Motacus Constructions v Castelli. Choice of court, English lois de police and interim measures under the Hague process, post Brexit.

Motacus Constructions Ltd v Paolo Castelli SpA [2021] EWHC 356 (TCC)  to my knowledge is the first case post-Brexit that shows how a jurisdictional discussion that might have been settled swiftly under Brussels Ia, leads to a lot more chewing over under 2005 Hague Convention (on choice of court) principles. It may not be ‘important‘ in terms of its impact on authority (this is a first instance judgment; and it may be overly enthusiastic in engaging with the issues) yet it nevertheless is a good illustration of what was left behind.

The Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Act 2020 has given the 2005 Convention force of law in the UK.

The ‘Governing Law & Dispute Resolution’ clause (clause 19) of a contract between contractor and subcontractor re a London hotel provided ‘This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of Italy’ and for all disputes to ‘submitted to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of Paris, France’. A payment issue ensued and the contractor started classic English construction sector adjudication proceedings despite the aforementioned clause: the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 is overriding mandatory law /loi de police /loi d’application immédiate in England and Wales [3]. To address cash flow problems in the construction industry, and the shortcomings of the traditional litigation process in serving the needs of the construction industry, Parliament decided there should be a short-form process of adjudication producing binding, and readily enforceable, decisions [25].

The UK has not made a reservation under Hague 2005 viz contracts in the construction sector  [18] (compare the EU’s reservation viz insurance contracts).

Sub-contractor actively took part, yet declined to make the necessary payment which the adjudicator’s decision had instructed. Adjudication enforcement proceedings were started on 12 January 2021. Sub-contractor challenged the enforcement proceedings, arguing the proceedings could only be commenced in Paris under the choice of court.

Claimant’s case is that the High Court should accept jurisdiction and enforce the adjudicator’s decision, notwithstanding the exclusive jurisdiction clause, in light of the provisions in either A6(c) or A7 Hague 2005. It submits that it would be manifestly contrary to the public policy enshrined in the 1996 Act, or alternatively it would be manifestly unjust, to refuse to enforce an otherwise enforceable adjudicator’s decision in reliance on clause 19 of the contract. In any event, it is argued, the enforcement of an adjudicator’s decision is the enforcement of an interim measure of protection. It falls outside the scope of Hague 2005 and so the defendant cannot rely on its provisions.

A6(c) Hague 2005 provides that a court of a contracting state (in this case the UK) other than that of the chosen court (in this case Paris, France), “… shall suspend or dismiss proceedings to which an exclusive choice of court agreement applies unless – (c) giving effect to the agreement would lead to a manifest injustice or would be manifestly contrary to the public policy of the State of the court seised. 

A7 provides that: “Interim measures of protection are not governed by [the Hague] Convention. [That] Convention neither requires nor precludes the grant, refusal or termination of interim measures of protection by a court of a Contracting State and does not affect whether or not a party may request or a court should grant, refuse or terminate such measures.”

Spiliada, Fiona Trust, The Eleftharia etc. are all discussed in what looks like a bonfire of the CJEU authorities. The impact of Italian law as lex contractus, for the construction of the choice of court clause (under BIa this would have to be French law) is also signalled, but not entertained for this is an application for summary judgment in which, in the absence of proof of Italian law, its contents are presumed to be the same as English law [51].

Hodge J at 54 declines the suggestion of A6(c) ordre public. ‘Manifest’ requires a high burden of proof, no reservation has been made and there is no good reason why the parties should not be held to the bargain that they freely made when they incorporated clause 19 into their construction contract.

At 56 ff however claimant’s arguments on interim measures having been carved out, does lead to success: it is held that an application for summary judgment to enforce an adjudicator’s decision is an interim measure of protection within A7 Hague 2005. ‘The concept extends to any decision that is not a final and conclusive decision on the substantive merits of the case…The function of the adjudicator’s decision is to protect the position of the successful party on an interim basis pending the final resolution of the parties’ dispute through the normal court processes (or by arbitration).’ [57] The summary judgment application before the High Court has that same DNA: ‘What is before this court is not the underlying dispute between these parties but whether an interim procedure and remedy have been followed and granted.’

Interesting. Geert.

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

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

Henshaw J summarises the key issues at 74:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The judgment is lengthy. These are my highlights:

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

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

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

I fully expect there is scope for appeal.

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

Geert.

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

 

TWR v Panasonic. Obiter consideration of A34 Brussels Ia forum non light. Hamburg court likely to have to take up that baton in some form.

