Koksokhimtrans v Cool Consulting. The Dutch SC on E-mail proof and dispute resolution.

An interesting exchange with fellow practitioners on Twitter yesterday reminded me of this post which I have had in the draft folder since some time in June.  Back in February, the  Dutch SC confirmed the approach of the lower courts and the Court of Appeal on the correct approach to e-mail evidence and the existence of specific dispute resolution clauses. Here: an agreement to arbitration. The result is that a London-issued arbitral award cannot be enforced in The Netherlands.

When I flagged the case on Linked-in in June I observed there were two approaches to the judgment. Some emphasise the Courts’ refusal to recognise the validity of the agreement to arbitrate made by e-mail, in the face of what is common and very informal practice in the shipping industry /charterparty; others point more practically to parties having to be prepared to prove the authenticity of electronic correspondence.

Defendant did not enter an appearance but the lower Court in earlier ruling was alarmed by the print-out of e-mails allegedly containing the ‘agreement’ in the charterparty looking dodgy (there were for instance various white blots). It proprio motu pursued originality research. In subsequent rulings confirmed and completed by the Court of Appeal, the courts were not satisfied by the originality research, among others because the claimant’s ‘independent’ expert was an ICT employee with the law firm involved in the case.

Procureur Generaal Vlas with the Hoge Raad in his Opinion in December 2019, discussed the slight differences between the 1958 New York Convention and the Dutch law on the evidence required (with the Dutch rules in fact being more relaxed), and the nature and content of guidelines issued for the interpretation of the Convention. He advised to follow the lower court’s approach not because of some grand statement in principle but rather because he could not see fault in the courts’ factual observation of lack of independent and objective proof of authenticity. The Supreme Court followed in the most succinct of ways, without justifying rejection of the appeal. It is entitled to do so in cases where its findings have no impact on the unity in application of the law, indicating that the factual observations swayed the SC.

‘Before e-mail’ (my kids would respond to that ‘yes dad, when you got to work on horse and cart’) printers and warehouse assistants where a key link in the chain of general terms and conditions – GTCs. They needed to ensure the right content ended up on the right printed, blank order forms, and ended up with the right wholesalers, sales agents etc. – to be repeated every single time these GTCs were amended; and many a litigation has begun with sales agents continuing to use old forms ‘because it would be a shame to throw all that paper’. Fast forward to electronic correspondence, and website managers and general ICT staff have now assumed that role. In the context of any dispute resolution, they need to ensure everyone has the right e-mail footer, properly functioning link to the right version of the GTCs on the website, etc. They also need to have protocols in place to ensure authentication is thought of proactively. Lack of such proper electronic housekeeping leads to results no different than when sales agents continued to use the old paper forms.

Geert.

 

 

Weco projects: on Yachts lost at sea, anchor jurisdicton (that’s right), lis alibi pendens, carriage, ‘transport’ and choice of court.

In Weco Projects APS v Piana & Ors [2020] EWHC 2150 (Comm),  Hancock J held on a case involving Brussel Ia’s consumer title, including the notion of contract of ‘transport’, Article 25’s choice of court regime, and anchor jurisdiction under Article 8(1) BIa.

The facts of the case are complex if not necessarily complicated. However the presence of a variety of parties in the chain of events led to litigation across the EU. Most suited therefore to be, as WordPress tell me, the 1000th post on the blog.

For the chain of events, reference is best made to the judgment itself. In short, a Yacht booking note, with choice of court and choice of law was made for the Yacht to be carried from Antigua to Genoa. Reference was also made to more or less identical standard terms of a relevant trade association. A clause was later agreed with the identity of the preferred Vessel to carry out the transfer, followed by subcontracting by way of a Waybill.

The Yacht was lost at sea. Various proceedings were started in Milan (seized first), Genoa and England.

At 21, Hancock J first holds obiter that express clauses in the contract have preference over incorporated ones (these referred to the trade association’s model contract), including for choice of court. Readers will probably be aware that  for choice of law, Rome I has a contested provision on ‘incorporation by reference’, although there is no such provision in BIa.

