Rantos AG in TOTO. Important considerations on lis pendens and provisional measures, and on contractual drafting of choice of court.

Advocate General Rantos opined two weeks ago in C-581/20 Skarb Państwa Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej reprezentowany przez Generalnego Dyrektora Dróg Krajowych i Autostrad v TOTO SpA – Costruzioni Generali et al. – I propose we shorthand the case as ‘TOTO’.

Following public procurement, the Polish treasury granted the works for the construction of a stretch of motorway to an Italian consortium. In the contract, choice of court is made for Poland. The necessary guarantees eg for payment of fines in the event of late completion, were underwritten by a Bulgarian insurance company, whose guarantee is subject to Polish law. The consortium  to no avail sought negative declaratory relief (with a view to obtaining a finding that no fines are due under the contract) and injunctive relief (with a view to prohibiting the Polish authorities from exercising the guarantee) with the Polish court with substance matter jurisdiction. However it subsequently secured the injunctive relief from a Bulgarian court with Article 35 Brussels Ia provisional measures jurisdiction. This relief expressed itself inter alia in custodial attachment of the guarantees which the Polish authorities had sought to exercise with a European Order for Payment form. That Bulgarian relief is now before the Bulgarian Supreme Court.

The questions before the court are  whether the provisional measures can at all be ordered under the A35 gateway given that they might concern acta iure imperii and not civil and commercial matters; and if the matter is within the scope of BIa, whether the A35 court may still order such measures if the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has denied them. Finally, whether if the issue is within the scope of BIa, the ordinarily applicable Bulgarian rule that no such relief may be ordered against public authorities, must be set aside.

The Advocate-General suggests the Court settle the questions mainly by recourse to the lis pendens rule of A29 ff of the Regulation, rather than by the alternative of focusing on the ‘provisional’ nature of the measures imposed by the A35 court. A29 ff do not limit their application to substance matter proceedings hence if and when the lis pendens conditions are met, the court last seized must (identical cases) or may (related cases) relinquish its jurisdiction. The opposite is true, as well: if the A35 court has been seized first, the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has been gazumped at least for provisional measures.

The AG also (55 ff) suggests that choice of court must be read to include authority for the chosen court to issue provisional measures, but not (unless expressly agreed; an issue of contractual interpretation which must be left to the national judge to assess) the exclusion of other courts to exercise their A35 jurisdiction.

Finally if the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has taken a definitive decision viz the provisional measures, that decision travels under Title III BIa and A45 does not seem to offer room to object to recognition and enforcement. Should that decision not yet be definitive, the ordinary lis pendens rules must apply.

This is a case with rather important contractual drafting and civil procedure consequences.

Geert.

EU Private International law, 3rd ed 2021, 2.512ff, 2.550 ff, 5.584 ff.

 

Which ‘Dubai’? Guest post on Goel v Credit Suisse. The DIFC Court of Appeal on choice of court for ‘the Courts of Dubai’.

This guest  post was written by Ahmed Alzaabi, a legal researcher based at Abu Dhabi. It is great material for comparative conflicts purposes, as it highlights issues like ‘clearly demonstrated’ choice of court, hybrid jurisdiction clauses, and lex contractus for choice of court. Geert.

Introduction

The Dubai International Financial Center Court of Appeal (DIFC CA) delivered an interesting judgment in Goel and others v Credit Suisse (Switzerland) Limited [CA-002-2021} on 26 April 2021, which addresses the DIFC Courts opt-in jurisdiction. It is the most important decision since the opt-in clauses came into force in 2011. The case deals with personal guarantees entered into by Goel and others as Guarantors, and Credit Suisse AG as Lender. A term of the guarantee agreements refers to the jurisdiction of the “Courts of Dubai”.

An ex parte application was filed before the DIFC Court of First Instance (CFI) and was dismissed by H.E. Justice Ali Al Madhani on ground that the words “Courts of Dubai” were not specific, clear and express as required by Article 5(A)(2) of the DIFC Judicial Authority Law[i] (“JAL”) to opt-in into the DIFC jurisdiction.

