Tilman v Unilever. A preliminary reference on flag-wrap B2B choice of court under Lugano.

A puzzling title perhaps I agree but let me explain. Thank you Matthias Storme for alerting me to the May 2021 preliminary reference by the Belgian Supreme Court, a reference now known at the CJEU as Case C-358/21 Tilman SA (of Belgium) v Unilever Supply Chain Company AG (of Switserland). Elucidation is asked of Article 23 of the Lugano 2007 Convention, the choice of court provision in the Convention.

The question referred, reads

Are the requirements under Article 23(1)(a) and (2) of [Lugano 2007], satisfied where a clause conferring jurisdiction is contained in general terms and conditions to which a contract concluded in writing refers by providing the hypertext link to a website, access to which allows those general terms and conditions to be viewed, downloaded and printed, without the party against whom that clause is enforced having been asked to accept those general terms and conditions by ticking a box on that website?

Article 23 Lugano 2007 is identical (mutatis mutandis: the only difference being that A23 Lugano refers to ‘States to the Convention’ instead of ‘Member States’) to the former Article 23 of the Brussels I Regulation, Regulation 44/2001.  A23 Lugano 2007 reads in relevant part

    1. If the parties, one or more of whom is domiciled in a State bound by this Convention, have agreed that a court or the courts of a State bound by this Convention are to have jurisdiction to settle any disputes which have arisen or which may arise in connection with a particular legal relationship, that court or those courts shall have jurisdiction. Such jurisdiction shall be exclusive unless the parties have agreed otherwise. Such an agreement conferring jurisdiction shall be either: (a) in writing or evidenced in writing; or (b) in a form which accords with practices which the parties have established between themselves; or (c) in international trade or commerce, in a form which accords with a usage of which the parties are or ought to have been aware and which in such trade or commerce is widely known to, and regularly observed by, parties to contracts of the type involved in the particular trade or commerce concerned.
    2. Any communication by electronic means which provides a durable record of the agreement shall be equivalent to ‘writing’.

The case at issue therefore does not question so-called ‘click-wrap’ consent to general terms and conditions – GTCs. These require the contracting partner to tick the relevant box which then ‘wraps up’ the agreement, including choice of court (and law). They were the subject of CJEU El Majdoub v CarsOnTheWeb. In that judgment, the CJEU held that in a B2B context, where the GTCs that have to be ticked can be saved and printed, they can be a ‘durable’ record of consent. (Not: consent itself: that is subject to a separate analysis, under the relevant lex causae, see below).

Rather, the title of this post calls the issue one of ‘flag-wrap’: one of the parties’ (Unilever’s) GTCs  are contained on a website, and their existence is ‘flagged’ in the written main contract. Does that suffice to bind the parties as to the GTC’s choice of court (in favour of the English courts; note the courts were seized pre-Brexit; the UK’s Lugano troubles are not engaged)?

The provisions on forum clauses are drafted in a way ‘not to impede commercial practice, yet at the same time to cancel out the effects of clauses in contracts which might go unread’ (Jenard Report), or otherwise ‘unnoticed’ (CJEU Colzani). The Brussels Convention and now the Regulation show great support for choice of court agreements and aim not to be as overly formalistic as the conditions imposed upon them.

Importantly, valid choice of court does require both a clearly and precisely demonstrated consent to be bound by choice of court and one or another Article 25-sanctioned form of expression of that consent. In Colzani the CJEU held [7]:

the requirements set out in Article [25] governing the validity of clauses conferring jurisdiction must be strictly construed. By making such validity subject to the existence of an ‘agreement’ between the parties, Article [25] imposed upon the court before which the matter is brought the duty of examining, first, whether the clause conferring jurisdiction upon it was in fact the subject of a consensus between the parties, which must be clearly and precisely demonstrated. The purpose of the formal requirements imposed by Article [25] is to ensure that the consensus between the parties is in fact established.

CJEU authority of Colzani and Coreck Maritime impose on the court the duty of examining ‘whether the clause conferring jurisdiction upon it was in fact the subject of a consensus between the parties’ and this had to be ‘clearly and precisely demonstrated’.