Next comes the issue of lis alibi pendens. Of particular note viz A31(2) [‘Without prejudice to Article 26, where a court of a Member State on which an agreement as referred to in Article 25 confers exclusive jurisdiction is seised, any court of another Member State shall stay the proceedings until such time as the court seised on the basis of the agreement declares that it has no jurisdiction under the agreement’] is the presence of two prima facie valid but competing exclusive choice of court agreements. Hancock J proceeds to discuss the validity of the English choice of court agreement in particular whether the businessman whose interest in sailing initiated the whole event, can be considered a consumer.

The judge begins by discussing whether the contract concerned is one of mere ‘transport’ which by virtue of A17(3) BIa rules out the consumer title all together. At 37 it is concluded that the contract is indeed one of transport and at 37(8) obiter that freight forwarding, too, is ‘transport’. Hancock J notes the limited use of CJEU authority, including Pammer /Alpenhof. In nearly all of the authority, the issue is whether the contracts at issue concerned more than just transport, ‘transport’ itself left largely undiscussed.

Obiter at 75, with reference to CJEU Gruber and Schrems, and also to Baker J in Ramona v Reliantco, Hancock J holds that Mr Piana had failed to show that the business use of the Yacht was merely negligible.

Following this conclusion the discussion turns to the impact of the UK’s implementation of the EU’s unfair terms in consumer contracts regulations, with counsel suggesting that the impact of these is debatable, in light of A25 BIa’s attempt at harmonising validity of choice of court. Readers will be aware that A25’s attempt at harmonisation is incomplete, given its deference to lex fori prorogati). Hancock J does not settle that issue, holding at 111 that in any event the clause is not unfair viz the UK rules.

Next follows the Article 8(1) discussion with reference to CJEU CDC and to the High Court in Media Saturn. Hancock J takes an unintensive approach to the various conditions: they need to be fulfilled without the court at the jurisdictional stage getting too intensively caught up in discussing the merits. At 139 he justifiably dismisses the suggestion that there is a separate criterion of foreseeability in A8(1). On whether the various claims for negative declaratory relief are ‘so closely connected’, he holds they are on the basis of the factuality of each being much the same and therefore best held by one court. Abuse of process, too, is ruled out per Kolomoisky and Vedanta: at 143: there is no abuse of process in bringing proceedings which are arguable for the purposes of founding jurisdiction over other parties.

(The judgment continues with extensive contractual review of parties hoping to rely on various choice of court provisions in the chain).

Quite an interesting set of Brussels Ia issues.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, big chunks of Chapter 2.

 

 

 

The CJEU in Reliantco on’consumers’ and complex financial markets. And again on contracts and tort.

C-500/18 AU v Reliantco was held by the CJEU on 2 April, in the early fog of the current pandemic. Reliantco is a company incorporated in Cyprus offering financial products and services through an online trading platform under the ‘UFX’ trade name – readers will recognise this from [2019] EWHC 879 (Comm) Ang v Reliantco. Claimant AU is an individual. The litigation concerns limit orders speculating on a fall in the price of petrol, placed by AU on an online platform owned by the defendants in the main proceedings, following which AU lost the entire sum being held in the frozen trading account, that is, 1 919 720 US dollars (USD) (around EUR 1 804 345).

Choice of court and law was made pro Cyprus.

The case brings to the fore the more or less dense relationship between secondary EU consumer law such as in particular the unfair terms Directive 93/13 and, here, Directive 2004/39 on markets in financial instruments (particularly viz the notion of ‘retail client’ and ‘consumer’).

First up is the consumer title under Brussels Ia: Must A17(1) BIa be interpreted as meaning that a natural person who under a contract concluded with a financial company, carries out financial transactions through that company may be classified as a ‘consumer’ in particular whether it is appropriate, for the purposes of that classification, to take into consideration factors such as the fact that that person carried out a high volume of transactions within a relatively short period or that he or she invested significant sums in those transactions, or that that person is a ‘retail client’ within the meaning of A4(1) point 12 Directive 2004/39?

