Posts Tagged Brussels I recast

Asymmetric clauses, exclusivity, torpedoes and lis alibi pendens: The High Court in Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers.

Many of the issues in [2017] EWHC 161 (Comm) Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers were also raised in Perella v Codere,  albeit there, as I reported, obiter. In current case, they were very much dicta, and they amount to the English courts viewing (properly constructed) asymmetric clauses as being exclusive. As such they fall under the new anti-torpedo provisions of Article 31(2).

Applications of defendants Liquimar Tankers (registered in Liberia but with head office in Athens) are being made in the course of proceedings in London by Commerzbank  in two separate actions in relation to the repayment of loans which the Bank extended for the building of a number of ships. There are ongoing proceedings taken by the defendants against the Bank in Piraeus, Greece concerning the same and/or related issues.

The Liquimar guarantee contained a governing law and an asymmetric jurisdiction clause, which was essentially similar in the other loan agreements. It provided:

“16 Law and Jurisdiction

16.1 This Guarantee and Indemnity shall in all respects be governed by and interpreted in accordance with English law.

16.2 For the exclusive benefit of the Lender, the Guarantor irrevocably agrees that the courts of England are to have jurisdiction to settle any disputes which may arise out of or in connection with this Guarantee and Indemnity and that any proceedings may be brought in those courts.

16.3 Nothing contained in this Clause shall limit the right of the Lender to commence any proceedings against the Guarantor in any other court of competent jurisdiction nor shall the commencement of any proceedings against the Guarantor in one or more jurisdictions preclude the commencement of any proceedings in any other jurisdiction, whether concurrently or not.

16.4 The Guarantor irrevocably waives any objection which it may now or in the future have to the laying of the venue of any proceedings in any court referred to in this Clause and any claim that those proceedings have been brought in an inconvenient or inappropriate forum, and irrevocably agrees that a judgment in any proceedings commenced in any such court shall be conclusive and binding on it and may be enforced in the courts of any jurisdiction …”.

 

Article 31(2) of the Brussels I Recast reads:

‘where a court of a Member State on which an agreement as referred to in Article 25 confers exclusive jurisdiction is seized, any court of another Member State shall stay the proceedings until such time as the court seized on the basis of the agreement declares that it has no jurisdiction under the agreement.’

Cranston J held that the concept of ‘exclusivity’ should be autonomously interpreted under the Brussels I (Recast) regime. He did not however refer for preliminary reference to the CJEU: as such, the High Court’s finding continues to be vulnerable until we have precedent from Luxembourg. The judgment as a whole is worth a read – readers in for concise summary, please refer to Herbert Smith’s analysis.

Summing up is done in para 70, with justifiable emphasis on parties’ and the Regulation’s intentions (but as noted with considerable reference to precedent and principles of statutory interpretation): Thus with the asymmetric jurisdiction clauses in the present case, the defendants agreed to sue only in the courts of one EU Member State, England. Instead, they have enabled another court, the Greek court, to be seized of the matter. It would undermine the agreements of the parties, and foster abusive tactics, if the jurisdiction clauses in these agreements were to be treated not as exclusive, but as non-exclusive.’ 

Of note is also the discussion on the role of recitals (eg. at 69; also at 77 ff). Justice Cranston’s arguments are supported by reference to a number of recitals. Defendant in my view has a valid point in principle where they argue at 77 that ‘a recital cannot constitute a rule when it is not reflected in the words of Article 31(2).‘ (Although they were wrong on substance).

A subsidiary argument in the case also merits further attention. Defendants argue that Article 25 requires the parties to have designated the courts of a Member State to enable the law applicable to the substantive validity of a jurisdiction clause to be identified and to provide certainty as to the forum in which a putative defendant can expect to be sued. That, they submit, is not achieved by a clause which designates the courts of all other competent states, including those of non-Member States, outside the territorial competence of the EU, which could mean suits in multiple jurisdictions. Although the argument could be phrased more precisely, I do agree with it: in the absence of a nominatim lex contractus for the choice of court clause specifically, the new lex fori prorogati rule in Article 25 Brussels I Recast, combined with recital 20 (yet again the troublesome habit of EU private international law to include substantive rules in recitals only) does create a vacuum in the case of hybrid, asymmetric or even non-exclusive choice of court.

