Dhir v Flutter. How choice of law takes you via Rome, to DIFC and Dubai.

A quick note on Dhir v Flutter Entertainment Plc (Rev 2) [2021] EWHC 1510 (QB), in which Griffiths J had to consider ia whether choice of law had been made at all and if so (or also if no choice of law had been made), whether this was for the onshore law of the Emirate of Dubai – onshore Dubai law, or for the law of the Dubai International Financial Centre – DIFC.

Claimant (Amarjeet Dhir) is a Dubai-based businessman who advanced money to another businessman in Dubai which he thought would be invested in the local property market. Unknown to him, the man taking his money (Tony Parente) was a gambling addict. As Mr Parente now admits, he applied money he had been given by Mr Dhir (and, it seems, others) to fund his gambling habit. One of the gambling businesses with which he lost a lot of money in a short space of time was the defendant, through that part of its operations branded as Paddy Power. Mr Dhir now seeks to recover from Paddy Power money in its hands which he says represents the money he is entitled to recover from Mr Parente.

The relevant agreement includes express choice of law as follows: 

“This agreement is signed in Dubai and shall be governed and construed in accordance with the laws of Dubai”.

Claimant says that it meant DIFC laws, while defendant says that it means onshore Dubai law). All experts agreed that it had to be one or the other: it could not be both.

[116] jurisdiction before the E&W Courts is by prorogation (A26 Brussels Ia). Both parties agree [129] that the Rome I Regulation guides the search for the lex contractus. The agreement is silent on choice of court: otherwise that could certainly have been a factor in determining choice of law (recital 12 Rome I). In general [118] the judge is cautious in ‘letting the jurisdiction dog wagging the choice of law tail’, and held the many ties of parties and contract with Dubai (including signature at Dubai and not DIFC: a geographically distinct location) pointed to onshore Dubai law as  lex contractus.

Choice of law therefore made not verbatim, yet ‘clearly demonstrated’ (A3(1) Rome I).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 3.2.4.

Choice of law and arbitration: the UK SC in Enka v Chubb unlikely to settle the issue.

I discussed the first instance judgment in Enka Insaat here and the Court of Appeal’s findings here. The Supreme Court’s judgment, Enka Insaat Ve Sanayi AS v OOO Insurance Company Chubb [2020] UKSC 38 attempts to settle one of the many issues which choice of law in arbitration provokes, as I first flagged in a post on Sulamerica here: one needs to determine lex arbitri (the law that governs the arbitration agreement; it decides issues such as what issues are arbitrable, and whether the agreement to arbitrate is valid at all); the curial law or the ‘law of the seat’ (the procedural law which will guide the arbitration proceedings; despite the latin curia not commonly referred to as lex curiae); the ‘proper law’, the law that governs the actual contract (lex contractus) of which the agreement to arbitrate is only one part; and the locus arbitri and the lex locus arbitri:  the venue of the arbitration and its laws, which may or may not interact with the proceedings. That 2013 post on Sulamerica contains many further references, including comparative ones. Further case-law may be found by using the search tag ‘Sulamerica’ on the blog.

The Supreme Court held 3-2 in favour of dismissing the appeal, but only on the facts. Lord Burrows dissented in part, Sales dissented. The Supreme Court has now effectively held that unlike the Court of Appeal’s suggestion,  in the absence of express contractual provision there is no “strong presumption” of an implied term for the lex curiae, the law of the seat of the arbitration, to be  the lex arbitri (the law that governs the arbitration agreement), instead pushing the lex contractus (of the agreement of which the arbitration agreement is part) as the lex arbitri.

There has been plenty of analysis since the 9 October judgment and I shall let readers find that for themselves (Google search ‘proper law arbitration Enka v Chubb’ should do the trick). Ex multi I found Peter Ashford’s analysis very useful, including his use of the term ‘host contract’.

As the discussion here shows, with 2 strong dissenters and open discussions on the determination of implied choice of law, I do not think judgment in Enka v Chubb has truly settled the issue. Per inspiratio Steven Barrett’s quote, this might be one of those authorities one can drive a coach and horses through.

