Posts Tagged Choice of law

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

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 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.

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

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.

 

 

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

Update 4 December thank you to his Grace der Graf von Luxemburg for additionally pointing out pending case C-16/18 dealing with workers employed on international trains which also travel through the host Member State.

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).

One to keep an eye on.

Geert.

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

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Apple v eBizcuss. CJEU leaves open all options on choice of court and anti-trust, particularly for abuse of dominant position.

My review of Wahl AG’s Opinion gives readers necessary detail on C-595/17 Apple v eBizcuss. In 2012 eBizcuss started suing Apple for alleged anti-competitive behaviour, arguing Apple systematically favours its own, vertically integrated distribution network. Can choice of court in their original contract cover the action (meaning the French courts would not have jurisdiction).

The Court says it can, both for Article 101 TFEU (cartels) and for 102 TFEU actions (abuse of dominant position), but particularly for the latter. In both cases the final say rests with the national courts who are best placed to appreciate the choice of court provisions in their entire context.

For Article 101 TFEU actions, the window is a narrow one (at 28: ‘the anti‑competitive conduct covered by Article 101 TFEU, namely an unlawful cartel, is in principle not directly linked to the contractual relationship between a member of that cartel and a third party which is affected by the cartel’). For Article 102 TFEU, as noted by other, it is wider (‘the anti‑competitive conduct covered by Article 102 TFEU, namely the abuse of a dominant position, can materialise in contractual relations that an undertaking in a dominant position establishes and by means of contractual terms’). The overall context of appreciation is that of predictability: at 29 (referring to CDC): ‘in the context of an action based on Article 102 TFEU, taking account of a jurisdiction clause that refers to a contract and ‘the corresponding relationship’ cannot be regarded as surprising one of the parties.’

Geert.

 

 

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Apple v eBizcuss. Wahl AG on choice of court, anti-trust (competition law; clarifying CDC) and ‘corresponding relationships’.

Those of us who are familiar with the issue of multilingualism and international courts, will  enjoy the discussion of contractual terms in Wahl AG’s Opinion in C-595/17 Apple v eBizcuss. Not only does the issue entre around the precise implications of the wording of a choice of court provision. The Opinion (not yet available in English) also highlights the difficulty of translating the original English of the contractual term, into the languages at the Court.

Current litigation is a continuation of the earlier spats between Apple and eBizcuss, which led to the Cour de Cassation’s 2015 reversed stance on the validity of unilateral choice of court – which I discussed at the time.

The 2002 Apple Authorized Reseller Agreement (in fact the 2005 version which applied after continuation of the contract) included a governing law and choice of court clause reading

„This Agreement and the corresponding relationship between the parties shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Ireland and the parties shall submit to the jurisdiction of the courts of the Republic of Ireland. Apple reserves the right to institute proceedings against Reseller in the courts having jurisdiction in the place where Reseller has its seat or in any jurisdiction where a harm to Apple is occurring.” (emphasis added)

Footnote 3 displays the translation difficulty which I refer to above: parties disagree as to the translation of the contractual clause in French: applicant suggest this should read  „et la relation correspondante”, defendant proposes „et les relations en découlant”. The AG suggest to include both for the purposes of his analysis „Le présent contrat et la relation correspondante (traduction de la requérante)/et les relations en découlant (traduction de la défenderesse) entre les parties seront régis par et interprétés conformément au droit de l’Irlande et les parties se soumettent à la compétence des tribunaux de l’Irlande. Apple se réserve le droit d’engager des poursuites à l’encontre du revendeur devant les tribunaux dans le ressort duquel est situé le siège du revendeur ou dans tout pays dans lequel Apple subit un préjudice.” In Dutch: „De door partijen gesloten onderhavige overeenkomst en de bijbehorende betrekking (vertaling van verzoekster)/de hieruit voortvloeiende betrekkingen (vertaling van verweerster) tussen partijen zullen worden beheerst door en worden uitgelegd volgens het Ierse recht, en partijen verlenen bevoegdheid aan de Ierse rechter. Apple behoudt zich het recht voor om vorderingen jegens de wederverkoper aanhangig te maken bij het gerecht in het rechtsgebied waar de wederverkoper is gevestigd of in een land waar Apple schade heeft geleden.”

