Defendants’ claim for a negative declaration was filed on 5 August 2021.

It is undisputed [52] that as a matter of Belgian procedural law, it would be open to Dr Simon to raise a counterclaim in respect of the causes of action that she seeks to pursue by the English Proceedings in the Belgian Proceedings, and to do so notwithstanding that they are now before the Belgian Appeal Court. Expectations of the Court of Appeal ruling varied between one and five years [54] however in the end that Court surprised all and held after the English judge’s draft judgment had been circulated.

In November 2021 Dr Simon at her turn added a claim to her English claim form, one in dishonesty.

The judge holds [74] that BIa continues to apply to new claims added to proceedings commenced prior to 31 December 2020 and claims against new defendants joined to such proceedings after that date. He refers to  On the Beach Ltd v Ryanair UK Ltd [2022] EWHC 861 (Ch) in support (acknowledging that that case is not authority to him and that the parties in that case were in agreement on the issue).

On the issue of seizure, the judge holds [92] that this must be linked to the formal lodging of a claim form in order to issue proceedings, rather than the taking of some preliminary step to obtain permission with regard to the service of proceedings which might never be issued. I have sympathy with the view [85] that this gives the other party a great opportunity to torpedo proceedings.

“the same cause of action, between the same parties” is judged, despite an acknowledgment of EU autonomous interpretation, with reference to Belgian procedural law and expert reports on same [103]. That must be a vulnerable position.

Conclusion on A29 is that a stay must be ordered [114] and obiter [120] that one would have been ordered on A30 grounds.

Service out is discussed [121] in a bit of a vacuum because of course is BIa applies then service out is not required. Here reference is made to Rome I’s applicable law as an element of the gateway requirements (contract governed by English law) (held: no: Belgian law is prima facie lex contractus [134], with discussion ia of the consumer title. As a pudding, forum non conveniens is considered and this is surely where the jurisdictional arguments become excessive per Lord Briggs’ speech in Vedanta.

Then comes the final pousse-café: the Belgian Court of Appeal, unexpectedly fast, found it had no jurisdiction (this may be appealable to the Belgian Supreme Court), leaving the possibility of a negative conflict of jurisdiction which the parties were invited to comment upon.

A case to watch.

Geert.

Barings et al succeed in first instance winding up order against Galapagos on shaky COMI and Withdrawal Agreement grounds.

I discuss the background to Barings (UK) Ltd & Ors v Galapagos SA [2022] EWHC 1633 (Ch) here. At the end of August 2019 an opening of insolvency proceedings was requested by various Barings companies and Goldman Sachs, in respect of the Respondent, Galapagos S.A. – GSA.

While this request was pending before the English courts, a group of high yield noteholders (including Signal, the main opponent in the English proceedings) procured the replacement of GSA’s English directors with a German director, and the new German director and two creditors brought separate ex parte applications before the Düsseldorf Amtsgericht (District Court) for the opening of insolvency proceedings there. Following the opening of insolvency proceedings by the Düsseldorf court, the English proceedings were stayed. The German proceedings then led to a preliminary reference to the CJEU which resulted in a judgment on 24 March 2022, the judgment I discuss in my previous post.

[12] ff Bacon J summarises the procedural tussle (including the, I believe unreported August 2019 Norris J stay: [2019] EWHC 2355 (Ch)). Justice Norris had stayed the English proceedings believing inter alia that the German courts might dismiss the German proceedings once they had been properly told of the English action.

The dictum in C-723/20 was

Article 3(1) of Regulation (EU) 2015/848 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 2015 on insolvency proceedings must be interpreted as meaning that the court of a Member State with which a request to open main insolvency proceedings has been lodged retains exclusive jurisdiction to open such proceedings where the centre of the debtor’s main interests is moved to another Member State after that request has been lodged, but before that court has delivered a decision on it. Consequently, in so far as that regulation is still applicable to that request, the court of another Member State with which another request is lodged subsequently for the same purpose cannot, in principle, declare that it has jurisdiction to open main insolvency proceedings until the first court has delivered its decision and declined jurisdiction.

 

The reference to ‘in so far as that regulation is still applicable’ refers to the Brexit element to the case which surprisingly perhaps was not included in the dictum: COMI presumptions ordinarily serve to protect the first court seized’ privilege to find, or reject, COMI in its jurisdiction however that privilege no longer applies vis-a-vis UK courts post Brexit.