Geert.

The Hungarian Supreme Court on conduct in litigation resulting in implied choice of law.

An overdue post on the Hungarian Supreme Court’s judgment 2020.3.72.a, finding an implied choice of law pro Hungarian law, made by a Serbian and Hungarian party to a contract for agency and business counseling. In the absence of choice of law, per Article 4 Rome I, applicable law would have been Serbian law. Yet the SC held that the conduct of the Serbian business party in the litigation, made for implicit choice of law.

Under Rome I, choice of law may be made and changed at any time during the course of the contract. Whether it can also be made by conduct of litigation is somewhat disputed. Arguments pro rely heavily on a parallel with impromptu choice of court in Brussels Ia, by submission. The Hungarian courts had assessed the merits of the case on the basis of Hungarian law, and the Serbian defendant had engaged in that discussion in a detailed, substantive statement of defence without any objections to Hungarian law being the lex contractus. This, the courts held and the SC agreed, meant parties had made an implied choice of law by their conduct. A change of heart by defendant upon appeal was a unilateral change of law, which cannot bind the parties.

Richard Schmidt sent me the judgment and has additional analysis here– on which I relied for I do not read Hungarian. Scholarship has engaged with the issue and this SC judgment will be highly relevant material for that discussion.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.4.

 

 

Sodmilab. The Paris Court of Appeal on lois de police, Rome I, II and commercial agency.

Thank you Maxime Barba for flagging the judgment in the Paris Court of Appeal Sodmilab et al. (Text of the judgment in Maxime’s post). The case concerns the ending of a commercial relationship. Part of the contract may be qualified as agency with lex causae determined under the 1978 Hague Convention. On this issue, the Court of Appeal confirmed French law as lex causae.

Things get messy however with the determination of that part of the contract that qualifies as distribution (a mess echoing DES v Clarins), and on the application of Rome II.

The Court of Appeal first (at 59) discusses the qualification of A442-6 of the French Code du commerce, on unfair trading practices (abrupt ending of a commercial relationship), dismissing it as lois de police /overriding mandatory law under Article 9 Rome I. As I noted in my review of DES v Clarins, this is a topsy turvy application of Rome I. The qualification as lois de police is up to the Member States, within the confines of the definition in Rome I. The Court of Appeal holds that A442-6 only serves private interests, not the general economic interest, and therefore must not qualify under Rome I. Hitherto much of the French case-law and scholarship had argued that in protecting the stability of private interests, the Act ultimately serves the public interest.

Next (as noted: this should have come first), the Court reviews the application of A4f Rome I, the fall-back position for distribution contracts – which would have led to Algerian law as lex causae. It is unclear (62 ff) whether the Court reaches its conclusion as French law instead either as a confirmation of circumstantial (the court referring to invoicing currency etc.) but clear choice of law under Article 3, or the escape clause under Article 4(3), for that Article is mentioned, too.

Rome I’s structure is quite clear. Why it is not properly followed here is odd. That includes the oddity of discussing French law under Article 9 if the court had already confirmed French law as lex causae under A3 or 4.

Finally, corners are cut on Rome II, too. Re the abrupt ending of the relationship (at 66ff). French law again emerges victorious even if the general lex locus damni rule leads to Algerian law. The court does not quite clearly hold that on the basis of Article 4(3)’s escape clause, or circumstantial choice of law per A14. The court refers to ‘its findings above’ on contractual choice of law, however how such fuzzy implicit choice under Rome I is forceful enough to extend to choice of law under Rome II must not be posited without further consideration. Particularly seeing as Article 6 Rome II excludes choice of law for acts of unfair trading.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9; Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8, Heading 3.2.8.3; Chapter 4).

 

Applicable law and arbitration. Sulamerica extensively discussed in Kabab-Ji SAL v Kout Food Group.

Update 3 July 2007 for the opposite view in the same case, opting for the curial law as lex arbitri, see Paris Court of Appeal on 23 June 2020, discussed here. Quite the tale of conflicting views in the same case!