The application was appealed and determined by Justice Wayne Martin, who ruled that the DIFC CFI has the jurisdiction to hear and decide any substantive claim filed by the Respondent. Justice Wayne Martin issued a world-wide freezing order (WFO) against the Guarantors and the order was appealed on the basis that the jurisdiction term in the Guarantee Agreements refers to the Courts of Dubai, and not to the DIFC Courts, therefore, the DIFC Courts shall have no jurisdiction to decide on this matter. The DIFC CA dismissed the appeal and upheld the ruling of Justice Wayne Martin.

Overview of the dispute:

  • Description of the parties. Credit Suisse AG (was a DIFC Establishment), and Credit Suisse (Switzerland) LIMITED (Respondent) are both subsidiary banks wholly owned by a Credit Suisse Group (a company registered in Switzerland). Goel and others (Appellants) are shareholders and directors of GP FZC (a parent company of GP Group of companies and offices all over the world).
  • Facts. On 13 May 2016, the Appellants entered into Guarantee Agreements with the Credit Suisse AG guarantying the performance of various borrowers of GP Group under a Credit Facility Agreement. Furthermore, on September 2016, Guarantee Transfer Agreements were signed between the Credit Suisse AG and the Appellants providing for the transfer of the rights and obligations of the guarantees to benefit the Respondent. The Appellants undertook to perform their obligations toward the Respondent as if the Respondent has been a party to the original Guarantee Agreements. At the time of signing the Guarantee and Transfer Agreements, the Credit Suisse AG was a “DIFC Establishment” within the definition of DIFC JAL. Neither Appellants nor Respondent were a DIFC Establishment.

The Guarantee Agreements provide in its clause 16 that the governing law is the Law of the Emirate of Dubai and the Applicable Federal Law of the United Arab Emirates. Clause 17 of the Guarantees (enforcement provision) refers to the jurisdiction of the Courts of Dubai, and clause 17.1 entitles the lender, Credit Suisse AG, to initiate legal proceedings before any other competent court. On the other hand, clause 7 of the Guarantee Transfer Agreements[ii] refers to the applicable law and jurisdiction, which states that any contractual or non- contractual obligations of the Transfer Agreements shall be governed by the Laws of the Emirate of Dubai, and the applicable Federal Laws of the United Arab Emirates. In addition, any dispute arising out of the Transfer Agreements which relates to any provisions of the Guarantees (as transferred and amended) shall be subject to the same jurisdictional provisions of the Guarantee Agreements.

  • Proceedings. The Respondent filed an application before the DIFC CFI requesting for a world-wide freezing order (WFO) to restrain the Appellants from dealing or disposing of their assets until the determination of the Respondent’s substantive claim. The CFI dismissed the claim on the ground that it has no jurisdiction, and stated that the order sought would have been granted if the court has the jurisdiction, as the Respondent made all the grounds for making such order. The Respondent appealed that decision, and the CA allowed the appeal and upheld that the judge of CFI should have granted that order on the basis that there is a good arguable case to the extent that the court has the jurisdiction. The CA added that, the CFI judge should have leave it open to the Appellants to challenge the court’s jurisdiction. Following this decision, the WFO was issued on 13 September 2020 and served on the Appellants. The Appellants filed an application to challenge the court’s jurisdiction arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction to issue that decision, and requested to dismiss the proceedings. Justice Martin, the assigned judge to hear the Appellants’ application, dismissed the application and held that DIFC Courts had the jurisdiction to hear and determine the Respondent’s substantive claim and the WFO against the Appellants, and he published his interesting reasoning for that decision on 4 October 2020.
  • CFI Decision. It was common ground for the judge and the parties that the applicable law governing the guarantees are the laws of the Emirate of Dubai and the applicable Federal Law of the United Arab Emirates. Justice Martin referred to Article 6 of the JAL, which provides that “the Court shall apply the DIFC Laws and Regulations, except where the parties have explicitly agreed to another law to govern the dispute, provided that that law doesn’t contradict with the public policy and morals”. Accordingly, he pointed that this article clarifies that the parties may select another governing law than DIFC Laws. However, the choice made by the parties will not place the dispute outside the DIFC Courts jurisdiction.