An important case. Not the last we have heard of the issues.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Ch.2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.1, Heading 2.2.9.5.

 

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On ‘civil and commercial’, and, again, notaries as courts. The CJEU in Pula Parking.

Issued on the same day as Zulfikarpašić, Pula Parking Case C-551/15 deals with similar core issues, with a few extras thrown in. Pula Parking, a company owned by the town of Pula (Croatia), carries out, pursuant to a decision of the mayor of that town, the administration, supervision, maintenance and cleaning of the public parking spaces, the collection of parking fees and other related tasks. In September 2010, Mr Tederahn, who is domiciled in Germany, parked his vehicle in a public parking space of the town of Pula. Pula Parking issued Mr Tederahn with a parking ticket. Since Mr Tederahn did not settle the sums due within the period prescribed, Pula Parking lodged, on 27 February 2015, with a notary whose office is in Pula, an application for enforcement on the basis of an ‘authentic document’. A notary issued a writ of execution on 25 March 2015, on the basis of that document.  In his opposition, Mr Tederahn put forward a plea alleging that the notary who issued the writ of execution of 25 March 2015 did not have substantive and territorial jurisdiction on the ground that that notary did not have jurisdiction to issue such a writ on the basis of an ‘authentic document’ from 2010, against a German national or a citizen of any other EU Member State.

Does the Brussels I recast apply at all? And does it relate also to the jurisdiction of notaries in the Republic of Croatia?

On the temporal scope of the Brussels I Recast, the Court repeats its (Brussels Convention) Sanicentral (Case 25/79) finding: the only necessary and sufficient condition for the scheme of the Regulation to be applicable to litigation relating to legal relationships created before its entry into force is that the judicial proceedings should have been instituted subsequently to that date. Accession timing is irrelevant to the case: per C-420/07 Apostolides the Act of Accession of a new Member State is based essentially on the general principle that the provisions of EU law apply ab initio and in toto to that State, derogations being allowed only in so far as they are expressly laid down by transitional provisions.

On the substantial scope of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, for the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ the Court refers to its standing case-law (particularly most recently Aertssen and Sapir). In casu, it would seem (the national court is asked to confirm) that the parking debt claimed by Pula Parking is not coupled with any penalties that may be considered to result from a public authority act of Pula Parking and is not of a punitive nature but constitutes, therefore, mere consideration for a service provided. Brussels I applies.

However, notaries in casu do not act as courts: in a twin approach with Zulfikarpašić, the Court holds that the writ of execution based on an ‘authentic document’, issued by the notary, is served on the debtor only after the writ has been adopted, without the application by which the matter is raised with the notary having been communicated to the debtor. (at 58) Although it is true that debtors have the opportunity to lodge oppositions against writs of execution issued by notaries and it appears that notaries exercise the responsibilities conferred on them in the context of enforcement proceedings based on an ‘authentic document’ subject to review by the courts, to which notaries must refer possible challenges, the fact remains that the examination, by notaries, in Croatia, of an application for a writ of execution on such a basis is not conducted on an inter partes basis.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1. Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.

 

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Cybercrime and jurisdiction. The CJEU in Concurrences /Samsung /Amazon.

In the flurry of judgments issued by the European Court of Justice on Super Wednesday, 21 December, spare a read for C-618/15 Concurrence /Samsumg /Amazon: Cybercrime, which dealt with jurisdiction for tort under the Brussels I Recast Regulation and the location of locus damni in the event of online sales. The foreign suffix of the website was deemed irrelevant.

To fully appreciate the facts of the case and the Court’s reasoning, undoubtedly it would be best to read Wathelet AG’s Opinion alongside the Court’s judgment.

