Posts Tagged Choice of court
Mastermelt v Siegfried Evionnaz highlights the continuing torpedo under Lugano, as opposed to the Brussels regime. Suggests cautious application of the Privatbank authority on reflexivity.
In Mastermelt v Siegfried Evionnaz  EWHC 927 (QB), at issue is negative declaratory relief on contractual performance.
Claimant Mastermelt is an English company specialising in the reclamation of precious metals. The defendant, Siegfried Evionnaz SA (“Siegfried”), is a Swiss company. There is a dispute between the parties over the quality of Mastermelt’s performance. Siegfried’s standard terms and conditions of contract (“STC”) include a clause stating that the governing law is Swiss law and that the Swiss courts have exclusive jurisdiction.
Relevant pending proceedings, are: very shortly after Siegfried had informed Mastermelt that it was going to issue proceedings against Mastermelt in Switzerland, Mastermelt issued the present claim in England on 5 February 2019. It seeks negative declaratory relief against Siegfried. Proceedings were subsequently issued by Siegfried against Mastermelt in the Zurich Commercial Court on 23 July 2019. Meanwhile, on 24 May 2019, Siegfried applied to the High Court in London for a declaration that it had no jurisdiction to try Mastermelt’s claim and so the Claim Form and service should be set aside, alternatively stayed. Further, on 29 January 2020 Mastermelt applied to the Swiss court (1) for a stay of those proceedings pending the UK decision, or (2) for the Swiss proceedings to be limited at that stage to a consideration of the court’s own jurisdiction there and nothing else, or (3) an extension of time for service of a response to Siegfried’s claim. By an order of 4 February 2020, the Swiss court rejected all three applications. On 7 February Mastermelt filed an appeal to the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland which initially suspended enforcement of the Zurich Commercial Court’s decision pending the appeal. However, on 13 February Siegfried objected to any such suspension. The Supreme Court directed Mastermelt to file any response to that objection by 9 March. As far as the English courts know, that has been done but at the moment the Supreme Court has not given its decision on the suspension issue, let alone any substantive appeal, nor has there been any decision yet on the jurisdiction or otherwise of the Swiss court to hear the claim.
Siegfried argues, and has convinced the Swiss courts, that A27 Lugano needs to be applied ‘in harmony’ with A31(2) Brussels Ia: this now provides that regardless of which court was seised first, the court which was the subject of the putative exclusive jurisdiction clause, must decide the question of its jurisdiction first and the other proceedings must be stayed in the meantime. At 13 Waksman J refers to the Swiss court’s reasoning, where it takes an expansionist view of the Lugano Convention‘s protocol no2, that the Lugano States shall take ‘due account’ of each other’s courts decisions. The Swiss court suggests that in principle it should follow CJEU authority in Gasser (which introduced the torpedo mechanism by giving strict interpretation to the lis alibi pendens rule, even in case of choice of court) but that it has reasonable justification to deviate from Gasser given that the judgment has become ‘obsolete’ following A31(2) BIa.
Waksman J is first invited to accept the Swiss court’s reasoning as res iudicata, per CJEU C-456/11 Gothaer. (I did say at the time the CJEU may find its ruling in Gothaer would come back to haunt it). This he finds is a stretch of that authority but also not applicable given the limited findings of the Swiss court at any rate: ‘here the actual and only decision of the Swiss court thus far is simply to refuse to stay its own proceedings’.
He then discusses how A27 Lugano needs to be applied. A first reference is to the Court of Appeal’s most problematic view in Privatbank, to my mind, of applying Article 28 Lugano reflexively to third States. At 23-24 Waksman J distinguishes Privatbank (clearly he cannot hold it no relevant authority should he think so); then holds correctly that Gasser is not entirely obsolete following BIa; and finally at 30 that the harmonised regime per Lugano’s Protocol does not mean that one should now interpret Article 27 Lugano like 31.2 and (b) i Brussels Ia.
I agree most firmly. Note this has Brexit implications: one of the routes post Brexit, as readers know, is for the UK to become part of Lugano. In doing so it will surrender BIa’s forum non-light regime (Articles 33-34) in favour of Lugano which most definitely does not have a forum non-application – as well as, as is at issue here, re-arming the Italian torpedo. (Update 7 May 2020 Many thanks to Elijah Granet for pointing to A6 of the Hague Choice of Court Convention which in future might serve towards disarming the torpedo to some degree: pursuant to Article 6 of that Convention, a court of a Contracting State other than the contractually chosen court must suspend or dismiss proceedings in that court to which an exclusive choice of court applies. There are exceptions however and in my view these could be used quite extensively: asymmetric choice of court, for instance, might well by some jurisdictions be classed as ordre public).