This translation issue however highlights precisely the core of the discussion: ‘the corresponding relationship’ suggest a narrow reading: the relationship corresponding to the contractual arrangements. Infringement of competition law does not correspond, in my view. ‘La relation correspondante’ displays this sentiment. ‘(L)es relations en découlant’ suggests a wider reading.

In 2012 eBizcuss started suing Apple for alleged anti-competitive behaviour, arguing Apple systematically favours its own, vertically integrated distribution network.

The Cour de Cassation had rebuked the Court of Appeal’s finding of lack of jurisdiction. In its 2015 decision to quash, (the same which qualified the Court’s stance on unilateral jurisdiction clauses) it cited C-352/13 CDC, in which the CJEU held that choice of court clauses are not generally applicable to liability in tort (the clause would have to refer verbatim to tortious liability): the specific para under consideration is para 69 of that judgment in CDC:

the referring court must, in particular, regard a clause which abstractly refers to all disputes arising from contractual relationships as not extending to a dispute relating to the tortious liability that one party allegedly incurred as a result of its participation in an unlawful cartel’.

At issue in Apple /eBizcuss is essentially what kind of language one needs for choice of court to include infringement of competition law (for Dutch readers, I have an earlier overview in Jacques Steenbergen’s liber amicorum here).

Wahl AG emphasises (at 56) that it would not be in the spirit of Article 25 Brussels I Recast (which he analyses in extenso in the previous paras) to require parties to include the exact nature of the suits covered by the choice of court agreement. He is right of course – except those suits in my view do need to be contractual unless non-contractual liability has been clearly included: that in my view is the clear instruction of the CJEU in CDC.

The AG then continues the discussion (which will be redundant should the CJEU not follow his lead) as to whether the clause covers both follow-on (a suit for tort once a competition authority has found illegal behaviour) as well as stand-alone (private enforcement: a party claiming infringement of competition law in the absence of an authority’s finding of same) suits. He suggests there should be no distinction: on that I believe he is right.

Geert.

 

 

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Atlas Power. Some heavy High Court lifting on Arbitration, curial and applicable law.

I reported earlier on Sulamerica and the need properly and preferably, expressly to provide for choice of law vis-a-vis arbitration agreements, in particular vis-a-vis three elements: lex arbitri, lex curia, lex contractus. In Shagang the High Court added its view on the possible relevance of a fourth factor: the geographical venue of the arbitration, and its impact in particular on the curial law: the law which determines the procedure which is to be followed.

Atlas Power Ltd -v- National Transmission and Despatch Co Ltd  [2018] EWHC 1052 is another good illustration of the relevance (but in practice: rarity) of the proper identification of all four factors.

Bracewell excellently identify the four take away points from Atlas Power:

  1. It is the seat of arbitration that determines the curial law of the arbitration, not the governing law of the contract.
  2. (To English Courts) the choice of the seat of arbitration is akin to an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of the place designated as the seat of the arbitration having the supervisory role over the arbitration.
  3. The English courts can and will use their powers to grant anti-suit injunctions to prevent a party from commencing foreign proceedings in breach of an arbitration agreement.
  4. Complex drafting increases the risk of satellite litigation and the accompanying delay and expense.

The core point which Atlas Power illustrates is that specific identification of arbitration venue, curial law, lex contractus and lex arbitri is best done in simple terms. Overcomplication, particularly variance of any of these four points, is a truly bad idea. Specifically: the arbitration clause in the contracts between the parties (text from Bracewell’s overview)

  1. Started by providing that the “arbitration shall be conducted in Lahore, Pakistan”.
  2. Then stated that if the value of the dispute was above a certain threshold or fell within a certain category, either party could require that the arbitration be conducted in London.
  3. Finally, the clause provided that, notwithstanding the previous sentences, either party may require that the arbitration of any dispute be conducted in London, provided that if the dispute did not satisfy the threshold or category requirements set out earlier in the clause the referring party would pay the costs of the arbitration incurred by the other party in excess of the costs that would have been incurred had the arbitration taken place in Pakistan.

 

Various procedural events led to Phillips J essentially having to decide: whether the parties had validly and lawfully chosen London as the seat of the arbitration (answer: yes); and whether, in light of Pakistani law (which was the law governing the contracts), the choice of London as the seat of arbitration did not result in the English courts having exclusive supervisory jurisdiction with the effect that the courts of Pakistan had at least concurrent jurisdiction (answer: no, for this would result in an unsatisfactory situation where more than one jurisdiction could entertain challenges to an award)

Variation of any litigation relevant articles really does open all sorts of cans of worms.