The Court had the benefit of course of C-208/18 Petruchová – which Baker J did not have in Ang v ReliantcoIt is probably for that reason that the case went ahead without an Opinion of the AG. In Petruchová the Court had already held that factors such as

  • the value of transactions carried out under contracts such as CFDs,
  • the extent of the risks of financial loss associated with the conclusion of such contracts,
  • any knowledge or expertise that person has in the field of financial instruments or his or her active conduct in the context of such transactions
  • the fact that a person is classified as a ‘retail client’ within the meaning of Directive 2004/39 is, as such, in principle irrelevant for the purposes of classifying him or her as a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of BIa,

are, as such, in principle irrelevant to determine the qualification as a ‘consumer’. In Reliantco it now adds at 54 that ‘(t)he same is true of a situation in which the consumer carried out a high volume of transactions within a relatively short period or invested significant sums in those transactions.’

Next however comes the peculiarity that although AU claim jurisdiction for the Romanian courts against Reliantco Investments per the consumer title (which requires a ‘contract’ to be concluded), it bases its action on non-contractual liability, with applicable law to be determined by Rome II. (The action against the Cypriot subsidiary, with whom no contract has been concluded, must be one in tort. The Court does not go into analysis of the jurisdictional basis against that subsidiary, whose branch or independent basis or domicile is not entirely clear; anyone ready to clarify, please do).

At 68 the CJEU holds that the culpa in contrahendo action is indissociably linked to the contract concluded between the consumer and the seller or supplier, and at 71 that this conclusion is reinforced by A12(1) Rome II which makes the putative lex contractus, the lex causae for culpa in contrahendo. At 72 it emphasises the need for consistency between Rome II and Brussels IA in that both the law applicable to a non-contractual obligation arising out of dealings prior to the conclusion of a contract and the court having jurisdiction to hear an action concerning such an obligation, are determined by taking into consideration the proposed contract the conclusion of which is envisaged.

Interesting.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

 

Choice of court and lis alibi pendens in Generali Italia v Pelagic Fisheries. Article 31’s anti-torpedo mechanism further put to the test.

In Generali Italia & Ors v Pelagic Fisheries & Anor [2020] EWHC 1228 (Comm) the claimants-insurers commenced proceedings seeking declarations that they are not liable to the Insureds. Pelagic had already commenced proceedings in Treviso, Italy on the basis of what it claims to be choice of court in favour of Italy. The first instance Italian court stayed the Treviso Proceedings (the insureds have appealed; the appeal is yet to be heard) pending a determination by the English court as to whether the Treviso Policies are subject to an exclusive English jurisdiction clause. The Italian stay order reads in relevant part:

‘the lis alibi pendens defence which has been raised requires that these proceedings are suspended in order to allow the High Court of London to rule on the exclusive English jurisdiction clause pursuant to art 31.2 of EU Reg 1215/2012. That since, in the light of what is established by the said provisions, it is irrelevant that the Italian Judicial Authority has been seised first, …. Indeed article 31 of the above mentioned regulation represents an exception to the operation of the ordinary rule of priority in matter of lis alibi pendens, in order to allow the judges chosen by the parties in contractual terms (cover notes) to be the first to rule on the validity of the clause itself (according to the law chosen by the parties). In the concerned case all the cover notes, in the special insurance conditions, contain the clause ‘English jurisdiction. Subject to English law and practice”, with consequent waiver to the general insurance conditions provided in Camogli Policy 1988 form”.’

Other parties are part of the proceedings, too – readers best refer to the facts of the case. They clarify that chunks of the proceedings bear resemblance to the kind of split stay scenario applied by the CJEU in C-406/92 The Tatry.