Thank you Filbert Lam for yet again flagging an important case. In [2020] EWCA Civ 6 Kabab-Ji SAL v Kout Food Group Flaux LJ extensively discussed the application of Sulamerica as to the governing law of an arbitration agreement which provides for arbitration in Paris but which is contained in a main agreement which is expressly governed by English law; and as to whether the respondent became a party to the main agreement and/or the arbitration agreement notwithstanding the presence of No Oral Modification provisions in the main contract.

Parties’ choice of English law for the underlying contract was found to also be an express choice of the law governing the arbitration agreement. This meant there was no need to consider the implications (particularly viz a possible implied choice of law) of a choice of Paris as seat or other aspects of the Sulamérica test. Recognition and enforcement of the award which applied French law, was refused.

Jonathan Lim suggests here that the judgment is a departure from the understanding of separability in previous CA decisions, although the ensuing discussion on his feed also suggests that the factual interpretation of the clauses might suggest the exact opposite. I tend to agree with Jonathan: the generic nature of the clauses and the lack of (reported at least) other strong indications seem to suggest the finding of express choice of law was optimistic.

Geert.

 

Sterling v Rand. The High Court emphasises the implications for arbitral tribunal’s powers resulting from choice of curial law in favour of Beth Din arbitration and choice of law pro Jewish law.

[2019] EWHC 2560 (Ch) Sterling v Rand concerns not so much the relationship between a Beth Din (a Jewish court) and the courts in ordinary, rather the implications for a Beth Din arbitral tribunal’s powers (here: power to transfer title in property) as a result of choice of curial law and choice of lex causae. On the various laws to be decided re arbitration, see here.

Ambrose DJ found Claimant was correct to argue that by agreeing to the application of Jewish law to the procedure of the arbitration (Jewish law as curial law), the Beth Din has power to order the transfer of the Property because Jewish law, which  gives the Beth Din power to make such an order. She dismissed the route taken by the claimant to come to this conclusion (he had suggested application of S48 of the 1996 Arbitration Act, a provision regarding remedies available in an arbitration governed by the Act), rather consequentially applying parties’ arbitration agreement. Parties had referred to the Judicial Division of the London Beth Din (Court of the Chief Rabbi) for a binding arbitration under the Arbitration Act 1996, as follows: 

“Re: Dispute over ownership of 4 Dunsmure Road N16 5PW I agree to the submission of this matter, including all claims and counterclaims arising in respect of it, to the Beth Din for a binding arbitration under the Arbitration Acts for the time being in force and under the following terms:

(1) The Beth Din will consist of three dayanim unless the parties agree to the substitute of a single dayan.

(2) The Beth Din’s rules of procedures are those of Jewish law.

(3) Each party to this matter shall have, by signing this document, indicated his assent to an arbitration under these terms. The Beth Din may continue the arbitration and conclude it ex parte if any party fails after receiving reasonable notice to attend any hearing.

(4) In the event that a vacancy arises in the Beth Din on account of the inability or refusal of any of its members to determine the arbitration, the Beth Din may appoint one or more of its own members to fill the vacancy, and may at its own discretion determine how the arbitration shall continue to be conducted. The Beth Din may determine that a single dayan may hear and receive evidence on behalf of the full Beth Din.

(6) The Beth Din has the power to make both inter partes and ex parte orders from the day upon which all parties are sent the terms of this agreement until such time as the Beth Din is functus officio under Jewish law. The Beth Din has the power to make orders under Jewish law both as to its own costs, and as to the costs incurred by any party in participating, bringing or defending any claim or counterclaim. The Beth Din may make orders as to security for costs, and in respect of claims.

(9) The Beth Din shall decide the matter under Jewish law incorporating such other laws as Jewish law deems appropriate.”

Under Jewish law, the Beth Din ordinarily has the power to order transfer of title.

Enforcement of the order was nevertheless dismissed for ordre public, following new evidence which had not been laid out to the Beth Din. At 83: ‘an order for specific performance would not be in the interests of justice, it could be contrary to public policy and it could damage the integrity (and reputation) of the Beth Din system.’

Geert.

 

Danilina v Chernukin: how a very Russian case triggers the proper law of the contract under the Rome Convention.