Geert.

 

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Dana Gas v Deutsche Bank et al. Islamic financing. Interest v usury (riba). Depecage, von Munchausen and overriding mandatory law. Partial unenforceability. All in the face of anti-suit.

In [2017] EWHC 2928 (Comm) Dana Gas v Deutsche Bank et al., Leggatt J treats his readers to a concise insight into islamic finance (particularly in para 10) which he needs to do to inform readers of the essence of the case. The operation essentially involves raising investment (with a view to restructuring), organised by the main agreement (of the ‘Mudarabah’ type), subject to UAE law, and supported by a purchase undertaking of the same date, subject to English law. The set-up therefore evidently is not one of dépeçage per se (this would require one and the same agreement being subject to different laws) however it comes close.

Inevitably following unfavourable market conditions, an anti-suit injunction was sought and obtained in the UAE, followed however by English proceedings which required the aint-suit to be lifted – something which Dana Gas did not succeed in as a result of shareholder opposition. The English proceedings were effectively saved from collapse by the involvement of a third party, BlackRock, who as a non-party to the UAE sharia proceedings, were not bound by the anti-suit injunction. The somewhat complicated result is that the English proceedings really can only limp along.

Dana Gas seek confirmation that the transaction is unlawful and all the relevant contractual obligations are unenforceable as a matter of UAE law. Leggatt J with neither emotion nor hesitation refers essentially to Rome I’s universal application: the Mudarabah agreement is subject to UAE law and he is happy to assume it is invalid under UAE law – hence not enforceable by an English court. See in this respect Article 10(1) Rome I.

That however leaves the viability of the purchase undertaking. (at 46) The fact in and of itself that the contract or its performance would be regarded as invalid or unlawful under the law of some other country than England (for example, a country where one of the parties is domiciled or carries on business) is generally speaking irrelevant (reference is made to Kleinwort, Sons & Co v Ungarische Baumwolle Industrie AG [1939] 2 KB 678.

At 48, Dana Gas sets out its case for unenforceability of the purchase agreement under English law. This includes reference to ordre public but also inevitably an attempt to ‘contaminate’ the purchase agreement with the Mudarabah agreement. Leggatt J justifiably turns this around: at 54: it is apparent from the purchase agreement’s terms that the risks against which the Purchase Undertaking is intended to protect the Certificateholders include the risk that the mudarabah and the transaction documents governed by UAE law will turn out to be invalid. That is why they needed to be separated. (In that respect merging the two agreements into one and applying dépeçage might give even stronger force to this argument: however I do not know whether under UAE law such construction would be acceptable).

Further arguments swept aside, the Court turns to ordre public.

Dana Gas nb had employed both ordre public and, earlier Article 9(3) Rome I: overriding mandatory law: a rare treat indeed. Relevant English precedent is Ralli Brothers: Ralli Brothers v Cia Naviera Sota y Aznar [1920] 1 KB 614: an English court will not enforce an obligation which requires a party to do something which is unlawful by the law of the country in which the act has to be done. Rome’s Article 9(3) operates in a similar context. However Dana Gas later abandoned that claim for (at 80) those rules of law are only applicable if and in so far as the obligations in question have to be performed in the UAE – quod non.

A switch was then made to ordre public, now with Foster v Driscoll [1929] 1 KB 470 as leading precedent. However, here too, it is only if a contract has as its object and intention the performance in a friendly foreign country of an act which is illegal under the law of that country that the contract will be considered (at 82 in fine) contrary to English public policy.

Conclusion:  the Purchase Undertaking is valid and enforceable.

Without claiming anything near proper competence in Islamic finance law, it would seem that Dana Gas does not introduce new principles in that area. However in diligently applying conflicts analysis, Leggatt J in my view does practice a great service: he re-emphasises the need for parties clearly to identify locus implementi: the place of performance of an obligation. When obligations are marked out for a seperate lex causae, such clear identification of place of performance will insulate them from collapse.

Geert.

(Handbook) of Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016: essentially, almost every section of Chapters 2 and 3.

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