SCOTUS in ZF Automotive v Luxshare. A break on discovery tourism in arbitration.

The arbitration community in particular was eagerly awaiting judgment of the US Supreme Court in ZF Automotive v Luxshare. SCOTUS has now held that the use of the relevant US CPR rule, on assistance of foreign tribunals, does not apply to arbitration.

Matthias Lehmann reviews the judgment here and makes valid points on how the ruling could and perhaps should have gone the other way, particularly in light of the use of ‘international’ and ‘tribunal’. Whatever the merits of the finding, it confirms a limiting approach courts are taking in accepting discovery shopping. This is also testified eg by the Dutch courts’ approach in Kiobel, and the English courts’ approach in Akkurate and, in an alternative view, in Glaxo v Sandoz.

Geert.

Lithuania v Veolia. How the CJEU’s ISDS judgments in Achmea, Komstroy etc revive interest in foreign public law limitations.

Many thanks Bruno Hardy, counsel at Liedekerke, for reconnecting me with a case I had seen in passing and then lost track off. Bruno also reports on the issues here; there is also a mainstream media report and a more specialised report.

On 18 January the Lithuanian Supreme Court held that the France-Lithuania BIT is no obstacle to Lithuania seizing the Lithuanian courts of a claim that Veolia and consorts unlawfully took over control of heating businesses in a dozen Lithuanian municipalities in 1993-2003, and excessively profited from same. The claim was initially formulated as a counterclaim in ongoing ICSID proceedings (note there are also ongoing commercial arbitration proceedings relating to the case under Stockholm Chamber of Commerce rules) and is now pursued in the courts in ordinary, using Article 7(2)’s locus damni gateway.

The SC first of all rejected Veolia’s claim that the case should at the least be stayed until the ICSID ruling has been issued. For the SC, CJEU Achmea (which declared dispute settlement via ISDS in intra-EU BITs incompatible with EU law) implies that the arbitration procedure under the BIT has now lapsed (and this ab initio, hence making the later entry into force of the EU Member States’ BIT termination agreement irrelevant) meaning Lithuania not merely may but indeed it must drop its claims in the ISDS procedure.

From what I understand, the SC did not hold on whether A7(2) BIa is a possible gateway, focusing instead on the fate of Lithuania’s involvement in the ISDS procedure. In a perhaps unexpected ruling, as Bruno reports, the Vilnius Regional Court subsequently found that it lacked international jurisdiction seeing as in its (prima facie unconvincing) view the Lithuanian claim falls under acta iure imperii, hence cancelling out Brussels Ia, instead making the claim subject to residual Lithuanian private international law rules. These seem to direct the suit to France, the domicile of the defendant.

This is where there is a final twist in the tail. What I assume to be the reason for the court to find acta iure imperii (that the claim’s origin and DNA are actions taken by a state in its sovereign capacity) may well result in the French court refusing to entertain the claim as well (potentially leading to the need for a Lithuanian forum necessitatis). Indeed as Bruno points out, under the French SC Guatemala rule, French courts do not rule on cases necessarily involving the application of foreign public law (this echoes some of the issues in Skatteforvaltningen, currently under appeal). The 1975 Institute of International Law’s Resolution on same comes to mind.

The judgment shows very clearly the urgency for a proper debate on the relationship between EU law, the CJEU, ISDS and other forms of international dispute settlement. I fear the rather unnuanced CJEU statements in cases like Komstroy do little to resolve many of the underlying issues.

Geert.

Bundeszentralamt Fur Steuern v Heis. On comity, staying proceedings, and the ‘public /private’ divide in international litigation.

Bundeszentralamt Fur Steuern (Being the Federal Central Tax Office of the Federal Republic of Germany) & Ors v Heis & Ors [2019] EWHC 705 (Ch) was held in March 2019 bit only came unto BAILII recently and had not caught my attention before.

The primary question raised is whether appeals by the applicants, the German Federal Tax Office (“the GTA”) and by Deutsche Bank AG (“DB”) against the rejection by the Joint Special Administrators (“the Administrators”) of MF Global UK Limited (“MFGUK”) of their respective proofs of debt, to allow the underlying claim which forms the subject of the proof to be resolved by the specialist German tax or fiscal courts, which both the applicants (for different reasons) contend are the natural forum for the determination of the claims and the forum in which they can be resolved most efficiently.

The underlying issue concerns German withholding tax.

The GTA has at all times maintained that its claim should be determined in Germany by the German tax courts, per the UK-Germany double taxation Treaty, based on the OECD model convention (for those in the know: it is Article 28(6) which the GTA has suggested exclusively reserves its GTA Claim to the German Courts). However it felt compelled to submit a proof in MFGUK’s UK administration proceedings in order to preserve its rights.