In practice, many courts conflate the check for consent with the check for expression of that consent and even the CJEU is not always clear in distinguishing it. In particular, absence of proof of any of the three possible avenues for expression of consent, included in Article 25(1) a, b or c, or then taken as an absence of consent, full stop. In Colzani, the CJEU held

[T]he mere fact that a clause conferring jurisdiction is printed among the general conditions of one of the parties on the reverse of a contract drawn up on the commercial paper of that party does not of itself satisfy the requirements of Article 17, since no guarantee is thereby given that the other party has really consented to the clause waiving the normal rules of jurisdiction. Where a clause conferring jurisdiction is included among the general conditions of sale of one of the parties, printed on the back of a contract, the requirement of a writing under the first paragraph of Article 17 of the Convention is fulfilled only if the contract signed by both parties contains an express reference to those general conditions.

The CJEU here, wrongly, seems to suggest lack of compliance with the expression of consent indicates a lack of that consent full stop.

Importantly, the CJEU in its rulings on what was then Article 23 and its Brussels Convention predecessor keeps utterly silent on national conditions relating to the actual formation or existence of consent. This, as regular readers of the blog will know, is at least for cases covered by Brussels Ia, subject to the lex fori prorogati, with renvoi, an issue which both national courts and the CJEU struggle with.

How then should the CJEU respond to the question (I asked my conflict of laws students at Leuven this question in a first exam on 18 June)?

Firstly, the Court should (and will) remind us of the Jenard /Colzani core instruction: the need to ensure consent is established, without being overly formalistic. Different from the context of the protected categories, there is no ‘weaker category’ to protect here.

Secondly,  there needs to be durability of the record of consent. That seems to be guaranteed here via the technicalities of the Unilever platform (downloadable GTCs) and in line with aforementioned CJEU Al Majdoub (the June students were not given technical details but should still flag durability).

Thirdly, despite the formal A23  requirement most probably being met, the consent requirement to me seems far from certain. In a click and wrap context ― lest there be issues of agency, duress, consumer protection laws etc. (in a context where the consumer title’s conditions are not met) which need to be held under the law applicable to consent ― the box ticking solidifies establishment of consent. In a mere flag and wrap context, that to me seems far less certain. If the reference were to a url where GTCs are properly and collectively displayed (if need be, updated with clear reference to chronology; see housekeeping), consent by an ordinary careful business (the proverbial (business)man on the Clapham omnibus). Yet if such as here, the link communicated in the formal contract refers to a platform where the  GTCs are not the first thing the contracting party sees, rather, where it is expected that that contracting party registers and /or downclicks, search and retrieve etc., that consent to me seems far less certainly established. [Again my students were not given the details on the platform which the reference includes, they did however have to signal the issue of consent).

Finally, under BIa, the lex fori prorogati, incl renvoi, would determine the above considerations of consent. Here, therefore, English law including its conflict of laws rules on choice of court. However seeing as the case is not subject to Brussels Ia, but rather to Lugano, the lex causae for consent will be an issue for the courts seized (here, the Belgian courts) to determine. Under the Belgian rules, this means application of Rome I (Rome I excludes choice of court agreements however Belgium’s private international law Act makes Rome I applicable even to carved-out contractual arrangements).

An interesting reference.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.10.

 

Brussels Ia and arbitration. The Prestige aka London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Limited v Spain. Time for the EU to decide its direction of travel on commercial arbitration.

I have a bit of catching up to do with the blog and I shall start with the case that is currently also being discussed over at the EAPIL blog. The CJEU has held in C-700/20 London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Limited v Spain (re: the Prestige oil spill). I have further background and links to the English judgments that preceded the reference in my review of the AG Opinion. In that review, I predicted the Court would probably not follow its Advocate General and I should have betted on it for the Court, in Grand Chamber no less, did indeed largely not follow its Advocate General.

Had it been up to the Court of Appeal, the case should have not been referred at all, and given the consequences of the CJEU’s judgment, the referral may come to be regretted.

Essentially, the question at issue is whether an English ‘Section 66’ (Arbitration Act) judgment, which confirms an arbitral award is enforceable in the same way as a judgment in ordinary, qualify as a judgment under the recognition and enforcement Title of Brussels Ia (the case is formally subject to its predecessor, the Brussels I Regulation – see here for a BI- BIa table of equivalence which will make reading of the judgment easier)? If it does, the Spanish judgment contradicting the award is unlikely to be recognised.

Of note is that the 1958 New York Convention does not come into play in the proceedings for the reason that those proceedings do not involve, as Article I(1) of that convention requires, the recognition and enforcement of an arbitral award in a State other than that in which that award was made: the award was made in the UK.

