Posts Tagged Choice of forum

Airbus v Generali et al: The Court of Appeal on the intensity of review of choice of court under Article 25. Clear echoes of Turner v Grovit and West Tankers.

Update 17 October 2019 for a related issue in a German case, awarding the German party costs for having to defend a US procedure in spite of parties’ agreement to litigate in Germany, see the German federal court, BGH , Urteil vom 17.10.2019 – III ZR 42/19, as flagged by Tobias Lutzi (and discussed by Giesela Ruhl here).
(Apologies for the odd formatting in this post: I tried to debug this but failed. I am not wasting too much time trying, for I assume most of you do not visit the blog to enjoy its design qualities).
In [2019] EWCA Civ 805 Airbus v Generali et al CJEU authority in West Tankers clearly echoes. I had hoped to review the case much sooner after my Tweet reporting it a few days after the judgment came out. That delay does have the advantage that Clyde & Co in the meantime have analysis to which I am happy to refer.

The claimant in this action and the respondent to the appeal, Airbus, claims declarations (1) that it is not liable to the defendant insurers for losses incurred in relation to an incident which occurred on 29 September 2013 in which an aircraft which it had manufactured sustained damage when landing in Rome and (2) that proceedings commenced against it by the defendants in Italy have been commenced contrary to the terms of an English exclusive jurisdiction clause. The clause in question is contained in an Airframe Warranties Agreement dated 8 July 2010 (“the Warranties Agreement”) concluded between (among others) Airbus and the defendants’ insured, the Italian airline company Alitalia. The issue on this appeal is whether the English court has jurisdiction over these claims by virtue of the jurisdiction clause. Moulder J held that it does and the defendant insurers (henceforth “the appellants”) now appeal.

Appellants contend, in outline, that the jurisdiction clause is of limited scope and does not extend to Airbus’s claims in this action, that the claim for a negative declaration falls within an arbitration clause in a different agreement, a Purchase Agreement dated 31 October 2005 which provides for ICC arbitration in Geneva, and that their own proceedings in Italy under articles of the Italian Civil Code are not within the scope of either clause. They say in addition that they cannot be in breach of an exclusive jurisdiction clause to which, as insurers, they were never parties and that, regardless of the true construction of the clause, there is no basis on which the English court can make a declaration against them (essentially, per Turner v Grovit and West Tankers).

Males LJ at 49: The standard of proof to be applied in determining whether the English court has jurisdiction under Article 25 of the Brussels Recast Regulation is that of a good arguable case. Kaifer Aislimentos was discussed as relevant authority. However, at 52: ‘sometimes it will be sensible, when a question of law arises on an application to challenge jurisdiction, for the court to decide it rather than merely deciding whether it is sufficiently arguable.’  Discussion of the contractual construction of the choice of court clause then follows at 62 ff and concludes in favour of a wide application in casu.

At 77 ff: The question whether the appellants’ claim in Italy falls within the scope of the English jurisdiction clause. Males LJ notes correctly that this depends on the nature of the claim brought in Italy, not on the defences which may be or have in fact been raised by Alitalia. At 82 he fairly swiftly concludes that even though the Italian claim is for breach of non-contractual obligations under articles of the Italian Civil Code, it is sufficiently connected to the Warranties Agreement to be within the scope of the exclusive jurisdiction clause. At 83 therefore: the commencement and pursuit of the Italian proceedings was contrary to the terms of that clause and that the English court has jurisdiction to determine that claim.

That then brings us to the discussion of what the English courts might potentially do to assist the party relying on the choice of court clause – given the unavailability of anti-suit per West Tankers. Noteworthy is that the new lis alibi pendens rule protecting choice of court following Brussels Ia, seemingly was not deployed or discussed in the Italian proceedings – at any rate there is no reference to any such discussion in the Court of Appeal judgment (other than perhaps at 84 which seems to suggest that amendment of claims brought the issue to the surface and this may not yet have been the case at the time of the discussion of the Italian proceedings).

A statement by the English courts finding infringement of the clause, would not just have an impact on cost rulings but would also ground a delictual claim. At 97 Males LJ settles the discussion whether such a declaration might be possible: ‘I can see no valid basis on which West Tankers can be distinguished. If it is held that commencement of the Italian proceedings by Alitalia would have been a breach of the jurisdiction clause in the Warranties Agreement, it follows that their commencement by the appellant insurers is a breach of an equivalent obligation in equity which Airbus is entitled to enforce and that the English court has jurisdiction to grant a declaration to say so.’