TRW Ltd v Panasonic Industry Europe GmbH & Anor [2021] EWHC 19 (TCC)  adds to the slowly developing case-law on Article 34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens light, on which I have reported at each occasion the Article to my knowledge has been applied (most recently in Ness Global Services).

The defendant Panasonic companies are based in Germany. Panasonic’s Group headquarters are in Japan. TRW is the English subsidiary, based in Solihull, of a German group of companies, ZF Group. The defendants say the parties agreed to German law and exclusive jurisdiction of the Hamburg court over any claim by TRW arising from supply of the resistors. TRW says the parties agreed to English law and jurisdiction.

There are related proceedings in Michigan, with judgment expected in about April 2021.

Kerr J decides at 55 ff here was valid A25 choice of court and hence jurisdiction for the courts at Hamburg, following the usual discussion on whether and if so which choice of court has been agreed in to and fro messages, purchase orders, invoices, references to general terms and conditions and the like. The kind of housekeeping complications which I discuss ia here.

Then follows obiter the Article 34 discussion. Parties agree that if jurisdiction under A25 BIa is established by neither party, TRW was at liberty to sue in England as the place of delivery of the goods, under A7(1) BIa; and that for A34 purposes there is a related lis alibi pendens in Michigan. The discussion turned on whether the word “expedient” in A34(1)(a) bears the meaning “desirable, even if not practicable” or “both practicable and desirable”, given the inconsistent case-law in JSC Commercial Privatbank v. Kolomoisky, SCOR v Barclays, Municipio de Mariana,  Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Royal Dutch Shell plcand of course  EuroEco.

At 94 Kerr J seems to side with Kolomoisky and with not reading EuroEco as a rejection of same, however he does not take definitive sides or does not attempt to reconcile the judgments. At 95 he says he would have not exercised his discretion for a stay, for the reasons earlier listed by counsel for claimants: these were (at 92-93)

Mr Caplan strongly opposed any stay. He submitted that, assuming I have any discretion to grant a stay (contrary to his reserved position), I should not exercise it. The risk of irreconcilable judgments could not be eliminated, he argued. The Michigan case would shortly produce a judgment binding on neither party to the present claim and, probably, applying Michigan law.

There was no scope for issue estoppel or abuse of process because the parties were different and the law could be different. Neither party in this case had opted for Michigan as the chosen forum and Michigan law as the choice of law. If the outcome of the Michigan litigation helped to promote settlement of the present claim, that could happen anyway, without a stay, since this claim is still at an early stage; the first case management conference has yet to take place.

At 98 Kerr J summarises

I would refuse a stay. The first condition in article 34(1)(a) – the expediency condition – may well be met, subject to clarification of the test emerging from the case law. The second condition is met. The third is not. I am far from satisfied that a stay is necessary for the proper administration of justice.

Kerr J concludes at 99

defendants have undertaken to submit to the jurisdiction of the Hamburg court, subject to seeking a stay of proceedings in Hamburg to await the outcome of the Michigan proceedings.

The Hamburg court is likely to see A34 arguments return, lest of course the Michigan proceedings will be concluded, in which case res judicata, recognition, and irreconcilability of judgment might be a core concern.

We have fairly little, if growing (*makes a note to now really really finish that paper*) authority to work with on A34. All bits help.

Geert.

European Private International, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.15.3.2, para 2.539 ff

The Court of Appeal in Etihad v Flother finishes the job on rendering Italian torpedoes harmless; puts the spotlight on Hague and BIa differences on choice of court.

Just before Christmas the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal in Etihad Airways PJSC v Flother [2020] EWCA Civ 1707. I discussed the High Court judgment here – the only properly discussed issue under appeal (the A25 discussion on the court being ‘seized’ as I noted was not entirely acte clair, either, yet is dealt with in 3 short paras at 89-91 ) is whether Brussels Ia’s Article 31(2) anti-torpedo mechanism applies to so-called asymmetric choice of court.

The High Court focused on not treating such clauses as a whole but rather on the parties’ individual obligations, in terms of jurisdiction, vis-a-vis the specific claim brought. That effectively meant it sidestepped having to rule on whether A31(2) applies to asymmetric choice of court.