The AG, despite his broad interpretation of the arbitration exclusion in the case at issue, suggests the proceedings are not caught by the arbitration exception, for reasons I discuss in my earlier post. The Court disagrees all in all in succinct terms.

It is worth relisting the 3 issues which the High Court is unsure about, followed by the CJEU’s answer to each:

First, whether a judgment such as its judgment given under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996 qualifies as a ‘judgment’, within the meaning of Article 34(3) of Brussels I, where that court has not itself heard all the substantive merits of the dispute which had been heard by the arbitration tribunal.  Secondly, it has doubts whether a judgment falling outside the material scope of BI  by reason of the arbitration exception may nevertheless be relied on to prevent recognition and enforcement of a judgment from another Member State pursuant to Article 34(3).

Answering these together, the Court [44] kicks off with a curt reference to a fairly unqualified statement in CJEU Rich [18]: ‘the Contracting Parties [to the Brussels Convention, GAVC] intended to exclude arbitration in its entirety, including proceedings brought before national court’.  Further support is found in the 4th (!) para of recital 12 of Brussels Ia, referring specifically to recognition and enforcement proceedings as being excluded from Brussels Ia: [the Regulation does not apply] ‘nor to any action or judgment concerning the annulment, review, appeal, recognition or enforcement of an arbitral award.’

With reference to CJEU Gazprom, the Court [45] notes that the lex causae for recognition and enforcement of arbitral awards is national law, including the international law obligations the Member State may have adhered to. As noted however, the New York Convention does not apply to the recognition of the award at issue.

[48] ff the CJEU however concedes, partially with reference to earlier case-law, that judgments on issues carved out from the Regulation, may nevertheless qualify as a ‘judgment’ as meant in Article 34(3) [‘a judgment shall not be recognised’ ‘3. if it is irreconcilable with a judgment given in a dispute between the same parties in the Member State in which recognition is sought’]. This is mostly meant to protect Member State’s internal legal order and ensure that its rule of law is not disturbed by the obligation to recognise a judgment from another Member State which is inconsistent with a decision given, in a dispute between the same parties, by its own court.

This recycling of a carved-out subject-matter, via the enforcement title remains awkward to me, and is a similar back-door entry into BIa as for ex-EU judgments in C-568/20 J v H Limited.

[54] the Court then makes a leap which is reminiscent of its effet utile (safeguarding the overall objectives of the Brussels regime) approach viz anti-suit and arbitration in CJEU West Tankers : ‘the position is different where the award in the terms of which that judgment was entered was made in circumstances which would not have permitted the adoption, in compliance with the provisions and fundamental objectives of that regulation, of a judicial decision falling within the scope of that regulation.’

[59] it lists the two cardinal sins under Brussels I which the award, had it been a judgment covered by the Regulation (but surely it is not!), would have committed: it would have infringed ‘two fundamental rules of that regulation concerning, first, the relative effect of an arbitration clause included in an insurance contract [here the CJEU refers to Assens Havn, GAVC] and, secondly, lis pendens [here, [64] ff, the Court finds the lis pendens conditions would have been met had the two sets of proceedings both been included in the Regulation, GAVC].’

This whole construction requires a parallel universe being built next to BIa (or it is effectively nonsense, as prof Briggs puts it).

[71] the CJEU formulates an instruction for courts faced with request for arbitral awards:

It is for the court seised with a view to entering a judgment in the terms of an arbitral award to verify that the provisions and fundamental objectives of Regulation No 44/2001 have been complied with, in order to prevent a circumvention of those provisions and objectives, such as a circumvention consisting in the completion of arbitration proceedings in disregard of both the relative effect of an arbitration clause included in an insurance contract and the rules on lis pendens laid down in Article 27 of that regulation

The UK courts not having so verified, [72] ‘a judgment entered in the terms of an arbitral award, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, cannot prevent, under Article 34(3) of Regulation No 44/2001, the recognition of a judgment from another Member State.’ As Gilles Cuniberti notes, this instruction, effectively to arbitral tribunals (for if they ignore them, their award risks becoming unenforceable) to verify lis pendens requirements  is at odds with CJEU Liberato, and an extraordinary extension of the BIa rules to arbitral tribunals.

Thirdly, is it permissible to rely on Article 34(1)’s orde public exception as a ground for refusing recognition or enforcement of a judgment from another Member State, on the basis that such recognition or enforcement (of the Spanish judgment) would disregard the force of res judicata acquired by a domestic arbitral award or a judgment entered in the terms of such an award. Here, the CJEU [74] ff answers that the issue of the force of res judicata acquired by a judgment given previously is already exhaustively dealt with under Articles 34(3) and (4) of Brussels Ia and cannot therefore be resurrected under the ordre public exception.

