Royal Carribean v Browitt. On agency, consumer consent and choice of court Down Under.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd v Browitt [2021] FCA 653 is a great addition to the comparative conflicts binder, particularly from the angle of ‘consent’ in business to consumer contracts. It also engages a classic tripartite relation between the consumer, signing a contract with a travel agent, whose GTCS in turn incorporate the GTCS of the carrier.

The case follows on from the December 2019 volcanic eruption at Whakaari.  (Mrs Browitt), for herself and as representative of the deceased estates of her late husband Paul and late daughter Krystal, and Stephanie (Ms Browitt), a daughter who survived the eruption with horrific injuries, are suing Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCCL), a Liberian registered company headquartered and operating in Miami, Florida, in the courts at Miami. There are applicable law and procedural advantages (incl discovery and trial (both on culpability and level of damages) by jury).

RCL Cruises Ltd (RCL) and RCCL apply for anti-suit in the FCA arguing that the Browitts were passengers on the Ovation of the Seas pursuant to a contract of carriage between the Browitts and RCL as the disponent owner and operator of the vessel. They seek a declaration that it was a term of the contract, signed at Flight Centre in Victoria, Australia, that any disputes between the parties would be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of New South Wales.

The list of issues to be determined is long but I repeat it here anyways for they highlight the complexity of issues following a routine purchase of a cruise:

(1)    Was Flight Centre the agent of Mrs Browitt, RCL or both?

(2)    Were the RCL AU terms, including the exclusive jurisdiction clause, incorporated into the contract of carriage by: (a)    reference in the Flight Centre terms and conditions signed by Mrs Browitt on 14 February 2019? (b)    the text of a Royal Caribbean brochure? (c)    links on the RCL AU website? (d)    links in emails? (e)    links in the electronic guestbook?

(3)    As to the construction of the RCL AU terms: (a)    is RCL entitled to invoke the exclusive jurisdiction clause to restrain the Florida proceedings? (b)    is RCCL entitled to rely on the exclusive jurisdiction clause? (c)    did the purchase of insurance exclude the operation of the terms (cl 1)? (The respondents later dropped reliance on the purchase of insurance as excluding the operation of the exclusive jurisdiction clause, so this issue fell away.) (d)    does the contract of carriage apply to shore excursions (cl 25)? If not, does the exclusive jurisdiction clause nonetheless operate to restrain the Florida proceedings? (e)    does the exclusive jurisdiction clause permit a proceeding to be brought in the Federal Court of Australia sitting in New South Wales, and if not, what consequence follows from the commencement of this proceeding (cl 1, cl 37/38)? (f)    does the exclusive jurisdiction clause cover the Florida proceeding?

(4)    Is RCCL entitled to relief on the basis of the RCL AU terms?

(5)    Is the Florida proceeding vexatious and oppressive such that RCL and RCCL are entitled to an anti-suit injunction?

The judge held that although the Browitts were bound by the RCL AU terms, the Florida proceeding is not in breach of the exclusive jurisdiction agreement in those terms because RCCL is not a party to the agreement and RCCL does not enjoy the benefit of it. Also, there is no basis for the alternative case that the Florida proceeding is in any event vexatious and oppressive such as to justify an order restraining Mrs Browitt and Ms Browitt from pursuing it.

Terms and conditions were available on relevant websites and brochures, shown to and browsed by Mrs Browitt but not for the purposes of terms and conditions. Rather, as one would expect, for details of the journey, vessels etc. Unlike a quote, the eventual invoice included as part of the document three pages of booking terms and conditions. Some of those were highlighted in the copy made available to Mrs Browitt  Mrs Browitt could have read the GTCS but there was no inidcation she had or had been specifically pointed to them. Nothing in either version of the invoice, i.e., that which was printed for and signed by Mrs Browitt and that which was emailed by the agency, identifies which of RCCL and RCL was offering the cruise or operating the vessel.

The judgment, which I would invite readers to consult, eventually boils down to limitations of ‘agency’, privity of contract, and clear determination of contractual clauses. It does not decide for the Browitts on the basis of a particular concern for the weaker party in a classic B2C transaction, rather on the need for parties clearly to think through their spaghetti bowl of overlapping arrangements and GTCs when hoping to rely on them in court.

Geert.

Roark v Bridgestone, Shandong et al. Contract fine-print and regulatory compliance determines minimum contacts in Washington.

A short post for comparative conflicts purposes. Readers might be aware of the minimum contacts rule in US jurisdictional analysis.  Rice J excellently summarises the issues in his order denying a strike-out application (‘motion to dismiss’) on the basis of lack of jurisdiction.

