Posts Tagged Choice of court
The European Court of Justice held last week in C‑368/16, Assens Havn. It confirmed privity of choice of court in the event of subrogation of the victim in the rights of the insured. The victim is not bound by choice of court between insurer and tortfeasor:
At 41: ‘The extension to victims of the constraints of agreements on jurisdiction based on the combined provisions of Articles 13 and 14 of Regulation No 44/2001 could compromise the objective pursued by Chapter II, Section 3, thereof, namely to protect the economically and legally weaker party.
That the CJEU confirms privity of contractual choice of court is no surprise: see most recently Leventis. In the case of insurance contracts the issue is slightly less obvious for unlike in the case of consumers and employees, the legal presumption of weakness often does not represent commercial reality.
Whether the subrogated party can make use of the choice of court clause in the underlying contract was not sub judice in the judgment.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2.
Yesterday in Case C-436/16 Leventis the Court of Justice summarily confirmed the principle of privity of choice of court under the Brussels I Recast. I have looked at this issue before e.g. when I discussed Refcomp and Profit Sim. The tos and fros between the various parties in the case meant they were acquainted with each other in the courtroom and in arbitration panels. It also meant that actions, settlements etc. between one of them and a third party necessarily impacted commercially on the other.
However the Court of Justice essentially held that such a close, voluntary or not, relationship between the two parties does not mean that a jurisdiction clause in a contract between two companies can be relied upon by the representatives of one of them to dispute the jurisdiction of a court over an action for damages which aims to render them jointly and severally liable for supposedly tortious acts carried out in the performance of their duties. The Court simply noted that the referring national court had given no indication of choice of court made between the parties as to the latter issue, employing the classic (now) Article 25 set of criteria.
Of note is that unlike other cases such as Goldman Sachs v Novo Banco, there did not seem to be any kind of theory in relevant national law which would have led to imputability (or potential to call upon) choice of court to a third party under the given circumstances.
(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 126.96.36.199.
It is one of the pinnacle theories of conflict of laws and when first introducing students to it, they almost invariably respond glassy-eyed. Renvoi has an unlimited ability to surprise parties and courts alike. It is best excluded, either by Statute, or by the parties, but frankly to be on the safe side: always and everywhere best by both. (Lest there are well considered arguments not to do so in a specific instance. As readers of my book now, the Brussels I Recast provisions on renvoi for choice of court (complicating less fori prorogati) is not such an instance: Handbook 2016, p.128-129, Heading 188.8.131.52.2).
At issue in Dankor [Dancor Construction, Inc. v. FXR Construction, Inc., 2016 IL App (2d) 150839] was the choice of court and governing law clause cited by the court at 44:
“The parties agree that this agreement was executed in Kane County, Illinois and shall be governed by the law of the State of Illinois. Any claims, lawsuits, disputes or claims arising out of or relating to this agreement shall be litigated in Kane County, Illinois.”
This clause could be a boilerplate or midnight clause except those routinely do exclude renvoi. ‘The law of the State of Illinois’ in the clause would then be followed by ‘excluding its choice of law rules’ or something of the kind. Why it was dropped here is entirely unclear. As Clifford Shapiro writes ‘So what happens when an Illinois general contractor fires a New York subcontractor who was working on a New York project under a subcontract that required Illinois law to apply and litigation to take place in Illinois? Unfortunately for litigants, what can happen is nearly three years of jurisdictional litigation in both New York and Illinois, and then dismissal of the Illinois case less than 60 days before trial with an order directing the case to be re-filed in New York.’
As the court notes (at 69) choice of court and choice of governing law are separate issues (for that reason they are als best deal with in clearly separated contractual clauses). Relevant precedent for the validity of the former is Rieker 378 Ill. App. 3d 77, 86 (2007). Applying Rieker, and following Section 187(2) of the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws, the Court held (reference is best made to Clifford’s summary or to the judgment itself) that New York law applied to the validity of the clause, leading to its being void: New York law mandatorily prohibits application of another State’s law or litigation outside of the State for New York construction projects (Illinois incidentally has a mirror provision).
Need one say more? Renvoi is always best excluded. It would not necessarily have made this clause enforceable: ordre public discussions could always still be raised. However it sure as anything would have made the validity of the clause much more likely.
(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 1, Heading 1.4).
Turkish Supreme Court rejects choice of court agreement on basis of ‘good faith’. Accepts asymmetric clauses.
Koray Söğüt and Suha Yılmaz reported recently on Turkish Supreme Court case-law in the area of choice of court. The report is very much worth a read. On choice of court agreements, what the Supreme Court seems to say is that when choice of court is made away from Turkey, Turkish law will make that choice subject to a de facto forum conveniens assessment: if Turkey is a suitable forum especially when the eventual judgment will be easily enforced against Turkish assets, a defendant’s insistence on exercising the clause must be seen as violating Turkey’s general provision on bad faith (a form of fraus omnia corrumpit).
