Posts Tagged Choice of court

Sinocore International Co Ltd v RBRG Trading: The commercial court on fraus, ordre public and arbitration.

Fraus omnia corrumpit (fraud corrupts all; alternatively formulated as ex turpi causa non oritur actio) is not easily applied in conflict of laws. See an earlier post here.  In Sinocore International Co Ltd v RBRG Trading , the Commercial Court granted permission for the enforcement of a foreign arbitral award despite allegations that the transaction in question had been “tainted” by fraud: this is how the case is summarised by Mayer Brown and I am happy broadly to refer to their overview and analysis.

The Commercial Court’s relaxed attitude is another sign of strong support of the English courts for the New York Convention and its narrow application of ordre public.

An interesting case for comparative conflicts /arbitration classes.

Geert.

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Assymetrical 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.

 

 

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The Trafigura litigation continues: Dutch court accepts jurisdiction but denies standing to victims’ association.

I have in the past reported fleetingly about the Trafigura litigation, in which the company is and has been pursued in various jurisdictions for the environmental and public health damage resulting from the dumping in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s capita, of toxic waste originating from the Probo Koala. I discuss the corporate social responsibility implications of conflict of laws ia here.

The case has led ia to the so-called ‘Leigh Day settlement’ in the United Kingdom (representing 30.000 victims) and to a 2007 ‘Protocole d’Accord’ between Trafigura and Ivory coast.

Current judgment was issued on 30 November and involves Stichting Union des Victimes de Déchets Toxiques D`Abidjan et Banlieues, a foundation set up in accordance with Dutch law, claiming to represent victims not yet represented in the Leigh Day settlement.

The Dutch court first of all swiftly rejects any impact of the choice of court clause included in the 2007 protocol. This discussion could have been quite interesting, however the Court suffices with a reference to the narrow formulation of the clause. It refers to any and all issues arising out of the validity, application and interpretation of the agreement. The agreement being a contractual arrangement and the suit here being based on liability in tort, in an action started by victims not party to the agreement, the court at Amsterdam suffices with the remark that current case is evidently not covered by the clause.

This leaves aside the discussion on the merits with respect to that choice of court. The 2007 protocol was signed by Ivory Coast ‘for and on behalf of all victims of the toxic wastes’. Whether the State can legitimately bind all those victims, particularly since presumably not all of them are Ivory Coast nationals, requires a lex causae to settle. Were this to follow the Brussels I Recast rule (the case looks to have been introduced after January 2015), this would imply a discussion on the inclusion of choice of court ex-EU. Over and above that discussion, the Court at Amsterdam would then have to discuss whether perhaps ordre public protests against allowing a State to represent all victims in cases such as these.

Having dismissed (again, all too briefly) choice of court, the court subsequently upholds jurisdiction on the basis of Article 4 Brussels I Recast: the Dutch domicile of Trafigura Beheer BV.

In the remainder of the assessment of jurisdiction and standing, the Court applies Dutch law (de Stichting has been set up under Dutch law) and finds ultimately that the personal, business interests of its creator are not sufficiently split from the interests of the victims which the foundation purports to represent. The court adds that the Stichting would not seem properly to manage its documentation etc., leaving doubt as to whether it is properly equipped to attain its objective.

The suit is therefore dismissed on standing.

An interesting judgment to kick-start all sorts of issues of relevance to corporate social responsibility.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9.2, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

 

 

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Extension of contractual choice of court to unfair trading practices : Rotterdam in Philipp Plein.

In Philipp Plein, the court at Rotterdam held against the applicability of contractual choice of court to cases involving (alleged) unfair trading practices /infringement of competition law. (The judgment is not entirely clear on how the alleged tort needs to be qualified). I should also rephrase: I am assuming the case involves clothing chain Philipp Plein (‘PP’): this party’s name (albeit with presumably a typoo reported as ‘Philipp Klein’) is mentioned once in the judgment, probably because redacting missed this one particular reference. I find this process of anonimisation rather tiring: I fail to understand why in issues of commercial law, companies should at all be offered anonymity in public recording of the case. But I digress.