The judgment is concocted reality, but not one which surprises me as I already indicated in my post on the AG’s Opinion. It is time the EU have a fundamental reflection on its relation with commercial arbitration. Treated with odd deference in the discussions on investor-state dispute settlement (think: CJEU Achmea, Komstroy etc) yet seriously obstructed in the case-law on the Brussels regime.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, ia 2.120.

The Prestige litigation before the CJEU. A tricky Opinion on court-sanctioned arbitral awards as judgments under Brussels Ia.

I give background to Collins AG’s Opinion in C-700/20 The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Limited v Kingdom of  Spain here. The Court of Appeal nota bene in the meantime has held that the High Court should have never referred, as I report here.

Does an English ‘Section 66’ (Arbitration Act) judgment, which confirms an arbitral award is enforceable in the same way as a judgment in ordinary, qualify as a judgment under the recognition and enforcement Title of Brussels Ia? If it does, the Spanish judgment contradicting the award is unlikely to be recognised.

The case at issue in essence enquires how far the arbitration exception of Brussels Ia stretches. Does the arbitration DNA of the case once and for all means any subsequent involvement of the courts is likewise not covered by Brussels Ia (meaning for instance that it must not have an impact on the decision to recognise and enforce an incompatible judgment issued by another Member State in the case); or should the  involvement of the courts in ordinary be judged independently against the Regulation’s definition of ‘judgment’.

The case therefore echoes the High Court’s later intervention in the infamous West Tankers case, and the recent CJEU judgment in C-568/20 J v H Limited (on third country judgments).

(44) the 1958 New York Convention does not come into play in the proceedings for the reason that those proceedings do not involve, as Article I(1) of that convention requires, the recognition and enforcement of an arbitral award in a State other than that in which that award was made: the award was made in the UK.

The AG suggests a broad scope of the exclusion, seeking support in the Jenard and Schlosser Reports. He also confirms the exclusion of arbitration has the effect, in particular, of making it impossible to use that regulation to enforce an arbitral award in another Member State by first turning it into a judgment and then asking the courts of the other Member State to enforce that judgment under Chapter III.

However, in the case at issue he suggests the proceedings are not caught by the arbitration exception, for 3 reasons:

(53) the notion of ‘judgment’ needs to be interpreted broadly;

(54) CJEU Solo Kleinmotoren instructs that for a finding to be a ‘judgment’,  ‘the decision must emanate from a judicial body of a Contracting State deciding on its own authority on the issues between the parties’;  that is the case here for (55) the S66 court does not rubberstamp; it discusses and settles a range of substantive issues between the parties;

(57) there is no requirement that a court must determine all of the substantive elements of a dispute in order to deliver a judgment that satisfies the purposes of that provision; reference here is made to CJEU C-394/07 Gambazzi (see the Handbook 2.576).

In the view of the AG (62) A1(2) is not determinative as to whether a judgment under the recognition and enforcement Title comes within the scope of the Regulation. Those provisions, he suggest, were enacted for different purposes and pursue different objectives: they aim to protect the integrity of a Member State’s internal legal order and to ensure that its rule of law is not disturbed by being required to recognise a foreign judgment that is incompatible with a decision of its own courts. A1(2) on the other hand is firmly part of the free movement of judgments rationale of the Regulation (and limitations thereto).

I think the CJEU judgment could go either way and if I were a betting man (which I am not) I suspect the Court will not follow and instead will take the same holistic approach towards protecting the application of Brussels Ia by the courts in ordinary, as it did in CJEU West Tankers. By the very nature of s66 (and similar actions in other Member States), the ‘issues between the parties’ are different in actions taking place entirely in courts in ordinary, and those in arbitration awards which are subsequently sanctioned (in the sense of ‘approved’) by a court. The latter proceedings do not discuss ‘the issues’ between the parties. They only engage a narrow set of checks and balances to  ensure the soundness of the arbitration process.

Neither do I follow the logic (63) that if the UK were not allowed to take account of the s66 judgment in its decision to recognise, it would mean that Member States would have to ignore all internal judgments with res judicata in an excluded area, including insolvency, social security etc., in favour of other Member States judgments ‘adjudicating upon the same issue’ (63): if they truly adjudicate upon ‘the same issue’, the judgment of the other Member State will be exempt from Brussels Ia. This is unlike the case at hand which clearly did involve a Spanish judgment on a subject matter covered by the Regulation. The arbitration exemption is the only exemption that relates to a modus operandi of conflict resolution: all the others relate to substantive issues in conflict resolution.