Interesting and highly relevant authority.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2.2.2.10.2.,  Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.

 

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Pretty pennies and exclusive choice of court. BDO Cayman v Argyle Funds

In BDO Cayman v Argyle Funds, reported  by Harneys, the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands followed English and Australian authority in having an anti-suit injunction followed by a cost order against the party that had infringed choice of court. Costs including not just the domestic proceedings (that would be obvious) but also the foreign proceedings (here: in the US).

It is this type of measure which makes jurisdictions stand out and be noticed in civil procedure regulatory competition – not, as I flagged earlier, half-baked attempts to add some gloss via international business courts.

Geert.

 

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Saey Home: The CJEU on choice of court and invoices, and place of performance of concession contracts.

C‑64/17 Saey Home, is yet another illustration of, mercifully for us conflicts lawyers, even fairly sophisticated businesses often fail properly to conclude commercial agreements. Here: what is said to be a semi-exclusive concession agreement, was concluded verbally only.

Saey Home & Garden is a company with its registered office in Kortrijk (Belgium), which specialises in the manufacture and sale, inter alia, of kitchen equipment and utensils bearing the trademark ‘Barbecook’. That company does not have a branch or establishment in Spain. Lusavouga has its registered office in Cacia, Aveiro (Portugal). Its premises are in Portugal. Its network covers Spain, inter alia, where it has no branch or establishment. Parties to the main proceedings concluded a commercial concession agreement concerning the exclusive promotion and distribution (with the exception of one client) in Spain.

First up, has choice of court in favour of the courts at Kortrijk (referred to by its French synonym Courtrai, but then without the ‘r’ in referral documents and by the CJEU) been validly made if this choice was only included in the general terms and conditions included in the invoices? Hoszig (where a jurisdiction clause is stipulated in the general conditions, such a clause is lawful where the text of the contract signed by both parties itself contains an express reference to general conditions which include a jurisdiction clause) and Leventis (the purpose of the requirements as to form imposed by Article 25(1) is to ensure that consensus between the parties is in fact established) are the most recent CJEU precedent referred to. Both of them build on standing CJEU principle: one must not be overly formalistic when assessing the existence of agreement, but one must be certain that such agreement exists. While it is up to the national court to assess this in fact, the Court does indicate it is unlikely to be the case when no written agreement has been made (neither initially nor subsequently confirming an earlier verbal agreement) and all one has are the invoices.

Choice of court being unlikely, next up is the application of Article 7(1) to determine which court has jurisdiction to hear an application for damages relating to the termination of a commercial concession agreement concluded between two companies, each established and operating in a different Member State, for the marketing of goods on the domestic market of a third Member State in which neither of those companies has a branch or establishment.

Referring to Corman-Collins, the Court classifies concession agreements as being service contracts, which per Article 7(1) second indent, leaves to be determined the ‘place in
a Member State where, under the contract, the services were provided or should have been provided;’. Note: the place in a Member State. Not different places. Per Wood Floor Solutions, when there are several places of performance of the obligation characteristic of a contract for the supply of services the ‘place of performance’ must be understood as the place with the closest linking factor, which, as a general rule, will be at the place of the main provision of services. This place of ‘main provision’ follows from the provisions of the contract and, in the absence of such provision, of the actual performance of that contract and, where it cannot be determined on that basis, the place where the agent is domiciled (still per Wood Floor Solutions). This specific determination is left to the referring court.

One imagines different national courts may have treated all of this as acte clair – except perhaps for the peculiarity of Spain being a Member State where neither of the parties has either domicile or branch.

Geert.

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

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Kaifer Aislimientos: the limits of Brussels I’s rules on choice of court.

[2017] EWHC 2598 (Comm) Kaifer Aislimientos, is a good illustration of the limits of Article 25 juncto recital 20’s lex fori prorogati rule.

Claimant argues that the Court has jurisdiction pursuant to Article 25 Brussels I Recast because the relevant contract contains an English exclusive jurisdiction clause and further contends that the relevant contract was concluded by AMS Mexico and/or AMS on behalf of AT1 and Ezion as undisclosed principals and that, as undisclosed principals, the contract – together with the jurisdiction agreement – was binding on AT1 and Ezion.