A little bit of factual background is required to understand [2019] EWHC 173 (Comm) Danilina v Chernukin. It concerns a valuable site in Central Moscow (readers of the blog and students of mine will now no longer wonder why this is being litigated in England) which is, indirectly, the subject of a Shareholder Agreement dated 31 May 2005 (the “SHA”). The issue is whether Vladimir Chernukhin, who is not named as a party to the SHA is in fact party to the SHA as a disclosed principal of Lolita Danilina, who is named as a party to the SHA. Mr. Chernukhin and Mrs. Danilina had been in a relationship; it is Mr. Chernukhin’s case that she was a named party because she was acting as his nominee or agent.

That is the purely business side of the litigation – there is also a family assets angle: Ms Danilina has a claim arising out of what she argues to have been an agreement between her and Mr. Chernukhin in 2007 for the division of their assets after their relationship had come to an end.

The latter issue is the ‘2007 Agreement’ and it is this which is of interest to the blog: Teare J at 324: Mrs. Danilina seeks to prove alleges the following, quite detailed, agreement: a) TGM would remain (as it always was) as an asset belonging to Mrs. Danilina and her alone; b) the assets accumulated between them jointly and which they regarded as family assets would be distributed between them on an effectively equal basis with: i) Mrs. Danilina retaining and/or taking those residential real property assets located within Russia, ii) Mr. Chernukhin having those residential real property assets located outside of Russia and iii) save for certain chattels such as cars and the weapon collection (which were to be owned by Mr. Chernukhin) and jewellery and artwork in Russia (which were to be owned by Mrs. Danilina), the balance of their assets would be split equally and Mrs. Danilina’s 50% share held in a trust for her benefit; c) a new structure would be required to reflect these agreements; and d) Mr. Chernukhin would be responsible for taking the necessary steps to give effect to the agreement.

Teare J starts with the bootstrap /von Munchausen: at 325: it is necessary to begin by considering what would be the governing law of the 2007 agreement, if it was made on the terms alleged by Mrs. Danilina. The reason for this is that it is submitted on behalf of Mr. Chernukhin that the agreement, if made, would be governed by Russian law, and that there are provisions of Russian law that affect the admissibility of witness testimony in proving the existence of an oral agreement. Being a contract entered into prior to 16 December 2009, the proper law of the 2007 Agreement would be determined under the Rome Convention on the law applicable to contractual obligations – not the later Rome Regulation.

Was there choice of law “expressed or demonstrated with reasonable certainty by … the circumstances of the case’ (per Article 3(1) Rome Convention? [I have included Articles 3 and 4 in relevant part below]

At 327 are cited (i) the fact that “Mr. Chernukhin had fled Russia in 2004 in an effort to make a clean break from Russian law and jurisdiction”; (ii) that Mrs. Danilina assisted him in moving to England, including by sending legal documents there; (iii) in 2007 Mr. Chernukhin was seeking English matrimonial law advice in relation to his assets, prior to his marriage to Mrs. Chernukhin. With Teare J I do not think this is sufficient to amount to a choice for the purposes of article 3. They do not amount to a positive choice of law “expressed or demonstrated with reasonable certainty.”

Consequently Article 4 is engaged.

Presumption of characteristic performance. It was submitted on behalf of Mrs. Danilina (at 328) that England is the “most closely connected” country, under the presumption in article 4(2). It is said that the characteristic performance under the agreement was to create the relevant trust structure for dividing, managing and investing the assets. The performer of these obligations was Mr. Chernukhin, who was and is resident in England. Teare J agrees: at 330: the characteristic performance of the agreement was primarily to be performed by Mr. Chernukhin. On Mrs. Danilina’s case, Mr. Chernukhin was entrusted to divide, invest and structure significant liquid and illiquid assets, of which Mrs. Danilina was in large part unaware.

Displacement of the presumption? Mrs. Danilina then submits that this presumption should not lightly be displaced.

