Cryptoassets, non-fungible tokens and consumer protection. The High Court rejects jurisdiction in Soleymani v Nifty, re-igniting the opaqueness of the arbitration exception under Brussels Ia.

In Amir Soleymani v Nifty Gateway LLC [2022] EWHC 773 (Comm) Abrose J largely rejected jurisdiction for the English courts in a claim following auction brought by a UK-based digital artwork collector. Another part of the claim was stayed pending arbitration in New York.

Faced with a clause in Nifty’s general terms and conditions that provide for binding arbitration in New York and for New York law to be the governing law of the contract, claimant seeks a declaration that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable due to it being unfair under the UK Consumer Rights Act 2015. Alternatively, he argued the governing law clause is invalid on the same statutory ground, and that a contract arising from the auction is void for illegality pursuant to the UK Gambling Act 2005.

Of note is that the US based arbitrator, in the proceedings initiated by Nifty, is considering himself (with procedural and discovery orders having been issued) broadly similar issues under consumer protection provisions of the ADR provider.

At [34] the qualification of NFTs as ‘art’ or merely ‘technology’ [‘the nature of NFTs as assets, and whether they are artwork, with the Claimant’s position being that he was trading in digital art whereas the Defendant maintained that an NFT is merely a unique string of code stored on a blockchain ledger that makes a digital artwork accessible, and marks authenticity’] is announced as potentially relevant for substance but not for current application.

The discussion largely takes place under retained EU law (s15b of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 (as amended)). The judge holds [55] that the claim falls within the arbitration exception of (retained) Brussels Ia seeing as, as she qualifies it

The principal focus and subject matter of Mr Soleymani’s claim is whether he is legally obliged to arbitrate.

Recital 12 BIa is called upon in support. Claimant ([49]-[50] in particular are a good summary of the position) essentially argues such a view is incompatible with the effet utile of the consumer title. I believe that point has merit and one imagines it will be on this point that appeal will be sought (Bitar v Banque Libano-Francaise was offered in some support).

Whether the contract is a ‘consumer’ contract is still discussed [62] ff viz the claim for declaratory relief regarding the unfairness of the arbitration clause under the Gambling Act. The judge holds [79] that on the evidence put forward, Claimant has the better of the argument as to whether the Defendant was directing commercial activities to England (and the UK more generally). However she decides to grant the defendant a stay (which would not have been possible pre-Brexit) in favour of the unfairness issues being discussed in the New York arbitration. (These issues may later return to a UK court in the shape of an ordre public opposition to enforcement of the award in the UK).

I will of course notify if and when permission to appeal will have been granted.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.3.2, and 2.2.9.2.

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.

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.

 

Khalifeh v Blom Bank. On implied choice of law and consumer contracts (including ‘direction of activities’ in Rome I.

Khalifeh v Blom Bank SAL [2021] EWHC 3399 (QB) is the second High Court judgment in the space of a few weeks to involve Lebanese Banks and the application of the protective regime for consumers in EU private international law. (See earlier Bitar v Banque Libano-Francaise).

Foxton J explains why there is such activity: difficult financial conditions faced by Lebanese banks and their customers at the current time, and the practical impossibility of transferring foreign currency out of Lebanon, caused acute anguish for those with foreign currency accounts in Lebanese banks. Understandably they have explored every avenue open to them in an effort to access their hard-won savings.

Jurisdiction would seem not to be in dispute (presumably given the presence of non-exclusive choice of court in a general agreement), applicable law is. Even in consumer contracts, Article 6 Rome I allows parties to the contract to chose applicable law – except such choice must not deprive the consumer of the protection of the mandatory elements of the law that would apply had no choice been made: that ‘default law’, per Article 6(1) Rome I, is the law of the consumer’s habitual residence.

Whether choice of law has been made is to be determined in accordance with Article 3, which proscribes that choice of law must be  either nominatim, or ‘clearly demonstrated’ by the circumstances of the case. The latter is often referred to as ‘implicit’ choice of law although there is nothing truly implicit about it: choice of law cannot be made happenstance, it must have been made clearly (even if not in so many words). [47] ff the judge considers whether ‘implicit’ choice has been made, referring to Avonwick,  and holds [66] that there was, namely in favour of Lebanese law. He concludes this as a combined effect of

a jurisdiction clause in a related, general agreement which he found to be exclusive [63] in favour of Beirut; I have to say I do not think the judgment engages satisfactorily with the argument that this hybrid clause itself is questionable under the lex causae (including consumer law) that would have to apply to it;

the express reference to an agreement to comply with and facilitate the enforcement of identified provisions of Lebanese law; and

the express choice of Lebanese law in a closely related and interwoven contract.

Clearly some of this analysis is fact-specific and subjective however in my view the lex causae element of hybrid choice of court has more beef to the bone.