That is the only part of the judgment to feature the Brussels Regulation at all. Peter MacDonald Eggers DJ could have referred to CJEU precedent pro inspiratio, including Refcomp for instance. He could certainly also have referred to recital 20, and equally failed to do so.

In substance he applies the Brussels I Recast rule by applying lex fori prorogati (here: English law) to all but the formation of consent questions relevant to the validity of choice of court (here: under what circumstance undisclosed principals are subject to choice of court).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9.4.

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Leventis. CJEU confirms principle of privity of choice of court under Brussels I.

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.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9.7.

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Consenting to choice of court under the common law. The Privy Council in Vizcaya v Picard.

In Vizcaya v Picard, the Privy Council considered the issue of consent to a choice of court clause in the event no such choice has been made verbatim. It was alleged that choice of court had been made implicitly but clearly by reference to an applicable law agreement in the underlying contract. RPC have a review of the case on their blog and I am grateful to them for bringing it to my attention.

The case is a fall-out of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, carried out through Mr Madoff’s company Bernard L Madoff Investment Securities LLC (“BLMIS”), a New York corporation. After Madoff’s fraud came to light in 2008, Irving Picard (“the trustee”) was appointed as trustee in BLMIS’s liquidation in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York (“the New York BankruptcyCourt”). The trustee commenced proceedings under the anti-avoidance provisions of the US Bankruptcy Code against investors who had been repaid before the fraud was discovered, including the appellant, Vizcaya Partners Limited (“Vizcaya”), a BVI (British Virgin Islands) company which carried on business as an investment fund, and which invested about US$328m with BLMIS between January 2002 and December 2008, but was repaid US$180m before the fraud was discovered.

The Appeal before the Privy Council concerns primarily the content and scope of the rule in common law that a foreign default judgment is enforceable against a judgment debtor who has made a prior submission to the jurisdiction of the foreign court (as distinct from a submission by appearance in the proceedings).  Brussels I or the Recast was not applicable to the case. In that Regulation (Article 25), the expression of consent with choice of court must take one of thee forms: essentially: written (or oral but confirmed by written agreement); in accordance with lex mercatoria; or in accordance with established business practice simply between the parties.

The question in the case at issue is whether the agreement to submit must be express, or can also be implied or inferred. The Privy Council settled the uncertainty which would seem to have existed for some time in the common law, in favour of an answer in the affirmative. Consent to jurisdiction can be implied. What needs to be shown though is real ‘agreement’, or ‘consent’ (in European private international law with respect to the similar discussion re choice of law (Rome I) I would say the test is one of ‘clearly established’), quod non in casu. Choice of law (here: in favour of New York law) can be a factor but not a solely determinant one. Moreover, choice of court viz one’s business transactions does not imply automatic extension to insolvency proceedings.

Crucial precedent, it would seem. Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9

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Chinachem: Forum non conveniens, non-exclusive choice of court and concurrent proceedings in Hong Kong and Mainland China.

I reported earlier on the waiver of privilege issues in Chinachem. The Hong Kong High Court has now also ruled on the issue of application of forum non conveniens in the event of concurrent proceedings in Hong Kong and mainland China. In a lengthy judgment (particularly resulting from extensive summary of counsel arguments but also of relevant precedent), Ng J recalls English precedent on forum non conveniens (Spiliada evidently being featured) and the way in which said precedent has been applied in Hong Kong. (Carrie Tai has excellent overview here).

Contract between the parties included choice of court and choice of law as follows: ‘This Agreement shall be governed by the laws of Hong Kong and it shall be construed by the laws of Hong Kong. Both parties agree to submit to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of Hong Kong.’

Ng J in the end rejects all arguments suggesting a stay in favour of the mainland proceedings. In doing so, she confirmed the tendency of Hong Kong courts (like indeed their English common law counterparts) to only brush aside choice of court in exceptional circumstance. Even if that choice of court is, such as here, non-exclusive. The concurrent proceedings stand.

Geert.

 

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Fern v Intergraph: High Court takes a narrow view of mandatory requirements on choice of law and court viz Commercial Agents Directive

In [2014] EWHC 2908 (Ch) Fern v Integraph, Mann J was asked whether a clear Texas governing law and Texas jurisdiction clause should be set aside, jurisdiction upheld by the English courts and applicable law to be held to be English law, on the basis of an alleged infringement of the UK implementation of the Commercial Agents Directive. (The procedural context is one of permission to ‘serve out of the jurisdiction’).