Commercial arbitration enjoys a peculiar privilege in the CJEU’s view on ADR (see CJEU Komstroy). I do not think however the Court will give it a forum shopping boost in the context of Brussels Ia.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, ia 2.120.

 

The CJEU confirms a corporation’s general duty of care is not caught by the corporate carve-out. Judgment in ZK v BMA (Peeters Gatzen suit) impacts on business and human rights litigation, too.

The CJEU a little while back held in C‑498/20 ZK v BMA on the applicable law for the Dutch ‘Peeters Gatzen’ suit, for which I reviewed the AG Opinion here. The suit is  a tortious suit brought by a liquidator. In Nk v BNP Paribas the CJEU held at the jurisdictional level it is covered by Brussels Ia, not by the Insolvency Regulation.

A first issue of note, which I discuss at some length in my earlier post, is whether the liability is carved-out from Rome II as a result of the lex societatis provision. The CJEU confirms the AG’s contextual analysis, without repeating his general criterion, emphasises the need for restrictive interpretation, and specifically for the duty of care holds that liability resulting from a duty of care of a corporation’s bodies and the outside world, is covered by Rome II. This is important for business and human rights litigation, too: [55]

Pour ce qui concerne spécifiquement le manquement au devoir de diligence en cause au principal, il convient de distinguer selon qu’il s’agit du devoir spécifique de diligence découlant de la relation entre l’organe et la société, qui ne relève pas du champ d’application matériel du règlement Rome II, ou du devoir général de diligence  erga omnes, qui en relève. Il appartient à la seule juridiction de renvoi de l’apprécier.

The referring judge will have to decide whether the case engages the duty of care vis-a-vis the wider community (including the collectivity of creditors) however it would seem most likely that it does. If it does, locus damni is held, confirming the AG view, to be The Netherlands if the referring judge finds that the insolvent corporation’s seat is based there. The financial damage with the creditors is indirect only and does not establish jurisdiction.

[44] Should a judge decide that they do not have jurisdiction over the main claim, they also and necessarily have to relinquish jurisdiction over the warranty /guarantee claim against a third party under A8(2) BIa. CJEU Sovag is referred to in support.

Geert.

Galapagos Bidco v DE. The CJEU fails to clarify whether move of COMI by mere market notice, may be effective.

Krzysztof Pacula reported end of March on CJEU C-723/20 Galapagos Bidco v DE and justifiably highlighted the Brexit issue. The case concerns a move of COMI – centre of main interest within the context of the Insolvency Regulation 2015/848 and it is on the element of impromptu move that my post will focus.

Galapagos SA is a Luxembourg holding company whose centre of administration (‘effective place of management‘ according to the former directors) was moved in June 2019, at least so contend previous directors, to England. At the end of August 2019, they apply to the High Court in England and Wales to have insolvency proceedings opened.

Echos of the tussle are here and of course also in Galapagos Bidco SARL v Kebekus & ors [2021] EWHC 68 (Ch). The day after the move of centre of administration, the former directors were replaced with one other, who moved centre of administration to Dusseldorf and issued relevant market regulation statements to that effect. This move was subsequently recognised  by the Courts at Dusseldorf as having established COMI there. The High Court action in London was never withdrawn and would seem to have been dormant since.

Applicant in the proceedings is Galapagos BIDCO Sarl, a creditor of Galapagos SA. It is I understand (but I am happy to be corrected by those in the know) Luxembourg based. As Krzysztof reports, it contests that the German move has effected move of COMI which it argues lies in England (although I fail to see how its reasoning should not also apply to the earlier instant move from presumably Luxembourg to England).

The question that arises is whether, in the determination of the centre of a debtor company’s main interests, specific requirements must be imposed to prevent abusive conduct. Specifically, in the light of the Regulation’s stated aim of preventing forum shopping, whether ‘on a regular basis’ in the second sentence of the first subparagraph of Article 3(1) Insolvency Regulation 2015, presupposes an adequate degree of permanence and is not present if the establishment of a centre of administration is pursued at the same time as a request to have insolvency proceedings opened. Respondents in the appeal, which include the insolvency administrator (trustee) contend that the requirement of administration ‘on a regular basis’ is fulfilled if the administration is permanent.

