Posts Tagged Choice of law

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.

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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.

Update 12 February 2019 Thank you Hélène Péroz for flagging that the French Supreme Court held on 30 January last (case number 16-25259)and upheld the choice of court in favour of Irish courts: ‘Qu’il s’avère que les pratiques anticoncurrentielles alléguées, qui se seraient matérialisées dans les relations contractuelles nouées entre les sociétés eBizcuss et Apple Sales International, au moyen des conditions contractuelles convenues avec elle, ne sont donc pas étrangères au rapport contractuel à l’occasion duquel la clause attributive de juridiction a été conclue ; que cette clause doit, donc, recevoir application.’ The Court holds that given that the very contractual terms and conditions form the means by which Apple has allegedly infringed competition law, that infringement is not foreign to the contract and therefore the contractual choice of court must stand.

 

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.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law. 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12, Heading 2.2.12.1.

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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.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law. 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.12, Heading 2.2.12.1.

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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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