As I note in my earlier review, the CJEU wrongly decided not to answer the German court’s question

Is Article 3(1) of [Regulation 2015/848] to be interpreted as meaning that:

(a)      the courts of the Member State within the territory of which the centre of the debtor’s main interests is situated at the time when the debtor lodges the request to have insolvency proceedings opened retain international jurisdiction to open those proceedings if the debtor moves the centre of its main interests to the territory of another Member State after lodging the request but before the decision opening insolvency proceedings is delivered, and

(b)      such continuing international jurisdiction of the courts of one Member State excludes the jurisdiction of the courts of another Member State in respect of further requests to have the main insolvency proceedings opened received by a court of that other Member State after the debtor has moved its centre of main interests to that other Member State?’

Neither, possibly because the question was not so asked by the referring court, does it entertain the issue of ‘permanency’ required to move COMI to another state (see my previous post for detail).

Applicants in the current case and Bidco say that the effect of the GalapagosCJEU judgment is that GSA’s winding up can and should now proceed in E&W. Signal, however, contends that the English insolvency proceedings should remain stayed or should be dismissed.

Of relevance in that assessment is Article 67(3) (c) withdrawal agreement, which reads

In the United Kingdom, as well as in the Member States in situations involving the United Kingdom, the following provisions shall apply as follows:…

Regulation (EU) 2015/848 of the European Parliament and of the Council shall apply to insolvency proceedings, and actions referred to in Article 6(1) of that Regulation, provided that the main proceedings were opened before the end of the transition period;

The question in my view is not ‘are the German insolvency proceedings to be regarded as the “main proceedings” within the meaning of Article 3 of the Recast EIR?’ which is the course which the judge seems to follow. Rather, whether either the German or the English insolvency proceedings were to be regarded as main proceedings.

In either case, in my view, main proceedings have been opened and the EU EIR continues to apply as acquired EU law.

[21] Signal’s position is that unless and until the German courts have given effect to CJEU Galapagos by setting aside or otherwise the Düsseldorf insolvency proceedings, the German insolvency proceedings remain the “main proceedings” for the purposes of the Recast EIR. Accordingly, under A67(3) WA the Recast EIR remains applicable and the German proceedings have to be recognised by the English court, precluding the making of a winding up order. If that is wrong, and the Recast EIR does not apply, Signal argue that GSA’s COMI is not in England, such that the UK IR (the retained Insolvency Regulation) does not apply, leaving s. 221 of the relevant UK law as the only jurisdictional basis for a winding up order. In addition, whether under the UK IR or s. 221, Signal contends that the circumstances are such that the court should not exercise its discretion to make the order.

The rather important questions are therefore summarised by Bacon J [23] as

i) The first issue is whether the Recast EIR remains applicable to these proceedings, as Signal contends. That in turn depends on whether the German proceedings are to be characterised as “main proceedings” for the purposes of Article 67(3)(c) of the Withdrawal Agreement. – as I note above, that issue is wrongly formulated.

ii) If the German proceedings are not “main proceedings”, such that the Recast EIR no longer governs the question of jurisdiction of the UK courts in the present case, the next question is whether there is jurisdiction to make a winding up order under the UK IR on the basis that GSA’s COMI is in England. – again see my own caveat above.

iii) The final issue is whether the court should exercise its discretion to make a winding up order under either the UK IR if that is applicable, or alternatively under s. 221 of the Insolvency Act 1986.

[48] the judge has the interim conclusion that up to and until 31 December 2020, the combined effect of the pending application before the High Court and the Recast EIR was to prohibit the German courts from declaring jurisdiction to open main insolvency proceedings. After that date, however, they could quite validly do so, if GSA’s COMI was by then situated in German territory.

I am not convinced that a mere request for opening of proceedings equates opening of these proceedings, and I am not convinced that the fall-back finding of COMI in England [83] ff, applying the Swissport ([2020] EWHC 3556 (Ch), unreported) summary of criteria, is solid: it is exactly on this point that the CJEU’s silence on the issue of ‘permanency’ is frustrating.

The judge concludes that a winding up order in respect of GSA be made however I think her analysis is incorrect and I assume permission to appeal must have been sought.

Geert.

FDI v Barclays and others. A case-management stay on clarification grounds and the prospect of an Article 33-34 challenge given earlier US proceedings?

I am in tidying up mode clearly for my goodness I have way too many windows open on various browsers. And as always: Bloggo, ergo sum. (Or at the least: when I blog and /or Tweet the cases seem more firmly lodged in my memory). In FDI v Barclays & Ors [2022] EWHC 391 (Ch) defendants applied successfully for a case management stay to allow for clarification of the position in parallel US multi-district litigation (‘MDL’) proceedings (started earlier) involving the LIBOR fixing rate scandal. The confusion seems to be about what US  jurisdictional decisions in those proceedings mean against at least some of the defendants in the UK proceedings.