Henderson LJ first of all (at 52, following discussion of the Article’s genesis as an antidote to CJEU Gasser) holds that A31(2) (ia because of the use of ‘without prejudice’ to A31(2) in A29) is not to be construed narrowly as being an exception to A29 and (at 68, again following discussion of the authorities) that the guiding rule for the application  of A31(2) must be party autonomy. At 73 he points out that the fundamental difficulty with the opposite conclusion is that on a narrow construction of Article 31(2), the job of rendering the torpedo harmless, was left only half done.  That may be so – however I am still not convinced. It might not have reached the judgment however I think more analysis (including linguistically) could  have been of the wording of ‘exclusive’ and ‘the proceedings’, for instance. Given BIa’s DNA I do not think it is the Member States courts’ place to finish the job if clear statutory language has left it hanging. A31(2) most certainly is not the only place in BIa where intentions expressed in the travaux are not completely reflected in the final law’s provisions.

At 82 ff the discussion, equally obiter as at the High Court, turns to the Hague Convention, which has of course increased in relevance following the no-deal Brexit for judicial co-operation. Justifiably Henderson LJ suggests obiter that there is no instruction at all to apply BIa and the Hague in conformity with each other, and that the Hague neither applies to non-exclusive choice of court nor has any A29 BIa-type lis pendens rule.

The request for a CJEU reference is dismissed, with at 94 reference in support to other Member States’ courts not having done so, either.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.10.5, para 2.343 in particular.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ING contends that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was most probably my last posting for the year.

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

 

Geert.

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

 

Ness Global Services: A33-34 BIa’s forum non conveniens-light applied to the Scarlet Pimpernel of BIa: non-exclusive choice of court.

Ness Global Services Ltd v Perform Content Services Ltd [2020] EWHC 3394 (Comm)  engages Articles 33-34 of the Brussels Ia Regulation, its so-called forum non conveniens light regime. I reported on it before of course, most recently re Municipio de Mariana in which the judge arguably failed to engage with BIa properly (making A33-34 a carbon copy of abuse and /or forum non arguments in my view is noli sequi).

Perform and Ness are UK-registered companies with offices in London.  Perform are defendants in the UK action. Ness Global Services and its parent Ness Technologies Inc are defendants in parallel proceedings in New Jersey. Both sets of proceedings are based on the same facts and matters. These are said to constitute the basis for termination by both sides of a written agreement.

Ness argue application of A33-34 must be dismissed for there is non-exclusive choice of court in favour of England which, it argues, makes the A33-34 threshold very high. (The clause reads ‘”Governing Law and Jurisdiction. The Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and the parties hereby irrevocably submit to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of England and Wales as regards any claim, dispute or matter arising under or in connection with this Agreement.”)

Houseman J introduces BIa’s scheme clearly and concisely, using the excellent Adrian Briggs’ suggestion of there being a hidden hierarchy in the Regulation – which in my Handbook I have also adopted (clearly with reference to prof Briggs) as the ‘jurisdictional matrix’. Houseman J at 39 notes that non-exclusive jurisdiction is hardly discussed in the Regulation. and concludes on that issue ‘If the internal hierarchy is “hidden” then is fair to say that the concept of non-exclusive prorogated jurisdiction is enigmatic and elusive. It is The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Regulation.’ Later non-EJA is used as shorthand for non-exclusive jurisdiction agreement.

At 62 after consideration of the reflexive application of exclusive jurisdictional rules, including choice of court, the text of A33-34, and recital 24, the judge considers that the recital

focusses upon connections with the ‘first seised’ Non-Member State, rather than the ‘second seised’ Member State which is applying Article 33 or Article 34. This is conspicuous notwithstanding the fact that the jurisdictional gateway language presupposes some connection between either the defendant (domicile) or the circumstances of the case (special jurisdiction) and the ‘second seised’ forum. Further, there is no obvious room in this wording for accommodating or giving effect to a Non-EJA in favour of the courts of the latter forum, and no warrant for affording it the significance that it would receive under English private international law principles, as noted below. In contrast, the second paragraph of the recital appears to contemplate the conferral of exclusive prorogated jurisdiction (albeit reflexively) in favour of the ‘first seised’ Non-Member State, as noted above.

At 80, Houseman J emphasises that in his view the internal hierarchy of the Regulation (the matrix) has no direct role to play in interpreting or applying the gateway language in A33-34. Those articles are themselves part of such hierarchy and are themselves a derogation from the basic rule of domiciliary jurisdiction. He then refers in some support to UCP v Nectrus (reference could also have been made to Citicorp) to hold at 95 that

where Article 25 operates to confer prorogated jurisdiction upon the courts of the ‘second seised’ Member State, whether exclusive or non-exclusive, Articles 33 and 34 are not applicable. In such a case it cannot be said that the court’s jurisdiction is “based upon” Article 4.