‘Under the Due Process Clause, a court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant only where “the defendant ha[s] certain minimum contacts with the forum state such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” [Picot v. Weston, 9th Cir. 2015) (quoting Int’l Shoe Co. v. Wash., [1945])….

Personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant may take two forms:
general jurisdiction or specific jurisdiction. General jurisdiction requires connections with the forum “so continuous and systematic as to render the foreign corporation essentially at home in the forum State (Ranza). Specific jurisdiction, by contrast, may only be exercised “when a case aris[es] out of or relate[s] to the defendant’s contacts with the forum.”

Shandong essentially argue that they are kept at arm’s length from US jurisdiction because they are not the one importing the tires into the US: a separate corporation imported, a third distributed. The judge however (in the process dismissing Shandong’s assertion that the goods were shipped FOB – Free on Board), found that Shandong delivered tires into the stream of commerce, was involved, in consequence of its contractual duties, in shipping the tires to Washington ports, and has taken steps for creating tires compliant with state and federal law to arrive in Washington pursuant to the supply agreement.  This echoes the EU jargon of ‘directing activities at’ the state of Washington.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.460, para 4.48 ff.

RCT Holdings v LT Game. Supreme Court of Queensland sees no reason to frustrate choice of court pro Macau even in times of Covid19..

Update 3 December 2020 see Sarah McKibbin meanwhile for further background here.

Thank you Angus Macinnis for flagging RCD Holdings Ltd & Anor v LT Game International (Australia) Ltd [2020] QSC 318 in which  Davis J upheld choice of court in favour of the courts at Macau and held against a stay. The judgment is a good one for comparative purposes.

Claimants, ePayment Solutions Pty Ltd (EPS) and RCD Holdings Ltd (RCD), in their contract with the defendant, LT Game International (Australia) Ltd (LT) (a BVI domiciled company), agreed that any dispute between them would be litigated in Macau. However, when a dispute did arise they commenced proceedings in Queensland. LT entered a conditional appearance and now applies to strike out the claim, or alternatively, to have it stayed as being commenced in this court contrary to the contract.

Article 10 of the contract carries the title Governing law but actually is a choice of court clause – an oddity one sees more often than one might expect in B2B contracts: ‘Any dispute or issue arising hereunder, including any alleged breach by any party, shall be heard, determined and resolved by an action commenced in Macau. The English language will be used in all documents.”

Comparative insight includes the issue of whether A10 us a non-exclusive (an agreement not to object when proceedings are brought in the court designated) or exclusive (an agreement only to bring proceedings in the court designated) choice of court. Davis J settled for exclusive which would also seem to have been the position of both parties, despite some ambiguity at the start of proceedings.

Lex contractus is disputed, and at 27 Davis J settles for Macanese law, based upon factual construct of the contractual intention of the parties. Clearly that choice of court was made for Macau was an important factor – as it is in Rome I for consideration of so-called ‘implied’ choice of law in the event of choice of court made.

A stay on the basis of Covid19 impracticability (ia because of alleged difficulties for witness testimony) is dismissed, ia (at 34) because it is uncertain whether current travel restrictions will still be in place when the case in Macau might be heard. Davis j does suggest that a renewed application for a stay must not be ruled out in light of Covid19 developments, however will be seen against abuse of process: in other words claimants had best not do so lightly.

Geert.

Bauer v QBE Insurance. Brussels IA, Rome I and Rome II in Western Australia.

It is not per se unheard of for European conflict of laws developments to be referred to in other jurisdictions. In Bauer v QBE Insurance [2020] WADC 104 however the intensity of reference to CJEU authority and EU conflicts law is striking and I think interesting to report.

The context is an application to serve out of jurisdiction – no ‘mini trail’ (Melville PR at 20) therefore but still a consideration of whether Western Australia is ‘clearly an inappropriate forum’ in a case relating to an accident in Australia following an Australian holiday contract, agreed between a German travel agent and a claimant resident (see also below) in Germany but also often present in Australia – which is where she was at the time the contract was formed. Defendant contests permission to serve ia on the basis of an (arguable) choice of court and governing law clause referring exclusively to Germany and contained in defendant’s general terms and conditions.

Two other defendants are domiciled in Australia and are not discussed in current findings.

In assessing whether the German courts have exclusive jurisdiction and would apply German law, the Australian judge looks exclusively through a German lens: what would a German court hold, on the basis of EU private international law.