This leaves the issue of the putative choice of court agreement. England is the forum contractus per Article 5(1)a Lugano, hence will have jurisdiction less choice of court stands. Authority is well-known and recently applied in Pan Ocean, referred to here at 85. After much factual consideration it is accepted to a good arguable case standard that the parties contracted on the basis of the STC for the obligations concerned.
In conclusion therefore the action is stayed.
Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2.
In Terre Neuve SARL & Ors v Yewdale Ltd & Ors  EWHC 772 (Comm), Bryan J entertains almost the entire jurisdictional chapter of the Handbook.
The proceedings are concerned with the alleged misappropriation of a sum of €10.6 million paid by the First Claimant (“Terre Neuve”) to the First Defendant (“Yewdale”) between July 2009 and September 2012, and thereafter allegedly misapplied with the alleged participation of other Defendants. The sums were paid pursuant to a tax optimisation scheme ultimately for the benefit of the Third Claimant (“Mr. Zahut”), who beneficially owned Terre Neuve and the Second Claimant (“Largely”). The scheme was allegedly created by a Mr. Sasson (now deceased), who gave tax advice through his company, the Third Defendant (“GPF”) and controlled Yewdale (an English company) and the Second Defendant (“REDS”) (a New York company).
In this preliminary judgment, plenty of the defendants challenge jurisdiction, even if as discussed at 11 ff, following judgment by Hancock J in  EWHC 1119 (Comm), confirmed in  EWHC 1847 (Comm), the action is already proceeding in England against Yewdale (which has been found to be a valid anchor defendant per Article 4 Brussels Ia) as well as a number of the overseas defendants: both those domiciled in Switzerland, and elsewhere. Co-defendants in current case were not involved in those earlier hearings.
Firstly, GPF, third defendant, challenges jurisdiction under Article 23 Lugano, more or less but not quite the same as Article 25 BIa. At 22 ff Bryan J cuts too many corners in my view. He extends CJEU precedent on Brussels I and Ia without question to Lugano construction. He unhesitatingly adopts English law (with Fiona Trust in the authority driver’s seat and with reference to the recent Etihad case) as the lex causae for the choice of court agreement. This is as lex fori additi I assume; the actual text of the choice of court agreement is not included in the judgment lest I looked over it however one can deduct the choice points to Switzerland. He is right in holding that the answer to the contractual construction of the choice of court agreement cannot be found in either Lugano or Brussels itself.
At 44 ff he decides that Claimants’ claims do not fall within the scope of any of the jurisdiction clauses in the Written Agreements, pointing away from England.
Next, a group of co-Defendants, who the Claimants allege were involved in and/or benefited from the misappropriation, challenge the jurisdiction of the English Court on various grounds, inter alia: that the claims against them are not sufficiently closely connected to be heard with the claims against the other Defendants in this jurisdiction, pursuant to Article 6(1) Lugano, and should instead be tried in Switzerland pursuant to Article 2 Lugano; that the claims against them would be more conveniently heard in Switzerland; that bringing proceedings against them in England is an abuse of process; that they should be tried in Switzerland pursuant to Article 5 Lugano; that proceedings against them in England are a breach of their rights under Article 6 ECHR; and that various agreements contain jurisdiction clauses which prevent the English Court from hearing the case against them.
In short (note all the authority he employs has been reviewed on this blog, both CJEU (e.g. Melzer) and English) Bryan J finds the cases are clearly related under Article 6 Lugano; forum non conveniens must not be entertained; and there is no abuse of EU law (a popular part of jurisdictional challenge following Vedanta); some of the defendants have submitted; Article 5 Lugano’s forum contractus is irrelevant for it only brings additional, not exclusive jurisdiction; Article 6 ECHR is clearly not breached (practical difficulties of attending, for instance, may be solved by modern means); arbitration in New York first of all does not engage an EU court and secondly of course arbitration is exempt from Lugano.
Finally the one co-defendant domiciled in Israel is nevertheless pulled into the English jurisdictional bath by application of residual English rules (serious issue to be tried; necessary and proper party).