A suggestion at 96 that in such case A33-34 can apply reflexively is justifiably rejected.

At 109 application of A33-34 had they been engaged is declined obiter as being not in the interest of proper administration of justice. At 107 mere reference, neither approving nor disapproving was made ia to Municipio de Mariana which effectively places the Articles on a forum non footing.  At 112 it is held obiter

Without engaging in a full granular balancing exercise, given that this is a hypothetical inquiry in the present case, I am not persuaded that it is or would have been necessary for the proper administration of justice to stay these proceedings in favour of the NJ Proceedings. The parties bargained for or at any rate accepted the risk of jurisdictional fragmentation and multiplicity of proceedings by agreeing clause 20(f). That risk has manifested, largely through the tactical choice made by Perform to commence proceedings pre-emptively in New Jersey. The continuation of these proceedings, notwithstanding the existence of the NJ Proceedings, is a foreseeable consequence of the parties’ free bargain and a risk that Perform courted by suing first elsewhere.

An interesting addition to the scant A33-34 case-law, in an area this time of purely commercial litigation.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.539 ff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At 19-20:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geert.

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

RCT Holdings v LT Game. Supreme Court of Queensland sees no reason to frustrate choice of court pro Macau even in times of Covid19..

Update 3 December 2020 see Sarah McKibbin meanwhile for further background here.

Thank you Angus Macinnis for flagging RCD Holdings Ltd & Anor v LT Game International (Australia) Ltd [2020] QSC 318 in which  Davis J upheld choice of court in favour of the courts at Macau and held against a stay. The judgment is a good one for comparative purposes.

Claimants, ePayment Solutions Pty Ltd (EPS) and RCD Holdings Ltd (RCD), in their contract with the defendant, LT Game International (Australia) Ltd (LT) (a BVI domiciled company), agreed that any dispute between them would be litigated in Macau. However, when a dispute did arise they commenced proceedings in Queensland. LT entered a conditional appearance and now applies to strike out the claim, or alternatively, to have it stayed as being commenced in this court contrary to the contract.

Article 10 of the contract carries the title Governing law but actually is a choice of court clause – an oddity one sees more often than one might expect in B2B contracts: ‘Any dispute or issue arising hereunder, including any alleged breach by any party, shall be heard, determined and resolved by an action commenced in Macau. The English language will be used in all documents.”

Comparative insight includes the issue of whether A10 us a non-exclusive (an agreement not to object when proceedings are brought in the court designated) or exclusive (an agreement only to bring proceedings in the court designated) choice of court. Davis J settled for exclusive which would also seem to have been the position of both parties, despite some ambiguity at the start of proceedings.

Lex contractus is disputed, and at 27 Davis J settles for Macanese law, based upon factual construct of the contractual intention of the parties. Clearly that choice of court was made for Macau was an important factor – as it is in Rome I for consideration of so-called ‘implied’ choice of law in the event of choice of court made.

A stay on the basis of Covid19 impracticability (ia because of alleged difficulties for witness testimony) is dismissed, ia (at 34) because it is uncertain whether current travel restrictions will still be in place when the case in Macau might be heard. Davis j does suggest that a renewed application for a stay must not be ruled out in light of Covid19 developments, however will be seen against abuse of process: in other words claimants had best not do so lightly.

Geert.

Lopesan Touristik v Apollo Principal Finance. Importance of choice of court in lis alibi pendens applications testifies to English courts’ strong support for party autonomy..

Another day and another application for a stay on the basis of Article 30 Brussels Ia. Lopesan Touristik SA v Apollo European Principal Finance Fund III (Dollar A) L.P. & Ors [2020] EWHC 2642 (Comm) engages a Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA) between Lopesan as seller and Spanish company Oldavia as buyer, for Lopesan’s interest in the Buenaventura hotel in Spain. The Hotel is owned by Creative Hotel Buenaventura SAU.

Oldavia is a special purpose vehicle through which Apollo, who are private equity interests, acquired the Hotel for c.€93 million. That funding commitment was reflected in the terms of an Equity Commitment Letter (ECL), under which Apollo promised Oldavia, on the terms and conditions set out in the ECL, to provide it with the funding required to complete the SPA, which obligation was expressly made enforceable by Lopesan under the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999.

The SPA is governed by Spanish law and contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the Spanish courts. The ECL is governed by English law and contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the English courts.

Completion did not take place, and there are disputes between Lopesan and Oldavia as to whether Oldavia was or is obliged to complete under the SPA.