Justice Martin then focused on whether the Court has the jurisdiction to enter the WFO in support of the Respondent’s substantive claim. He had to determine a question of if the Respondent could establish that the claim against the Appellants passed through one or other of the “gateways” to the jurisdiction of the CFI as stipulated in Article 5 of the JAL. His finding was that the only available “gateway” is Article 5(A)(2) of the JAL, which states the following: “the Court of First Instance may hear and determine any civil or commercial claims or actions where the parties agree in writing to file such claim or action with it whether before or after the dispute arises, provided that such agreement is made pursuant to specific, clear and express provisions”. He further noted that the Respondent submitted and Appellants denied that clauses 17.1 and 17.2 of the Guarantee Agreements constitute an agreement in writing within the meaning of Article (5)(A)(2) of the JAL.

Justice Martin analysed the UAE Civil Transactions Code as a governing law applied to the contract and cited Articles 258 and 265, which address the intention of the parties to a contract. He also looked at a commentary on the Civil Transactions Code approved by the Ministry of Justice. The result of his analysis is that: “the both UAE legal system and the common law require the Court to confirm the join intention of the parties. The joint intention could be ascertained by interpreting words which the parties have used to record their agreement objectively, as they would be understood by a reasonable business person having the knowledge of the circumstances known to the parties at the time they entered into their contract”.

Justice Martin then referred to three prior decisions of DIFC Courts (Sunteck, Taalem, and IGPL), in which the CA rejected the proposition that the words “Dubai Courts” mean only non-DIFC Courts. He extracted from these three decisions the following propositions:

(a) it is not mandatory for the contract to specifically refer to the jurisdiction of the “DIFC Courts” to consider the gateway to the jurisdiction specified by Article 5(A)(2) of the JAL;

(b) the Court is to determine the question whether the joint intention of the parties meant to select the jurisdiction of DIFC Courts to hear such kind of dispute;

(c) that question could be resolved by referring to the natural and ordinary meaning of the jurisdictional words as the parties would have been mutually understood them having regard to the circumstances, the nature of the agreement and the context in which the words are used;

(d) if the Court concluded that the parties intended to refer to the DIFC jurisdiction when using the words recorded in their contract, those words will satisfy the requirements set by Article 5(A)(2) ““specific, clear and express provisions”;

(e) the words (Dubai Courts) or (Courts of Dubai) in their natural and ordinary meaning refer to all courts established in the Emirates of Dubai, including the DIFC Courts and the non-DIFC Courts;

(f) if one of the parties was a DIFC establishment at the time of signing a jurisdiction agreement, the other party would have taken into consideration and understood that the DIFC Courts, by default, would have the exclusive jurisdiction within Dubai to hear and determine any dispute arising out of that agreement. It would require a clear and express words to come to the result that the parties’ mutual intention is to exclude the jurisdiction of DIFC Courts.

Justice Martin selected the IGPL among the other two decisions, although it was an opt-out and not op-in case, but it shares common facts which are relevant to the question that the judge has to decide. The similarities with IGPL being (a) the relevant agreements were governed by the applicable Laws of UAE; (b) the words used in the jurisdiction agreements were identical (c) one of the party was a DIFC establishment at the time that the jurisdiction agreements were signed. Given those similarities, Justice Martin was bound to apply the reasoning in IGPL to conclude that clause 17.1 of the Guarantee Agreements indicates the mutual intention of the parties at the time that the agreements were signed. He highlighted that Credit Suisse AG was a DIFC Establishment at the time the guarantee agreements were signed. This constitutes a strong indication that the mutual intention of the parties was to include DIFC Courts within the meaning of the words “Courts of Dubai”. There was no indication of mutual intention of the parties to exclude DIFC Courts jurisdiction.