Discussion first turns to the lex contractus and the habitual residence, or not, of claimant (who concedes she is ‘ordinarily’, but not habitually resident in Germany) with reference to Article 6 Rome I’s provision for consumer contracts. This is applicable presumably despite the carve-out for ‘contracts of carriage’ (on which see Weco Projects), seeing as the contract is one of ‘package travel’. Reference is also then made to Winrow v Hemphill.  Melville PR holds that claimant’s habitual residence is indeed Germany particularly seeing as (at 38)

she returned to Germany for what appears to be significant and prolonged  treatment after the accident rather going elsewhere in the world and after only apparently having left her employment in Munich in 2014, is highly indicative of the fact the plaintiff’s state of mind was such that she saw Germany as her home and the place to return to when things get tough, a place to go to by force of habit.

Discussion then turns to what Michiel Poesen has recently discussed viz contracts of employment: qualification problems between contract and tort. No detail of the accident is given (see my remark re ‘mini-trial’ above). Reference to and discussion is of Rome II’s Article 4. It leads to the cautious (again: this is an interlocutory judgment) conclusion that even though the tort per Article 4(3) Rome II may be more closely connected to Australia, it is not ‘manifestly’ so.

Next the discussion gets a bit muddled. Turning to jurisdiction, it is concluded that the exclusive choice of court is not valid per Article 25 Brussels Ia’s reference to the lex fori prorogati.

  • Odd is first that under the lex contractus discussion, reference is made to Article 6 Rome I which as I suggested above presumably applies given that the carve-out for contracts of carriage does not apply to what I presume to be package travel. However in the Brussels Ia discussion the same applies: contracts of carriage are excluded from Section 4’s ‘consumer contracts’ unless they concern (as here) package travel.
  • Next, the choice of court is held to be invalid by reference to section 38(3) of the German CPR, which to my knowledge concerns choice of court in the event neither party has ‘Gerichtsstand’ (a place of jurisdiction’) in Germany.  Whatever the precise meaning of s38(3), I would have thought it has no calling as lex fori prorogati viz A25 BIa for it deals with conditions which A25 itself exhaustively harmonises (this argument might be aligned with that of defendant’s expert, Dr Kobras, at 57). Moreover,  the discussion here looks like it employs circular reasoning: in holding on the validity of a ‘Gerichtsstand’, the court employs a rule which applies when there is no such ‘Gerichtsstand’.
  • Finally, references to CJEU Owusu and Taser are held to be immaterial.

In final conclusion, Western Australia is not held to be a clearly inappropriate forum. The case can go ahead lest of course these findings are appealed.

Geert.

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

On the nature of private international law. Applying islamic law in the European Court of Human Rights.

Update 13 July 2020 see for an illustration of the issues, Matthians Lehmann here, on the classification by German judges of the mahr, akin to a dowry – with consideration (and eventually side-stepping of all) of the Rome I, III, and the maintenance and matriomonial property Regulations. The Court’s analysis feels like ten little monkeys bouncing on a bed: one by one the Rome I, Maintenance, Matrimonial property, Rome III Regulations are considered yet cast aside. See also Jan Jakob Bornheim’s reference here to Almarzooqi v Salih, [2020] NZHC 1049, where the New Zealand High Court assumed that the mahr was a contractual promise without much consideration of the characterisation issue. And Mukarrum Ahmed, who commented ‘in England, the leading case on the characterisation of mahr is Shahnaz v Rizwan. The wife’s claim was treated as a contractual obligation.’ [GAVC, that’s Shahnaz v Rizwan [1965] 1 QB 390].

Anyone planning a conflict of laws course in the next term might well consider the succinct Council of Europe report on the application of islamic law in the context of the European Convention on Human Rights – particularly the case-law of the Court. It discusses ia kafala, recognition of marriage, minimum age to marry, and the attitude towards Shari’a as a legal and political system.

Needless to say, ordre public features, as does the foundation of conflict of laws: respect for each others’ cultures.

Geert.

 

 

Indigenous rights and qualification under conflict of laws. Newfoundland and Labrador v Uashaunnuat (Canada) and Love v Commonwealth (Australia).

Fasken alerted me to, and have good review of Newfoundland and Labrador (Attorney General) v Uashaunnuat (Innu of Uashat and of Mani‑Utenam) 2020 SCC 4. The Canadian Supreme Court held that Quebec has jurisdiction over aboriginal rights claims in a neighburing province. This assertion of jurisdiction hinges on the qualification of rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 (the section which deals with aboriginal and treaty rights) as rights sui generis. A qualification as rights in rem erga omnes, as the dissenting opinion suggested, would have kept the case outside of Quebec jurisdictional reach.