It is also reported that the Supreme Court accepted a unilateral /asymmetric jurisdiction clause – the issues surrounding these clauses are a regular feature on this blog.
More cases for the comparative law class! (At least if and when I get hold of an English translation).
Asymmetric clauses, exclusivity, torpedoes and lis alibi pendens: The High Court in Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers.
Many of the issues in  EWHC 161 (Comm) Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers were also raised in Perella v Codere, albeit there, as I reported, obiter. In current case, they were very much dicta, and they amount to the English courts viewing (properly constructed) asymmetric clauses as being exclusive. As such they fall under the new anti-torpedo provisions of Article 31(2).
Applications of defendants Liquimar Tankers (registered in Liberia but with head office in Athens) are being made in the course of proceedings in London by Commerzbank in two separate actions in relation to the repayment of loans which the Bank extended for the building of a number of ships. There are ongoing proceedings taken by the defendants against the Bank in Piraeus, Greece concerning the same and/or related issues.
The Liquimar guarantee contained a governing law and an asymmetric jurisdiction clause, which was essentially similar in the other loan agreements. It provided:
“16 Law and Jurisdiction
16.1 This Guarantee and Indemnity shall in all respects be governed by and interpreted in accordance with English law.
16.2 For the exclusive benefit of the Lender, the Guarantor irrevocably agrees that the courts of England are to have jurisdiction to settle any disputes which may arise out of or in connection with this Guarantee and Indemnity and that any proceedings may be brought in those courts.
16.3 Nothing contained in this Clause shall limit the right of the Lender to commence any proceedings against the Guarantor in any other court of competent jurisdiction nor shall the commencement of any proceedings against the Guarantor in one or more jurisdictions preclude the commencement of any proceedings in any other jurisdiction, whether concurrently or not.
16.4 The Guarantor irrevocably waives any objection which it may now or in the future have to the laying of the venue of any proceedings in any court referred to in this Clause and any claim that those proceedings have been brought in an inconvenient or inappropriate forum, and irrevocably agrees that a judgment in any proceedings commenced in any such court shall be conclusive and binding on it and may be enforced in the courts of any jurisdiction …”.
Article 31(2) of the Brussels I Recast reads:
‘where a court of a Member State on which an agreement as referred to in Article 25 confers exclusive jurisdiction is seized, any court of another Member State shall stay the proceedings until such time as the court seized on the basis of the agreement declares that it has no jurisdiction under the agreement.’
Cranston J held that the concept of ‘exclusivity’ should be autonomously interpreted under the Brussels I (Recast) regime. He did not however refer for preliminary reference to the CJEU: as such, the High Court’s finding continues to be vulnerable until we have precedent from Luxembourg. The judgment as a whole is worth a read – readers in for concise summary, please refer to Herbert Smith’s analysis.
Summing up is done in para 70, with justifiable emphasis on parties’ and the Regulation’s intentions (but as noted with considerable reference to precedent and principles of statutory interpretation): Thus with the asymmetric jurisdiction clauses in the present case, the defendants agreed to sue only in the courts of one EU Member State, England. Instead, they have enabled another court, the Greek court, to be seized of the matter. It would undermine the agreements of the parties, and foster abusive tactics, if the jurisdiction clauses in these agreements were to be treated not as exclusive, but as non-exclusive.’
Of note is also the discussion on the role of recitals (eg. at 69; also at 77 ff). Justice Cranston’s arguments are supported by reference to a number of recitals. Defendant in my view has a valid point in principle where they argue at 77 that ‘a recital cannot constitute a rule when it is not reflected in the words of Article 31(2).‘ (Although they were wrong on substance).
A subsidiary argument in the case also merits further attention. Defendants argue that Article 25 requires the parties to have designated the courts of a Member State to enable the law applicable to the substantive validity of a jurisdiction clause to be identified and to provide certainty as to the forum in which a putative defendant can expect to be sued. That, they submit, is not achieved by a clause which designates the courts of all other competent states, including those of non-Member States, outside the territorial competence of the EU, which could mean suits in multiple jurisdictions. Although the argument could be phrased more precisely, I do agree with it: in the absence of a nominatim lex contractus for the choice of court clause specifically, the new lex fori prorogati rule in Article 25 Brussels I Recast, combined with recital 20 (yet again the troublesome habit of EU private international law to include substantive rules in recitals only) does create a vacuum in the case of hybrid, asymmetric or even non-exclusive choice of court.
An important case. Not the last we have heard of the issues.
(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Ch.2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 184.108.40.206.1, Heading 220.127.116.11.
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.
Assymetric jurisdiction clauses. Their existence and (obiter) their neutralising effect in Perella v Codere.
Apologies for late posting. I had tweeted and linked and done all sorts of other things when the judgment came out but as readers tell me, that is not quite the same as a review on this blog.
Walker J decided Peralla v Codere  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.
(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Ch.2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 18.104.22.168.1, Heading 22.214.171.124.