This section discusses a core challenge to Article 4, which is the continental European but mostly EU-driven quest for predictability, with the more common law oriented search for the ‘proper’ law of the contract. In Article 4 terms (similarly under the current Article  Rome I): per Samcrete Egypt Engineers v Land Rover Exports Ltd [2001] EWCA Civ 2019, at [41], “unless art.4(2) is regarded as a rule of thumb which requires a preponderance of contrary connecting factors to be established before that presumption can be disregarded, the intention of the Convention is likely to be subverted.” Nonetheless, “the presumption may most easily be rebutted in those cases where the place of performance differs from the place of business of the party whose performance is characteristic of the contract” (See Bank of Baroda v Vysya Bank Ltd. [1994] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 87, 93, in the context of a bank’s place of central administration).

Teare J leans on Samcrete Egypt Engineers and rejects the suggestions made (at 329) to displace the presumption. There were that “the principal subject-matter was assets based in Russia / assets acquired using money generated in Russia and while the parties were resident in Russia.” Further, the Agreement is said to be “akin” to a divorce arrangement pursuant to the Russian Family Code, and of a relationship which occurred primarily or exclusively in Russia. Finally, the Agreement as alleged would have involved performance by both Mrs. Danilina and Mr. Chernukhin, distributing (including, where relevant, by re-registration of shares and real property) their various assets. However (at 330) ‘there are indeed some factors that might otherwise point to Russia being “most closely connected” (and other factors pointing to other jurisdictions, such as the use of Channel Islands trusts and the fact that the agreement was allegedly concluded in Zurich), these factors are not, in my judgment, sufficient to displace the presumption in article.4(2).’

Proper law of the contract is English law (discussion of the Russian oral evidence issue is made obiter at 332 ff). Tear J does signal at 331 that per Article 4(3) at the merits stage, provision may have to be made for Russian law as the lex rei sitae, for some parts of the agreement. Eventually the High Court finds on the basis of English law that there was no 2007 Agreement – although there is an issue of breach of a trust agreement and that may be litigated.

Fun with Rome.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.4, Heading 3.2.6.

 

 

Article 3 Freedom of choice

1. A contract shall be governed by the law chosen by the parties. The choice must be expressed or demonstrated with reasonable certainty by the terms of the contract or the circumstances of the case. By their choice the parties can select the law applicable to the whole or a part only of the contract.

2. …

3. The fact that the parties have chosen a foreign law, whether or not accompanied by the choice of a foreign tribunal, shall not, where all the other elements relevant to the situation at the time of the choice are connected with one country only, prejudice the application of rules of the law at the country which cannot be derogated from by contract, hereinafter called ‘mandatory rules`.

4. …

Article 4 Applicable law in the absence of choice

1. To the extent that the law applicable to the contract has not been chosen in accordance with Article 3, the contract shall be governed by the law of the country with which it is most closely connected. Nevertheless, a separable part of the contract which has a closer connection with another country may by way of exception be governed by the law of that other country.

2. Subject to the provisions of paragraph 5 of this Article, it shall be presumed that the contract is most closely connected with the country where the party who is to effect the performance which is characteristic of the contract has, at the time of conclusion of the contract, his habitual residence, or, in the case of a body corporate or unincorporate, its central administration. However, if the contract is entered into in the course of that party’s trade or profession, that country shall be the country in which the principal place of business is situated or, where under the terms of the contract the performance is to be effected through a place of business other than the principal place of business, the country in which that other place of business is situated.

3. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 2 of this Article, to the extent that the subject matter of the contract is a right in immovable property or a right to use immovable property it shall be presumed that the contract is most closely connected with the country where the immovable property is situated.

4. …

5. Paragraph 2 shall not apply if the characteristic performance cannot be determined, and the presumptions in paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 shall be disregarded if it appears from the circumstances as a whole that the contract is more closely connected with another country.

Heller v Uber at the Ontario Court of Appeal: arbitration clause requiring arbitration in the Netherlands of disputes between drivers and Uber invalid.

Update 30 June 2020 the Supreme Court in 2020 SCC 16 has confirmed the earlier finding of invalidity of the first instance court, as reported here.