Concurrence is active in the retail of consumer electronics, trading through a shop located in Paris (France) and on its online sales website ‘concurrence.fr’. It concluded with Samsung a selective distribution agreement (covering France) for high-end Samsung products, namely the ELITE range. That agreement included, in particular, a provision prohibiting the sale of the products in question on the internet. Exact parties to the dispute are Concurrence SARL, established in France, Samsung SAS, also established in France, and Amazon Services Europe Sàrl, established in Luxembourg. Amazon offered the product range on a variety of its websites,  Amazon.fr, Amazon.de, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.es and Amazon.it.

Concurrence sue variously for a lift of the ban on internet sales (claiming the ban was illegal) and alternatively, an end to the  offering for sale of the elite products via Amazon. The French courts suggest they lack jurisdiction over the foreign Amazon websites (excluding amazon.fr) because the latter are not directed at the French public. Concurrence suggest there is such jurisdiction, for the products offered for sale on those foreign sites are dispatched not only within the website’s country of origin but also in other European countries, in particular France, in which case jurisdiction, they suggest,  legitimately lies with the French courts.

Pinckney figures repeatedly in Opinion and Judgment alike. Amazon submit that the accessibility theory for jurisdiction should not be accepted, since it encourages forum shopping, which, given the specific nature of national legal systems, might lead to ‘law shopping’ by contamination. Amazon seek support in Jaaskinen’s Opinion in Pinckney. Wathelet AG first of all notes (at 67 of his Opinion) that this argument of his colleague was not accepted by the CJEU. Moreover, he finds it exaggerated: the national court can award damages only for loss occasioned in the territory of the Member State in which it occurs: this limitation serves as an important break on plaintiffs simply suing in a State per the locus damni criterion ‘just because they can’.

The Court agrees (at 32 ff) but in a more succinct manner (one may need therefore the comfort of the Opinion for context):

  • The infringement of the prohibition on resale outside a selective distribution network is given effect by the law of the Member State of the court seised, so that a natural link exists between that jurisdiction and the dispute in the main proceedings, justifying jurisdiction for the latter.  It is on the territory of that Member State that the alleged damage occurs.
  • Indeed, in the event of infringement, by means of a website, of the conditions of a selective distribution network, the damage which the distributor may claim is the reduction in the volume of its sales resulting from the sales made in breach of the conditions of the network and the ensuing loss of profits.
  • The fact that the websites on which the offer of the products covered by the selective distribution right appears operate in Member States other than that of the court seised is irrelevant, as long as the events which occurred in those Member States resulted in or may result in the alleged damage in the jurisdiction of the court seised, which it is for the national court to ascertain.

With this judgment national courts are slowly given a complete cover of eventualities in the context of jurisdiction and the internet.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2

 

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Place of performance of a contract: Court of Appeal in JEB v Binstock.

In JEB Recoveries v Binstock, [2016] EWCA Civ 1008, the Court of Appeal (on appeal from the High Court, 2015] EWHC 1063 (Ch)) exhaustively reviewed relevant EU precedent for the determination of the ‘place of performance’ of a contract under Article 5(1) (now 7(1)) of the Brussels I (Recast) Regulation. Kitchin LJ first of all refuses to deal with the alleged submission to jurisdiction by Mr Binstock. The argument was made that,  by making and pursuing an application for security for costs, Mr Binstock had submitted to the jurisdiction. The issue was however not raised before the High Court and therefore not sub judice at the Court of Appeal.

Mr Binstock (of casino fame) argued that the contracts at issue were not performed in England, for he himself was domiciled in Spain  and the claimant in the case at issue (for most of the relevant contracts, jurisdiction was dismissed at hand) had arguably carried out his contractual arrangements largely from Paris.

Relevant CJEU precedent was C-19/09 Wood Floor Solutions the findings of which Lord Justice Kitchin helpfully summarised as follows:

  1. ‘…First, the place of performance must be understood as the place with the closest linking factor between the contract and the court having jurisdiction and, as a general rule, this will be at the place of the main provision of the services.
  2. Secondly, the place of the main provision of the services must be deduced, so far as possible, from the provisions of the contract itself.
  3. Thirdly, if the provisions of the contract do not enable the place of the main provision of the services to be determined, either because they provide for several places where services are to be provided or because they do not expressly provide for any specific place where services are to be provided, but services have already been provided, it is appropriate, in the alternative, to take account of the place where activities in performance of the contract have for the most part been carried out, provided that the provision of services in that place is not contrary to the parties’ intentions as appears from the contract.
  4. Fourthly, if the place of the main provision of the services cannot be determined on the basis of the terms of the contract or its performance, then it must be identified by another means which respects the objectives of predictability and proximity, and this will be the place where the party providing the services is domiciled.’