The CJEU unfortunately fails to answer that question, choosing to reply instead with a hierarchical answer which encourages race to court: [36]

the court of a Member State with which a request to open main insolvency proceedings has been lodged retains exclusive jurisdiction to open such proceedings where the centre of the debtor’s main interests is moved to another Member State after that request is lodged, but before that court has delivered a decision on that request, and that, consequently, where a request is lodged subsequently for the same purpose before a court of another Member State, that court cannot, in principle, declare that it has jurisdiction to open such proceedings until the first court has delivered its decision and declined jurisdiction.

However in the case at issue, the Withdrawal Agreement has the effect that if the High Court has not, as it would seem, taken its decision on the opening of proceedings prior to the end of Brexit Implementation Day 1 January 2021 (CET), the German courts need no longer apply that consequence of mutual trust and are at liberty to determine the existence of COMI.

The CJEU ends by suggesting Q1 no longer needs answering. Yet I think it does. Perhaps not so much for the case at issue (which explains why the judicially economical CJEU does not offer a reply). The German courts, as Zacaroli J notes in his decision [14], held in October 2019 that COMI for GAS has successfully moved to Germany as from 25 August 2019, the day the capital market and bondholders were informed that the centre of administration had been moved to Düsseldorf. Yet the file does not suggest that COMI prior to the attempted move, existed in Germany: it was established there following the new director’s decision. In accordance with the Regulation’s presumptions, it would have previously existed in Luxembourg. The element of ‘on a regular basis’ therefore still matters. Is the CJEU suggesting that a mere information of the capital markets suffices to move COMI?

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 5.6.1.

 

CJEU holds EU flight Regulation abides by customary international law in extending its reach to flights partially carried out outside the EU.

A brief post on the judgment of the CJEU in C-561/20 United Airlines. The CJEU held that the EU flight delay compensation rules of Regulation 261/2004 apply to a flight operated by non-EU airline on behalf of EU airline, even when  the delay relates to flight segment outside the EU. On the issue of international jurisdiction, the Court engages with customary international law questions, referring ia to its C-366/10 ATAA judgment which I discussed here.

The CJEU firstly [51] repeats that since

a principle of customary international law does not have the same degree of precision as a provision of an international agreement, judicial review must necessarily be limited to the question whether, in adopting the act in question, the institutions of the European Union made manifest errors of assessment concerning the conditions for applying such a principle

I do not think its poor view on the lucidity of customary international law is justified, however its finding that only manifest errors may lead to illegality does of course mean the CJEU does not have to worry about all the nuts and bolts of territorial jurisdiction. It suffices [52] that there is a close connection with the territory of the EU since the Regulation specifies that connecting flights fall within the scope of that regulation on the ground that the passengers have started their journey from an airport located in a Member State. [53]:

The regulation applies to a long delay caused in a leg of a flight operated in a third country only in limited and clearly defined circumstances in which the flight concerned, taken as a whole, is operated from an airport located in the territory of a Member State. Such a flight and its passengers thus retain a close connection with the territory of the European Union, including for the leg of the flight operated outside the European Union.

Flights which are wholly operated in a third country or between two third countries, without any connection with EU territory [55].

Geert.

J v H Limited. CJEU holds third country judgments may, under circumstances, be smuggled into Brussels Ia via the backdoor. Yet they will be vulnerable to ordre public exceptions.

I reviewed Pikamae AG’s Opinion in C-568/20 J v H Limited here. The issue is whether, exequatur having been abandoned in Brussels Ia, arguments as to whether the a judgment issued in a third, non EU Member, State of origin be at all covered by Brussels Ia may be raised by way of an Article 45 objection to recognition and enforcement.

The CJEU has now held and first of all clarifies its findings in C-129/92 Owens Bank. [36]: Owens Bank does not mean that a decision adopted on the basis of a judgment emanating from a third State, in accordance with the rules on jurisdiction and procedure of a Member State, may never fall within the scope of that regulation. [26] it is sufficient (but also necessary, GAVC) that they be judicial decisions which, before their recognition and enforcement are sought in a State other than the State of origin, have been, or have been capable of being, the subject, in that State of origin and under various procedures, of an inquiry in adversarial proceedings. This re-emphasises the audi alteram partem principle such as emphasised eg in CJEU Zulikarpašić. It also means that ‘exequatur sur exequatur ne vaut‘ is not quite dead, as has been suggested – a mere confirmative order of an ex-EU judgment without adversarial proceedings would not enjoy free movement.