On 12 August 2020, Lopesan commenced proceedings against Oldavia in Madrid seeking specific performance of Oldavia’s obligation to complete under the SPA. Parties agree that those proceedings will not be determined for at least 12 months. On 20 August 2020, Lopesan wrote to Apollo seeking confirmations and undertakings intended to ensure that, if the specific performance claim against Oldavia succeeded, Apollo would provide the funds to Oldavia to allow completion to occur. Apollo disputed that Oldavia was under any obligation to complete, and as a result that it was under any corresponding obligation to put Oldavia in funds to enable it to complete.

On 15 September 2020 Lopesan then issued proceedings seeking to enforce its rights as a third party beneficiary under the ECL by way of an order for specific performance of Apollo’s obligation to put Oldavia in funds. Lopesan also issued an application for a speedy trial of that action to ensure judgment was delivered before 1 January 2021: there is a potential argument that Apollo’s obligations will lapse on 1 January 2021, even if, before that date, Oldavia came under a legal obligation to complete the SPA.

Apollo seek a stay of the proceedings under A30(1) BIa.

At 47 Foxton J refers to the Privatbank /EuroEco discussion which he summarises as ‘whether actions are related for the purposes of A30 only when the actions can in fact be heard and determined together, or whether actions are related where they would be heard and determined together but for some external factor (such as exclusive jurisdiction agreements or subject-matter limits on the jurisdiction of a particular court) which prevents this.’ Effective v theoretical hearing together, in other words. He sides with Privatbank but also accepts, with reference to Privatbank, that a practical inability to achieve an outcome where both cases are heard and determined together will be a factor which weighs against granting a stay as a matter of the discretion which Article 30 grants the judge, and that “absent some strong, countervailing factor, the fact that proceedings cannot be consolidated and heard together will be a compelling reason for refusing a stay”.

Further, and with reference to The Alexandros and to Generali v Pelagic Fisheries, where the factor which prevents the two actions being heard together is an exclusive jurisdiction clause, that of itself will constitute a powerful (although not insuperable) factor against staying proceedings which have been brought in the parties’ chosen jurisdiction pending the determination of proceedings elsewhere. At 50 he holds that this is a factor even when the other proceedings have themselves not been commenced in breach of contract.

At 57 Foxton J points that neither the relatedness of the actions nor that the Spanish court is first seised, are disputed. Relatedness exists given that any issue arising in the English proceedings which concerns the issue of whether Oldavia was obliged to complete the SPA necessarily arises in Spain. He then holds that the degree of relatedness is high and that the Spanish courts have much closer proximity to the subject matter of the case, involving, as it does, issues as to the effect of Covid-19 and the Spanish government’s response to it on a Spanish hotel, and the legal effects of those and other matters on a contract governed by Spanish law. However, at 58, if the English proceedings are stayed, it will not be possible to hear and determine the claims in the English and Spanish proceedings together, given the conflicting exclusive jurisdiction clauses in the ECL and the SPA. The decision (whether on issues of law or fact) in the Spanish proceedings would not be binding in the English proceedings, although if Lopesan fails in the Spanish proceedings, that will in practice be determinative of the English proceedings. Findings of law in the Spanish proceedings will also have a strong evidential value in the English proceedings.

Nevertheless, the significance of the English jurisdiction clause and the practical impossibility to hear the claims together in the Spanish courts, make him decide at 60 ff against a stay. His judgment displays the characteristic support of the English courts and English law for party autonomy: parties have deliberately structured the transaction so that claims under the ECL would be heard in a different jurisdiction to claims under the SPA. Consider his reasoning at 61:

That choice having been made, no doubt for good commercial reasons, and the events which have transpired being a scenario which must have been squarely within the parties’ contemplation, it would take a very strong case to justify staying proceedings brought as of right here pending the outcome of proceedings in another jurisdiction. The closer proximity of the Spanish courts to the dispute, nor its status as the natural forum to determine issues of Spanish law, are not sufficient to justify a stay, both because this must have been obvious to the parties when they put this arrangement in place, and because the parties expressly agreed not to raise any objections to proceedings in England on the ground that proceedings have been brought in an inconvenient forum. I do not suggest that this last factor is determinative or that it precludes an Article 30(1) stay. There is a public, as well as a purely private, interest in avoiding irreconcilable judgments within the Brussels Recast regime. However, the factor that the parties wanted the dispute to be determined in their chosen forum regardless of whether another court might be a more convenient forum is a factor which weighs in the balance against a stay.

A relevant judgment.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5.
Third edition forthcoming February 2021