The judge stated the following circumstances which support the proposition that the words ‘Courts of Dubai’ should hold ordinary meaning to include DIFC Courts: “(a) the agreements are all in English language (the DIFC Courts operate in English); (b) Credit Suisse AG is a Foreign Company, incorporated in Switzerland; (c) a number of the borrowers under the Credit Facility Agreement were incorporated in foreign jurisdictions; (d) the Guarantors are all Indian nationals with Indian passports; and (e) clause 17.3 of each Guarantee expressly recognises the prospect of enforcement proceedings in foreign jurisdictions. These circumstances support the proposition that the parties have intended to refer to a court within the Emirate of Dubai which has an international characteristic as well as an onshore court of Dubai.

  • DIFC CA Decision. The Appellants challenged the CFI decision after the permission of appeal has been granted and provided that the CFI does not have jurisdiction to determine the substantive claim against the Appellants including the WTO application. The appeal was unsuccessful. The CA upheld that the jurisdiction clause used in the contract was a solid agreement to opt-in to the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction in accordance with article 5 (A)(2) of the JAL. The CA added that when the term “the courts of Dubai” is used in an agreement, it has an ordinary meaning that refers to all courts incorporated within the Emirate of Dubai, including DIFC’s and non-DIFC’s Courts. Furthermore, the CA confirmed that the intention of the parties when they signed the agreement with a DIFC Establishment did not change the obligations on the Appellants when the Guarantee Transfer Agreements are signed in favour of a non DIFC Establishment. The CA then looked at the question of whether the clarity of the term “the courts of Dubai” is enough for the purposes of the gateway to jurisdiction within Article 5(A) (2) of the JAL.  The CA added that if as a matter of contractual construction, the parties had intended to agree that the DIFC Courts should have jurisdiction over their disputes, it would be a triumph of form over substance to hold that they failed because they did not use the term “DIFC Courts. On that note, the CA ruled that the parties’ contract was “specific, clear and express” enough to opt-in to the jurisdiction of the DIFC Court.

The CA highlighted in its conclusion that the construction of terms such as “courts of Dubai” will rely upon their context. Moreover, the transactions’ history matter in this case is significant to the constructional conclusion.

  • Conclusion. This case points out that the parties wishing to include or exclude DIFC jurisdiction should use a clear and express language in their contract to minimise jurisdictional disputes risk and avoid any ambiguity.

Royal Carribean v Browitt. On agency, consumer consent and choice of court Down Under.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd v Browitt [2021] FCA 653 is a great addition to the comparative conflicts binder, particularly from the angle of ‘consent’ in business to consumer contracts. It also engages a classic tripartite relation between the consumer, signing a contract with a travel agent, whose GTCS in turn incorporate the GTCS of the carrier.

The case follows on from the December 2019 volcanic eruption at Whakaari.  (Mrs Browitt), for herself and as representative of the deceased estates of her late husband Paul and late daughter Krystal, and Stephanie (Ms Browitt), a daughter who survived the eruption with horrific injuries, are suing Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCCL), a Liberian registered company headquartered and operating in Miami, Florida, in the courts at Miami. There are applicable law and procedural advantages (incl discovery and trial (both on culpability and level of damages) by jury).

RCL Cruises Ltd (RCL) and RCCL apply for anti-suit in the FCA arguing that the Browitts were passengers on the Ovation of the Seas pursuant to a contract of carriage between the Browitts and RCL as the disponent owner and operator of the vessel. They seek a declaration that it was a term of the contract, signed at Flight Centre in Victoria, Australia, that any disputes between the parties would be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of New South Wales.

The list of issues to be determined is long but I repeat it here anyways for they highlight the complexity of issues following a routine purchase of a cruise:

(1)    Was Flight Centre the agent of Mrs Browitt, RCL or both?

(2)    Were the RCL AU terms, including the exclusive jurisdiction clause, incorporated into the contract of carriage by: (a)    reference in the Flight Centre terms and conditions signed by Mrs Browitt on 14 February 2019? (b)    the text of a Royal Caribbean brochure? (c)    links on the RCL AU website? (d)    links in emails? (e)    links in the electronic guestbook?