The UK proceedings were started pre-Brexit. One assumes therefore that the decision takes full advantage of the wedge that exists between a procedural, case management stay and a full-blown jurisdictional decision. The latter surely needs to be discussed under Brussels Ia, including its Articles 33-34 forum non-type mechanism, lest  one were to argue res judicata which, if the US Proceedings have not moved beyond jurisdictional decisions, is unlikely.

The judgment also indicates that a further CMC – Case Management Conference will be held in October. One looks forward to further development there.

Geert.

Galapagos Bidco v DE. The CJEU fails to clarify whether move of COMI by mere market notice, may be effective.

Krzysztof Pacula reported end of March on CJEU C-723/20 Galapagos Bidco v DE and justifiably highlighted the Brexit issue. The case concerns a move of COMI – centre of main interest within the context of the Insolvency Regulation 2015/848 and it is on the element of impromptu move that my post will focus.

Galapagos SA is a Luxembourg holding company whose centre of administration (‘effective place of management‘ according to the former directors) was moved in June 2019, at least so contend previous directors, to England. At the end of August 2019, they apply to the High Court in England and Wales to have insolvency proceedings opened.

Echos of the tussle are here and of course also in Galapagos Bidco SARL v Kebekus & ors [2021] EWHC 68 (Ch). The day after the move of centre of administration, the former directors were replaced with one other, who moved centre of administration to Dusseldorf and issued relevant market regulation statements to that effect. This move was subsequently recognised  by the Courts at Dusseldorf as having established COMI there. The High Court action in London was never withdrawn and would seem to have been dormant since.

Applicant in the proceedings is Galapagos BIDCO Sarl, a creditor of Galapagos SA. It is I understand (but I am happy to be corrected by those in the know) Luxembourg based. As Krzysztof reports, it contests that the German move has effected move of COMI which it argues lies in England (although I fail to see how its reasoning should not also apply to the earlier instant move from presumably Luxembourg to England).

The question that arises is whether, in the determination of the centre of a debtor company’s main interests, specific requirements must be imposed to prevent abusive conduct. Specifically, in the light of the Regulation’s stated aim of preventing forum shopping, whether ‘on a regular basis’ in the second sentence of the first subparagraph of Article 3(1) Insolvency Regulation 2015, presupposes an adequate degree of permanence and is not present if the establishment of a centre of administration is pursued at the same time as a request to have insolvency proceedings opened. Respondents in the appeal, which include the insolvency administrator (trustee) contend that the requirement of administration ‘on a regular basis’ is fulfilled if the administration is permanent.

The CJEU unfortunately fails to answer that question, choosing to reply instead with a hierarchical answer which encourages race to court: [36]

the court of a Member State with which a request to open main insolvency proceedings has been lodged retains exclusive jurisdiction to open such proceedings where the centre of the debtor’s main interests is moved to another Member State after that request is lodged, but before that court has delivered a decision on that request, and that, consequently, where a request is lodged subsequently for the same purpose before a court of another Member State, that court cannot, in principle, declare that it has jurisdiction to open such proceedings until the first court has delivered its decision and declined jurisdiction.

However in the case at issue, the Withdrawal Agreement has the effect that if the High Court has not, as it would seem, taken its decision on the opening of proceedings prior to the end of Brexit Implementation Day 1 January 2021 (CET), the German courts need no longer apply that consequence of mutual trust and are at liberty to determine the existence of COMI.

The CJEU ends by suggesting Q1 no longer needs answering. Yet I think it does. Perhaps not so much for the case at issue (which explains why the judicially economical CJEU does not offer a reply). The German courts, as Zacaroli J notes in his decision [14], held in October 2019 that COMI for GAS has successfully moved to Germany as from 25 August 2019, the day the capital market and bondholders were informed that the centre of administration had been moved to Düsseldorf. Yet the file does not suggest that COMI prior to the attempted move, existed in either the UK or Germany: it was allegedly established in Germany following the new director’s decision, which reversed an earlier impromptu decision by the former directors to ostensibly at least move COMI to the UK. In accordance with the Regulation’s presumptions, COMI would have previously existed in Luxembourg. The element of ‘on a regular basis’ therefore still matters. Is the CJEU suggesting that a mere information of the capital markets suffices to move COMI?

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 5.6.1.

BRG NOAL v Kowski. A debatable applicable law consideration under A4 Rome I decides a forum non stay.

BRG NOAL GP SARL & Anor v Kowski & Anor [2022] EWHC 867 (Ch) continues the current trend of forum non conveniens applications galore, following Brexit. In the case at issue, with Luxembourg suggested as the appropriate forum, applicable law determination, under (retained) Rome I’s ‘characteristic performance’ rule plays a core role.