As for the issue of ‘activities directed at’ the UK, this is discussed [68] ff. First up is an interesting discussion on the relevant time at which the habitual residence of the consumer has to be considered. In light ia of CJEU Commerzbank, which presumably was not available at the time of the discussion, I would suggest the conclusion [73] that the temporal element needs to be fixed at the very beginning, to avoid see-sawing and dépeçage, may need revisiting.

In terms of the actual directing of activities, Pammer /Alpenhof of course is discussed as is Emrek. Having discussed the evidence, the conclusion [105] ff is that there was no direction of activities.

As a result, the remainder of the judgment deals with the substantive issues under Lebanese law.

I do not know whether permission to appeal has been sought. There are sections in the judgment that in my view would merit it.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.9.2.7, 2.270 ff; Heading 3.2.4, Heading 3.2.5.

 

Bitar v Banque Libano-Francaise. A reminder that, under (acquired) EU law, one must not be domiciled in the EU for one to ‘direct’ one’s activities here and so trigger the consumer section.

Bitar v Banque Libano-Francaise S.A.L. [2021] EWHC 2787 (QB) discusses whether a Lebanese bank could be considered to have ‘directed’ its activities at the UK under the CJEU Pammer Alphenhof criteria, thus triggering the consumer section of the (acquired) EU Brussels Ia Regulation.

Kent DJ held it had: claimant’s arguments are at [29] ff, purporting to build evidence of a chain of marketing aimed at the expat Lebanese community. They show the importance of information put on websites, often made to look more glamorous by the addition of elements such as links to England and London in particular.  The judge is on point I find where he dismisses the singular relevance of the use of English etc in a world where every Tom Dick and Harry put that on their website. However he does conclude [65]

the website pages to which I have referred which were visible from the United Kingdom do indeed give the impression to a fair-minded observer—and I would say quite a strong impression—that the Bank was interested in obtaining custom from the expatriate Lebanese community in whichever part of the world not insignificant numbers of those who can be treated as falling within that expression were gathered and that in 2014 did include England. 

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.9.2.7, 2.270 ff

Consumer contracts, settlements and choice of court ‘after the dispute has arisen’. The Danish courts in Thomas Higgins v Saxo Bank.

I discussed settlement agreements viz Brussels Ia’s protected categories before, in particular in my review of Yukos v Merinson. Choice of court between consumers and employees one the one hand, and the business and employer on the other, is valid inter alia when the parties ‘enter into’ the (choice of court agreement) ‘after the dispute has arisen’. The assumption is that the consumer will have had an opportunity to consult lawyers and that therefore the inequality of arms has disappeared.

A dispute will have ‘arisen’ for the purposes of these Articles only if two conditions are satisfied: (a) the parties must have disagreed upon a specific point; and (b) legal proceedings in relation to that disagreement must be imminent or contemplated.

Many thanks to Henrik Gisløv who sent me copy of the judgment of the City Court and subsequently the High Court in Thomas Higgins v Saxo Bank. Henrik represented Mr Higgins and I have included Henrik’s English translation of the relevant sections of the High Court’s judgment below – I do not read Danish.

I understand from Henrik that Saxo Bank claimed an amount for “CFD financing charges” of EUR 230,000 accrued in less than one month. Mr Higgins, domiciled at Ireland, disputed the claim, and a settlement agreement was entered into. Mr Higgins had no legal advise when entering the settlement agreement – whether the actual, as opposed to assumed, benefit of legal advice is required for A10 to apply, is not discussed.

In the opinion of Mr Higgins the bank breached the terms of the settlement agreement, and he raised several complaints with the staff of the bank. These complaints went unanswered and Mr Higgins decided to terminate the settlement agreement: ‘Further to my email of Friday March 3rd, I confirm that the live price feeds have not been restored. Accordingly, our Contract is now void. Unless you wish to negotiate terms that address the contractual failings, the only option open to me is to reactivate my original Complaint and refer it for regulatory adjudication.’ This was in March 2017.

The bank then filed a case in the Danish courts, in January 2019 only. It argued  jurisdiction on the basis that a choice of court clause had been part of the  settlement agreement which Mr Higgins had terminated in March 2017. The City Court found first of all that Mr Higgins was a consumer (CJEU Petruchova comes to mind). Secondly, the City Court found that the dispute related to whether or not the terms of the settlement agreement had been breached or not. Therefore that the dispute that is being litigated had only arisen after that settlement agreement had been made and that the choice of court made in the settlement agreement was not a valid agreement after the dispute had arisen. The Eastern High court upon appeal however overturned the decision. Leave to appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected.