(3)    As to the construction of the RCL AU terms: (a)    is RCL entitled to invoke the exclusive jurisdiction clause to restrain the Florida proceedings? (b)    is RCCL entitled to rely on the exclusive jurisdiction clause? (c)    did the purchase of insurance exclude the operation of the terms (cl 1)? (The respondents later dropped reliance on the purchase of insurance as excluding the operation of the exclusive jurisdiction clause, so this issue fell away.) (d)    does the contract of carriage apply to shore excursions (cl 25)? If not, does the exclusive jurisdiction clause nonetheless operate to restrain the Florida proceedings? (e)    does the exclusive jurisdiction clause permit a proceeding to be brought in the Federal Court of Australia sitting in New South Wales, and if not, what consequence follows from the commencement of this proceeding (cl 1, cl 37/38)? (f)    does the exclusive jurisdiction clause cover the Florida proceeding?

(4)    Is RCCL entitled to relief on the basis of the RCL AU terms?

(5)    Is the Florida proceeding vexatious and oppressive such that RCL and RCCL are entitled to an anti-suit injunction?

The judge held that although the Browitts were bound by the RCL AU terms, the Florida proceeding is not in breach of the exclusive jurisdiction agreement in those terms because RCCL is not a party to the agreement and RCCL does not enjoy the benefit of it. Also, there is no basis for the alternative case that the Florida proceeding is in any event vexatious and oppressive such as to justify an order restraining Mrs Browitt and Ms Browitt from pursuing it.

Terms and conditions were available on relevant websites and brochures, shown to and browsed by Mrs Browitt but not for the purposes of terms and conditions. Rather, as one would expect, for details of the journey, vessels etc. Unlike a quote, the eventual invoice included as part of the document three pages of booking terms and conditions. Some of those were highlighted in the copy made available to Mrs Browitt  Mrs Browitt could have read the GTCS but there was no inidcation she had or had been specifically pointed to them. Nothing in either version of the invoice, i.e., that which was printed for and signed by Mrs Browitt and that which was emailed by the agency, identifies which of RCCL and RCL was offering the cruise or operating the vessel.

The judgment, which I would invite readers to consult, eventually boils down to limitations of ‘agency’, privity of contract, and clear determination of contractual clauses. It does not decide for the Browitts on the basis of a particular concern for the weaker party in a classic B2C transaction, rather on the need for parties clearly to think through their spaghetti bowl of overlapping arrangements and GTCs when hoping to rely on them in court.

Geert.

Trappit v American Express Europe. On choice of court in NDAs, privity, and lis pendens viz provisionally closed Spanish proceedings.

Trappit SA & Ors v American Express Europe LLC & Anor [2021] EWHC 1344 (Ch) confirms an application to strike out or stay proceedings claiming infringement of intellectual property rights in a computer programme called ARPO (relevant to fare re-booking), and breach of non-contractual obligations of confidence that are said to have arisen when ARPO was made available by claimants (Panamanian and Spanish special purpose vehicles of 2 software engineers) to first Defendant AmEx (a Delaware corporation with a registered branch in England), for assessment. AmEx after inspection declined to take a licence. AmEx reorganised and second defendant GBT UK (a joint AmEx and private equity venture) acquired AmEx Europe’s travel management services business in the UK. GBT use an alternative software which claimants argue is effectively an ARPO rip-off facilitated by AmEx’ consultation of ARPO.

The application is made by the Defendants, who argue Claimants are contractually bound to litigate the claims in Spain rather than England (an A25 Brussels Ia argument), or that in light of proceedings that have already been brought and provisionally determined against the Second Claimant in Spain, the E&W  should decline jurisdiction (A29 BIa) or strike out the English proceedings as an abuse of process.