Applicable law needs to be determined essentially viz an undertaking as I understand it, by a, validly removed, investment fund General Partner, not to torpedo the subsequent orderly continuation of the fund. The core commitment reads

“I, [name], hereby acknowledge that [NOAL GP] is the managing general partner (“General partner”) of [the Fund] with effect from 27 August 2021 and unconditionally and irrevocably undertake (a) not to assert otherwise, or to induce or procure an assertion to the contrary or otherwise challenge or question the validity of its appointment or induce or produce such challenge or question, in any applicable forum and (b) to cooperate with and assist the General Partner in completing a full, orderly and timely transfer of the control of the Partnership and all of its assets and any obligations to the General Partner”.

Claimant [57] suggests the specific Undertaking in and of itself meets the CJEU Handte definition of a stand alone contractual obligation, however Smith J does not specifically hold on this for in her view even if this were correct, the overall contractual construction would have an impact on the applicable law consideration, seeing as in her view:

no choice of law was made; no default ‘passe partout’ contract as listed in A4(1) Rome I applies; A4(2) Rome I’s ‘characteristic performance’ test does not lead to an answer ([61]: there is no ‘characteristic performance’] and at any rate even if there were, the judge would have applied A4(3)’s escape clause to lead to Luxembourg law; and the ‘proper law of the contract’ per A4(4) Rome I ‘clearly’ [63-64] leads to Luxembourgish law.

In conclusion, a stay is ordered and the forum non application is successful. In my view the judge jumped too easily to Articles 4(3) and (4), denying Article 4(2)’s or even Article 3 choice of law’s effet utile. It is not unusual for judges to let their predetermination to apply A4(3) and /or (4) determine their A4(2) search for a lex contractus. Yet that frequency does not make the judgment right.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed, 2021, Heading 3.2.6.2.

ValueLicensing v Microsoft. The High Court, in rejecting forum non conveniens, puts great emphasis on only English courts determining the course of English law post Brexit.

In JJH Enterprises Ltd (Trading As ValueLicensing) v Microsoft Corporation & Ors [2022] EWHC 929 (Comm) Picken J makes a debatable point in his discussion of a forum non conveniens application by defendants, Microsoft.

In the proceedings ValueLicensing claim damages arising from alleged breaches of competition law by Microsoft. The claim is a ‘stand alone’ one, not a ‘follow-on’ one. There is no underlying infringement decision of the European Commission (or any domestic competition regulator) on which ValueLicensing can rely to establish that an infringement of competition law has been committed.

Some of the Microsoft entities firstly seek summary dismissal of the case against them, arguing they cannot be held liable for an alleged infringement of either Article 101 or 102 TFEU as a result of an overall Microsoft ‘campaign’ in which they did not demonstrably take part. Here [31] ff there is interesting discussion ia of Provimi (Roche Products Ltd. & Ors v Provimi Ltd [2003] EWHC 961 (Comm)), which held that an entity that implements an agreement in breach of A101 to which a member of the same undertaking is a party can be held liable for the infringement even though the implementer itself does not know of the infringement. Specifically, whether Provimi was wrongly decided following from Cooper Tire Europe Ltd v Bayer Public Co Ltd [2010] EWCA Civ 864  – this is an issue for which CJEU referral is not possible post Brexit.

The judge however refers to the broader concept of ‘undertaking’ in the A101-102 sense following eg CJEU C-882/19 Sumal SL v Mercedes Benz Trucks Espana SL. Sumal, Picken J holds [44], is relevant authority both pre and post Brexit.

Quite how parties see a difference in the lex causae for the competition law infringement pre and post Brexit is not clear to me. Pre Brexit it is said to be ‘English law’ (held to include 101-102 TFEU prior to Brexit), full stop, while post Brexit that law is said to be determined by (retained) Article 6 Rome II, which for same of the claim will be English law as being one of the ‘affected markets’ per A6 Rome II.

It is in the forum non application that the judge posits [78] that an important consideration of England as the more appropriate forum, is

it is clear that Microsoft UK’s position at trial will be that in certain material respects English law has taken a divergent path from EU law. In such circumstances, it would be wholly inappropriate, and certainly undesirable, for a court in Ireland to be determining whether Microsoft UK is right about this. On the other hand, there would be no difficulty with the Court here applying EU competition law, either as part of English law (in respect of the pre-Brexit period and, if that is what the Court determines is the case, also in respect of the post-Brexit period) or as part of the laws of other EU/EEA member states, since the Court here is very experienced in doing just that.

If it is true that under forum non, only English courts can be held properly to determine the direction of English law post Brexit, the hand of many a claimant in forum non applications will surely be strengthened.

Geert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geert.

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

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