Posts Tagged Contract

Aspen Underwriting: The Supreme Court overrules on the issue of economically weaker parties in the insurance section.

I wrote earlier on the judgments at the High Court and the Court of Appeal in Aspen Underwriting v Kairos Shipping. The Supreme Court held yesterday and largely upheld the lower courts’ decisions, except for the issue of whether an economically equal party may nevertheless enjoy the benefit of the insurance section of Brussels Ia.

Reference is best made to my earlier posting for full assessment of the facts. The Supreme Court considered four issues.

Issue 1: Does the High Court have jurisdiction pursuant to the exclusive English
jurisdiction clause contained in the Policy? This was mostly a factual assessment (is there a clear demonstration of consent to choice of court) which Lord Hodge for the SC held Teare J and the Court of Appeal both had absolutely right. Lord Hodge refers in support to a wealth of CJEU and English (as well as Singapore) courts on assignment and contractual rights v contractual obligations.

Issues 2 and 3: Are the Insurers’ claims against the Bank matters ‘relating to
insurance’ (issue 2) within section 3 of the Regulation and if so, is the Bank entitled to rely on that section (issue 3)?

On issue 2, Teare J and the Court of Appeal had held that the Insurers’ claim against the Bank was so closely connected with the question of the Insurers’ liability to indemnify for the loss of the Vessel under the Policy that the subject matter of the claim can fairly be said to relate to insurance.

On this issue the insurers had appealed for they argued that a claim can be regarded as a matter relating to insurance only if the subject matter of the claim is, at least in substance, a breach of an obligation contained in, and required to be performed by, an insurance contract. They referred in particular to Brogsitter and also to Granarolo and Bosworth.

Lord Hodge disagreed with claimant, upholding Teare J and the CA: the need for restrictive interpretation is mentioned (at 38) and at 35 it transpires that of particular relevance in his analysis, is the very wording of the title of the insurance section: unlike all other special jurisdictional rules of interest, it does not include ‘contracts’. Further (at 36),

‘the scheme of section 3 is concerned with the rights not only of parties to an insurance contract, who are the insurer and the policyholder, but also  beneficiaries of insurance and, in the context of liability insurance, the injured party, who will generally not be parties to the insurance contract.’

At 40 he holds that in any event the Brogsitter test is met:

‘The Insurers’ claim is that there has been an insurance fraud by the Owners and the Managers for which the Bank is vicariously liable. Such a fraud would inevitably entail a breach of the insurance contract as the obligation of utmost good faith applies not only in the making of the contract but in the course of its performance.’

[Of note is that the ‘related to’ issue was discussed in Hutchinson and is at the CJEU as C-814/19, AC et al v ABC Sl as I flag in my review of Hutchinson].

However (issue 3) both Teare J and the CA eventually held that the insurance title failed to provide the bank with protection for they argued (as I noted with reference in particular to CJEU Voralsberger) that protection was available only to the weaker party in circumstances of economic imbalance between the claimant insurer and the defendant.

Here the SC disagrees and overrules. Lord Hodge’s reasons are mentioned at 43 ff, and I will not repeat them fully here. They include his view on which he is entirely right and as I have pointed out repeatedly, that recitals may be explanatory but only the rules in the Regulation have legal effect). Bobek AG’s Opinion in C-340/16 Kabeg features with force. Hofsoe is distinguished for, at 56,

‘In none of these cases where the CJEU has relied on the “weaker party” criterion to rule on applications to extend the scope of the section 3 protections beyond those parties who were clearly the policyholder, the insured, the beneficiary or the injured party, did the court call into question the entitlement of those expressly-named persons to that protection by reason of their economic power.’

That assessment is not entirely consistent for as Lord Hodge himself notes, and the CJEU acknowledges, in KABEG, Vorarlberger, Group Josi and GIE the jurisdiction of the forum actoris had been extended under articles 11(1)(b) and 13(2) to include the heirs of an injured party and also the employer who continues to pay the salary of the injured party while he was on sick leave.

All in all, it agree following Lord Hodge’s convincing review of the cases, that it is acte clair that a person which is correctly categorised as a policyholder, insured or beneficiary is entitled to the protection of section 3 of the Regulation, whatever its economic power relative to the insurer. (Even if particularly following Hofsoe the application of the section as a whole might need a more structured revisit by the CJEU). In the case at hand the Bank is the named loss payee under the Policy and therefore the “beneficiary” of that Policy (at 60).