Based upon the place where the services have for the most part been carried out, the Court of Appeal held that JEB has no good arguable case that the place of the main provision of Mr Wilson’s services was England.

A neat application of Article 7(1) and an improved re-phrasing of the CJEU’s own rules.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2 Heading 2.2.11.1.,

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Assymetric jurisdiction clauses. Their existence and (obiter) their neutralising effect in Perella v Codere.

Apologies for late posting. I had tweeted and linked and done all sorts of other things when the judgment came out but as readers tell me, that is not quite the same as a review on this blog.

Walker J decided Peralla v Codere [2016] EWHC 1182 (Comm) at the end of July. His views on Article 25 and exclusivity in the event of asymmetric jurisdiction clauses, are very much dicta. On their neutralising effect under Article 31, he suggested obiter. Let me explain. The jurisdiction clause which Perella alleged to have been breached by Codere comprises a single sentence of a clause of their letter of engagement. That sentence states:

“[Codere] agrees for the benefit of [Perella] that the courts of England wil have non-exclusive jurisdiction to settle any dispute which may arise in connection with this engagement.”

Codere sued in Spain alleging breach of contract. Perella countersues in England. The English proceedings are very much necessitated by one or two awkward consequences of the wording of Article 31 of the Brussels I Recast. This Article was specifically included to neutralise the torpedo which the Court of Justice had armed in its Gasser judgment, C-116/02: following Gasser, lis alibi pendens applies even if there is exclusive choice of court and a court other than the court assigned in that clause, has been seized. The Brussels I Recast neutralises the torpedo but only if there is exclusive court of choice, and if the court designated by that clause has been seized.

The first consideration in the case was whether the clause was exclusive. It was pertinently not. Perella suggested the language indicates that the benefit to be conferred upon Perella is an entitlement to insist that Codere must regard itself as bound by the exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts. Walker J (at 30) rejects this justifiably: it would have been simplicity itself verbatim to indicate exclusivity. As Ken Kaar notes, the inclusion of ‘for the benefit of’ is an old, now redundant boilerplate provision in choice of court: in the original Brussels and Lugano Conventions, ‘If the agreement conferring jurisdiction was concluded for the benefit of only one of the parties, that party shall retain the right to bring proceedings in any other court which has jurisdiction by virtue of this Convention.’ This proviso meant there was plenty of discussion in court whether only one party had procured such benefit, lest one state in so many words that it had. The current version of the Brussels I Recast (and the 2001 version before it) and Lugano 2007 have both dropped the provision, and it would be best dropped from the boilerplate clause, too.

Having held that the clause was not exclusive, the Court could have stopped there. Obiter however Walker J offered his view on whether Article 31(2)’s protection extends to asymmetric choice of court clauses – the notion of which I have reported on before. Walker J (at 18) suggests that it does. The party invoking Article 31(2) pointing to an exclusive forum which the counterparty who is suing elsewhere, had committed itself to, need not be itself subject to a symmetric duty only to sue in that court. The point has not been argued before the CJEU yet, but I agree that the High Court’s position is the correct one, with the important caveat of course that such clause needs to be valid in accordance with the lex fori prorogati. This also means that asymmetric clauses where such lex cannot be identified, would have trouble disarming the recalcitrant party’s torpedo.

Well, we are going to miss this type of judgment following Brexit. Better make conflict of laws part of the continuing relations with the UK.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Ch.2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.1, Heading 2.2.9.5.

 

 

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Schmidt v Schmidt: CJEU confirms Kokott AG’s views on forum rei sitae & forum connexitatis in Brussels I Recast.