Under German law, it is within the GTA’s power to give a decision on MFGUK’s objection to relvant Amended Tax Assessment Notices. If and when it did so, it would then be for MFGUK, if it wished to pursue the matter further, to file an appeal against that decision by the GTA with the Fiscal Court of Cologne. The Fiscal Court of Cologne is one of the 18 fiscal courts in Germany which are the courts of first instance for tax matters. That seems a natural course to take however here the GTA is caught in a conundrum: at 18: the GTA has not yet formally rejected MFGUK’s objection. This is because such objection would establish proceedings in Germany, and there is a procedural rule of German law that, in order to prevent parallel proceedings, a German court will automatically defer to the court first seized of a matter. Accordingly, it seems likely that if the GTA were to reject MFGUK’s objection before the Stay Application has been decided by the UK Court, on any appeal by MFGUK, the Fiscal Court of Cologne might as a matter of comity defer to this Court in order to avoid parallel proceedings.

At 57: Brussels Ia is not engaged for the case concerns both the insolvency and the tax exclusion of Articles 1.1 and 1.2.b. At 56 Hildyard J considers the issues under English rules on the power to stay, with a focus on the risk of irreconcilable judgments.

At 84 Hildyard J holds that the GTA read too much into A28(6) and that there is no exclusive jurisdiction, leaving the consideration of whether a stay might be attractive nevertheless (at 89 ff the issue is discussed whether German courts could at all entertain the claim). This leads to an assessment pretty much like a stay under Brussels Ia as ‘related’ (rather than: the same, to which lis alibi pendens applies) cases. Note at 87(6) the emphasis which the GTA places on the actual possibility of consolidating the cases – similar to the arguments used in BIa A33-34 cases such as Privatbank and later cases).

At 115 the impact of this case having public law impacts becomes clear: ‘It seems to me that, despite my hunch that there will also be considerable factual enquiry, and a factual determination of the particular circumstances may determine the result …, the legal issues at stake are not only plainly matters of German law, but controversial and complex issues of statutory construction of systemic importance and substantial public interest in terms of the legitimate interests of the public in the protection of its taxation system from what are alleged to be colourable schemes.’

And at 116, referring ia to VTB Capital v Nutritek, ‘the risk of inconsistent decisions in concurrent proceedings in different jurisdictions, is the more acute when in one of the jurisdictions the issue is a systemic one, or may be decided in a manner which has systemic consequences. Especially in such a context, there is a preference for a case to be heard by the courts of the country whose law applies.’ Reference to VTB is made in particular with resepect to the point that Gleichlauf (the application by a court of its own laws) is to be promoted in particular (at [46] in VTB per Lord Mance: “it is generally preferable, other things being equal, that a case should be tried in a country whose law applies. However, this factor is of particular force if issues of law are likely to be important and if there is evidence of relevant differences in the legal principles or rules applicable to such issues in the two countries in contention as the appropriate forum.’

At 117: ‘even if the factual centre of gravity may be London, the jurisdiction likely to be most affected by the result is Germany: and even if the US approach of ‘interest analysis’ is not determinative in this jurisdiction it does not seem to me to be an impermissible consideration.’

Held, at 121, there is here ‘a sufficiently “rare and compelling” reason for granting the stay sought by the GTA, provided that the German Fiscal Court are an available forum in which to determine the substance of the disputes.’ At 122 Hildyard J seeks assurances ‘insofar as the parties’ best endeavours can secure it, resolution of both the GTA Claim and the Later MFGUK Refund Claim as expeditiously as possible. That seems to me necessary in order to safeguard this jurisdictions’ insolvency processes and for the protection of the interests of the body of creditors as a whole.’

Then follows at 131 ff extensive analysis of the impact of this stay decision on the related case of Deutsche Bank, with at 190 a summary of the issues to be decided. Held at 218: ‘By careful selection of potentially dispositive issues, I consider that there is some prospect of that process enabling a determination without recourse to the intricacies of German tax law which are to be decided in the context of the GTA Claim; whereas an immediate stay guarantees a long delay before this court can determine the matter, based on presently hypothetical claims, after a long wait for non-binding guidance from the German court which may result from other cases to which DB is not a party.’ However at 219 the prospect of a stay after all is held out, should a quick resolution of those issues not be possible.

Most interesting.

Geert.

 

Comity and ‘domestic illegality’. Colt v SGG.