First on the issue of choice of court and privity under A25 BIa. Relevant authority discussed includes CJEU CDC and UKSC AMT Futures v Marzillier. At 6 ff the genesis of choice of court and law provisions in the NDA is mapped (drafts had been sent to and fro). As Snowden J notes at 76,

it is the parties related to Trappit SA who are the claimants, who sought the NDA before making ARPO available to AmEx Europe, and who asked for a Spanish law and jurisdiction clause. However, it is those parties who now contend that the jurisdiction clause does not bind them and that they are free to issue proceedings in England for breach of confidence and copyright infringement arising (so they say) from the unauthorised copying of the source code to ARPO. In contrast, it was the parties related to AmEx Europe who would most naturally be the defendants to any claim under the NDA and who originally proposed an English law and jurisdiction clause. But it is those parties who are now contending that the jurisdiction clause in the NDA binds all parties and requires all of the claims made in the English Proceedings to be litigated in Spain.

The eventual clause reads “18. Governing law and jurisdiction. This Agreement (including any non-contractual obligations arising out of or in connection with the same) shall be governed in all respects by the laws of Spain without regard to conflict of law principles. Any dispute or controversy arising in connection with this Agreement shall be submitted before the courts of the city of Madrid, Spain.”

At 77 the judge notes that the scope and the circumstances in which persons other than Trappit SA and AmEx Europe might become a party to the NDA are matters to be determined in accordance with Spanish law as the governing law of the NDA. This underestimates the impact of A25 itself and discussion of in particular CJEU Refcomp rather than the tort /contract discussion in CDC would have been appropriate. Snowden J relies on expert reports on Spanish law with respect to (i) the proper approach to contractual construction, and (ii) the circumstances in which third parties can be bound by contracts.

Conclusion on these report is that a narrow construction of the clause must be rejected: [94] ‘all types of claims arising from misuse of the information which the NDA envisaged would be provided by one party to the other. This would include claims based upon unauthorised copying and infringement of intellectual property rights as well as claims for breach of confidence,..’ (At 97-98 a side-argument based on A8 Rome II is dismissed).

As for the privity element, Snowden J finds there was no contractual intention for other corporate entities also to be parties entitled to enforce the agreement and there was no indication that any other company was intended to acquire rights (or be bound) under the NDA. Spanish (statutory) law on assignment, subrogation and the like does not alter this.

Conclusion [138]: ‘the jurisdiction clause in the NDA applied to all the claims in the English Proceedings, but that it only binds AmEx Europe and Trappit SA as the original signatories to the NDA. The effect of Article 25 is that the English courts therefore have no jurisdiction over the claims brought by Trappit SA against AmEx Europe in the English Proceedings.’ Proceedings against GBT on that basis may continue on a A4 BIa basis (neither of the UK Defendants were named defendants to the Spanish Proceedings, hence an A29 ff lis alibi pendens argument against them has no object).

Obiter viz AmEx Europe yet of relevance to the UK defendants, on Article 29 lis pendens, of note is first of all that the Spanish proceedings are criminal ones, with an embedded civil liability claim. The English Proceedings were issued prior to the provisional dismissal of the Spanish Proceedings but after the delivery of the Expert Report in those proceedings whose findings were part incorporated into the Spanish judge’s provisional dismissal.

The first, threshold issue on A29 is whether the Spanish courts are still seised of the Spanish Proceedings seeing as there is a provisional dismissal in the Spanish criminal proceedings. Authority discussed was Easygroup v Easy Rent a Car [2019] EWCA Civ 477 and Hutchinson v Mapfre was also referred to. A29 only applies where there are concurrent proceedings before the courts of different member states at the time when the court second seised makes its determination [147]. Following the reasoning in Hutchinson, the judge decides  that the Spanish courts are no longer seized of the case: experts are agreed that the case has been closed and archived, and that it is unlikely in the extreme that any new evidence would come to light so as to justify reopening the case after more than five years of extensive investigatory proceedings in Spain [158].