Much as expected, the Court has this week confirmed Kokott AG’s views on Article 24(1) and Article 8(4) Brussels I Recast, in C-417/15 Schmidt v Schmidt. Please refer to my review of the Advocate General’s Opinion for detail of the case.

A request for voidance of a contract of gift of immovable property, on grounds of incapacity, is not covered by Article 24(1). The fact that the contract for which a declaration of invalidity is sought concerns immovable property is irrelevant to the issue of its validity, the immovable nature of the subject matter of the contract being only of marginal significance in that context (at 36). This does not endanger the ratio legis of Article 24(1): by ruling on the request for the avoidance of a contract of gift on the ground of the donor’s incapacity to contract, the court before which the dispute is brought is not required to carry out investigations strictly related to the immovable property concerned so as to justify an application of the rule of exclusive jurisdiction provided for in that article (at 37). In the present case, the action in the main proceedings is based on the alleged invalidity of the contractual obligation consisting of the conveyance of ownership of the immovable property, which, provided that the contract is valid, must be, and which was initially, performed in Austria. This therefore establishes jurisdiction for that court on the basis of Article 7(1) a of the Brussels I Recast.

The separate request for removal from the land register of the donee’s right of ownership, in turn is based on the invalidity of the conveyance of ownership and, therefore, on the right in rem relied on by the applicant in the main proceedings in the immovable property concerned:this action is covered by Article 24(1). This latter court may also rule on the request for voidance: there is a connection between the claims pursuant to Article 8(4) of Regulation 1215/2012. Unlike the AG, the CJEU does not add that this possibility for joinder must not be abused, however there is no reason why the prohibition of abuse must not apply to Article 8(4). Given the possibility of joinder, a race to court of course is triggered between, in this case, father and daughter.

Schmidt v Schmidt is once again a useful reminder for courts and notaries alike, not to shy away from contracts, gifts, matrimonial property etc. simply because it involves real estate located elsewhere. Plenty of the legal issues surrounding such constructions can be perfectly dealt with outside the locus rei sitae.

Geert.

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Status updated: can a ‘relationship’ be a ‘contract’? CJEU says it’s complicated in Granarolo, and complements the Handte formula.

In C-196/15 Granarolo, extensive reference is made to Brogsitter, in which the CJEU held that the fact that one contracting party brings a civil liability claim against the other is not sufficient to consider that the claim concerns ‘matters relating to a contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast. That is the case only where the conduct complained of may be considered a breach of contract, which may be established by taking into account the purpose of the contract, which will in principle be the case only where the interpretation of the contract which links the defendant to the applicant is indispensable to establish the lawful or, on the contrary, unlawful nature of the conduct complained of against the former by the latter. 

Kokott AG Opined that there was no such contractual relationship in the case at hand: see my review of the Opinion. The Court held last week and was less categorical. It suggests a contractual relationship between the parties (which did not have a framework agreement in place: rather a long series of one-off contracts) should not be excluded: the long-standing business relationship which existed between the parties is characterised by the existence of obligations tacitly agreed between them, so that a relationship existed between them that can be classified as contractual (at 25).

What follows can be considered a CJEU addition to the rather byzantine double negative C-26/91 Handte formula: ‘matters relating to a contract is not to be understood as covering a situation in which there is no obligation freely assumed by one party towards another’. In Granarolo at 26 the Court notes

The existence of a tacit relationship of that kind cannot, however, be presumed and must, therefore, be demonstrated. Furthermore, that demonstration must be based on a body of consistent evidence, which may include in particular the existence of a long-standing business relationship, the good faith between the parties, the regularity of the transactions and their development over time expressed in terms of quantity and value, any agreements as to prices charged and/or discounts granted, and the correspondence exchanged.

These criteria obviously are quite specific to the question at hand yet it is the first time the Court, carefully, ventures to give indications of some kind of a European ius commune on the existence of ‘a contract’.

Whether any such contract then is a contract for the sale of goods or one for services, is not a call the Court wishes to make. It lists the various criteria it has hitherto deployed, with extensive reference in particular to C-9/12 Corman-Collins, and leaves the decision up to the national court.

Make a mental note of Granarolo. It may turn out to have been quite pivotal. Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9

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