At [29] the Court moreover instructs, with reference to the principle of mutual trust, that the courts in the State of recognition, must not apply the definition restrictively. In the case at issue [32] the High Court order at issue in the main proceedings was, at the very least, the subject of a summary hearing in the Member State of origin, hence it qualifies as a ‘judgment’.

While the Court effectively acknowledges that this amounts to Brussels Ia-sanctioned recognition and enforcement of non-EU judgments through the backdoor (‘on the substance, that [UK, GAVC] order was made so as to give effect to judgments delivered in a third State which are not, as such, enforceable in the Member States’: [33]), A45’s grounds of refusal, including infringement of ordre public, remain available: [45]

Such an infringement may, inter alia, lie in the fact that the party against whom enforcement is sought was not able to defend him or herself effectively before the court of origin and to challenge the decision sought to be enforced in the Member State of origin

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, 2.573.

Clarke v Kalecinski. On rules of safety and conduct under Rome II, but also on the implications of marketing language for duty of care.

Update 20 April 2022 Daniel Clarke reviews the issue of proof of foreign law here.

Clarke v Kalecinski & Ors [2022] EWHC 488 (QB) concerns a claim for damages for personal injury sustained during cosmetic surgery undergone by claimant on 7 January 2015. Claims is against the surgeon (domiciled and habitually resident in Poland; but also registered with the UK General Medical Council) who performed the breast and thigh procedures in Poland, and against the Clinic (a company incorporated in Poland in which  the surgeon and his wife are the sole shareholders and directors), where the operations were carried out and she received pre-and post-operative treatment. Claimant also sues the insurer of the Clinic.

Jurisdiction is not disputed. Both surgeon and clinic are being sued under the consumer title of Brussels Ia. The insurance company is being sued under CJEU Odenbreit: subject to the applicable law of the tort and the existence under same of a direct right of action against an insurer, section 3 BIa gives claimant a right to sue in claimant’s domicile.

Claimant sues both surgeon and clinic, both in contract and in tort. She seeks to hold the clinic either directly or vicariously liable for the failures of the surgeons who treated her – one other Polish surgeon was involved in her care – and the nurses who cared for her at the clinic in Poland. Total potential liability for the insurance company, under the indemnity of the clinic (they do not insure the surgeon) is limited to approximately £38,500.

Proper law of the contract is English law, per A6(1) of the consumer title of Rome I. This is not disputed. It had been anticipated by claimant until trial that it was also a matter of agreement that the proper law of the claim in tort was Polish law, per Rome II. However in its skeleton argument, for the first time, the insurer raised an issue about the adequacy of claimant’s pleading arguing they had failed to plead the Polish law upon which they relied, so the proper law of the tortious claim was by default, English law.  That was rejected by the judge on the basis of the exchange between parties.

At [104] ff Foster J discussed the application of A17 Rome II: the judge must take into account as a matter of fact, the rules of safety and conduct in force at the place and time of the event, i.e. Poland. However [107] the judge insists on the importance of the English standard of care

where it is a term of the contract that the first defendant would operate to the same standard as a UK surgeon, skilled in this specialism, and registered with the GMC, it is that standard, that applied to the activities in issue here. The care offered by the clinic likewise. [emphasis in the original]

Those terms of the contract were deduced by the judge [77]:

[claimant] does not allege that she signed any contract or document, save for a consent form which the court has not seen. However, in my judgement the substance of the representations on the website upon which Ms Clarke clearly relied, were incorporated into the contract between her and the clinic together with Mr Kaleciński. In my judgement this was one contract but involving both parties: the surgeon and all the other care givers at the clinic, by means of the clinic (Noa Clinic Uslugi Sp. z o.o), those incorporated representations were to the following effect. The first defendant would carry out the surgery and he would carry it out to the standard to be expected of a GMC registered surgeon proficient in plastic surgery.

This emphasis by the judge imparts once again the relevance of language, no doubt for marketing purposes, for the consequential legal obligations. Foster J moreover holds [108]

That standard applies to the tortious duty also by reason of the  representations made to which reference is made above.

and [109] she holds

the findings of [the expert] are couched in such stringent terms that they cover any surgical and indeed clinical practice whether governed by local Polish customs or not. The conclusions of [the expert] put paid to any subtlety of distinction between local custom and English practice that might … in other circumstances be considered relevant. What took place fell so far below acceptable standards I cannot accept the contention that local standards or practices might have rendered the egregious failings in this case acceptable as a matter of contractual or tortious obligation.