Quite a lot to discuss by way of preliminary jurisdictional issue…
Many thanks, Dr Richard Schmidt for signalling and reviewing the recent Hungarian Supreme Court judgment (in Hungarian) discussing unilateral aka asymmetric aka hybrid choice of court. I do not have Hungarian and happily rely on Richard’s analysis and review.
As Richard reports, the contract was governed by the law of Liechtenstein and provided that any legal disputes would be brought before the court of Vaduz (Liech). However, the claimants had the option of seeking the performance of the contract before the courts of the defendant’s domicile. The defendant failed to pay the service charges and the claimants sued him in Hungary.
Upon appeal it seems the lower courts had held that choice of court ex-EU is not covered by Brussels Ia (compare CJEU Gothaer) and stayed the case in favour of the court at Vaduz. The Supreme Court however in principle would see to have upheld the choice of court provision as exercised by the claimant even if it decided the case ultimately on a finding of submission.
As I said I do not read Hungarian, text search however does not suggest that the SC looked at the issue at all viz Brussels Ia. Which is odd.
Richard justifiably refers to the approaches of both the English (see e.g. here) and the French Courts (contrast Rotschild with Apple). Thankfully there is now also the volume edited by Mary Keyes, looking comparatively at the issue (Michiel Poesen and I contributed the Belgian chapter).
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 126.96.36.199, Heading 188.8.131.52 .
Oakfield Foods: Writ of control granted in enforcement of EU order of payment; otherwise enforcement stayed pending challenge to jurisdiction in Poland.
In Oakfield Foods v Zaklad Przemyslu Miesnego Biernacki SP Z O O  EWHC 250 (QB), Kimbell DJ granted a writ of control for £149,100.43 (monies to be paid into court) on the basis of the European orders for payment and their enforcement (EOPs) Regulation 1896/2006. The order for payment was issued in June 2018 by the Regional Court in Poznan.
In the simmering dispute on jurisdiction, it is Oakfield’s position that the court in Poland did not have jurisdiction because, under the terms of the sales agreement between it and Biernacki, there was choice of court for the courts of England and Wales. The position Biernacki in their application for the EPO is that the meat that was sold from Biernacki to Oakfield, was delivered in each case on Incoterms CIF/CIP under cover of CMR notes, and delivery took place in Poland.
Article 20 EOP provides for a system of review of the order. Oakfield argue that the time-limit included in it has not even begun running for service was not properly done. Oakfield have also launched proceedings in Poland challenging the EOP. Those proceedings were issued on 1 July 2019.
Kimbell DJ after discussing the service issues (incl the relation between the EOP and the Service Regulation) granted a writ of control (shielding therefore Biernacki from the risk of non-payment), stayed further enforcement until the litigation in Poland will be resolved, and also, at 98, ordered that Oakfield notify Biernacki’s English solicitors every four to six weeks of progress in the application challenging the EOP so as to avoid the claim being warehoused.
Punjab National Bank. In a complex set of claims, Owusu is never easily applied and material non-disclosure severely punished by the High Court.
In  EWHC 3495 (Ch) Punjabi National Bank v Ravi Srnivasan et al three loan transactions lie at the core of the case. They were made between 29th March 2011 and 1st December 2014, and totaled some US$45 million. They were made for the purposes of oil re-refining and wind energy generating projects in the USA. Most defendants are all allegedly guarantors domiciled either in India or the USA. The borrowers themselves, with the exception of two defendants, both ex-EU, are not party to the proceedings because they are insolvent.
Proceedings concern both the enforcement of the loans but also allegations of fraud, and have also been started in the US and in India however these were not disclosed to the court at the time the original permission was sought to serve out of jurisdiction.
At first glimpse the case might be easily held, along the lines suggested by lead counsel for claimant: at 5 (iii). ‘A combination of the exclusive jurisdiction clauses and the strongly arguable claims in fraud pointed towards the need to try the whole matter in one jurisdiction. England was the only possible jurisdiction. The omission to disclose the US proceedings and the Chennai proceedings caused the defendants no prejudice as they knew from the loan documentation that PNB was at liberty to bring parallel enforcement proceedings in different jurisdictions. The Chief Master ought to have placed strong reliance on articles 3 and 5 of the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements (the “Hague Convention”), and article 25 of The Recast Brussels Regulation (“Brussels Recast”), which obliged the court to accept jurisdiction where there were such exclusive jurisdiction clauses.’