Of note in my view is that for there to be valid choice of court within the meaning of A19 BIa, legal proceedings in relation to that disagreement must be imminent or contemplated. From my admittedly half baked, Google translate assisted understanding of the judgments, this condition is not discussed in the judgments (it is clear, from the quote, in English, at the time of Mr Higgins’ cancellation of the agreement, legal proceedings are contemplated at that moment; yet the settlement with the choice of court agreement was formed much earlier). Rather, the High Court unconvincingly focuses on the synergy between the complaints under the original platform agreement and the nature of the subsequent complaints. This could have done with SC insight.

The judgment puts the spotlight on the nature of settlement agreements in the context of protected categories, and the stronger role consumer and employment law might have to play to ensure both the twin goal of settling disputes before they go to court, whilst at the same time not depriving the protected categories of their Regulation-sanctioned protection.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.9.2.7, 2.270 ff.

 

____Henrik Gisløv translation of the High Court judgment in relevant part:___

It is undisputed before the High Court that the settlement agreement entered into between Thomas Martin Higgins and Saxo Bank A / S, is a consumer agreement in the sense of the term has applied the Judgment Regulation. Cases against consumers must, according to the Judgment Regulation Article 18, paragraph 2, as a starting point is brought before the courts in the Member State in which the consumer resides.

The main issue in this case is then whether the condition of the judgment Article 19 (1) to derogate from this starting point is met. According to the provision is it decisive whether the settlement agreement, including the agreement’s provision on venue, may be deemed to have been concluded after the dispute has arisen. If the condition is fulfilled, the venue agreement is binding on Thomas Martin Higgins.

It is assumed as undisputed that the settlement agreement of 11 July 2016 was entered into as a result of a disagreement as to whether Thomas Martin Higgins had obligation to pay the fees of 231,320 euros that Saxo Bank A / S had charged for the period from 1 to 29 April 2016.

It appears from clause 1 of the settlement agreement, that Thomas Martin Higgins should withdraw its complaint about the fees that Saxo Bank A / S should separate Thomas Martin Higgins’ two accounts and credit one account with one amount of 115,660 euros, corresponding to half of the fees charged. The other account then had a balance of -87,565.16 euros, which Thomas Martin Higgins undertook to pay to Saxo Bank A / S in 12 instalments.

Thomas Martin Higgins paid six instalments until February 2017, after which he by letter dated 6 March 2017, terminated the settlement agreement.

The question then is whether the lawsuit relates to the dispute that was tried resolved by the settlement agreement, or whether it relates to subsequent matters.

Thomas Martin Higgins has argued that Saxo Bank A / S on several points has breached the settlement agreement and that it is these breaches of agreement that are the background for the present case. He has during his explanation to the city court alone referred to the one concrete example that he during his continued trading on the bank’s platform continued to lose so-called live prices (real-time prices).

On the other hand, it is undisputed that Thomas Martin Higgins under the settlement agreement concluded continued to trade on the platform provided by Saxo Bank A / S available to him. Saxo Bank A / S has in accordance with the settlement agreement written down its fee claim to half, and the settlement agreement does not contain detailed terms for the continued trading on the platform, including on live prices.

In view of this and the fact that the amount of 41,297.28 euros that Saxo Bank A / S has withdrawn subpoena for, constitutes the difference between the amount paid by Thomas Martin Higgins had to pay after the settlement and the instalments paid of 45,412.41 euros plus the deposit on account 176283INET / DK4011490100705836, the High Court finds that the present dispute does not concern one which arose after the conclusion of the settlement agreement [and is a, GAVC] disagreement on the interpretation of the agreement, but that the dispute had already arisen when settlement agreement including the venue agreement, was entered into.

…0Saxo bank A / S can bring the case before the bank’s venue at the Court in Lyngby, …and the High Court therefore accepts Saxo Bank A / S ‘claim that the judgment of the district court be set aside and that the case be remanded for consideration at the Court in Lyngby, as a result.”

Dooley v Castle. On Gibraltar, the Brussels Convention and trust management as consumer contracts.

After Eastern Pacific Chartering Inc v Pola Maritime Ltd, judgment in Dooley & Ors v Castle Trust & Management Services Ltd [2021] EWHC 2682 (Comm) is the second recent case to apply the 1968 Brussels Convention in relations between the UK and Gibraltar. This time it is the consumer section of the Convention which is at the core of the jurisdictional discussion.

Defendant is a company registered in Gibraltar which operates as a professional trustee company. The litigation concerns overseas pension schemes, promoted principally by Montegue Smythe, a Cypriot firm which operated from an English address. The court did not have before it any contractual terms evidencing the relationship between Castle and Montegue Smythe [66].

Common law negligence or breach of regulatory or statutory rules are the claim. Applicable law [15-16] is announced to be a contested issue at trial but not one that featured in the current jurisdictional challenge.