Update 30 March 2020 Heller is now before the SC, and the British Colombia  Supreme Court distinguished it in Williams v Amazon [2019] BCSC 1807, holding as McCarthy Tétrault LLP report that the arbitration clause provided for a refund of costs in many cases. Further, the arbitration could be conducted through flexible options, and as such, this was not a substantially unfair bargain so as to meet the test for unconscionability.

Thank you Christopher Burkett for alerting me to Heller v. Uber Technologies Inc., 2019 ONCA 1.  The case is reminiscent of California’s Senate Bill 1241 (review here) and of an article that I co-authored with Jutta Gangsted [‘Protected parties in European and American conflict of laws: a comparative analysis of individual employment contracts]. The starting point of the California, the EU rules, and the Canadian judgment is the same: employees cannot be considered to really consent to either choice of law or choice of court /dispute resolution hence any clause doing same will be subject to mandatory limitations.

Here, an arbitration clause requiring arbitration in the Netherlands of disputes between drivers and Uber was held to be invalid and unenforceable, because it deprives an employee of the benefit of making a complaint to the Ministry of Labour under relevant Ontarian law.

Of note is that the judgment applies assuming the contract is one of employment – which remains to be determined under Ontarian law. Of note is also that the Court of appeal rejected Uber’s position that the validity is an issue for the arbitrator to determine because it is an issue going to the jurisdiction of the arbitrator. Uber invoked the “competence-competence” /kompetenz kompetenz principle (recently illustrated e.g. by the Brisilian Supreme Court in Petrobas) in support of its position.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016. Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.3, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.

Floating/Invalid Choice of Law Clauses. The Singapore High Court in Shanghai Turbo.

Update 30 April 2021 for the Austrian SC’s take (on floating ADR provisions (conflicting arbitration /choice of court clauses) see report here and text of the judgment here.

Marcus Teo has excellent analysis of Shanghai Turbo Enterprises Ltd v Liu Ming [2018] SGHC 172. The issue is well-known in contract law as such and takes one or two special forms in conflicts: what is the fate of a contract as a whole, and /or of contractual clauses individually, when part of a clause is defective.

In the case at issue, the relevant contractual clause read

This Agreement shall be governed by the laws of Singapore/or People’s Republic of China and each of the parties hereto submits to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of Singapore/or People’s Republic of China.”

As far as the choice of court part of this clause is concerned, non-exclusive choice of court comes with strings attached, depending on the laws of the States concerned: under the editorship of Mary Keyes, Michiel Poesen and I have contributed to an extensive comparative volume on same wich is forthcoming. However for choice of law one need not look at the specific laws of a State to appreciate that this clause thus formulated is simply a lame duck. No clear choice of law is made at all. The pragmatic solution is to ignore the useless clause and determine the proper law of the contract in the absence of a valid expression of parties’ autonomy. Yet conceptually an argument can, and has been made that to do so ignores the very high relevance of the lex contractus in the very contract formation – a conceptual quagmire which in EU law is addressed by Rome I’s ‘bootstrap’ principle.

In the case at issue, the High Court follows a pro-validation approach (favor contractus): the invalidity of the choice of law clause does not affect the formation of the main contract. A commercially sensible solution which Marcus analysis critically in excellent detail.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.7.

 

 

Dutch Supreme Court refers conflicts relevant questions on posted workers Directive to CJEU.

Update 4 December 2018 thank you to his Grace der Graf von Luxemburg for additionally pointing out pending case C-16/18 Dobersberger dealing with workers employed on international trains which also travel through the host Member State – Update January 2020 the Court held 19 December 2019 after Opinion Szpunar AG in July 2019. – and see scholarly review of similar Dutch cases here.

Thank you MPI’s Veerle Van Den Eeckhout for pointing out a highly relevant reference to the CJEU by the Dutch Supreme Court /Hoge Raad. The link between the posted workers Directive and conflict of laws is clear, as I have also explained here. The most interesting part of the reference for conflicts lawyers, are the questions relating to ‘cabotage’, particularly where a driver carries out work in a country where (s)he is not habitually employed (international trade lawyers will recognise the issue from i.a. NAFTA). Update January 2019 the reference is now here, the case is C-815/18.

One to keep an eye on.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.