International comity underlies the rule of both Ralli Brothers v Compania Naviera Sota y Aznar (‘Ralli Bros’) [1920] 2 KB 287 and Foster v Driscoll [1929] 1 KB 470, jointly known as ‘illegality under foreign law’. They both engage lois de police of the place of performance, and the English courts’ attitude towards not assisting with contractual performance that would go against such lois. Per Cockerill J in Magdeev v Tsvetkov [2020] EWHC 887 at 307:

The Foster v Driscoll and Ralli Bros principles differ in this way: the latter is concerned only with whether the contract between the parties necessarily involves performance of an act which is illegal by the law of the place of performance, irrespective of the object and intention of the parties; the former is only concerned with whether the object and intention of the parties is to perform their agreement in a manner which involves an illegal act in the place of performance, and is not concerned with whether the contract necessitates the undertaking of such an act…’

At issue in Colt Technology Services v SG Global Group SRL [2020] EWHC 1417 (Ch), is an injunction to restrain SGG (of Italy) from presenting a winding-up petition against it. SGG claims that Colt UK is indebted to it in the sum of US$4,936,619.93 plus interest. Colt UK contends that the debt is bona fide disputed on substantial grounds, such that the Companies Court is not an appropriate forum to determine the dispute and the presentation of a winding-up petition would be an abuse of process. Colt UK says that SGG was not the true supplier of the services under the relevant agreement, but was a shell company acting as a front for another supplier and was engaged in a form of VAT “missing trader” fraud with the Italian authorities as victims.

After due consideration Wicks J holds that Colt UK has a properly arguable illegality defence to the sums claimed by SGG, based on the Ralli Bros principle. Held: the presentation of a winding-up petition against Colt UK would be an abuse of process and in all the circumstances it is right to restrain SGG from taking that step.

Another interesting example of international comity in private, commercial litigation.

Geert.

A reminder: Austrian courts apply CJEU Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook ruling. Limits removal to national territory only but does not rule out worldwide removal on principle.

I had already reported in March on the first application of the CJEU C-18/18 Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook ruling in an update to my post on the latter. I thought I’ld add a separate post on the ruling for it, well, deserves it: the court held that orders based on Austrian copyright are limited to Austria (given copyright’s territorial limitations), but if they are based on personal rights, the claimant has to specify the requested territorial reach (so potentially global).

IPKat have further analysis here. As one or two of us discussed at the time of the CJEU ruling: the infringement of personality rights angle is an important one.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2, Heading 2.2.8.2.5.

Impromptu Admiralty forum necessitatis in Trafigura v Clearlake.

Update 7 May 2020 for further specifications followign disagreement between parties, see order made a good week after the first one, in [2020] EWHC 1073 (Comm).

In [2020] EWHC 995 (Comm) Trafigura v Clearlake, Teare J essentially has created a forum necessitatis rule in admiralty, to accomodate the slower availability of the Singapore courts due to Covid19. At 29 ff:

In normal circumstances an Admiralty Court, faced with an application to release a valuable vessel from arrest, would determine whether the security offered was such as to allow the release of the vessel from arrest without delay. In such circumstances there would usually be no need for the court upon which the owner and charterer have conferred jurisdiction to determine disputes between them to find as a fact what security would be judged adequate by the court of the place of arrest to allow the release of the vessel from arrest. For that would in practice be determined by the court of the place of arrest.

But these are not normal circumstances. There is a worldwide Covid 19 pandemic which has disrupted normal life, including the justice system. As a result I was told that the court in Singapore is not able to hear the application to determine the adequacy of the security offered until 18 May 2020. In those circumstances the question arises, or may arise, whether this court should find as a fact whether the security which has been offered to secure the release of the vessel matches that which would be required by the court of the place of arrest or not. That is what this court would have to do, and would have jurisdiction to do, if, unusually, there was no appropriate application before the court of the place of arrest. Those are not the circumstances of this case. There is an appropriate application in Singapore but the result will not be known for almost a month.

At 31 he re-emphasises that comity would ordinarily restrain any jurisdictional temptation. However at 32 he concludes that ‘on the other hand there is a dispute between the owner and charterer. The charterer owes an obligation to the owner to provide security which will secure the release of a valuable vessel from arrest. The owner wishes to enforce that obligation and so to mitigate the losses it is suffering by reason of its inability to trade the vessel. There is therefore a powerful reason for this court, in circumstances where the court of arrest, for understandable reasons, is unable to determine the application for release until 18 May 2020, to exercise the jurisdiction the parties have conferred on it to resolve disputes between owner and charterer.’

