Posts Tagged Choice of forum
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.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 188.8.131.52.
 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).
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 184.108.40.206.
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 220.127.116.11.
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.
Fern v Intergraph: High Court takes a narrow view of mandatory requirements on choice of law and court viz Commercial Agents Directive
In 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.
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.