The judge’s findings on A17 Rome II are interesting. Yet I find her conclusions on website representations even more relevant.

Geert.

A further Prestige instalment, this time on the powers of first instance judges to refer to Luxembourg and the, curtailed, authority of the Court of Appeal to stop them.

The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v The Kingdom of Spain M/T “PRESTIGE” (No. 5) [2022] EWCA Civ 238 is an appeal against The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v The Kingdom of Spain [2020] EWHC 1920 which I reported on here.

The issue on this appeal (tag ‘Prestige’ on this blog and ‘Prestige(@GAVClaw)’ on Twitter search will give you plenty of returns) is the very reference of the judge to the CJEU. At Kirchberg the case is known under reference C-700/20 and the hearing was held a few weeks back.

At issue is essentially whether the judge should have made reference to the CJEU at all, hence querying the ‘necessity’ of a reference to the CJEU including in this particular context of Brexit (with the Court of Appeal now longer being able to refer to Luxembourg by the time the case would have reached it).

Phillips LJ holds [47] that the reference was not necessary in light of CJEU authority on that element of necessity and that the judge should not have made it. Yet under the EU rule of law, a Court of Appeal cannot set aside the reference: [56] all the CA can do is ask the judge to reconsider, with [60] a call for fast-tracking in the event the CJEU might  rule before the judge withdraws the reference: if that latter is what he would be minded to do.

An interesting EU institutional law issue.

Geert.

 

 

No Harry, don’t look at the light! The CJEU in Sharewood on Rome I’s rei sitae exception to consumer protection.

In C-595/20 Sharewood, the CJEU last week held on the extent of Rome I’s rei sitae exception to consumer contracts. In essence, as a result of Article 6 Rome I, for consumer contracts, choice of law is free (in the case at issue this lex voluntatis was Swiss law) except the consumer may always fall back on the mandatory laws of his habitual residence (here, Austrian law).

For a limited selection of contracts, including (A6(4)c) ‘a contract relating to a right in rem in immovable property or a tenancy of immovable property other than a contract relating to (timeshares)’, party  autonomy is restored in full under the terms of Articles 3 and 4 Rome I, hence the consumer loses his protection.

The contract at issue is a tree purchase, lease and service agreement. The trees at issue are grown in Brasil. The ground rent for the lease agreement, which granted the right to grow the trees in question, was included in the purchase price of those trees. The service agreement provided that ShareWood would manage, administer, harvest and sell the trees and would remit the net return on the timber to UE, the (anonymised) consumer. The difference compared to the gross return, expressed as a percentage of the return, was retained by ShareWood as its fee for the provision of those services.

The question in the case at issue is essentially how intensive the link to (foreign) soil needs to be for it to fall under the rei sitae carve-out for consumer contracts. The CJEU does refer to some of its Brussels Ia case-law, including Klein and Kerr, for the ‘tenancy’ element of the question, but not for the ‘rights in rem’ part of the discussion, where it more straightforwardly concludes on the basis of the contractual arrangements that the trees [28]

must be regarded as being the proceeds of the use of the land on which they are planted. Although such proceeds will, as a general rule, share the same legal status as the land on which the trees concerned are planted, the proceeds may nevertheless, by agreement, be the subject of personal rights of which the owner or occupier of that land may dispose separately without affecting the right of ownership or other rights in rem appertaining to that land. A contract which relates to the disposal of the proceeds of the use of land cannot be treated in the same way as a contract which relates to a ‘right in rem in immovable property’, within the meaning of Article 6(4)(c) of the Rome I Regulation

and [37]

the main purpose of the contract at issue in the main proceedings is not the use, in the context of a lease, of the land on which the trees concerned are planted, but… to generate income from the sale of the timber obtained following the harvest of those trees. As is apparent from the order for reference, the lease provided for in that agreement, which includes only the right to allow those trees to grow and has no purpose other than the acquisition of those trees, is intended merely to enable the sales and services elements provided for in the contract to be carried out.

Not caught therefore by the rei sitae exception.

I often refer my students to Harry, in A Bug’s Life, to make the point that both for jurisdictional and for applicable law purposes, the mere presence of real estate does not lead to the rei sitae jurisdictional and governing law implications being triggered. CJEU Sharewood is a good illustration of same.

Geert.

 

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