PP is domiciled at Lugano. The court is not entirely clear in its distinction between the Brussels I Recast Regulation and the Lugano Convention 2007. For the consideration of choice of court, domicile of the defendant in Switzerland was already immaterial under the Brussels I Regulation, given that one of the parties is domiciled in The Netherlands. The court applies Brussels I Recast and Lugano 2007 more or less jointly, given their similar outcome for the case at issue. Given this parallel application it is quite remarkable that no reference is made to CDC, which emphasised that extension of choice of court to non-contractual liability cannot be assumed. Instead the court here reviews how other parts of PP’s standard terms and conditions are formulated and what impact this has on the clause at issue.

It decides the choice of court clause (which read ‘“If both parties are businessmen, then the place of jurisdiction […] is Nuremberg, Germany”.’) does not extend to non-contractual liability. Parties seemingly agreed that in the event of non-applicability of choice of court, the Court at Rotterdam can hear the case on the basis of Article 5(3) Lugano 2007 (similar to now Article 7(2) Brussels I Recast).

I agree with Bas Braeken and Marianne Meijssen: A good result but an awkward way to go about it.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.7.

 

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Going European: California S.B. 1241. Employee protection for choice of law and choice of court.

Thank you Cozen O’Connor for alerting me. California’s Senate Bill 1241 was signed into law at the end of September. It will apply to employment contracts entered into, modified, or extended on or after 1 January 2017.

The Bill will feature in a forthcoming article that I am co-authoring with Jutta Gangsted. I have not (yet) studied the preparatory work in detail however the Bill immediately calls for comparative analysis with the EU’s’ approach to this particular ‘protected category’: what is a labour (employment) contract; how does ‘primarily resides and works in California’ compare with ‘habitually carries out his work’ and ‘domicile’; when exactly is a contract ‘modified’ (on this see for the EU, Nikiforidis). The starting point of both the California and the EU rules is the same: employees cannot be considered to really consent to either choice of law or choice of court hence any clause doing same will be subject to mandatory limitations.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016. Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.3, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.

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Choice of court (in tender file) under Brussels I. CJEU confirms Szpunar AG in Hőszig /Hoszig – keeps schtum on Brussels I Recast.

The CJEU has confirmed the views of Szpunar AG in C-222/15 Hőszig /Hoszig, without (much as expected) entertaining the lex fori prorogati rule of the Brussels I Recast.

Can choice of court made in underlying documentation in the context of a tender, for which Hőszig entered a winning bid, be considered valid under Article 23 of the Brussels I Regulation (now: Article 25 Brussels I Recast)? Yes, the Court said, with explicit reference to the AG. Crucial point in the consideration is whether per Case 24/76 Colzani an explicit reference to the choice has been made, reference which can be controlled by a party applying normal diligence and where it is established that the general conditions containing the jurisdiction clause was actually communicated to the other contracting party (at 40 in Hoszig). This was so in the case at issue. The court points out that Article 23 (and now Article 25) includes mostly formal requirements (expression of consent, see the references in my posting on the AG’s Opinion) and only one substantial requirement (choice of court needs to relate to an identified legal relationship between the parties). The remainder of discussion on the substantive requirements with respect to the choice of court agreement, is subject to the lex causae of that separate choice of court agreement (exactly why the current Regulation now includes the lex fori prorogati rule; Szpunar AG’s discussion of this clause however was not required to settle the issue and therefore the Court does not look into it).

‘(T)he Paris Courts [have exclusive and final jurisdiction]’ is sufficient for the CJEU to determine the choice of court with precision: it is perfectly acceptable that it will subsequently be French civil procedure laws that will determine precisely which court will have jurisdiction.

A sensible judgment following clear Opinion of the Advocate General, together further completing the choice of court provisions of Brussels I.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9 Heading 2.2.9.4. Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.2 .

 

 

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Once again: Choice of court (this time in tender docs) under Brussels I. Szpunar AG takes the sensible route in Hőszig /Hoszig.

In C-222/15 Hőszig /Hoszig, Advocate General Szpunar opined using the sensible route, on the application of Article 23 of Regulation 44/2001 . His excursus though on Article 25 of the Brussels I Recast and the new lex fori prorogati rule is the part of his judgment which I read with most interest.