A final set of arguments by the defendants, based on issue estoppel (the Expert Report had found that there had been no plagiarism or copying of the ARPO source code by the Defendants), Henderson v Henderson abuse, and vexatious ligation (all under an ‘abuse of process‘ heading) is dismissed.

Conclusion [195]: no jurisdiction to entertain any of the claims made in the English proceedings between Trappit SA and AmEx Europe by reason of the application of A25 BIa. The case against the UK defendants may continue.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.296 ff (2.355 ff), 2.532 ff.

 

Axis Corporate Capital v Absa. On poorly worded choice of court and the possibility of anti-suit to protect Brussels Ia jurisdiction against non-European proceedings.

Axis Corporate Capital UK Ltd & Ors v Absa Group Ltd & Ors [2021] EWHC 225 (Comm) is a good illustration of choice of court and law clauses that are a gift to conflict of laws practitioners. Choice of law and in particular choice of court was as Calver J put it [35] ‘somewhat poorly worded’. This is what the clauses look like in the various (re)insurance agreements [36 ff]

The primary reinsurances contain the following provision: “Any disputes concerning the interpretation of the terms, conditions, limitations and/or exclusions contained in this policy is understood and agreed by both the Reinsured and the Reinsurers to be subject to England Wales Law. Each party agrees to submit to a worldwide jurisdiction and to comply with all requirements necessary to give such court jurisdiction.”

The excess reinsurances contain the following provision: “Any dispute concerning the interpretation of the terms, conditions, limitations and/or exclusions contained in this policy is understood and agreed by both the insured and the insurers to be subject to England and Wales. Each party agrees to submit to the jurisdiction of England and Wales to comply with all requirements necessary to give such court jurisdiction. In respect of claims brought against the Insured and indemnified under this policy, as more fully described herein, the choice of law applicable is Worldwide and the choice of jurisdiction is Worldwide.”

Thirdly, the ARR [aggregate retention reinsurance, GAVC] contains the following two provisions: “Supplemental Clauses … “Policy Interpretation, Jurisdiction and Service of Suit Clause.” And then: “Choice of Law and Jurisdiction. “Any dispute concerning the interpretation of the terms, conditions, limitations and/or exclusions contained in this policy is understood and agreed by both the (re)insured and the (re)insurers to be subject to England and Wales. Each party agrees to submit to the jurisdiction of Worldwide to comply with all requirements necessary to give such court jurisdiction.”

The policy interpretation, jurisdiction and service of suit clause, which is specifically referred to as a supplemental clause, provides as follows and was contained in a schedule: “Any dispute between the Reinsured and the Reinsurer alleging that payment is due under this reinsurance shall be referred to the jurisdiction of the courts of the England and Wales and the meaning of this reinsurance policy shall be decided by such courts in accordance with the law of England and Wales.”

Claimant submits that, on the proper construction of the reinsurance contracts, the defendants were obliged to submit to and to submit any dispute arising under or in connection with any of the reinsurances contracts to the exclusive (A25 BIa imposes exclusive choice of court in principle: [56]) jurisdiction of the English courts. Calver J agrees that that is the case with a high degree of probability (this is an interlocutory stage). Generali Italia v Pelagic features as authority. Note the ‘worldwide’ reference in some of the clauses means that parties agree that all courts worldwide should ensure that the dispute be referred to the English courts.

The formulation in the excess reinsurance agreements, include what is construed as a carve-out of worldwide jurisdiction, which is non-exclusive, for claims brought against the insured and indemnified under the excess reinsurance. This is taken by the judge to mean that for all other claims, choice of court for E&W is, a contrario, exclusive.

At 81 ff, the judge grants an interim anti-suit injunction against proceedings in South Africa. The very possibility for this is not discussed at all (possibly as a result of the nature of the proceedings). It is not established that anti-suit to protect jurisdiction of a court in the EU, against that of courts outside the EU, is at all possible. In Gray v Hurley the Court of Appeal suggested it is not possible within the context of A4 BIa, yet referred to the CJEU where the case was withdrawn. This might become a contested issue.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.24, para 2.296 ff.

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).