Not a jurisdicitional claim out the blue therefore; the choice of court does give England a powerful link to the case.

Geert.

 

 

Lydian international. The Jersey courts on universalism and cross-border insolvency.

In Representation of Lydian international Limited [2020] JRC 049 MacRae DB refers to universality in insolvency proceedings only once,  namely where he refers to authority at 20. Yet his approach in honouring the request for assistance, made by the courts at Ontario ‘on the basis of comity’, walks and talks like universality. This is of course reminiscent of Menon CJ’s recent speech on the issue, or similar decisions elsewhere.

‘Though there is no precedent in Jersey for a Canadian CCAA order or similar order being enforced or recognised in relation to a Jersey company, we had no doubt that we should assist the Canadian Court in this case.  There were no reasons of Jersey public policy impeding the court making the orders sought.  To the contrary, it is consistent with Jersey’s status as a responsible jurisdiction for the Royal Court to lend assistance in order to facilitate an international insolvency process in a friendly country that has a potential to benefit the creditors of the Lydian Group as a whole.’ The Deputy Bailiff also notes that key Jersey creditors and the Jersey corporation of the Lydian group itself were represented in the Canadian proceedings.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 5.

 

Agbara et al v Shell. Recognition /enforcement, ordre public and natural justice. Shell Nigeria ruling refused registration in the High Court.

[2019] EWHC 3340 (QB) Agbara et al v Shell Nigeria et al (thank you Adeole Yusuf for flagging) illustrates what many a conflict teacher initiates classes with. There is some, but often limited use in obtaining a judgment which subsequently cannot be enforced where the defendant’s funds are. Coppel DJ refused to enter registration of a 2010 Nigerian judgment by which claimants were awarded 15,407,777,246 Naira (approximately £33 million today) in damages in respect of the pollution of land occupied by them following the rupture of a pipeline maintained by Shell in 1969 or 1970.

Brussels Ia does not apply to recognition and enforcement of an ex-EU judgment hence the common law was applied (clearly with due deference to international comity yet the standards of natural justice nevertheless being determined by lex fori, English law). Natural justice was found to have been infringed by the proceedings at issue. This included an impossibility for Shell to cross-examine witnesses and an unusually swift completion of proceedings following the dismissal of a procedural argument made by Shell. Shell’s subsequent bumbling of the appeal via procedural mistake was not found by Coppel DJ to alter the findings of infringement of natural justice.

Obiter the factual mistakes made in the calculation of damages leading to the award and the opaque inclusion of punitive damages were also found to stand in the way of recognition and enforcement.

The ruling has some relevance for Article 33/34 BI1’s Anerkennungsprognose.

Geert.

 

A v OOO “Insurance Company Chubb” et al. Anti-suit pro arbitration does have its limits.

In A v OOO “Insurance Company Chubb” [2019] EWHC 2729 (Comm), Carr J refused an ex parte application for interim relief seeking (i.a.) anti-suit and discontinuation of Russian proceedings, pro agreed arbitration in London. Defendants are domiciled at Russia, France and Switserland. At 33 ff Carr J lists five reasons for refusal, despite as readers will know the English courts’ general willingness to assist arbitration. Three of her reasons jump out: the lack of full and frank disclosure (ia relating to contractual provisions); the lack of immediate urgency requiring ex parte application; and some of the measures sought being more than just interim measures (assessment of that nature required evidence by a Russian law expert on the further continuation, if any, of Russian proceedings following anti-suit).

A good reminder that these applications are neither straightforward nor should be taken for granted.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.1.

Hiscox v Weyerhaeuser. The High Court is not easily impressed by pending foreign proceedings in anti-suit application (pro arbitration).

A quick note on Hiscox v Weyerhaeuser [2019] EWHC 2671 (Comm), in which Knowles J was asked to continue an anti-suit injunction restraining Weyerhaeuser from continuing proceedings in the US courts and ordering parties to turn to arbitration. He obliged.

In April 2018 Weyerhaeuser filed proceedings in the US District Court (Western District of Washington at Seattle)for a declaratory judgment in respect of certain of its insurance excess policies in the tower of excess liability. Weyerhaeuser sought, among other things, a declaration that there is no valid arbitration agreement applicable to any coverage disputes between itself and various defendant insurers and that the US District Court is the appropriate forum for any such disputes.

Knowles J lists the various proceedings pending in the US however particularly in the light of all parties being established businesses, is not impressed by arguments of comity or fairness to restrain the English courts from further involvement in the matter. He expresses the hope and expectation that the US courts will come to the same conclusion as himself, in light of the contractual provisions.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.1.

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