First things first: can choice of court made in underlying documentation in the context of a tender, for which Hőszig entered a winning bid, be considered valid under Article 23 of the Brussels I Regulation (now: Article 25 Brussels I Recast). Pursuant to Clause 23.1 of these ‘general conditions of purchase’, headed ‘applicable law and settlement of disputes’, ‘[t]he Order shall be governed by and interpreted in accordance with French law. The application of the United Nations Convention on the International Sale of Goods dated April 11, 1980 is excluded. Any dispute arising out of or in connection with the validity, construction, performance or termination of the Order, which the parties are unable to settle amicably shall be finally and exclusively settled by the courts of Paris, including in the case of a summary procedure, injunctions or conservatory measure.’

Hőszig tried to sue instead in what it considered to be the place of performance of the contract, per Article 5(1) (now 7(1) in the Recast). Its torpedo of the choice of court included in the general conditions of purchase, was based on recourse to Article 10(2) Rome I, which holds that the putative law of the contract does not apply to consider a party’s consent if it would not be reasonable to do so. In such case the law of the habitual residence of said party applies. Here this would lead to Hungarian law rather than French law and Hungarian law, it is argued, would not accept such incorporation of general terms and conditions. Szpunar AG however simply refers to the fact that choice of court agreements are excluded from the Rome I Regulation. Recourse to Article 10(2) is barred by that exclusion.

What needs to be considered under Article 23 Brussels I is whether parties have reached consensus, ‘clearly and precisely demonstrated’, the AG suggests. This wording is typically associated with choice of law under Rome I however I would support its use in the context of the Brussels I (and Recast) Regulation, too, for that is what the Court’s case-law on the Article amounts to. Applying Case 24/76 Colzani mutatis mutandis, and taking into account that express reference to the general terms and conditions in documents exchanged between the parties prior to the tender being awarded, the AG concludes that agreement had been reached.

Now, is the expression ‘courts of Paris’ sufficiently precise? Szpunar AG suggests it is and I would concur, albeit that the last word on  that is probably not yet said. The Advocate General refers to Capotorti AG in Case 23/78 Meeth, who had advised that a clause worded such as here, refers by implication to the system of rules of territorial jurisdiction (typically on the basis of a combination of value and subject-matter) to determine precisely at which court proceedings must be instituted. The Court itself did not at all elaborate in the eventual judgment. Szpunar AG suggests it must have taken Capororti’s suggestion for granted. Therefore (at 44 of the Opinion) it is French procedural law which governs the question of precisely which Paris court is competent.

This leaves open the question, though (which I understand is not sub judice here) whether parties can employ choice of court to trump national rules of civil procedure. What if they agree that the courts of say province X in Member State A are preferable to settle the issue, e.g. because of perceived know-how, even if national civil procedure would ordinarily assign the case to province Y? Not an issue which to my knowledge has been settled by EU case-law.

By way of sign-off, the Advocate General then reviews whether the new text, Regulation 1215/2012, has in any way altered or added to the discussion on choice of court agreements. Readers will be aware (via this blog or the Handbook or otherwise) that the new Regulation refers to the lex fori prorogati to determine the validity of the choice of court agreement:  ‘[i]f the parties, regardless of their domicile, have agreed that a court or the courts of a Member State are to have jurisdiction to settle any disputes which have arisen or which may arise in connection with a particular legal relationship, that court or those courts shall have jurisdiction, unless the agreement is null and void as to its substantive validity under the law of that Member State’ (emphasis added by Szpunar AG).

Under Brussels I, various options were defended. Szpunar AG refers to Slynn AG having defended lex fori prorogati in Case 150/80 Elefanten Schuh,  and Szpunar AH himself suggest (at 47 in fine) lex fori additi under the former Brussels I Regulation (44/2001).

The AG is most certainly correct in my view that the lex fori prorogati is not meant to cover all aspects of the validity of the agreement. In my Handbook I distinguish between the expression of consent (harmonised by Article 25), and the formation of consent (not touched upon by Brussels I and now subject to the lex fori prorogati). He then suggests that the insertion of lex fori prorogati was meant to align the Brussels I (Recast) with the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements, to which the EU have now acceded. I do not recall any such reference in the travaux preparatoires of Regulation 1215/2012 – however it has been a while since I consulted them extensively and the AG presumably has.

The Court of course will be much more succinct than its AG.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9 Heading 2.2.9.4. Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.2 .

 

 

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