Fern was the agent of Intergraph in the EU. Fern claims compensation for breach of the Commercial Agents Regulations (UK), which implement the Commercial Agents Directive.  Some core EU law considerations pass before the High Court, including Marleasing, Faccini Dori, von Colson and Inter-Environnement. The High Court’s main pre-occupation would seem to have been with the rescue of choice of court and of governing law as much as possible, even within the constraints of the ECJ’s decision in Ingmar.  In that judgment (which was confined to choice of law; the jurisdiction of the English courts was not sub judice), the ECJ held

It must therefore be held that it is essential for the Community legal order that a principal established in a non-member country, whose commercial agent carries on his activity within the Community, cannot evade those provisions by the simple expedient of a choice-of-law clause. The purpose served by the provisions in question requires that they be applied where the situation is closely connected with the Community, in particular where the commercial agent carries on his activity in the territory of a Member State, irrespective of the law by which the parties intended the contract to be governed.’ (in the case at issue, a choice of law clause had been inserted which made the contract applicable to the laws of California).

However, the operative part of the ECJ’s decision in Ingmar focussed on the compensation element only: ‘Articles 17 and 18 of Council Directive 86/653/EEC of 18 December 1986 on the coordination of the laws of the Member States relating to self-employed commercial agents, which guarantee certain rights to commercial agents after termination of agency contracts, must be applied where the commercial agent carried on his activity in a Member State although the principal is established in a non-member country and a clause of the contract stipulates that the contract is to be governed by the law of that country.’

In the case at issue, the High Court seems to have leapt at the more narrow operative part in Ingmar (and  its non-consideration of choice of court) in an effort to uphold the choice of court and governing law agreement: the right to compensation derives from statutory law, not from contractual obligations. Whence it does not affect aforementioned clauses. In reaching that conclusion, however, Mann J effectively refused to consider effet utile of the Commercial Agents Directive when interpreting English rules of civil procedure for serving out of jurisdiction. Effet utile does resurface, however, for parties have been given time to submit their views on whether the right to compensation as a statutory right, infringement of which would amount to a tort, would fall outside the scope of the relevant contractual clauses and would lead to jurisdiction in the English courts.

Even if this will be the eventual decision of the High Court after re-submission of arguments, it is likely that the confines of that jurisdiction in England will be narrowly defined. (Viz the right to compensation only). This is a striking difference with e.g. the German courts. (I have previously posted on the view of the Bundesgerichtshof: a much swifter and absolute rejection of choice of court and governing law ex-EU in the context of the commercial agents Directive).

A rather complex and as yet unfinalised ruling.

Geert.

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Should Bank St Petersburg anti-enforcement injunctions fall foul of the Brussels I-Regulation?

In Bank St Petersburg, the High Court issued an anti-enforcement injunction on 14 May. The Bank had obtained a number of Russian judgments in their favour (in interlocutory proceedings), which they aimed to have enforced in France and Bulgaria. Following the Russian judgments however parties agreed to have their core dispute (the control over a Russian company against the background of a restructuring operation of the  Arkhangelskys’ financial interest) judged exclusively by the English courts. The anti-enforcement injunction bans the Bank from having the judgments enforced in France, Bulgaria, or anywhere else.

Prima facie the injunction escapes all attention under the Brussels I Regulation: the judgments, enforcement of which is sought, originate from outside the EU. The choice of court clause is agreed between two parties domiciled outside of the EU, whence also falling outside the Regulation in its current version (this will change following the Brussels I-recast). (Notwithstanding Article 23(3)’s limited protection by instructing courts not named in the clause to desist – however Article 27’s lis alibi pendens rule would still protect the courts who despite  this instruction hear the case anyway).  Of particular note is also the subject-matter of the underlying dispute, which might be caught, if the Regulation were applied reflexively (such as the High Court did in Ferrexpo), by reflexive application in favour of the Russian courts of the exclusive Jurisdictional rule of Article 22(2).

These are altogether not very forceful points of entry for the Brussels I-Regulation to have a calling in the matter. Therefore this also rules out that the injunction might be caught by the ECJ’s general aversion vis–a-vis ‘anti-suit’ injunctions.

Geert.

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