Owusu v Jackson would suggest no entertainment at all of forum non conveniens. However the fraud allegations initially opened the door to a point of entry for forum non seeing as none of the defendants are EU based. Sir Geoffrey Vos at 63 lists the relevant factors: ‘the most important being the choice of jurisdiction clauses in both loan agreements and guarantees, the effect of Brussels Recast and the Hague Convention, the fact that some parallel proceedings can be necessary where enforcement against real property is required, and the centre of gravity of the lending relationship which was indeed in London. In addition, the US and Chennai proceedings did not cover the Pesco loans at all, so that disallowing English jurisdiction for those contractual claims prevented PNB from bringing proceedings in its main chosen jurisdiction in respect of that lending and the guarantees given in respect of it.’
In the end however Vos agreed with the initial assessment of the High Court which emphasised non-disclosure (undoubtedly an example of procedural fraus): notwithstanding England being the most appropriate forum for those contractual claims without clear choice of court, and without a doubt the English jurisdiction guarantees of the other loans, but also for the fraud claims, had they been (which they were not) seriously arguable as presently pleaded, (at 72) jurisdiction must be dismissed in light of the need to protect the administration of justice and uphold the public interest in requiring full and fair disclosure.
That is a strict approach in light of the choice of court made and an awkward way around the forceful nature of Article 25 Brussels Ia. An outcome of my discussion with Andrew Dickinson and Alex Layton, is (per Alex’ suggestion) that the High Court seems to have applied an Elefteria approach to choice of court rather than Article 25 BIa.
Ablynx and VUB v Unilever. The Court of Appeal reverses on Brussels Ia’s protection for choice of court (Article 31(2), yet dithers as to precise implications.
The Court of Appeal in  EWCA Civ 2192 has reversed Hacon J’s ruling which I reviewed here in  EWHC 792 (Pat) Ablynx and VUB v Unilever. Hacon J had held that Article 31(2) does NOT mean that the Brussels courts, to whom jurisdiction has been assigned in a licence agreement, get to decide first on the engagement of Article 24(4)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule re the validity of patents. Hacon J had decided that A31(2) cannot apply if A24(4) is engaged.
Lewison LJ with great clarity discussed CJEU and other authority on the application of (now) A25 and A24(4) (GAT v Luk and Roche of course feature). He holds at 71 that under the terms of the Recast Regulation, the Belgian court is empowered to decide whether the English court has exclusive jurisdiction; and that that question will involve the question whether the choice of court agreement is overridden by A25(4). And at 75: ‘the mere fact that there is a whisper of invalidity does not automatically bring proceedings in a different member state to a juddering halt. If this approach were to be applied to article 31(2) it would enable the Belgian court to decide, on a provisional basis, whether there was a non-negligible possibility that the UK court would declare the UK designation of the patents invalid. If it came to that conclusion, it would then have to decide to what extent that invalidated the exclusive jurisdiction agreement.’ ‘The court first seised (in England) is required to stay its proceedings as soon as the designated court has been seised (in Belgium) and until such time as the latter court declares that it has no jurisdiction under the exclusive choice of court agreement.’ Lewison LJ does hold that the court seized has to carry out a prima facie review of the validity of the choice of court agreement.
Conclusion, at 77: ‘it is for the court designated in the exclusive jurisdiction agreement (i.e. the Belgian court) to decide whether (and, if so, to what extent) it is deprived of its jurisdiction as a result of article 25 (4).’
However subsequently and despite counsel claim at 78 that the English court should not even consider the question whether A25(4) was engaged, the Court of Appeal does hold that the English courts should carry out a prima facie review of A25(4), too: at 78: if a prima facie case is established that A24 (4) does not apply (which at 110 following lengthy discussion it holds it does not, prima facie, in the case at issue; hence the action is stayed in its entirety) then it will be for the Belgian court to decide that question definitively. The opposite, it suggests, would cause unnecessary delay and expense.
This is a very thin line between full respect for Article 25(4)’s anti-torpedo mechanism, and disciplining abuse. I am not sure this judgment settles the issue on A25(4)’s full implications for court’s respective powers.
(Handbook of ) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 184.108.40.206, Heading 220.127.116.11.