In conclusion: Under A14 BIa the Bank must be sued in The Netherlands.

Finally, whether claims in unjust enrichment fall within article 7(2) (answered by Teare J in the negative) ‘does not arise’ (at 60). I am not entirely sure what this means: was it no longer challenged or was Teare J’s analysis on this straightforward? A different reply than that of Teare J would have required overruling Kleinwort Benson Ltd v. Glasgow City Council (No. 2) [1999] 1 AC 153 (HL), that a claim in unjust enrichment for mistake was neither a matter ‘relating to contract’ nor a matter ‘relating to tort’ for the purposes of EU private international law – an issue I discussed in my earlier posting in particular in its relationship with Rome I and II. With the SC’s refusal to entertain it, that authority therefore stands.

One does wish that the CJEU at some point have an opportunity further to clarify the insurance section and will do so in a holistic manner. The SC judgment here is one big step in the good direction.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2.

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CJEU confirms Saugmandsgaard ØE in Libuše Králová v Primera Air Scandinavia: ‘contractual relation’ broadly interpreted, restraint on the consumer section, even for package travel.

The CJEU last week confirmed Saugmandsgaard ØE AG’s Opinion in C-215/18 Libuše Králová v Primera Air Scandinavia. In a package of services acquired from a travel agent, where there is no direct agreement with the airline carrying out the flight part of the package, there is a ‘contract’ between the individual and the airline within the meaning of Article 7(1) BIa. However the consumer section of BIa must be interpreted less extensively. Only the direct relationship between the travel agent and the consumer is covered by that section, not the relationship with the airline who merely carries out the transport side of the arrangement. (Note again the different balance struck by the AG and now the CJEU as opposed to e.g. the High Court in Bonnie Lackey).

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

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Dinant Bar v maître JN. CJEU confirms Bar membership fees are in principle neither civil and commercial nor contractual.

The CJEU on Thursday last week largely confirmed Saugmansdgaard ØE’s Opinion which I reviewed here, in C-421/18 Dinant Bar v maître JN, however with different emphasis than the AG. The Court insists that in accordance with Belgian law, registration with the bar association constitutes a legal obligation to which practising as a professional lawyer is subject, and that individuals wishing to practise that profession must be a member of a bar association and must comply with decisions taken by that association, notably as regards the payment of fees.

Disputes concerning those fees then are not civil and commercial and therefore not covered by Brussels I a, unless,

‘in so far as those fees constitute consideration for services freely consented to, including insurance services, which that bar association may have negotiated with a third party with a view to obtaining more advantageous terms for its lawyer members, the obligation to pay those fees would be of a contractual nature and, therefore, an action initiated with a view to ensuring that that obligation is performed would come within the scope of Article 7(1)(a) of Regulation No 1215/2012. It is for the referring court to ascertain whether that is the case in the dispute in the main proceedings’.

The AG had emphasised the factual circumstances of the case, in which the Bar had lowered the fees for maître JN to the very insurance premium only. In most cases of course Bar fees disputes probably will be about more than that and the Court’s approach may lead to split (non)applicability of Brussels Ia, in which payments for services freely consented to will have to be distinguished from those due in return for public service obligations. (Bar councils may wish to split these sums in their yearly invoice).

Geert.

Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.2

 

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Air transport. The CJEU in Adriano Guaitoli v Easyjet. The not always clear delineation between the jurisdictional rules of the Brussels and Montreal regimes.

C-213/18 Adriano Guaitoli et al v Easyjet concerns the clearly complex relationship between the Brussels Ia jurisdictional regime, the 1999 Montreal Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, and the EU’s flight compensation Regulation 261/2004.

Montreal Article 33 determines which court has jurisdiction to hear an action for damages against an air carrier falling within the scope of that instrument. The reference has been made in the context of a cross-border dispute between an airline and a number of passengers, in relation to sums claimed by those passengers both by way of standardised compensation under Regulation 261/2004 and by way of individualised compensation for damage caused to them by the cancellation of an outward and a return flight, both operated by that airline.

Saugmandsgaard ØE had advised that the two instruments should be applied distributively, according to the nature of the relevant head of claim. The Court has followed: the court of a Member State hearing an action seeking to obtain both compliance with the flat-rate and standardised rights provided for in Regulation No 261/2004, and compensation for further damage falling within the scope of the Montreal Convention, must assess its jurisdiction, on the first head of claim, in the light of Article 7(1) BIa and, on the second head of claim, having regard to Article 33 Montreal.