Foxton J refers to the good arguable case test viz Article 25 Brussels Ia of BNP Paribas v Anchorage, recently also further summarised by the Court of Appeal in Kaefer Aislamientos and further in Etihad Airways PJSC v Flöther.

The case essentially puts Article 31 BIa’s anti-torpedo mechanism to the test in related ways as the first instance judge and the Court of Appeal did in Ablynx. There is a dispute between the parties as to whether A31(2) obliges the English Court to stay proceedings unless and until there is a determination in the Treviso Proceedings that the Italian courts do not have jurisdiction. There are 3 core questions: i) Should the English Court proceed to determine whether there is an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of this Court, in circumstances in which Pelagic is contending in Italy that the Italian courts have jurisdiction, or should it await a ruling on jurisdiction in the Treviso Proceedings? ; ii) If it is appropriate to determine the issue, is there an English exclusive jurisdiction agreement in the Treviso Policies for the purposes of Article 25?; iii) Should the Court stay the remainder of the proceedings under Article 30?

At 65 counsel for the insureds take a similar position as Ms Lane did in Ablynx: he argues that the only issue which the High Court should consider is whether it is satisfied that there is a prima facie case that the Italian court has jurisdiction (which he says there is on the basis that the parties agreed that both the English and Italian courts would have jurisdiction) and that if it is so satisfied, it should stay the English proceedings, pending the outcome of Pelagic’s appeal in the Italian proceedings.

Foxton J however at 68 ff highlights the inadequate nature and limitations of A31(2), as also pointed out by the last para of recital 22 which accompanies it: in the face of conflicting choice of court provisions (typically, as a result of overlapping clauses in overlapping contractual relations between the parties), A31(2) loses its power and the more classic lis alibi pendens rules take over. At 70 he points to the ping-pong that threatens to ensue:

in circumstances in which the Italian court has stayed its proceedings to allow the English court to determine if it has exclusive jurisdiction, it would be particularly surprising if the English court was then bound to stay its proceedings pending a decision on jurisdiction by the Italian court. This approach, in which the dispute might become caught in the self-perpetuating politeness of an Alphonse and Gaston cartoon, is not consistent with enhancing “the effectiveness of exclusive choice-of-court agreements” and avoiding “abusive litigation tactics” which Article 31(2) is intended to achieve. It does not matter for these purposes that the decision of the Italian court granting such a stay is presently under appeal.

He holds therefore at 79 that his task is essentially to review whether there is a good arguable case that the Treviso Policies (the ones subject of the English litigation, GAVC) are subject to exclusive jurisdiction agreements in favour of the English court which satisfy the requirements of A25 BIa. At 95 he finds there is such case. At 113 ff he holds obiter he would have stayed the remainder of the claims under A30, had he held in favour of a stay under A31(2).

Fun with conflict of laws.

Geert.

(Handbook of ) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.7, Heading 2.2.9.5.

 

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 [2020] 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 in the comments section 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). (Update 28 May 2020 see also Aygun Mammadzada in the meantime here for similar and further comments re Lugano).

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.

Quite a few relevant issues here. I for one note the cautious approach of the Court, in handling the Court of Appeal’s Privatbankauthority – following SCOR v Barclays.

Geert.

Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2.

 

Terre Neuve v Yewdale. A Lugano /Brussels I jurisdictional fest.

In Terre Neuve SARL & Ors v Yewdale Ltd & Ors [2020] 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 [2019] EWHC 1119 (Comm), confirmed in [2019] 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…

Geert.

 

Unilateral aka asymmetric jurisdiction and the Hungarian Supreme Court.

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).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2 .

 

 

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 [2020] 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.

The substantial debate on jurisdiction in Poland clearly will involve the usual discussions on GTCs as well as Incoterms and choice of court.

Geert.

 

 

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 [2019] 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.

Geert.

 

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 [2019] EWCA Civ 2192 has reversed Hacon J’s ruling which I reviewed here in [2019] 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.

Geert.

(Handbook of ) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.7, Heading 2.2.9.5.