The case came a week after the decision of the High Court of Australia in Love v Commonwealth[2020] HCA 3 which as Michael Douglas analyses here, is a case about personal status and whether an aboriginal may be considered an ‘alien’ for immigration purposes. Judges split as to the required approach to the issue.

Indigenous rights and conflict of laws for sure will continue to exercise one or two minds (ia in view of the UNSDGs) and these two cases seem to anchor a number of issues. Not something a short blog post can do justice to.

Geert.

Derivatives’ forum shopping aka Gerichtshof Einkaufen. Suing Bayer of Germany in New York, applying German law.

Many thanks indeed Kevin La Croix for flagging the suit brought in New York by a group of Bayer AG shareholders, against Bayer (with seat at Leverkusen, Germany), concerning the not altogether successful purchase of Monsanto by Bayer. Kevin has excellent analysis and I am happy to refer.

Claimants of course pre-empt arguments of lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and, subsidiarily, forum non conveniens – please refer to Kevin’s overview for the arguments to and fro. Most interesting. It brought back to me echoes of the Australian case of Tiger v Morris, not because the subject-matter is similar (it is not) but because in this increasingly globalised world (despite Covid19), courts everywhere are increasingly asked to consider the reach of their courts in cases with competing local and foreign interests. Comity considerations underlying the historic roots of conflict of laws are being brought back to the fore, no doubt also partially as a result of the impact of third party financing, contingency fees etc.

One to keep an eye on. One wonders whether Bayer might be launching a related case in Germany, then triggering A33/34 considerations.

Geert.

 

 

GFH Capital v Haigh. Enforcement of DIFC judgment puts spotlight on international commercial courts.

DIFC Courts, the Dubai International Financial Centre’s Courts, is one of the new generation of international commercial courts. Its rulings piggyback unto recognition and enforcement treaties which the UAE concludes with third countries (India being a recent example).

In GFH Capital Ltd v Haigh & Ors [2020] EWHC 1269 (Comm) Henshaw J first of all notes that there is no such treaty between the UK and the UAE hence he considers recognition of the July 2018 DIFC judgment by Sir Jeremy Cooke under common law principles. Helpfully, these principles have been summarised in a January 2013 Memorandum of Guidance as to Enforcement between the DIFC Courts and the Commercial Court, Queen’s Bench Division, England and Wales. Under discussion in the case is mostly the condition that the foreign court be a court of competent jurisdiction; that the foreign judgment be not obtained fraudulently; and that its recognition be not incompatible with English ordre public.

The judgment is an extensive treatment of the relevant principles and therefore suited to comparative materials.

Geert.

 

Bao v Qu; Tian (No 2). A reminder of the principles of enforcement and the common law in Australia.

Update 26 May 2020 Michael Douglas has abnalysis here.

Update 20 MAy 2020 see in the meantime also review by Jie (Jeanne) Huang, here.

Thank you Michael Douglas for alerting me to Bao v Qu; Tian (No 2) [2020] NSWSC 588 at the Supreme Court of New South Wales. The judgment does not require an extensive post. I report it because it is a solid application of the recognition and enforcement principles of foreign judgments under the common law of Australia. Hence good material for the comparative conflicts folder.

Geert.

 

Suing the EU in The Netherlands. Stichting Human Rights for Eritreans v the European Union and its jurisdictional challenges.

Update 19 MAy 2020Hat off to Graf von Luxembourg for referring us to a recent discussion on the increasing use of Dutch Courts for public interest litigation.

Many thanks Russell Hopkins for alerting me to Stichting Human Rights for Eritreans v the European Union, demanding a halt to EU aid worth 80 million EUR being sent to Eritrea. The Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans argues the aid project financed by the EU aid relies on forced labour. Claimants have a portal with both the Dutch and English versions of the suit.

Of note to the blog is the jurisdictional section of the suit, p.32 ff. Claimants first of all put forward that the CJEU’s Plaumann criteria (which I discussed ia here in the context of environmental law) effectively are a denial of justice and that Article 6 ECHR requires the Dutch courts to grant such access in the CJEU’s stead. An interesting argument.

Note subsequently at 13.9 ff where Brussels Ia is discussed, the suggestion that given the large diaspora of Eritreans in The Netherlands, locus damni (actual or potential) lies there. This is in my view not an argument easily made under Article 7(2) Brussels Ia given CJEU authority.

Geert.

 

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