This is also the result of Articles 67 and Article 71(1) BIa which allow the application of rules of jurisdiction relating to specific matters which are contained respectively in Union acts or in conventions to which the Member States are parties. Since air transport is such a specific matter, the rules of jurisdiction provided for by the Montreal Convention must be applicable within the regulatory framework laid down by it.

Note that per Article 17(3) BIa the consumer section ‘shall not apply to a contract of transport other than a contract which, for an inclusive price, provides for a combination of travel and accommodation’ (see also C‑464/18 Ryanair). The rule of special jurisdiction for the supply of services, A7(1)(b) BIa, designates as the court having jurisdiction to deal with a claim for compensation based on air transport contract of persons, at the applicant’s choice, that court which has territorial jurisdiction over the place of departure or place of arrival of the aircraft, as those places are agreed in that transport contract; see also C-88/17 Zurich Insurance.

The Court further held that Article 33 Montreal, like A7BIa, leads to the direct appointment of the territorially competent court within a Montreal State: it does not just just identify a State with jurisdiction as such.

The combined application of these rules inevitable means that unless claimants are happy to sue in Mozaik fashion, consolidation of the case will most likely take place in the domicile of the airline. In the Venn diagram of options, that is in most cases the only likely overlap.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.11.1.

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NMBS v Mbutuku Kanyeba et al. A very relaxed CJEU on the notion of ‘contract’ (in EU transport law).

To scholars of private international law, the CJEU judgment last week in Joined cases C-349/18 to C-351/18 NMBS v Mbutuku Kanyeba et al might seem like ending us up in a parallel universe, where unlike in conflicts land, core concepts of private law are understood without much ado.

Additional surcharges were claimed against claimants for having travelled by train without a transport ticket. For either Regulation 1371/2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations and Directive 93/13 on unfair terms in consumer contracts, the existence of a ‘contract’ is a clear prerequisite for the application at all of these rules. The AG had opined that the EU rules at issue did not define ‘contract’ and therefore had to defer to the applicable national laws.

The CJEU however has much less hesitation, noting at 36 that ‘the word ‘contract’ is generally understood to designate an agreement by consensus intended to produce legal effects. Secondly, in the context of the field covered by that regulation and in the light of the wording of that provision, that effect consists principally in the obligation imposed on the rail undertaking to provide to the passenger one or more transport services and the obligation imposed on the passenger to pay the price of that transport, unless the service is provided free of charge’.

The Court gives no further explanation. How a ‘contract’ in this context can be ‘generally understood’ as being what the Court says it is (with all the uncertainty relating e.g. to ‘consensus’ and to the reciprocity element it seems to imply) must be a surprise to all those current and past studying ‘contract’ in the conflict of laws. Of course, in the EU rules at issue there is no delineation with ‘tort’ to consider, and the Court in the further paras seems to hint at adopting a flexible interpretation so as to protect passengers (without a contract, they have no rights), the matter of factly approach to the definition must be surprising.

Geert.

 

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Saugmandsgaard ØE in Libuše Králová v Primera Air Scandinavia: the Feniks ‘contractual relation’ train thunders on, yet restraint is shown on the consumer section, even for package travel.

In C-215/18 Libuše Králová v Primera Air Scandinavia, Saugmandsgaard ØE AG now unsurprisingly (following the CJEU predecent of Feniks and Flightright), advised that in a package of services acquired from a travel agent, where there is no direct agreement with the airline carrying out the flight part of the package, there is a ‘contract’ between the individual and the airline within the meaning of Article 7(1) BIa.

At 37 the AG emphasises the element of predictability on the part of the airline, who should not be surprised to be sued by the individual whom they agree with the travel agency to transport, both in the place of take-off and landing, per Zurich Insurance.

However unlike the Commission, the AG supports a less extensive interpretation of the consumer section. Package travel as defined in Directive 90/314, unlike simple tickets for transport only, are covered by the protective provisions of Article 17 ff BIa. Yet the AG proposes to extend that regime only to the direct relationship between the travel agent and the consumer, not the airline who merely carries out the transport side of the arrangement. At 48 ff the AG sets out his reasons for the limitation: the emphasis in the consumer section on the very consumer and professional party who concluded the contract (48-49); the distinction with Maletic since in the case at issue claimant is after the airline company only, not an in solidum finding against the agency and the airline (5-52); and of course the need for strict interpretation.

Note of course the different balance struck by the AG as opposed to e.g. the High Court in Bonnie Lackey.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

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