Readers may be aware that prior to the Brussels I Regulation (2001) amendments to the consumer section, requirements to trigger it were quite different. Defendants argue that the consumer section is not engaged for claimants have not shown that the conclusion of the contract was preceded in the consumer’s domicile by a specific invitation addressed to them or by advertising. In support of their case that the requirement of A13.3(b) Brussels Convention was satisfied, claimants plea an extract from Castle’s website which was said to be an act of advertising in the UK.

CJEU Kalfelis, Engler, Gabriel and Pammer (the latter mutatis mutandis and with focus on the CJEU’s view as to its own previous authority under the Convention; for Pammer Alpenhof is a Brussels I case) were the core cases discussed. At [64] Russen J rejects ia Petruchova and Reliantco as relevant authority given their Brussels I(a) context.

The judge emphasises the restrictive interpretation of the consumer section and holds that Castle’s obligations to claimants rested fundamentally upon its trusteeship of the QROPS rather than any separate contract for the provision of financial administration services. There is no plausible evidential basis for saying a contract was concluded for the supply of services outside those which were identified by the Deeds and the Rules which were incorporated by Castle [68].

Any claim against Castle based upon non-performance of services would have to be based upon the Trust Deeds and the Rules incorporated by them. Any such claim would fall within Article 5.6 (equivalent to A7(6) BIa) which would lead to the same court – the Gibraltar court – having jurisdiction as it would under the general rule of A2 Brussels Convention [70].

The judge also held that even on the assumption that a particular claimant read the extract on the website before investing in the QROPS, the fact is that there is no evidence to suggest that the territorial requirement identified in  CJEU Gabriel was satisfied.

The tort gateway under A5(3) Brussels Convention was not much entertained for claimants did not put much weight on it. At [73] the judge located locus delicti commissi in Gibraltar and did not hold on locus damni possibly being in England or the UK (the signing away of the transfer of the funds in the UK potentially qualifying as locus damni. With interesting potential discussion of course of the EU v the E&W approach on same per UKSC Brownlie I and II.

The jurisdictional challenge succeeds.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.9.2.1 and 2.2.9.2.2.

Not in a gambling mood. CJEU in Peil confirms dynamic interpretation of BIa consumer title, and the Petruchová /Reliantco approach towards knowledge of the market.

Update 15 December 2021. Tobias Lutzi has concurring analysis here. Since he refers to me, we may now have started a renvoi vortex that, with some luck, wil swallow 2020 whole.

The CJEU held last week in C-774/19 AB and BB v Personal Exchange International Limited. I propose for the sake of our memories that we call it Personal Exchange International Limited or even PEIL. (No English version of the judgment available at the time of writing).

May an online poker playing contract, concluded remotely over the internet by an individual with a foreign operator of online games and subject to that operator’s general terms and conditions, also be classified as a contract concluded by a consumer for a purpose which can be regarded as being outside his trade or profession, where that individual has, for several years, lived on the income thus obtained or the winnings from playing poker, even though he has no formal registration for that type of activity and in any event does not offer that activity to third parties on the market as a paid service?

The case echoes Schrems, Petruchová and Reliantco and the CJEU refers to the two former extensively.

At 21 the referring court had signalled the linguistic difference in e.g. the Slovenian and the English version of Article 17 BIA (A15 in BI which is discussed in the judgment), where mention is made of elements over and above the  use of ‘professional’ in the other language versions (e.g ‘trade and profession’ in the English version). The CJEU at 27 refers to the classic collective authentic force of the various language versions to dismiss paying too much attention to this difference.

With reference to Petruchová, the Court at 23 dismisses the relevance of whether the player’s winnings allow him to earn a living. Since the player does not beforehand know those winnings, the consumer title would become unpredictable which is of course a big no-no.

At 37 ff the intimate knowledge of the market is dismissed, too, with reference to Schrems: for this would make the title too dependent upon the subjective situation of the individual.

At 41 ff the Court does reiterate the dynamic interpretation of the title per Schrems (reminder: that has only so far been held in the direction of losing the protection one once has a consumer).

Finally, the frequency and length of play does not constitute a singularly relevant criterion either (at 46), even if they can be taken into account. However the Court confusingly (and unlike eg in  Salvoni) does here refer to substantive consumer law in which it has held (eg in C‑105/17 Kamenova) that these elements do play some role.

All in all a fairly standard re-emphasis of earlier case-law. The referring court is asked to do the remaining math itself.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.235 ff.

 

 

 

mBank. Consumer’s domicile must be determined at the time the action is brought.

A brief note on domicile and time of assessment: the CJEU held a few weeks back in C-98/20 mBank, holding that for the application of the relevant protected categories title under Brussels Ia, a consumer’s domicile needs to be determined at the time the action is brought. Once again therefore predictability for the business side in a B2C contract is considered less relevant than the protection or rather procedural comfort for the consumer.

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.

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